5.1 vs 2.1 - An experiment

5.1 vs 2.1

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Sliced Bread

Well-known member
Jul 28, 2010
A little non-scientific experiment.

A few weeks ago I posted a thread discussing what we see as musical and I’ve come to the conclusion that while I love my system for movies, it is just not satisfying me musically and I cannot quite put a finger on why.

I’ve toyed with three options:
  1. Adding a stereo amp / source in the existing system which would allow me to retain 5.1
  2. Losing everything except the sub and buying a straight stereo system from scratch. Movies would be ran in pseudo 2.1 with the Rel connected via high level.
  3. Try a new speaker package. Maybe ATC scm11 5.1.

To answer this question I first wanted to see if I could live without 5.1, so I spent every day for two weeks with my setup set to straight stereo with the subwoofer connected at the high level, only occasionally would I switch back to 5.1 for a few back to back comparisons.

What I found was quite surprising.

The first thing I noticed was that with the Rel properly setup and the amplifier now running 2 difficult speakers instead of 5, the increased available power to the remaining pair was quite a revelation. Films were MORE not less dynamic, and many action scenes or scenes with big orchestral scores were more involving. This surprised me, though it shouldn’t have as the measured 2 channel output of the amplifier is very different indeed to the measured 5 channel output. The speakers were simply driven better. On the flip side there were a few moments on some films where the lack of surrounds was evident. But it was not as big a difference as I thought and essentially came down to seating position. If I was in the perfect hot spot, then surround was more enveloping. If I was sitting either side then the surrounds were arguable more distracting and the stereo presentation more cohesive. The other factor was the scene. Some scenes were perhaps a little less involving and others a little more involving.

But what about the centre channel? Well, this was interesting too and I appreciate some of this would be specific to my speaker package and room layout, but the midrange performance of my stereo speakers is better than the centre channel due to their FST driver so dialogue was clearer and cleaner. Also as I have a reasonable distance between the speakers and listening position of 16 feet, the speakers did a great job of creating a phantom centre channel even when I sat off axis. Some of this is down to the excellent imaging capability of that FST driver. Switching back to 5.1 did move the voices nearer the centre but also reduced intelligibility a fraction. I guess the tip here is to move the speakers a little closer together if this was a problem.

My main doubts about going down this route is if I swap the system for a more musical 2.1, will it be as good as the current one for movies, after all the Yamaha specialises in this area? Only testing will find out and I’m looking forward to trying. I think it’ll be a long road.

From this experience I’m still a little on the fence, but I am very much warming to the idea of a 2.1 system with its strong dynamics for movies and hopefully a more musical sound. I also want to explore the alternative route of adding something like the ATC scm11 5.1 package to my existing setup as this has been reviewed as quite musical with my amp from two different review sites. So there is another route still to check.

There is a growing list of HDMI enabled stereo products such as the CA Edge A, Naim Uniti’s and the Nad C658 (which also has bass management), many of which have been positively reviewed for AV use as well as stereo. We are also seeing users on various forums posting similar positive experiences from these components. Interestingly in the Edge A review from another site they referred to a “nascent ‘post-av’ category”, which is a very good description indeed.

From my side this is to be continued, but I’m interested to hear of other peoples experiences with this? Have you tried it? Were there any regrets? Was stereo indeed more musical?


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