Time to give up that home theater receiver?

OK, if you’re like me you’ve been a hardcore home theater geek for a long time. Maybe you remember those days of VHS tapes and tower speakers fondly, or maybe your enthusiasm reaches back further. Did your first stereo have woodgrain panels? If so, you’re a real hardcore home theater fan.

But is it time to rethink that?

A funny thing happened in the last decade or so. Becoming a home theater geek got pretty darn expensive. With the coming of Dolby Atmos, you can have up to 128 channels and allocate those channels through between 8 and 128 speakers. This is a lot of hardware just to watch a movie. If you really want “reference quality” sound, you’re going to pay… a lot.

And let’s not forget the ongoing costs involved with a home theater system. Home theater receivers operate at maximum power all the time. By turning the volume down you’re actually “padding” the signal so it seems like there is less power. But keep in mind that if you are using 500 watts per channel maximum for a 7.1 channel system, you are using 4.5 kilowatts of power (plus overhead) no matter how loud your system actually is. That’s a lot. That’s 500 light bulbs burning at the same time. All that power costs money.

Do you really need a full on sound system?

People got into home theater systems in the early 21st century for a reason. With the coming of “big box” and “club” stores, people tended to buy televisions by the way the look, not the way they sound. As TVs got flatter and flatter, speakers got smaller and smaller. So while that 2015 TV looked a thousand times better than a 1995 TV, it probably sounded a thousand times worse.

At the same time, companies started selling “Home Theater in a Box” systems with everything you needed to get decent sound. These systems were good enough that they worked but most people graduated from them pretty quickly. You changed out the speakers, or upgraded the receiver, or added better wiring.

And then, to control everything, you bought a fancy universal remote. It seemed like the perfect system.

Home theater evolves

About five years ago, we started to see two trends. The first is that digital audio processing software got so cheap that it was possible to get fairly reasonable sound from fairly small speakers. If you’ve listened to a fairly new TV, you’ll probably be surprised to find that it’s not as tinny and bad as you think.

The other trend was even more exciting. Using the same digital audio processing, it became possible to use a strip of smaller speakers and some fancy math to simulate a full surround system. The sound bar really changed the whole dynamic for home theater. At the same time, wireless subwoofers made it easier than ever to get great bass response

Time to ditch that old amplifier

If you’ve moved up to a truly high-end system and you’re happy with it, that’s great. But if you’re soldiering on with a home theater system just to avoid the tinny sound of your TV, it’s time to rethink. If you’ve replaced your TV in the last couple years you probably don’t even know what your TV sounds like. Turn it up for once and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.

If you’re not, ditch that old receiver and replace it with an awesome sound bar from Solid Signal. Choose a bluetooth model if your TV supports it, or choose a model with HDMI or optical input depending on what’s available from your TV. You will find that almost every TV has optical audio out and that can often be the easiest setup.

Yes, you’re spending more money to get a new sound system but it will pay for itself in power savings. Plus, you’ll have a cleaner installation and a better experience.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 9,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.