High channel surround sound audio with intricate spatial, dimensional, and directional effects was, until fairly recently, something you had to go to an Imax movie theater or another such commercial venue to really experience.
But the demand for at-home HiFi is on an exponential rise, and with more home a/v products continuing to be released at increasingly competitive prices, truly immersive professional-caliber audio is becoming more and more accessible to residential home theater enthusiasts. There are now quite a few high channel receivers to choose from with the technology needed to really utilize an 11+ speaker system, and that wasn’t really true as recently as five or so years ago.
11 channel audio is still a fairly large investment though, and to the uninitiated the back panel of a receiver that can support it might look like a NASA space shuttle command center. Not to mention the exponentially increasing number of proprietary technologies that seem to be littered across audio sales pages these days.
So what specs and features do you actually need? or are worth paying for? This article intends to help you figure that out, as well as which products are potentially great choices for you.
Table of Contents Navigation
First, What is a 11.2 Channel Receiver Exactly?
In case you don’t know, the receiver is basically the hub of any home audio/theater system – it’s job is to power and control what the speakers and TV play, and what makes a system work in unison.
The “X.X” format in a receiver’s title simply refers to the number of speakers and subwoofers a receiver can hook up to and power. So, an 11.2 receiver has connectors and support for up to 11 speakers and 2 subwoofers.
Most 11 channel sound systems use two main left/right front firing speakers, a center channel speaker, two surround speakers and six additional “off plane” speakers that are angled upward or downward. With this many channels, there are a lot of different types of surround speakers and ways to place them, and this is indeed part of the fun!
The overall goal of a high channel receiver is to create sound that can come from all spots and move in all directions in a way that feels totally immersive, like you’re actually in the movie or sitting in the room with a band that’s playing.
Who Actually Needs an 11+ Channel Receiver?
High channel sound systems are primarily designed for home theater use with movies or games, where the spot a sound is coming from, particularly above or below the horizontal plane, can noticeably affect the “feel” of the film or gameplay. Maybe you hear a plane explode up high and to the right, or hear a monster rumbling beneath the ground to the left, for example.
But while multi-channel audio was never traditionally considered a thing for music, “spatial” audio, as it’s now commonly referred to, is quickly becoming popular in the world of audiophilia. There are a lot of products, technologies, and services that support spatial audio that didn’t exist just a few years ago, and we fully expect this trend to continue to grow rapidly.
A really good pair of left/right speakers will still be paramount for music in our opinion, especially on a limited budget, but that might become untrue sooner than you think. If you get a good 11+ channel receiver now, the great thing about it is you don’t have to use all the available channels to start, but you’ll have the option to really expand into spatial audio in the future.
What We Look for in 11 Channel Receivers
High channel receivers can get complicated looking, with a lot of seeming bells and whistles and a price tag that shoots up quickly with it all to boot.
That said, here are the primarily important things we think one should have:
Dolby Atmos and DTS:X Support
A lot of audio companies, streaming platforms, etc., like to boast a laundry list of proprietary technologies, but support for these two things are the primary “must haves” for surround sound home theater or spatial audio to actually work.
Multiple Pre-Outs in Addition to the Sub-Outs
It’s obviously going to take a lot of power to run up to 11 passive speakers at once, and while you might be OK using just the one on-board amp in the receiver, pre-outs give the option to add one or more additional external amplifiers, and this becomes a much more likely necessity as you go from seven to nine, eleven, or maybe even more speakers, especially if you want to use more demanding speakers in any part of the setup.
If you’re hoping to power all your speakers with just the receiver, and especially if the model you’re looking at has a limited number of pre-outs, then you want to make sure the receiver delivers enough watts per channel for the speakers you plan to use.
Multiple HDMI inputs
11 channel home theater systems will almost certainly utilize multiple devices that use an HDMI connection, including the TV. You want to make sure you have enough of them, we’d say at least 5 if you’re not sure.
Good Build Quality
This becomes all the more important with higher end, higher output a/v electronics because they can produce a lot of heat. Overheating is a longevity killer, so you want a receiver that is big and ventilated enough for components to breathe and disperse heat efficiently.
A Good Warranty
If you’re paying a premium for more modern equipment, you want to be covered from potential design and manufacturing flaws. 3 years of warranty on higher audio electronics is a reasonable minimum, but it’s not unreasonable to want at least 5 years of coverage on an 11 channel a/v receiver.
That about covers the essentials, in our opinion, beyond that, there’s a ton of features/inputs you can possibly get, and you just need to make sure you have what you want/need.
The Important Truth About Buying Audio Equipment
We always say this same thing in each of our roundup articles:
Product prices can fluctuate significantly in the audio market, and often times for no apparent reason.
Therefore, the “best” product choice often comes down to whatever the best available deal is at the time among the top/popular contenders. It’s definitely worthwhile to shop around. One tool that’s useful for doing this is Amazon best-sellers lists – they update hourly and these good deals often rise to the top. The table below is populated in real time with data from these best-sellers lists. You’ll usually see our picks among them.
Our Current Picks for the Overall Best 11 Channel Receivers
As of now there is a clear value winner: the Pioneer VSX-LX505
Currently available from:
‣ Amazon – see current price (affiliate link)
‣ Walmart – see current price (affiliate link)
‣ B&H Photo Video – see current price (affiliate link)
‣ Best Buy – see current price (affiliate link)
(note: some of these links say this is a 9 channel receiver but they’re incorrect, it’s indeed 11 channels)
Pioneer is a great company, and has been an industry leader in low priced a/v equipment for years, and their current (and only) 11.2 a/v receiver is the least expensive option we’ve seen on the market by a significant margin, whereas other companies with competing products like Denon, Marantz, and Yamaha tend to have significantly more expensive receivers. The VSX-LX505 (see our full review here) has all the necessary essentials that we covered earlier on for surround sound home theater and spatial audio, as well as pre-outs for every channel, which is an awesome inclusion for the lowest priced 11 channel option to have, and for that reason it’s currently the clearly best choice for many people.