When listening to music I have it on the “Multi Channel Stereo” setting (probably the equivalent of your “5 ch stereo”), which just uses the rear surround speakers as additional left/right stereo speakers, puts sounds common to both channels through the centre speaker and sends bass to the sub woofer.
When playing video games and watching movies or TV, I have it on the Dolby Digital setting to faithfully reproduce the sound effects as intended. I have a light compressor setting active as well.
I spend a fair amount of time when initially setting everything up to get the volumes correct from each speaker. First I use the test tone while sitting in the prime listening position to adjust levels and then I will play a few games and tweak the rear surround speakers to remove any imbalance in the sound.
Edit: I don’t change the settings once it is set up as they are specific to each source. When listening to music, it defaults to Multi-Channel Stereo, when playing the PlayStation it defaults to Dolby Digital with light compression, and so on.
Most decent receivers these days have an automatic setup method (Audyssey is a common brand). You put a little microphone at each of the seating positions, and the receiver plays test tones (a frequency sweep) from each of the speakers. It measures the volume, time delay, and frequency response, and adjusts the settings to account for that. Takes about 10 minutes and works great.
It’s a good starting point at least. I had to crank the center channel to make dialogue a bit more audible. I don’t know why this isn’t a solved problem, but I’ve experienced the same thing ever since I started with multi-channel sound. I think it’s basically due to the channel mixes coming from theatres, where the overall loudness is much higher than I can justify at home. At a volume where I’m not blasting the neighbors with explosion sounds, I can’t barely hear people speak at the default levels.
Yes, something like Audyssey is a huge help. My old receiver from around 2000 (a Kenwood VR-309, which had the cutting edge technology of S-video switching) had limited settings and even then it was hard to get something that sounded better than just running a 2 channel setup. Now that I have a Denon with Audyssey, I find that surround sound is much better (I run a 5.1 setup). But for simply listening to music, I still prefer the 2 channels, with maybe the subwoofer on too, depending on the music.
The Kenwood is still a solid receiver and is now dedicated to powering my outside patio speakers.
So to the OP, run what sounds good to you, but if you don’t have something like Audyssey don’t forget that 2 channel stereo sometimes sounds best. And sometimes just a little more volume through 2 speakers sounds better than a surround setup.
This is a dynamic range problem. In a theatre the loud stuff is LOUD! and the quiet stuff is quiet. At home you don’t necessarily want that, even if you are alone with no neighbours. My receiver has a dialogue boost setting that increases the volume of the centre channel (as opposed to manually increasing the volume of that channel, it can be turned on and off so it is a bit more convenient), but I find using dynamic range compression works a lot better at making dialogue stand out more.
The problem I find with having the centre channel permanently boosted is that you lose some stereo separation when listening to music.
I have run the auto-setup on my Onkyo home theater system but still find that I’m tweaking the surround levels of my 5.1 system depending on the mix of what I’m watching/playing. Also, the surround “sweet spot” is also a bit different depending on whether I’m sitting up and on my laptop or kicked back on the couch and soaking in the sound from the movie or album.
Yep I have an Onkyo set up 5.1.2 and depending on the source it is setup for DTS:Neural X for music and DTS or Dolby Atmos for movies. Occasionally though, I’ll just run it 2 Ch stereo for music, particularly on older tunes. I had to tweak the settings as well via sound meter app to get everything balanced out.