Surround Receivers

3.1.4 Speaker Setup – What Receiver Do I Buy

Open living rooms aren’t great for traditional home theater speaker setups. Usually, the TV is on a wall with the seating somewhere in the middle of the space. This doesn’t leave much room for surround speakers. There usually aren’t any walls or structures to place them on or in. Instead, the general consensus is that you can put those speakers in the ceiling. But that isn’t really where they belong. The ceiling is for Atmos speakers. You could place them over your couch and try them out as both (surrounds or Top Middle Atmos speakers). This has you thinking. Rather than putting two speakers up there for not great surround or not great Atmos, what if you just put four speakers and get great Atmos and forget the surround speakers? Can a 3.1.4 speaker setup work and what receiver would you need to buy? Let’s discuss!

We’ve Got Some Bad News

Usually, you count up the number of speaker channels you need and buy the AV receiver with the correct number of amps. With your current plan, you need seven amp channels. Three for the front speakers and four for the overhead channels. Unfortunately, that’s not going to work here. Not only do you need to match the number of amps to the number of speakers in your system, but you need the correct processing.

Most seven-channel AV receivers can process either a 7.1 or 5.1.2 channel system. They can’t process the audio for four overhead speakers. You need a receiver that can process four overhead channels at the same time. For this, you’ll need a nine-channel AV receiver. Yes, you are only going to need seven channels for your 3.2.4 speaker setup, but you’ll still need to buy the more expensive nine-channel receiver.


While your plan certainly can and will work, let’s be honest here. It isn’t likely to sound great. Three speakers on the front and four overhead won’t give you great surround immersion. First, there is much more dedicated surround content than Atmos. This means that you’ll need to use upmixing even to have any sounds come from your Atmos speakers. Even with dedicated Atmos content, Atmos is usually more of an afterthought for sound engineers unless a scene or movie really calls for lots of overhead sounds.

Take Away

Yes, you can set up a 3.1.4 speaker system and buy an AV receiver that will power it. It will be a more expensive and capable receiver than you’ll actually need but maybe it will be slightly future-proof? If you have this sort of system, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Was it worth it? How do the overhead speakers sound? Let us know in the comments!

1 Comment on 3.1.4 Speaker Setup – What Receiver Do I Buy

  1. Carlton

    I asked this question and it was answered on the podcast. You guys recommended some 9-channel receivers I could try, but luckily I just used the Denon AVR-3600 I already had.

    I say luckily because Atmos was a complete bust. There is no setup option in my Denon receiver to have overhead speakers without side surround speakers. So most of the surround sound information, which comes from the side speakers, is lost in an overhead-only Atmos setup. There is no way to merge the side surround sounds into an “Atmos processed” overhead mode.

    However, if the overhead speakers are setup as side surrounds, you get all of the surround sound information (side + Atmos surround content.)

    To summarize, using the 4 overhead speakers as side surrounds sounds great. You get the full surround sound experience. 4 speakers fill the space well and creates an immersive experience that’s fairly close to what side surrounds provide. But because there is no “overhead only Atmos mode” to merge the side surround and Atmos channels, there is absolutely no reason to buy an Atmos receiver.

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