©2019 by Balanced Output. 

  • Josh McDonald

2 Channel Home Theatre?

Console gaming. That's where my audio journey started. Trying to get the most immersive experience possible. Most of that immersion, I feel, comes from audio. So I pieced together something to scratch that surround sound itch.

An entry level home theatre AVR, a mish-mash of speakers and a hulking big custom sub box (a story for another time). This kept me entertained for years, putting me in the driver's seat for games, movies and TV. It was an experience. Anchored dialog, window rattling low frequency effects, pinpoint 360° imaging. I have always loved the look of a 2 channel setup, but I was never brave enough to ditch the extra channels.

And then I moved to a studio apartment.

I could have shoe-horned in the required gear, but it wasn't going to be pretty. Instead, I took the opportunity to simplify and commit to a 2.0 only system. Instead of five mediocre speakers strewn around the room, I was able to focus and refine the two most important channels, left and right.

Now, what normally happens is the content is mixed in surround sound, and is then folded down to 2.0. Sometimes this process isn't pretty, and the surround sound mix doesn't translate great to a simpler setup. Sometimes you get lucky and it's been mixed specifically for stereo.

When positioned correctly, two quality speakers can present a detailed auditory illusion. Width and depth expand beyond the physical bounds of the units. This can include behind you. Mix engineers use phase manipulation and filters to mimic what our ears pick up when there is a sound source behind us. These tricks are just that, a mirage, and no match for dedicated surround channels.

Going back and watching Blu-rays in stereo is interesting to find out what translates over to the reduced channel count. The precise surround imaging isn't there, and (depending on your drivers) the thunderous LFE may be diminished, however, all is not lost when you strip it down to stereo.

I'm currently watching Dark on Netflix, a German sci-fi thriller with some subtle sound design that compliments the imagery incredibly well. I feel like I'm lost in the hauntingly silent German forest. The ambience encapsulates you, even with only two channels. Vocals are well planted thanks to the phantom centre created by stereophonic black magic.

Left and right can do a lot of heavy lifting and paint an amazing picture for those - like me - looking to simplify their audio setup.