Imagine Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series® walk-off home run. Revisit Serena Williams’ first Grand Slam® win. Picture the emotion when Tiger Woods won his first Masters Tournament®. Now imagine hearing it as if you were right there, in the middle of the action.
Watching great moments like these from your sofa has its benefits, but without the right audio gear with the right features, sound isn’t one of them. If you want the best listening experience when watching live sports, here are the best sound bar and AV receiver settings to use.
For starters, it’s best to have a sound bar with a decent speaker range and sufficient sound modes to do the job. There are plenty of different models out there to choose from, including those with compact designs and added features like voice control.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll use the Yamaha SR-B20A as an example.
The SR-B20A offers four sound modes to choose from:
STEREO – Two-channel stereo playback for playing music.
STANDARD – This mode is best suited for general content, including sitcoms, news, reality shows — and, in most cases sports as well.
MOVIE – Designed for movies, this mode utilizes virtual surround sound to optimize any film for peak performance.
GAME – Use this mode while playing video games.
For sports viewing, try STANDARD (or, if offered, a specific “Sports” mode) first. This will give you a sense of how the mode works, such as the positioning of various audio elements (i.e., ball strikes and crowd noise) in the soundstage. Bear in mind, however, that audio engineers work with many variable, so sometimes no one sound bar mode works perfectly with every type of broadcast.
That’s why it’s also a good idea to try MOVIE or GAME mode as well. Some continuous action-filled sports, like football, basketball or hockey, might well benefit from these modes. Other sports — such as golf, soccer and tennis — might benefit too, but perhaps not as much, unless you are eager to hear the roar of the crowd in crucial game-changing moments.
As an added bonus, the SR-B20A comes with a feature called Clear Voice, a technology that brings human voices — such as that of a commentator or the sound of an umpire yelling “strike” — to the forefront, allowing you to hear it above background elements like crowd noise and wind.
Other sound bar features, like 3D surround sound and Bass Extension, can enhance games as well. 3D surround sound simulates the audio portion of the sporting event as coming from all around you, in different horizontal directions and varying heights. And Bass Extension gives you the rumble of a stock car engine or the boom of a tackle on the gridiron.
If you’ve got the space and budget, an AV receiver (AVR) will expand your options with more sound modes and more possibilities for surround sound magic. For our example, we’ll use the Yamaha RX-V6A AV receiver, which offers 7.1 channels of surround sound and plenty of audio features to boot.
To start, select STRAIGHT Mode, which sends the original audio through to your speaker setup without alteration. Next, start cycling through the 17 different DSP (Digital Signal Processing) Programs using the Program buttons on your remote control. Here are five that are well-suited for sporting events:
SPORTS – This, the most obvious option, places a good balance of commentator voices at the center, with the live atmosphere spread amongst the speakers to create a spacious listening experience.
ALL-CHANNEL STEREO – This program mixes the source down to two channels, then outputs the sound to all connected speakers to create a larger sound field. It’s a viable alternative to the SPORTS program and will work well for almost any sporting event.
ACTION GAME – This option is suitable for racing and fighting action games, which makes it a good choice for sports like auto racing, boxing and UFC fights.
SPECTACLE – Meant the match the scale of cinematic blockbusters, this program delivers expansive sound to epic big-game moments in action-packed sports like football and hockey.
ADVENTURE – Similar to SPECTACLE, this program delivers a sound field that restrains reverberations and maintains good channel separation while putting an emphasis on the expansiveness of the onscreen action. Sports with large visual fields, such as golf and soccer, can benefit from this feature.
Of course, you should feel free to try any of the other modes and/or programs that your AVR might have to offer — you never know what might work for you! In addition, AV receivers usually offer plenty of extras as well. The RX-V6A, for example, comes equipped with Dolby Atmos® and DTS:X™, two of the most powerful surround sound formats available. Some sports broadcasts have been known to offer these features; the 2020 U.S. Open® (PGA) was broadcast in Dolby Atmos for the first time ever!
Additional features to try out on the V6A while watching sporting events include Dialogue Lift to boost human voices and SILENT Cinema for listening on headphones. Higher-tier Yamaha AV receivers, such as the AVENTAGE RX-A8A, offer Surround:AI™, where artificial intelligence is used to automatically optimize sound elements such as dialogue, background music, ambient sounds and sound effects, sending them to the right speaker at the right time.
With plenty of modes to try, and lots of events to try them out with, the possibilities of finding a great combination for watching live sports is endless, so be bold and experiment. As the great hockey legend Wayne Gretzky once said, “We miss one hundred percent of the shots we don’t take.” Game on!
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