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How to set up an A/V receiver

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Connecting your speakers

Connecting your speakers is very easy, as long as the manufacturer took care to label the speaker connections properly (Front Right, Front Left, Center, etc.). All you have to do is plug the appropriate speaker cables into the corresponding slots on your receiver and speakers and you are good to go. For example, the front left speaker cable should go to the speaker labeled front left on the back panel of your receiver. Fortunately, if you are worried you didn’t get it right, your receiver should have a way to test each speaker with white noise to ensure that it’s both connected, and that the right audio information is going to the right speaker. It’s very important to get this correct, because different audio goes to different speakers in a surround-sound soundtrack. For example, dialogue comes out of the center-channel speaker, surround effects go to the surround channels, and low-frequency information goes to the subwoofer.

According to Rodriguez, bad speaker placement is one of the biggest consumer mistakes when it comes to hooking up your home entertainment system. “Bad placement of the speakers and not calibrating them properly is a big problem,” says Rodriguez. “So much of the quality of sound is how that sound is delivered to your ears.” For example, if the rear speakers are set too loud, or are accidentally placed in front of the room. Subwoofers can be too boomy or the left and right speakers are not balanced. Taking care when setting up your speakers will avoid these common problems.


In fact, many receivers have microphones that actually measure the room’s acoustics and adjust speaker levels accordingly. Audyssey EQ, for example, is a lauded calibration solution that can be found on receivers from Marantz, Denon, Integra, Onkyo, and NAD. Sony’s has Digital Cinema Auto Calibration in many of their receivers, as well. These solutions can make a drastic improvement on the sound of your speakers by taking acoustics into consideration.

Some users prefer to manually tweak their speakers to get them sounding just right. Check out our complete guide to manual speaker calibration for more information.

Wiring labels and issues

We recommending labeling your wires and keeping them tidy. There is nothing worse than going behind your AV rack only to find a mass of tangled black wires, dust-bunnies and god-knows-what-else back there waiting to assault your serenity. Tape or color-coded stickers can be very helpful at this stage. Some AV furniture pieces even have wire-management systems built in, and many allow rear access to the equipment. “The easiest way to approach organization is to label the cables you are going to use at each end before connecting,” says Rodriguez. “Place the same label or sticker, such as ‘DVD’ on both ends. Once you have your sources wired, it will be very easy to connect the right cable into the correct input, since the cable will already be labeled. This is a good practice and used all the time by professional installers.”

Another common issue, according to the folks at Integra and Onkyo, is not giving cables enough slack. If your cables aren’t given enough slack, when you move the equipment, wires get pulled out of their connections. Stiff HDMI cables are especially vulnerable. Use plastic wire ties to support and consolidate wire bundles, and make sure each plug is not being twisted up, down, or sideways in the connection socket.

Dealing with multiple zones

If you have a multi-zone receiver, things get slightly or severely more complex depending on your particular situation, mostly because you have to run wires to another room. Novices attemping a complex install may want to enlist the help from an AV installer (visit BrandSource to find an installer near you, or give Best Buy’s Geek Squad a call).

If you are especially keen on doing it yourself, the main thing to consider is what you want in that second zone: audio, video, or both. Then, you have to figure out where the zones are going to be. Do you want music on the patio or kitchen, or do you want a second system stereo/flat-panel TV in your bedroom? Then get ready to snake some wires. You’ll need to buy a long snake and wear dust and eye protection.

Not too keen on punching holes in the wall? Except for very simple multizone speaker-wire runs, we recommend checking out some of the various wireless solutions available. For example, you could get an Onkyo or Integra receiver with Zone pre-outs and a wireless interconnect system such as Atlantic Technology’s WA-50, which is effectively a stereo interconnect with a radio transmitter between one end and the other. Similar capabilities are available from Rocketboost and other companies. Likewise, Sony’s HomeShare system connects using Wi-Fi, which is easier and less expensive than running wires.
Sony Homeshare

There are multi-room video solutions on the market, but for reliable distribution and control, the best solution is still to run wiring from your main system into that other room. If this is your decision, we highly recommend talking to an installer to go over the options and cost associated with adding additional zones to your A/V system.

Connectivity features

With all the streaming and “connected” features out there, it’s important to consider what your receiver has to offer. For example, Sony has added audio streaming to its higher-end models, focusing on the audio experience. “This is somewhat replacing traditional AM/FM listening,” says Rodriguez. Other manufacturers are doing the same, integrating streaming audio, Netflix, USB, and wireless interfaces into their wares.

Setup for connected features varies widely from receiver to receiver, but it’s always convenient to have a laptop on hand for testing and setting up features that require online activation, like Netflix.

Whatever your particular setup or needs are, a receiver is a great addition to any home entertainment, allowing you to do more. These devices let you switch between sources, listen and watch any source through your speakers and display, and can actually improve the performance of your system altogether.

Also check out our Home theater calibration guide.

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