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Best Wireless Surround Sound Systems of 2022 - Buying Guide

VoiceBo
  May 18, 2022 1:01 PM

I don’t know that there is such a thing as the “best” audio/video receiver, or, for that matter, the “best” of just about anything. There can be, however, products that are the best for you. I’ll try to help you get there but this will be a long post, so settle in for the ride.

I’ve written elsewhere on  that you need to work out for yourself three sets of criteria- budget, listening environment, and audio sensibilities. The intersection of these three axes will determine which audio products are best wireless surround sound systems for you.


Buying Guides

What is the best receiver in surround sound?

For example, if you have a million dollar budget for your receiver, you probably shouldn't be thinking about AVRs at all but separates (preamplifier-processor and power amplifier). But if your budget is $1,000, you have a wide range of possible AVRs. This is the budget axis.

But if you live in a bedroom in your parent’s home or a college dorm room, a $1,000 AVR is overkill. Maybe you should be looking in the $3–500 range. But it is fine for an apartment or small living room. This is the listening room axis.

The audio sensibilities axis is the hardest to define. This is where you decide how good is good. Can you hear the difference when you compare two speakers, two amps, two headphones, two turntables, two CD players? If you can, keep experimenting. When you reach the point where you can’t tell the difference, that tells you where your audio sensibilities lie, which will probably be different for each component.

In my experience, more expensive does not mean better, although it might. Quality engineering and design, quality parts, quality manufacturing, build quality, all cost money. It is worth paying more, to a point, for that quality. However, the difference in quality is not always reflected in the sound or the price. If you can hear it, and you can afford it, and your listening environment will support it, then by all means, invest in that high quality, expensive piece of audio equipment.

But if you can’t hear the difference, can’t afford it, or your listening environment won’t support it, then look for a product that comes close in most respects but doesn’t carry the big price tag. You will find plenty of products that perform very well at reasonable prices.

Often the best way to find and shop for audio products is to read audio enthusiast/ audiophile magazines and blogs, and visit audio shops. When you do, you have entered into a realm of sophisticated marketing. Marketing is not all bad, but you always have to hold tight to your wallet. You have to sift thru the hype to find what is real and true. This is not easy. But you CAN do it.

With that as a preface, I’ll endeavor to answer your question, which has two parts. The first part is which receiver is best for you and the second part is which has the best surround sound for you.

To answer the first part, you first need to think through the three axes I described earlier. When you do, you’ll find that most of the companies who sell quality AVRs in the US offer them at multiple price points, with a variety of feature sets. If you live in a different country, I’m sure the companies that offer AVRs also offer a similar set of quality products with various features at different price points.

In the US, the major AVR manufacturers are Denon, Marantz, Onkyo, Pioneer, Sony, and Yamaha, listed alphabetically. Each brand offers higher and lower quality products, but any of them could fit your “best” criteria, depending on how they line up on your axes. Over the years I have owned, or now own, products from all these firms. No, I don’t work for any of them and never have.

There are also many higher-end AVR manufacturers: (a partial list, in alphabetical order) Anthem, Arcam, Audio Control, Cambridge Audio, Emotiva, Harmon-Kardon, Integra, NAD, Outlaw Audio, Rotel, and Trinov). These products generally include higher-quality internal components and build quality as well as higher price tags, sometimes MUCH higher. Nope, I don’t work for any of these guys, either.

Surround sound is defined these days as 5.1 and 7.1, with a newer technology just coming into its own called object orientation, with the brand names Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and Auro:3D. Most films are mastered in 5.1, some in 7.1, and newer films are coming out mastered as object oriented, usually as Dolby Atmos and/or DTS:X.

From my research, Auro:3D seems to be the most technically successful of the object oriented systems, but it is not widely supported. Dolby Atmos is supported the most widely and is quite good, but it has some limitations in terms of speaker placement. DTS:X sits in the middle; it’s good but not as good as Auro:3D but is more flexible than Doby Atmos. Which is best? Whichever you can make work with your equipment in your environment.

Traditional surround sound is quite mature today; the major brands are Dolby and DTS. There are some technical differences between the two, and purists will argue over which is better. From my perspective, I think the technology matters less than the way the soundtrack is mastered. I’ve heard great and lousy films in both formats. Virtually all AVRs support both formats in 5.1, and most support both in 7.1.

