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Building a 5.1/7.1 setup without an AV receiver - practical and/or reasonable?


Hello all,

so this is a question I’ve been wondering about for a long time. Sorry if this post gets a little long.

TL;DR; 7.1 possible without an AVR, and how to choose an AVR if not?

So one thing before going into the real questions. I know 5.1/7.1 sets for PC exist, but the speakers are neither high quality nor well balanced for a Home Theater setup. I recently got a nice new TV because I like watching movies, and I like high quality that lasts for (hopefully) years to come. I’m not an audiophile either, but I still like having good sound, since it does have a noticeable impact on watching a movie. So those sets are just not an option, I’m talking about getting “real” speakers to work.

Ever since the Asus Xonar card launched I was wondering, is it even possible to build a “real” Home Theater setup with this? The reason I am asking is that I don’t like having yet another device I need to take care of when watching a movie. I guess the card is well known, but here is a link:

Now I’m not an audio-geek, so I’m sorry if I’m getting this wrong. But from what I gathered, those outputs are just a pre-amp. So as I understand one would need active speakers (or an actual amp per channel?) to be able to use this. But wouldn’t one run into all kinds of volume/balance issues with active speakers? AV Receivers can be calibrated to a room, and have a room correction. I assume this wouldn’t be possible with a card like this?

If that is the case, what is the point of such a card?

Not to mention that Active Speakers aren’t exactly cheap, though of course passive ones can be quite pricey as well.

Also, assuming one were to build an HTPC with a card like this, would it even be possible to add external sources (e.g. BD-Player, Consoles, …)? From searching around there seems to be no method of inputting the signals an AV would be able to receive. I’m just wondering, why not?

So with the assumptions above that this wouldn’t be working anyway I started looking into AV Receivers some more. As I can see the cost for an AV Receiver ranges from a few hundred $/€ to well over 4000 for a model.

But the question is, how much should a reasonable person pay for an AV receiver considering it should last for a few years and should (maybe) be expandable with more speakers (looking at more Atmos/DTS:X content coming out) down the road.

What should one look for when choosing a receiver in the first place? How does one know what “the right one” is? Of course it should support the current standards since those will probably be the fallback for future releases when new standards come out. But beyond that I’m pretty much lost as to what is important on an AV receiver.

I’m also not sure how to know if a given choice is “the right one”, partly because I don’t know which features one should look for, and partly because it’s not all that easy to check if a device has a given feature. Reviews seem to be rather scarce from what I see, and while looking at the user’s manual is fine, sometimes those aren’t very detailed either.

Sooo… any tips?



Whew that is a long post. Let me see if my tl:dr scan got it right. You want to use a multichannel sound card on a PC instead of dedicated AV receiver for a home theater setup?

It should work, but as you pointed out a sound card doesn’t provide much amplification.

An AVR provides a few modules lumped into a single unit.

First is a video audio source selection switch and image processor. Much better than anything a PC can do, because it’s a dedicated chip. You’ll miss this if you watch a lot of low-deff content. A GPU/CPU based scaler doesn’t match the output quality wise.

Second is the multichannel decoder chip that takes various digital (and analog) encoded streams and splits into discrete audio channels. No problem for a sound card.

Third is the amplification section. An AVR usually has 2 or 3 high power amp channels and 3 to 7 medium power amp channels. You could use powered speakers or discreet external amps, but will easily spend more than what an AVR cost.

Tl;dr… Is it possible without, yes. Is it cost effective, no.



Pretty much, at least that’s why I thought those cards exist in the first place.

That’s the idea I got looking into it as well.



TBH I can’t figure out why they exist other than it’s inexpensive to mass manufacture and looks cool on the box?

I have a 5.1 Logitech speaker system on my gamer, it uses one cable, a fiber optic. Much easier than 6 individual cables!




When it is a good card, it offers more options and better sound quality than onboard solutions.

On Creative soundcards, you get a programm that has all the settings you may need.

I would imagine Asus has something similar.

There are soundcards with optical (SPDIF) inputs. The Creative Soundblaster Z for example has optical input and output, the PS4 Pro and Xbone have an optical output.
If you wanted to hook two consoltes to the same computer, stuff gets interesting as you need several SPDIF inputs. There are PCIe cards that offer that, but they cost some considerable money. One example beeing the RME HDSPe RayDAT or if you are okay with it beeing external, the RME Digiface USB.
For devices without SPDIF, you either need to split out the audio from HDMI (there are devices for that).

Number of speakers, number of sources (Consoles, players, computers, etc.) and outputs (TV’s, projectors, etc.), and budget.

  • Look at the manual before buying a device. When the manual is sketchy, do not buy it. Works as general advice.
  • Make up your mind on what you want to achieve.
  • When in doubt, give it a nights sleep before deciding.
  • Don’t start at endgame devices. You don’t need 11.2 just yet


I think I’ve seen this in the past. But isn’t SPDIF/TOSLINK also an issue with audio formats? As I understand those can only carry a max of 6 channels (so 5.1, 4.2), and don’t support Atmos/DTS:X, correct?

