R.I.P., analog surround


Let's talk about audiophile equipment and component connections. It's no secret that the more high-end a receiver or other audio device is, generally the more jacks will be on the back. More complex means more advanced, after all.

Except doesn't seem to be the case anymore, especially for equipment set-up, and half of the connections you find on the back of a high-end receiver might very well be vestigial. It takes no less than 8 jacks to produce a proper 7.1-channel analog output (with a jack for each channel). If you have an ancient device that still somehow supports analog-out, or if you just like juggling wires, you have to run 6-8 cables from component to receiver to get surround sound.

Of course, virtually every surround-capable device on the market uses either HDMI or TOSLink to digitally pipe the surround sound through a single cable. The bandwidth is wide enough that either technology can handle 8 channels of uncompressed audio. It's one cable, with no effective change in sound quality.

This isn't an analog versus digital discussion, and I'd rather not open up that particular can of worms right now. This is strictly about multi-channel sound, so vinyl enthusiasts shouldn't feel slighted. All modern media that supports 5.1, 6.1, and 7.1-channel surround is inherently a digital media. DVD, Blu-ray, digital cable, streaming video, DVD-Audio, it's all digital. There is absolutely no benefit in the experience for running analog cables, unless you like turning your home theater into a massive knot of cables Alexander the Great could only untie with a sword.

Analog surround has become a bigger fossil than S-Video, and there is no reason for modern gear to feature analog inputs. Even analog outputs for media players are only justifiable if you're adding a new piece of tech to a home theater that revolves around an antique A/V receiver.

Most receivers forgo analog surround inputs (though they still tend to have a startling number of obsolete S-Video/RCA-with-analog-stereo inputs), but a few, like some of Pioneer's Elite receivers, still feature multi-channel analog-in. In an age when the vast majority of devices can use HDMI or TOSLink, there just doesn't seem to be a reason to keep so many analog inputs on the back of your receiver. If your media is surround, it's going to be digital. Heck, even if your media isn't surround, you're probably not going to have more than two or three analog stereo devices at most.

Will Greenwald