Is There a Sonic Benefit to Bi-amping Speakers?

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Q I recently purchased a 5.1 Klipsch Reference Premiere speaker system and a Pioneer Elite VSX-90 receiver. The Klipsch front towers are capable of being bi-amped, and the Pioneer receiver has a bi-amp output setting. Is there a sonic benefit to bi-amping speakers? —Michael Holly

A Yes, there can be. Many new A/V receivers like your Pioneer provide not five, but a minimum of seven amp channels to allow for the connection of surround rear or height speakers, or a second zone setup in another room. If the receiver has Dolby Atmos processing, those two extra channels can also be used for a 5.1.2 setup by connecting in-ceiling or upward-firing Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers or modules.

While it’s good news that receivers now provide extra amp channel and the flexibility to configure them for a range of surround sound applications, the reality is that most people don’t do bother with setting their system up for anything beyond 5.1. What happens in this case is that the extra amp channels on their receivers end up going unused.

One use case that does exist for applying a 7.1 receiver’s extra amp channels to a 5.1 setup is to bi-amp your front speakers. As you’ve noted, certain receiver models like the Pioneer VSX-90 even label their outputs to provide guidance to do just that. When you bi-amp a speaker, you use individual amp channels to separately power its tweeter and midrange/woofer sections. This is typically done by removing the metal jumper strips that connect the two sets of speaker inputs on bi-amp capable speakers like your Klipsch front towers, and then running separate L/R speaker outputs to them from the receiver.

With separate amp channels independently powering the different driver sets on the speaker, you may note a greater sense of clarity and dynamic ease when listening to music and movies. That’s because the speaker’s high and low frequency networks are each being individually powered by a separate amp channel. But even if you don’t hear a dramatic difference, there will be nothing lost in putting those idle extra amp channels on your 7.1 receiver to work.

Gonzaga_1's picture

I have also wondered the same topic. I own a Pioneer SC-85 as I was interested in not only bi-amping the front but also the rear speakers. After doing this with a 12 AWG C&E speaker cables and being in an apartment, I can attest that bi-amping the rear speakers puts much more cable on the floor than you realize, especially if you have a second subwoofer. I have experimented with Room EQ Wizard in running frequency sweeps for both bi-amped and not and I don’t see any difference which may make sense as it may only be noticeable when really pushing the system. (Which I’m sure my new neighbor appreciates as the last one didn’t.) My real hesitation on the question as to if it is beneficial or not resides in, How does the receiver know how to split the power for what speaker you are connecting to it? There isn’t any specification on this and one would think the user would need to tell the receiver what the frequency crossover is of your bookshelf or tower speaker just like you do for your subwoofer. Most importantly I regret getting my Pioneer receiver for all the issues I am having with it and their absolutely terrible / non-existent customer support.

allanmarcus's picture

The crossover in the speaker is there and and knows which frequencies to play. When beaming from a receiver like this, you are just putting the exact same signal into both see of wires. The crossover in the speaker just ignores the frequencies it doesn't care about for the top and bottom.

There are many opinions opinion on bi-amping, and the prevalent one among audiophiles (you know, the ones that claim to hear differences between cables, but refuse to blind test them :-) is that bi-amping from one amp doesn't do much. The real benefit is to bi-amping is seen when you use different mono blocks (so, at least 4).

As the 330 word "Maybe" above says, it couldn't hurt.

mikem's picture

I've used Pioneer Elite models for about 15 years now and when I first called them for support, years ago, it became apparent that my cat knew more than they did, so i made it a challenge for me to learn all I could about my receiver and can now set up any Elite receiver in my sleep. The one thing I've noticed about these receivers is that they can run hot, not warm, hot.) Not sure if this is the case with class D amps. I have my receiver in an open space but the receiver still runs hot when pressed for 'movie' duty. To alleviate this I have a laptop cooling pad on top of the receiver and this really works wonders. I also buy my electronics from a local a/v retailer and if I need them they are about 5 minutes away.

