EDIT: I thought I'd add some information on this issue here so it could serve as a point of reference. Corrections and clarifications are encouraged; I'll try to maintain this first post as a summary.
There is a very good chance that your AVR or processor enables Dolby Dynamic Range Compression (DRC) if you play a DD 5.1 source with less than a full 5.1 speaker configuration; for example it may happen in a phantom center configuration. This is done without your knowledge and with no way to disable it. The result is that peak levels are noticeably compressed and you do not experience the full dynamic range of the original source.
A quote from Roger Dressler describing the situation in practice:
Downmixing can take many forms. In a DVD player, a 2-ch downmix is always (I have not seen an exception, but who knows) done with DRC activated. This ensures the average level is maintained while preventing clipping.
In an AVR, 2-ch downmixes will probably be done the same way. However, if it is desired to downmix without DRC, every Dolby Digital decoder IC knows how to do it. The output level is scaled down 11 dB, then there's no way to cause clipping.
In the case of "speaker management" as descibed here, the AVR may allow the decoder to run in full 5.1 mode, no DRC, then downmix the C into L/R with the usual -3 dB mix level. With a little bit of scaling in the DSP, clipping can be prevented, and the gain is made up in the analog stage.
The AVR maker can use this method, or they can use the "downmix in the DD chip with DRC on" method. It's their choice.
In practice, it so far appears that most AVRs which have been tested will use the DD chip to downmix and leave the DRC enabled. Here are a couple of links to some testing to support the claim that this happens in the real world:http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showt...8&page=1&pp=30http://www.hometheatershack.com/foru...formation.html
I will add more information and/or a summarize the list of receivers capable of downmixing without DRC here, if folks have interest in this issue.
My original post is below here for continuity:
As has been tested, discussed, and documented in other threads, many (most) receivers will engage Dolby DRC when downmixing a 5.1 track to other speaker configurations. Unfortunately this is not limited to a 2.0 downmix; perhaps the most obnoxious is that DRC will be engaged in a phantom center configuration. This affects me and I'd like to reclaim my missing dynamic range.
Which receivers are capable of downmixing Dolby to phantom center configurations without DRC being engaged? So far the only receivers I'm aware of which can do this are certain Denon receivers, e.g. 3805 and above. I was browsing the manual from the Sony ES series and I saw two ways to configure phantom center: set the center to OFF or MIX mode. Perhaps MIX mode does not engage DRC?
Anyway, I'm in the market for a new receiver for a few reasons. I'd appreciate any input on this issue. Thanks.