What The Different Listening Modes On An AV Receiver Mean
The audio processing settings of any AV receiver, be it an Onkyo, Yamaha, Denon, or Sony, will be customizable to your tastes.
Possible formats include Dolby TrueHD and DTS Neural:X, with the former two being the more likely choices.
Those words are all over the place in the user manual of that beautiful new receiver you just bought.
If you haven’t spent much time familiarising yourself with the various audio formats, the prospect of using one in your home theatre may seem daunting.
You shouldn’t get down on yourself too much. Not terrible, really, when you put it that way. This article will take a look at the various sound settings and AV audio formats that are available for use with your gadgets.
How then can we tell them apart?
What Exactly Is a Listening Mode on an AV Receiver?
A listening mode is nothing more than a preset that tells your home theatre system how to play the audio track that is present on your DVD or Blu-ray disc. This mode can be customised to play the track in a certain way depending on your preferences.
It is possible that it will direct the receiver to play the audio in the exact same manner as it was recorded on the disc. However, it is also possible that it will play it in a different manner.
Alternately, it may initiate internal processing, which may result in a change to the way that your system plays the audio. This change will take effect once the system has completed the processing.
For instance, it may offer an effect that gives the sense that you are listening to the music in a large theatre because it creates the feeling that you are in a much larger space.
It is also feasible for it to downmix the surround sound to stereo or play the soundtrack across a speaker arrangement that is larger than the one it was initially designed for. Both of these capabilities were not initially designed into the system.
The most significant benefit that comes from activating these various listening modes is the ability to customise the way in which you hear the sounds that are present in your surroundings.
There are many different models of AV receivers, and not all of them make use of the term “listening mode.” The following is a list of words that are utilised by some of the world’s most recognisable brands:
- Anthem: listening mode
- Arcam: decoding mode
- Denon: sound mode
- Marantz: sound mode
- Onkyo: listening mode
- Pioneer: listening mode
- Sony: sound field
- Yamaha: sound program
Analogy between the Processes of Audio Coding and Audio Decoding
Before continuing with the discussion of the various listening modes available on AV receivers, it is essential to have a solid understanding of the difference between audio encoding and decoding.
As soon as you get this figured out, you will have a much simpler time comprehending the material at hand.
The process of storing audio on a disc, whether it be a DVD or a Blu-ray, is referred to as encoding the audio. This procedure can be performed on any format. When using Blu-ray discs, you can use one of seven distinct codecs that are supported for the format:
- Dolby Digital
- Dolby Digital Plus
- DTS-HD High Resolution Audio
- Dolby TrueHD
- DTS-HD Master Audio
With the release of the new Ultra HD Blu-ray specification, there are now two additional alternative audio formats that are available to consumers: Dolby Atmos format, as well as the DTS:X format.
These are not codecs in and of themselves; rather, they are object-based data streams that are layered on top of the codecs that have been enumerated in the paragraphs that came before this one.
It’s quite unlikely that a single Blu-ray disc will contain all of these different formats. You will, however, be able to view a list of the soundtracks that are included with that particular disc if you flip the packaging over so that the back is facing you.
Audio Processing and Listening Modes
What exactly is the connection between all of this information and the various listening modes that an AV receiver provides?
On the other hand, the AV receiver you have will give you access to a number of different listening modes. Remember that different manufacturers give them a variety of names, so keep that in mind.
Some of these listening modes will not be possible without first directly decoding and playing back the encoded audio that is stored on the disc.
There might, for instance, be a Dolby Atmos mode available when it finally releases.
In most cases, the AV receiver will automatically make this pick on its own once it recognises a Dolby Atmos bitstream emanating from the player. In the event that this is not the case, the Dolby Atmos sound mode can be manually selected.
Additional audio processing options are generally included in AV receivers, in addition to any built-in decoders that the receiver may have. In common parlance, these components are referred to as DSPs, which is an abbreviation for “digital signal processing.”
As a direct result of the new audio processing characteristics, these additional playing options are made accessible once the soundtrack has been decoded.
Because of the blurry boundary that exists between the two processes, it’s possible that you won’t be able to differentiate between an AV receiver processing a signal and one that is decoding a signal at all.
However, this is because AV receivers make an effort to make the process transparent, requiring the user to perform as little action as is reasonably possible. This is the reason why this is the case.
Therefore, if you play a soundtrack that is directly decoded by the AV receiver, then the receiver will recognise the audio stream and play it exactly how it was intended to be played. If you do not play a soundtrack that is directly decoded by the AV receiver, then the receiver will not recognise the audio stream.
For example, if the AV receiver detects an incoming 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio signal, the front panel display will show as “DTS-HD Master Audio” (or words to that effect), and the audio will be sent to the surround speakers utilising this format. If the receiver does not detect an incoming 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio signal, the front panel display will remain blank. This takes place whenever the audio is transferred to the surround speakers in the format described above.
Even though you have a 7.1 surround sound system placed in your room, the only way you will be able to hear the movie is through your 5.1 speakers if the soundtrack is a 5.1 mix. This is true even if you have a 7.1 surround sound system installed in your room.
