Underwhelming experience

I built my first budget home theater system a long while ago and I feel it has always underperformed. It’s a 5.1 which almost never gives me surround from the rears and the center/vocals are usually too quiet. I feel like it should be plenty for my small room but it rarely impresses.

Room is a standard bedroom 11’x11’.
Speakers are all Polk Monitor 40s, 30s, CS1, PSW10.
A/V is Pioneer VSX-921.
Sony x810c TV.

Everything is at proper height and location, though wall mounted. Receiver seems to be set up correctly.

Passing signals through this receiver is annoying because I don’t want it on all the time, so I believe everything passes through the TV via an optical cable. This is probably why I’m not getting surround, but it’s the only way to get 4k which probably isn’t worth it anyway. I blame the receiver and am wondering if I should upgrade it to something more modern with ARC? Am I just doing something wrong? Are these speakers worth hanging on to if I do upgrade the receiver? Advice is appreciated.

A lot of TV’s won’t pass surround through optical, some will pass what they get without changing it, but it’s not very common.

If your not getting most of the sound of a 5.1 movie through the center channel, it’s not surround.
The only other thing that would likely cause limited output through the center channel is if the receiver doesn’t have the volumes set correctly.

The first thing to do is to validate you are actually getting a 5.1 signal into the receiver.

The Polk surround stuff is adequate, you should get a good experience out of what you have if the receiver is properly configured and it is getting a surround signal.

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Hi, @Tim_D. Welcome to HFGF!

Definitely check all the things that @Polygonhell mentioned. Any of those could be a culprit here. Also check that the receiver is in Dolby Pro Logic II mode, or DTS: neo6 (I think that’s what it’s called). Those codecs will matrix a surround output from a stereo source.

What are you using as a source? Are you using streaming apps built in to the TV or are you using a blu-ray player? Media streamer?

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Looks like a TV option in digital audio output fixed the 5.1 output. But I have to switch in the menus back and forth when I just want to use the TV speakers. This is the inconvenience that comes with the dated receiver I think. Only other complaint I guess is rattley loud base, maybe just put more padding around the sub and the hard floors/furniture.

Source is usually streaming in TV apps or cable.

Yes. If you had ARC (TV and receiver). You could just turn off the receiver and then TV would automatically use it’s own speakers.

IIRC the pioneer receivers have a direct mode that would play as a 2.0 or 2.1 but it’s been ages since I’ve used a pioneer.

It’s probably not a consideration when they are designing receivers, mine has an option to pass audio through the HDMI connection, or strip it, but since it goes through the receiver first, it still had to be on. And I can’t say I’ve ever used it.
The assumption is very much if you have it connected you always use it.

Get a atmos reciever the favorite brand right now is the denon 3600/3700.