Setup Menu SelectionsYou'll need to set the receiver, using its onscreen or front-panel setup menu, to match your program sources and speakers. As noted, the digital audio outputs from your program sources have to be assigned to the corresponding digital inputs on the receiver. Speaker configuration is done using the speaker-setup (or bass-management) menu.
The menu will ask you to select "large" or "small" for each of the five main speakers. If you have a subwoofer - the most common arrangement - select "small," and select "on" for the sub. ("Small" and "large" refer to the speakers' ability to handle bass, not their actual size.) Many receivers have more bass-management capabilities that allow for precise sound tailoring.
You'll next need to compensate for the speakers' varying distance from the listening position so that the sounds will arrive there at the same time. This helps to ensure that the sound field is as realistic as possible. Almost all receivers let you enter the distance of each speaker from the listening position and then set the correct time delay automatically.
Next, balance the speaker levels. While a few receivers (like the Yamaha RX-V750 reviewed in the September 2004 issue) fully automate this process, most simply send test tones to each speaker and the sub in turn so you can adjust their volume. If you have to set the levels manually, pick up an inexpensive sound-level meter at RadioShack (if the remote doesn't have one built in). Stand behind the listening position and hold the meter where the listener's head would be, with the microphone pointed toward the ceiling. Use the remote to adjust the level settings for each speaker until they're all at the same volume.
Before you enjoy your system's splendid surround sound, there are just a few more options to consider. Many DVDs have both Dolby Digital and DTS surround soundtracks, and all newer receivers let you pick which format you prefer. They also offer DSP (digital signal processing) modes that derive 5.1- to 7.1-channel surround sound from two-channel stereo sources and older, four-channel surround formats like Dolby Surround (used for many TV shows). And they have a selection of DSP ambience modes meant to create the illusion that you're listening in, say, a jazz club or concert hall.
Also, consider your room acoustics. The room has a major effect on the sound of your system, so if it sounds too reverberant and "bright" (treble-heavy), add rugs, tapestries, or drapes to dampen things down. Removing the same items will help if the sound is too dull or "dead."
With surround sound completing the picture, you'll be transported down onto the field in a football game or into the battle for Middle-earth - right in your home. To paraphrase the words of Al Jolson: until you've heard surround sound at home, you ain't heard nothing yet!
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