On the other hand, the audio processing and listening modes that come standard on your AV receiver are likely to provide a number of different options, and you may use these to give the receiver specific instructions for how to play the audio.
As a result of this, after the audio has been decoded, you are able to add further processing to adjust the way in which the receiver plays the sound through your speakers. This is possible because of the aforementioned situation.
You have the possibility to select a listening mode other than the “DTS-HD Master Audio” setting, as an example, in the illustration that was just presented of the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track.
When you make the switch to this listening mode, the DTS Neural:X feature on the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack will be active. As a direct consequence of this, the audio will be enhanced so that it is compatible with the speakers that are connected to your receiver.
As a result, it will play a 5.1 mix over your 7.1 speaker system while also adding music to any additional back speakers you may have.
Alternately, if you have height speakers placed, the sound will be blended in with the music that is coming from the speakers that are installed overhead.
This is all extracted from the 5.1 soundtrack of the original, and it results in a breathtaking 3D effect.
When playing the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, you have the ability to select from a variety of different listening modes, each of which is depicted in the graphic that is located directly above this one:
- Stereo: downmixes everything to your front left and right speakers (plus subwoofer)
- DTS-HD MSTR: this just plays the soundtrack as intended
- DTS-HD + Dolby Surround: as with Neural:X, this will upscale to fit your speaker layout
- DTS-HD + Neural:X: the one that is selected
- Multi Ch Stereo: plays a stereo mix across your complete speaker system
- Mono Movie: makes everything mono
- Virtual: creates a virtual 3D effect with no height speakers
The user handbook will detail the many input formats that are compatible with each listening mode.
Some Depictions of the Sound Modes and DSP Programs Available on AV Receivers
In an effort to make things clearer, we have compiled a list of the many listening and processing modes that are provided by some of the most popular brands of AV receivers.
Keep an eye out for the DSP modes, which allow you the power to adjust the sounds that are created in the area, as well as the sound modes, which are decoders for a certain audio format. Also, keep an eye out for the sound modes, which are audio format decoders.
It is essential to keep in mind that different manufacturers and models may potentially come equipped with a variety of processing options.
In addition, certain DSP modes will only be available for usage with specified audio sources and file formats when they are applied to audio processing.
Onkyo AV Receiver Listening Modes
Listening Modes (Decoders):
Dolby Digital: Audio recorded in Dolby Digital and sent via bitstream (HDMI/Optical/Coaxial) is played back exactly as it was recorded.
Dolby Digital Plus: audio recorded in Dolby Digital Plus and sent via bitstream is played back exactly as it was recorded (HDMI only)
Dolby TrueHD: audio recorded in Dolby TrueHD and sent via bitstream is played back exactly as it was recorded (HDMI only)
Dolby Atmos: audio recorded in Dolby Atmos and sent via bitstream is played back exactly as it was recorded (HDMI only). Can also be used on speaker systems with different speaker layouts, such as 2.0/2.1, 3.0/3.1, 4.0/4.1, 5.0/5.1, 6.0/6.1, 7.0/7.1, 2.0.2/2.1.2, and 3.0.2/3.1.2.
DTS: Reproduces exactly the sound that was recorded in DTS audio and sent through a bitstream (HDMI, Optical, or Coaxial).
DTS Express: audio recorded in DTS Express and sent via bitstream is played back exactly as it was recorded (HDMI only)
ES Discrete: Reproduces DTS-ES Discrete audio exactly as it was recorded and sent via bitstream (HDMI/Optical/Coaxial).
ES Matrix: Audio recorded in DTS-ES Matrix and sent via bitstream (HDMI/Optical/Coaxial) is played back exactly.
DTS 96/24: Audio recorded in DTS 96/24 and sent via bitstream (HDMI/Optical/Coaxial) is played back exactly as it was recorded.
DTS-HD HR: audio recorded in DTS-HD High Resolution Audio and sent via bitstream is played back exactly as it was recorded (HDMI only)
DTS-HD MSTR: plays back exactly the same sound that was recorded in DTS-HD Master Audio and sent via bitstream (HDMI only)
DTS:X: plays back exactly the same sound that was recorded in DTS:X audio and sent via bitstream (HDMI only)
DSD: used when DSD audio is received through HDMI
Upmixing Listening Modes (Post-Decoding):
Dolby Surround: expands 2-channel or 5.1 audio to play over systems with more speakers, like 7.1 or 5.1.2.
DTS Neural:X lets 2-channel or 5.1 audio play on systems with more speakers, like 7.1 or 5.1.2.
General Listening Modes (Post Decoding):
AllCh Stereo: for music in the background. Makes the surround speakers play a stereo image.
Direct: Turns off some of the unit’s processing for a cleaner sound signal. The same number of channels as in the source material are used to play back the sound.
Full Mono: All speakers make the same sound in mono, which is called “full mono.”
Game-Action is for games that have a lot going on.
Game-Rock is for games that are about rock.
