Jul 23, 2018

Thoughts on 4.1 Stereo setup in "surround" config

What are your thoughts on a 4.1 stereo setup using JBL LSR305's and an LSR310S pushed through a Schiit Jotunheim Multibit?
The question is more so about the concept and not necessarily the specifics of the equipment I am using.
Goal: To have a headphone like experience without using headphones. To be surrounded in music as if you're standing in a pair of headphones.
Is this feasible and do you think it could make a difference in listening experience? I'm sure volume levels will need to be different from the front and rears but I feel like once its tweaked correctly it could be extremely immersive.

I'll attach a pic showing how mine will be set up.


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I use 7 channel stereo with my HT setup for music sometimes - it basically fills the room with sound more evenly and gives an interesting listen space versus just using the fronts. Mainly used for background music while in the kitchen or dining room, as the sound is much better in those locations with 7-channel stereo than with 2- channel stereo.
I think you might be disappointed in your pursuit here, not because of the gear but because of room acoustics. It's the most overlooked issue with speaker setups, and can make $2000 speakers sound like junk.

That crisp, immersive sound from headphones occurs because the only thing the sound is interacting with are the cups and your ears.

In a small untreated room, you're going to get all kinds of reflections, standing waves and, if you have speakers close to the wall, boundary interference. The effect is likely to be pretty muddy.

Believe it or not, you can probably get more bang for your buck focusing on finding the sweet spot for your two existing speakers. When it comes to soundstage, no headphones can compare to two properly set up speakers. That sense of being surrounded by instruments or that feeling like "somebody made a sound in the room" can be really freaky with just two well placed speakers.

All that said, have fun with it. You'll learn way more by messing around with those extra speakers. Just don't make the very common (and costly) mistake of thinking that your speakers are lousy when the problem is a room filled with reflective surfaces.

Thanks for the reply.

With the speakers angled how they are right now the sound already comes eerily centered. People put their ear up to my monitor in amazement lol. I can't really position them elsewhere in my current desktop setup due to space (width and depth of desk) as I am not centered on the desktop, pic attached... and then also the speaker stands are actually mounted to the desk in this location.

I wouldn't recommend this, you're going to get time-delay artifacts as the front left/right and rear left/right will be reaching your ears at different times with the same information. Discrete channels don't have this problem as they are providing different information and with use of a receiver or processor you can set channel delay/speaker distance to account for the variation in distance. If one really HAD to try this out I would recommend you find a way to make all channels equidistant from your listening position or some sort of a software channel delay (JRiver includes similar functionality)
Unless you are using an AVR, I don't think you'd get much benefit from a " full range stereo system with stereo surrounds." Since the mixes are in 2ch stereo, adding rear stereo speakers won't add much to the experience. Maybe if you're utilizing some sort of 3D DSP you would hear some effects but considering how close your speakers are in the images, your area of placement is relatively small (compared to a 4.1 setup in a room). Your rears would ideally need to be placed wider to compensate and try to give you a 3D surround-like effect. Some programs like DTS Neo:6 and Dolby Prologic II/IIx can help in mixing and properly sending the correct sounds to the most applicable channel. They do have downsides and depending on genre and track, stereo is still preferred. This article goes into it a bit more and how they can help process sources that are only in 2ch: https://www.lifewire.com/dts-neo-6-1846892.

Personally, I use a 5.2.2 setup for watching movies/gaming but when playing music I always go into Pure Direct mode for 2ch stereo. Mind you, this is in a larger room with loudspeakers at a distance of ~10ft from the seating position and roughly 8 feet between them angled at roughly 30 degrees from center. Despite being in stereo, it's very holographic and can fill a room easily with sound. However, every now and then, I do run 2ch with presence speakers and that does add an interesting bit of height but it's very track/genre specific. Really the only time I even use 7ch stereo is when listening to classical and usually have an appropriate hall-effect DSP to add in some reverb, delay, echo, etc.

Here's a diagram with placements and angles to give you a better idea:

Honestly, it may be wise to invest in a budget AVR as these days they have microphones that can dial in the sound for wiring, distance, and various speaker layouts to suit a room. They're not 100% but they do get damn close and you can always dial-it in yourself and EQ as necessary. Even if you wanted to forego a traditional surround setup (5.1), you could always run a "front surround" setup and it would virtualize the rears to the front channels. I have a similar setup in my smaller office that is technically a 5.1 setup but all from the front. You could also forego the rears and run a 3.1 setup to achieve most of the effect since the rear channels would be routed to the fronts and processed accordingly by the AVR. I only recommend the latter if your room is on the smaller size but it would do a fairly good job of giving you a "surround sound" despite not having read speakers.
Thanks for the detailed response!

My goal isn't surround sound in the sense of having 4 separate channels. I knew all along this would still be 2 channel audio going to 4 speakers. I was just going for the "surrounded by sound" albeit it stereo.

The goal is to have stereo L/R sound coming from around me not at me. So that if you closed your eyes you'd almost feel like you were wearing a pair of headphones. It may be silly but its probably something I'll end up trying.

Being a desktop setup I don't really have room for an AVR, and if I wanted true surround sound I'd move the LSR's to a living room setup with an AVR. As is I have been thinking about replacing them for my desktop setup for something with a forward facing bass port due to them being about 4-6" from walls. I have the low frequencies bumped down on them because of the addition of the subwoofer as isbut I'm not sure how much the walls are affecting the sound. I personally think they sound great, and so has everyone that has heard them...however I'm newer to the 'audiophile' scene so I'm sure some people would hate them lol.
That's the tricky thing as yes, 7ch stereo (or in your case 4ch) can deliver the effect you're inquiring about. Although the sound will fill the room in how you describe, the quality of said setup will be diminished even compared to a well placed 2ch setup.

Since you're on a desktop, a quality 2.1 or even 3.1 (center speaker) setup would give you better sound and staging especially if you could widen and angle where your fronts are. That alone would make a bigger difference than trying to run rears especially if you don't have some sort of DSP to compensate for mixing to those channels. With the fronts angled and placed correctly , if they're bouncing off the rear wall behind you, they should still generate a good amount of "surround effect." This is similar to what soundbars do with VSS and other tricks.

Also, rule of thumb is any loudspeaker that's closer to a wall will generate more bass and sound "boomier." This is even more so when placed in a corner.
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