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Can You Use a Stereo Receiver for Surround Sound?

So, you’ve got yourself a sweet stereo setup but something always seems to be missing from the sound that you hear. So, you might be wondering if it’s possible to use your stereo receiver to get that sweet surround sound that you’re craving. 

You can’t use a stereo receiver for surround sound. Surround and stereo are two different types of sound and have different amplifiers built for them, so it’s not possible to use a stereo receiver/amplifier for surround sound. However, it is possible to create a mix of the two sound systems. 

Also read: Should You Listen to Music in Stereo or Surround Sound?

Use a Stereo Receiver for Surround Sound

In this article, we’ll take a look at the differences between stereo and surround sound and how their corresponding sound systems differ. This will show us why it’s impossible to use a stereo receiver for surround sound, but we will see how you can combine the two to get the best of both worlds.

By the end of the article, you’ll be able to create the perfect sound system for your needs.  

Why Can’t You Use a Stereo Receiver for Surround Sound?

You can’t use a stereo receiver for surround sound because this kind of receiver is built exclusively for stereo sound, while surround amplifiers are made solely for this purpose. This is because stereo sound relies on only two speakers, while surround sound relies on at least five speakers. 

Surround sound is pretty self-explanatory. It’s meant to create a feeling that you’re surrounded by the sound; that is, it immerses you in the 3D sound around you. As such, it is perfect for home video systems as it helps mimic the experience you can get at the cinema due to its greatly immersive capabilities. 

Surround sound systems come in several varieties:

  • 5.1
  • 6.1
  • 7.1 

Unlike surround sound, stereo sound relies only on two speakers (front left and front right) to create the desired effect.

The goal is to create a similar sound you’d get at a concert, where the sound doesn’t surround you, but comes from in front of you. This makes it preferable for music, and it has been the industry standard for a few decades. 

Apart from the front left and right speakers, a stereo sound system often incorporates a subwoofer, to cover those deep bass sounds. In addition, a hi-fi system includes a stereo receiver/amplifier to increase the volume and help you control the sound. 

A stereo receiver and amplifier are practically the same thing. The only difference is that a stereo receiver also includes a radio tuner, while a stereo amplifier merely amplifies the sound. That’s why the two terms can be used somewhat interchangeably. 

Since a stereo receiver simply isn’t made to handle surround sound, it would be impossible to use it for it. You should opt for one or the other, based on your needs and preferences.

If you need a sound system for your home theater, choosing surround sound is probably the better option. For the best music experience, stereo sound is the way to go. 

Can You Combine Stereo and Surround Sound?

You can combine your stereo and surround amplifiers. You can connect your front speakers to your stereo amp, and then connect the other speakers to your surround amp. After that, you need to connect the front right and left pre-outs of your surround amp to the AV input of your stereo amp. 

If you’re lucky enough to have both kinds of amps and you wish to combine them, so you don’t have to unplug and plug things back in every time you want to switch from listening to music to watching films, you’ll be happy to hear that this is possible

This will allow you to get the best of both systems with minimal drawbacks. You can do this with any stereo amplifier with standard RCA inputs, but it’s preferable to find one with a dedicated AV input. If you’re confident that you can pull this off, there are only a few steps to follow. 

  1. Plug your front speakers into your stereo amp.
  2. Plug the other speakers (center, subs, surround, etc.) into your surround amp.
  3. Use analog interconnects to connect the front pre-outs of the surround amp to the AV input of the stereo amp.
  4. Calibrate the speakers using the surround amp’s setup.
  5. Connect video sources to the surround amp.
  6. Connect the audio sources to the stereo amp.

With a little bit of effort, you’ll have a balanced combined system that gives you the most bang for your buck.

The Drawbacks

Of course, no system is going to be perfect, and neither is this one. There are two majors drawbacks to this kind of setup:

  • Slight inconsistencies in the sound
  • The price 

You can get some sonic inconsistencies because the auto-calibration of a surround amp is designed to calibrate sound in a surround package. It will apply the same principle here, and sadly, there is no way to prevent this. 

If this occurs, it can be minimized by paying close attention to the calibration process and carefully controlling the sound coming from each of the speakers. However, even if something like this happens, the quality of the hi-fi sound is going to more than make up for it. 

Apart from that, this setup can get quite costly. While a stereo amp with an AV input may not be too costly on its own, you’ll have to pay that on top of the price of the surround amp. Plus, you’ll need to get good speakers as well, and when all those costs add up, you get a pretty expensive setup. 

Final Thoughts

You will not be able to use a stereo receiver/amplifier for surround as it’s simply not what it’s made for. However, you can combine a stereo and surround system to create the optimal experience for both music and home theater.