What Amps Should I Use for a 5.1.4 Atmos Setup?

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Q I’m running a 5.1.4 Atmos setup and am looking to upgrade the amplification because I feel that my current 9-channel receiver lacks sufficient “oomph.” I’m using Aperion Audio Verus Grand Towers for the front left and right speakers, a Verus Grand Center, and Verus Grand Bookshelves for the surrounds and height speakers. I have seen plenty of 5-and 7-channel amps on the market. What configuration would work best for a 9 channel setup? A 7-channel amp for the height, center, and surrounds combined with a 2-channel amp for the front left and right speakers? Or would a better option be to buy two identical 5-channel amps and leave one channel unused? Also, what do I do to ensure that I get the same sound from each speaker when I mix and match amplifiers? —Dean Ellingson

A Most reasonably powered (and by that I mean at least 100 watts per channel) AV receivers deliver sufficient “oomph” for most rooms, but there are always situations where greater output and dynamic headroom is desired. For such cases, a separate power amp provides an easy upgrade path — as long as your receiver has the necessary preamp output connections.

It’s a good idea to keep things simple when attaching external amps to your receiver, so the best-case scenario will be to find a multichannel model that packs all amp channels in the same chassis. And since multichannel amplifiers are engineered to deliver equal performance to all connected speakers, the sound you’ll get with your all-Aperion Verus Grand system will be matched.

For a 5.1.4 Atmos installation, you’ll need a 9-channel model. That said, there aren’t many 9-channel amplifiers to choose from. One contender is Onkyo’s PA-MC5501 ($1600), a THX-certified 9-channel power amplifier that delivers 150 watts per channel into 8 ohms.

Another strategy I’d suggest is to use a 2-channel amp for the front left/right speakers, paired with a 7-channel model for the center, surrounds and height speakers. To ensure consistent sound from all channels, stick with the same amplifier brand — and series if possible — for both models. And don’t worry if the 2-channel amp provides greater power output than the 7-channel one since that extra power will benefit stereo music listening.

Some affordable options you’ll want to check out include Emotiva’s XPA Series (200 watts x 7 channels, $1,899; 300 watts x 2 channels, $899) and ATI’s 1800 Series (180 watts x 7 channels, $3,000; 180 watts x 2 channels, $1,500). If your budget allows, you should also check out NAD’s Masters Series (180 watts x 7 channels, $4,000; 250 watts x 2 channels, $3,000).

KINGTED's picture

You can save some money by still running some of the surrounds off of the receiver's internal amp (if the receiver supports it). For instance you could get a 3 channel external amp to power the left, center, and right channels then use the receiver to power the rear and height channels. You could also do this with a 2 or 5 channel amp. While matching amplifiers would be better, you likely won't notice the mismatch in the surrounds, especially if you run the receiver's auto calibration.
I did this as a incremental upgrade until I had more money to spend. I started with am Emotiva 2 channel then later added an Emotiva 3 channel model. I will likely do the same when I upgrade to atmos/DTSX.
Side note, I am very happy with my Emotiva amps.

msardo's picture

Just to share, this option has worked very well for me.

I have a 7.2.4 Atmos type setup and I am bi-amping the Front L and R speakers. I have the Yamaha RX-A 3060 Receiver. This does all of the 7.2 speakers and the bi-amping of the fronts. Then, using the pre-outs, I have two additional AudioSource Amp100VS Amps - and one set is my Atmos Front Ceiling L and R and the other is my Atmos Rear Ceiling L and R.

I am absolutely thrilled with the results.