Can a Receiver Send 5.1 Surround to a 2nd Zone?

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Q I am in the market to buy a high-end Dolby Atmos AV Receiver for my basement home theater and have shortlisted the following receivers: Yamaha RX-A3050, Denon AVR-X5200W, and Marantz SR 7010. I also have a Sony receiver that powers a KEF 5.1 speaker system in my living room.

I was looking at the manuals for these receivers online and they all have second-zone HDMI and preamp outputs. Would it possible to use the new receiver’s Zone 2 HDMI or preamp outputs to send surround to my 5.1 system upstairs? —Bhaskar Vooradi

A Yes—at least when using an HDMI connection. I looked at the same manuals online, and it appears that each of the models you cite provides a second zone pass-through option for HDMI audio. This means the audio signal of the HDMI input source can be routed to a system in a second zone via the receiver’s Zone 2 HDMI output without first getting converted to stereo PCM audio. As the image above from Yamaha’s manual indicates, this enables you to hear 5.1 surround in a system other than the one in the Main zone. Note that the same situation doesn’t apply to the receiver’s multi-zone analog preamp outputs, which in each case are stereo-only.

While the outlook is good for you routing 5.1 surround to your Sony receiver, there could be caveats. For example, Denon’s manual says, “When a TV is connected to the HDMI ZONE2 OUT connector, and the MAIN ZONE and ZONE2 are set to the same input source, the MAIN ZONE audio MAY be mixed down to 2-channel audio.” This basically means no simultaneous multichannel surround in both rooms. Marantz’s manual reverses the situation, stating that Zone 2 HDMI audio will be two-channel-only if the same content in Zone 1 is playing in multichannel.

Given these limitations, it's unlikely you'll be able to screen the same source in 5.1 surround in both rooms with your intended setup. But why would you want to do that anyway?