jasonbf's picture

I have a Pioneer SC-63 used in preamp mode (amp section turns itself off) and an SC-57 used as an amp (pre/pro section defunct)...Bi-amping does make a difference; primarily clarity and detail...But what really made the biggest difference was the separation of pre/pro and amp...Vastly bigger and more realistic soundstage...fuller, richer sound...totally more immersive experience...

dieselgeek's picture

What settings do you have on the SC-57 as the amp only ? I have one and I'm using it in the same manner , just wanted to compare the settings.

jasonbf's picture

It's been a while...The SC-57 is now in the bedroom, where it's used as an analog receiver...The little I do remember is that "multi" input was used, and volume as set to unity gain...Hope that helps.

Andrew08's picture

I am a little disappointed by this non scientific answer.
I am expecting an article about bi amp, with graph like, load impedance graph, frequency response and other supporting graph.

But yes i do hear difference in doing bi-amp.

drewdlz's picture

Any point in bi-amping bookshelf monitors that are used as Front R/L's?

TimmyS's picture

I would not actually call this setup true bi amping. Some call this vertical bi amping and I would call this multi amping to a split crossover.

Each amp is seeing the same input signal from the source.

Potentially each amp only sees a slightly less of a speaker load under this condition potentially giving a bit more headroom.

True biamping involves an electronic crossover that sends one frequency band, say the low pass to one amp and the high pass to another. This way each amp does not see all of the signal and is not driven as hard. Usually the speaker sections are driven directly and not through a built in passive crossover. That makes for a simpler work load and usually higher sensitivity.

Try the multi amp setup, your only cost will be an additional set of speaker wires!

Good Luck! Tim

hk2000's picture

Most receivers power output with all channels driven drops significantly as the number of channels increases. Unless you're using a pre-pro setup with separate amps, I'd say you're better off not bi-amping- especially if you have a sub-woofer in the system!!! bi-amping may give you better 2 channel sound, but in full surround sound, you're limiting the dynamic headroom and very likely increasing the THD at high volumes.

pw's picture

Real biamping will always sound better. Get some cheap mono blocks and run solid state to the bass and the tube monos to the mid/tweeters. My set up sounds superb..

JustinGN's picture aware of the power your speakers will want to draw from the amplifier, before bi-amping them. Especially with highly-efficient Class D (Pioneer Elite) and robust Class AB amplifiers, you may not notice any difference by bi-amping some speakers to amplifiers already supplying 100W per channel or more. That said, bi-amping can be highly beneficial when your AVR power output drops substantially upon powering five to nine channels, as it takes that extra amp or two to push the extra power to your larger speakers (usually your fronts). I, for one, found a significant improvement upon bi-amping my B&W 684 speakers from my Marantz SR6003, as it brought them clarity they never had when single-amped.

The short version is, yes, bi-amping may bring quality improvements in some speakers, with some AVRs, in some situations. The easiest way to tell is to just break out some basic Monster Cable speaker wire (the kind that's $15/roll at your electronics outlet), terminate it, and give it a listen. Worse comes to worse, you're out $15. Best case scenario, your movies and music sound a bit better or clearer. I'd personally highly recommend bi-amping for floor standing speakers, and leaving bookshelves single-amped or bi-wired.

mikem's picture

I've bi-amped before and have never heard any sonic or quality difference improvements. The one caveat about bi-amping is that, regardless of what your speaker is capable of, the existing speakers must be able to bi-amp. The reason I mention this is that a friend of mine bought an expensive reeiver with all the bells and whistles and when into the setup menu choosing 'bi-amp front speakers' and thought all was well until I had to break the news to him that while the software showed speakers as bi-amped his speakers were not capable of that.

blackspider777's picture

You talking about the b&w 684 s2? i got the same speakers that i want to Bi-amp with my denon avrx2300.