Didn’t actually see those before.

That’s what I was looking at so far. Thing is I don’t really have a budget right now, since I’m still trying to figure out what a reasonable price would be. Since I don’t need it right now I could just save up to get it. But then I would want the money spent to make sense and get the most out of it.

Yes that’s what I do for most things these days, product descriptions aren’t saying a lot anymore. But sometimes they’re also not very detailed in some areas.

That’s one thing I’m still trying to figure out. For one thing I want good sound for movies (and games in a way), but I don’t know what I could need or look for beyond that. Bluetooth would be nice to connect the phone, but from what I see most AVRs do that now.

Or a few months for that matter :joy: I tend to not spend a lot of money even when I have it for whatever I want :thinking:

That’s a thing I was wondering about though. Wouldn’t it be future proofing to get more channels? Especially when looking at the new surround formats.



The short answer is an AVR receiver will simplify things greatly. As far as needing a sound card…that depends on your mb. I do not use sound cards any longer as most onboard sound options have greatly improved. Recording is another story so lets stick with play back.

Some care is needed matching up mb sound and software with your av receiver. You can do things via hdmi or SPDIF . I lean towards SPDIF for just audio.

You literally do not need 7.1 unless you have a large space inwhich to put it in… also a great deal more money. An excellent starting place is 5.1 More channel equals more complexity and money.



You should wade this channel…

Entry level AV I would start here…

The secret is to not get hung up on speaker wattage ratings but pay close attention to the receivers output ratings. A 50 watt per channel receiver can blow you out of the room when done correctly. Powered sub woofers have the great benefit of reducing the need for extreme powered av units.

Do not blow a lot of money on first entry because it is not needed. Just like anything you need time to learn, form your own opinions, and decide on your needs.

These are okay for entry level Home theater / gaming . They are not my favorite for music tho…

Klipsch R14’s for my rears…

The best thing you can do is go listen to as many speakers/systems as possible paying close attention to config and specs.



An AVR will be the least expensive option because of mass production.

You don’t have to buy brand new either. My old receiver was 7 years old when I sold it, and it’s been with it’s new family for 3 years now no problems.

The only reason to buy brand new is you want some whizbang feature that just came out.



Whizbang :slight_smile: I can agree with that.



This should help you get your foot in the door at a more practical and with less audiophile elite nonsense.



Yeah I don’t use either. I was just wondering about a media center setup specifically.

Currently I live in a somewhat small apartment, but I like buying for the future where I don’t know where I’ll live so…

I looked at Z Reviews a while ago, but didn’t watch a lot of it

That doesn’t even exist on denon’s site, though theer is an X540BT that turns up every time I search for S…

But speaking of Denon, I was actually looking at the X2500H (it’s only 70 € more compared to the X1500H). The X3500H is 250 more, and I’m not sure that’s worth it…

That would be optimal, but honestly I’m not sure how I’d go about that.

I’ll read through that when I get home



In what manner is it an issue?

SPDIF to my knowledge, can do 7.1 DolbyDigital or DTS.
Shame consumers don’t get ADAT at home (yet).

RMA is known for their professional audio equipment.

Especially when you need an amplification on each channel. That is easily a small 19" rack full of amps.

Quadraphonic would be somewhat easy as there are 4 channel amps. Apart audio Champ4 for example.



Do not throw quadraphonic out there… You are just confusing the issue :slight_smile: I find Klipsch to be super efficient if you can stand them as mains.



Well from what I understand it wouldn’t be able to carry an Atmos signal from the player to the AVR, right? :thinking: From what I read only HDMI can carry Atmos and DTS:X



Which is not an issue with most modern avr units having hdmi inputs. The routing would be from the pc’s gpu to the avr receiver.

Atmos is really not something to worry about at entry level.



I probably am.
5.1 or 5.2 is probably the most sensible option for first DIY home cinema.

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This is correct, the coax or fiber connection maxes out at DD 5.1 and regular DTS. High definition streams like DTS-MA, DD+, Atmos, etc. just don’t fit through the pipe.

I don’t consider myself an audiophile but I do enjoy a well made sound track as much as what’s on the screen. High definition audio is a whizbang feature I wanted, so I bought a new AVR in 2016.<



I am close to the limit of my experience but if you care about music also… Kef has compelling soundstage. I personally use a pair of Q100’s for front mains at music time. Uni-q concept is something to look into for small spaces.

You have a great deal of wading to do and don’t be in a hurry. Avoid Polk Audio :slight_smile:



Guess we’re on the same page on that then. I just like having the option of the new audio formats.

Yeah I’m definitely not, hence why I’m just trying to figure out what’s needed.

I also don’t know anything about speakers. I don’t even know what to look for when selecting tbh.