Can I Use an External Amp with an Atmos Receiver?

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Q Help! Perhaps it's the case that I don't understand the Dolby Atmos specifications, but I get the impression that if I build an Atmos system with four height channels, I will also need to purchase an expensive receiver.

I want the unit I buy to handle both two-channel analog music and big-budget films with multichannel soundtracks. Is there such thing as a receiver that can process Dolby Atmos soundtracks for a 5.1.4-channel speaker layout but also let me use a high-end stereo amp to power the front channels? —Joshua Gonzalez, Houston, TX

A Yes, but you’re right about such receivers being pricey. Onkyo’s $1,699 TX-NR1030, for instance, is a 9.2 channel Dolby Atmos-equipped model that can be used to power a 5.1.4 configuration with four height speakers, and also has a full set of preamp outputs including both RCA and Balanced XLR connections for the front L/R channels. All you need to do is run cables from either output to the external stereo amp, which will then be used for both two-channel music-listening and movies. The Onkyo even provides a direct analog path for “interference-free Hi-Fi stereo listening.” This means that analog signals coming into the receiver can be routed to the analog preamp outputs without first being converted or processed.

There are plenty of other receiver models that essentially do the same thing—Pioneer’s SC-95, for example, which at $1,600 costs about the same as the Onkyo. Also: Yamaha’s RX-A2050, another Atmos-equipped 9.2 channel model in the same price range.

At this point you might be thinking “Can I use a lower-cost 7.2-channel receiver and get the same results?” The answer: probably not. Most receivers provide limited flexibility for routing amp channels to address specific speakers. For this reason, if you were to use an external amp connected to the main L/R preamp outputs of a 7.2-channel receiver, it’s unlikely that you could re-assign the receiver’s main L/R amp channels for height speaker use. And some 7.2 receivers such as Onkyo’s TX-RZ900 don’t permit more than two height channels, even though they provide zone 2 and 3 line-level outputs that could conceivably be used to route the extra height-channel information required for a 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos configuration.

To sum up, it’s possible to do what you want to do. The one caveat is that you’ll probably have to buy a 9.2 channel receiver, which is going to cost more than a 7.2-channel model.

dvdwilly's picture

If you are willing to go refurb, you could get an Onkyo TX-NR1030 at access....4less for $999 with 1 year factory warranty. It would do a 5.1.4 without an external amp.

And, if you want to go 7.1.4, you could use your old receiver (unless you had to sell it...) to power the 2 additional speakers.

Nani's picture