Game-RPG-RPG stands for “role-playing game.”
Game-Sports- is for games that have to do with sports.
Mono: Only one sound comes out of the centre speaker. If there is no centre speaker, the front left and right speakers make the mono sound (analog or PCM audio only).
Multich: stands for multichannel PCM audio.
Orchestra: For classical or opera music, you need an orchestra. Uses the surround speakers to make the sound of a hall’s natural echo.
Pure Audio: Pure Audio is like Direct, but it goes a step further. Turns off the display and the circuitry for analogue video. When this is turned on, only HDMI video can be shown on the screen.
Stereo: Sound comes out of the left and right front speakers as well as the subwoofer.
Studio-Mix: is for pop or rock music. Makes it sound like you’re in a club.
T-D: This theater-dimensional mode makes it sound like there are more speakers even if there are only 2 or 3.
THX Cinema: for playing a soundtrack as if it were in a large room or movie theatre.
THX Games: for listening to game audio in a room with surround sound.
THX Music: is for music sources that have better quality recordings than movies.
THX Select Cinema: makes soundtracks that were recorded in 5.1 or 7.1 sound better. THX Advanced Speaker Array (ASA) technology is used to create the best environment for surround sound.
THX Select Games: uses THX ASA technology to turn multichannel game audio into a 360-degree sound field.
THX Select Music uses THX ASA technology to make music recorded in 5.1 sound like it’s coming from a wide area.
TV Logic: For TV shows that are made in a TV studio. It uses surround effects to make voices more clear.
Unplugged: Unplugged is for jazz, vocals, and music with acoustic instruments. draws attention to the front stereo image.
Denon AV Receiver Sound Modes
In their written materials, Denon talks about “sound modes.” Even though they mean the same thing on Onkyo receivers as “listening modes.”
If you look at what the Denon AVR-X4500H AV Receiver has to offer, you can see that it has many of the same decoder options.
One big difference is that if you upgrade, it will work with Auro-3D.
There aren’t as many DSP modes as on the Onkyo, but there are still enough if you like to play around with these settings.
Sound Modes (Decoding)
Dolby Digital: plays back audio exactly as it was recorded in Dolby Digital.
Dolby TrueHD: plays back audio exactly as it was recorded in Dolby TrueHD
Dolby Digital Plus: plays back exactly what was recorded in Dolby Digital Plus
Dolby Atmos: plays back exactly what was recorded in Dolby Atmos
DTS Surround: plays back exactly what was recorded in DTS.
DTS-ES Matrix 6.1: Reproduces the sound exactly as it was recorded in DTS-ES Matrix, where the extra back speaker shares sound with the left and right surround channels.
DTS-ES Discrete 6.1: Reproduces the sound exactly as it was recorded in DTS-ES Discrete: where the extra back speaker plays as a separate channel.
DTS 96/24: plays back exactly what was recorded in DTS 96/24.
DTS-HD: plays back exactly what was recorded in DTS-HD
DTS Express: plays back exactly the same sound that was recorded in DTS Express.
DTS:X: plays back exactly what was recorded in DTS:X.
Auro-3D; is perfect for recording audio in Auro-3D on systems that have a height channel. The Auro-Matic upmixer is used to make surround sound from other sources as well.
Auro-2D: Surround is perfect for playing back Auro-3D sound on systems that don’t have a height channel. The Auro-Matic upmixer is used to make surround sound from other sources as well.
Modes of Sound (After Decoding)
Auto: Changes to the right mode automatically based on what you do.
Dolby Surround: lets 2-channel or 5.1 audio play over systems with more speakers, like 7.1 or 5.1.2
DTS: Neural:X lets 2-channel or 5.1 audio play on systems with more speakers, like 7.1 or 5.1.2 DTS. With virtual height and surround processing, Virtual:X makes a 3D surround effect. Cannot be used with speakers that support height, ceiling, and
Dolby Atmos: Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, and Dolby Atmos are not supported.
Multi-Channel In: for playing PCM/DSD sources with more than one channel
Multi-Channel Stereo: for stereo sound using all speakers
Rock Arena: a live concert in an arena is simulated.
Jazz Club: simulates an intimate jazz club
Mono Movie: Turns a mono source into a surround source
Video Game: Makes a dynamic surround effect for video games.
Matrix: gives stereo music a surround sound effect
Virtual: Gives stereo speaker systems and headphones a surround sound.
Stereo: Plays two-channel stereo (with a subwoofer if available). Audio with more than two channels is turned into stereo.
Direct: Plays the audio as it was recorded in the source
Pure Direct: is a better product than Direct. Turns off the display and processing of analogue video.
There are a number of different ways to listen to audio on an AV receiver.
Some are designed for decoding the sound from the disc in its entirety directly. Additionally, some alter the sound so that it is compatible with your speakers.
If you are willing to put in the effort to educate yourself about the various possibilities, you will be able to get the most out of our receiver and speaker system.
If you are interested in learning more about the many sorts of audio formats, you can do so by consulting the reference to surround sound formats.