AVR models selling for $4–5 hundred dollars and up support Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. You have to be careful here, though, with marketing hype. You see the object-oriented buzzwords and think you've got it covered. But you don't because these audio systems require not only extra amplifiers but also extra speakers. Yet some of these lower-price AVRs don’t include the extra amps. Or if they do, the chassis (power supply) won’t support running all 9 amps at loud volumes.

If you want a less expensive AVR that offers object oriented audio, you’ll probably need to also invest in an external multi-channel amplifier. Except, that, oops, that lower-priced AVRs rarely have a key feature called pre-outs that you need to connect to an external power amp. That forces you to bump up a level or two in the product line, and spend a few hundred bucks more, to get an AVR that does have pre-outs that you can connect to an external power amp. You might be tempted to skip the external amp because that more expensive AVR has enough internal power amps so you’d be OK. Except its chassis still probably doesn’t have enough oomph to drive all your channels all the same time at high volume. Unfortunately, you still need the external amp. Sorry.

The way to get around this cycle is to go for the top-of-the-line AVR or the one just below it. Those big, expensive models usually, but not always, have big enough power supplies AND enough high-power internal amps to drive all your speakers (by this time it’s often 11.2 or 13.2 or even 13.4!) at house-shaking levels without blowing anything but your eardrums and budget. If you can, go for it and have FUN!

I offer two alternatives, though. First, you could buy a mid-range AVR from any of the brands above that has the right audio and video codecs you want (“codecs” are the electronic and software coders and decoders that support the multitude of standards in the industry- Dolby, DTS, Aura, Apple, iOS, Android, USB, Neo, HDMI, DHCP, SRS, and a hundred others), and pre-outs (so you can connect to an external amp), and enough inputs to support all your current and potential audio and video sources. You also buy a good quality multi-channel amplifier in the 100–200 watt/channel range, with at least 3 channels, maybe 5 or 7 channels, depending on whether you want 5.1, 7.1, 13.4, or something in between.

Then you decide how to split your channels. Your mid-range AVR probably has 7 or 9 internal amps. Allocate most of those for your secondary channels- surrounds and heights. Use the pre-outs to connect to your external power amp. Let’s say you bought a 3-channel amp so you use it to drive your primary speakers- L-C-R.

A 3-channel external amp plus a 7-channel AVR, gives you 10 channels of amplification (!), which is enough to drive a 9.1, or more likely a 9.2 system, with one AVR internal amp unused. If I say so myself, that would be one heck of a system. The electronics would run in the $2,000 range, although you could certainly spend a lot more.

The second option is the mot expensive- skip the AVR altogether and go for separates- a pre-pro and a multi-channel power amp. A pre-pro with enough juice to handle 9.2, 11.2, or 13.4 is an expensive beast, and will set you back a few thousand dollars. You’ll also need a power amp, really two or even three. You want 9 channels, you need two 5-channel amps which leaves you with one unused amp. Or you could do a stereo amp and a 7-channel amp. You want 11 channels, you need a 5-channel amp and two 3-channel amps. You get the picture. Any combination of these beasts will blow you away and cost you an arm and a couple of legs. But, man, it would sound great!

Most of the companies I listed above sell pre-pros and power amps. Check them out.

I haven’t talked about what happens after the dot, as in .1 or .2. That is the subwoofer or subwoofers. This is a whole separate topic. Suffice it to say that almost always, good surround sound needs a good subwoofer to augment the snd from your speakers. One sub is a minimum. Two can be really helpful, and four is awesome. But only if your listening environment (which includes your significant other) and your budget can support them.

No matter which of the three electronics options you choose, price is almost always a factor. Buying new is the normal mode. But you can also buy used from any of several used audio equipment sites, or Ebay or Craig’s List. You take your chances, yes, but most of the time (ha!) you come out alright. Another option is to buy refurbished equipment. Several companies, but not all, sell factory-refurb products on their sites. Other companies sell factory-refurb products thru 3rd-party retailers, either brick and mortar or online. I’ve bought many factory-refurb audio and computer products over the years and 90% of them have been excellent purchases. You can save a lot of money this way but you don’t get the latest tech. If you can live with last year’s tech refurb can get you a couple of steps up the product ladder than what you can buy new. Personally, I’d steer clear of refurb products not done by the original manufacturer. But that’s me.

Well, Mohammad, if you lasted through this whole thing, I hope you learned enough to make a wise decision about which is the best receiver for you.

Enjoy!


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