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How to Hook Up Surround Sound

How To Hook Up Surround Sound

Stereo sound has 2 channels, left and right. Stereo receivers have 2 speaker connections, left and right. Surround sound has 6 channels or more. Surround sound typically has to be decoded before going to your amplifier and loudspeakers. Surround sound is available on most DVD movies and many TV programs.

For surround sound you need a source such as a DVD movie with surround sound audio available like Dolby Digital 5.1 or you could use a source such as a TV program (satellite, digital cable or ATSC broadcast TV sending Dolby Digital 5.1) and you need a component with a decoder such as an Audio/Video Receiver (AVR) with Dolby Digital 5.1 or greater capability. You also need loudspeakers, including left front, right front, center, left surround, right surround and a subwoofer for a total of six speakers minimum.

The AVR must have digital inputs: fiber optic (Optical) and/or digital coaxial (Coax) or HDMI. Without these, you're stuck with stereo surround. That means you'll get sound from all your speakers, but it will be simulated surround sound. Rather than playing the 5.1 soundtrack on the DVD, your receiver will take the stereo track and decide what to play in the rear speakers. Your subwoofer will be under-utilized.

If your receiver has digital audio connections, your DVD player has to have them, too (virtually all do). You'll also want to have a subwoofer pre-out on your receiver. This is usually colored purple but not always. Check your receiver's manual to determine whether or not you have a subwoofer pre-out and to figure out where it is on your receiver. If you don't have a sub pre-out, there's an alternate way of hooking up your subwoofer, but its not optimal. Your bass will be drastically reduced.

For an optimal surround sound setup, you'll need the following:

- (1) Optical or digital coaxial audio cable or HDMI cable.
- (1) Subwoofer cable (or a regular RCA audio cable, but an actual subwoofer cable is preferred)
- (1) Y-Adapter (this plugs into the red and white RCA jacks on your subwoofer and combines them into just one jack. With many subs this is not required)
- Enough speaker wire of 14 gauge quality to connect your 5 speakers and your subwoofer (200 ft for most rooms)

The Y-adapter is optional but recommended. Some subwoofers expect two inputs from your receiver, but for your use, you'll only be outputting one cable (from the subwoofer pre-out) to the subwoofer.
The Y-adapter is the optimal method of hooking up your sub, but if you don't have one, just plug the cable from the receiver into either red or white RCA inputs on your subwoofer.

If you don't have digital audio inputs on your receiver and/or DVD player, you'll need a pair of RCA audio cables (red and white). And if you don't have a subwoofer pre-out, you'll need a little extra speaker wire.

Speaker Placement

Its important to understand that you can't just place your speakers (or subwoofer) just anywhere in your room. You need to consider distance, angle, level (vertical height), and if there is anything blocking the sound.

Considering distance, you should make sure that your front speakers and center channel speaker are located close to the TV. Its OK to space your front left and right channels out towards the walls, but don't put them further out than where you'd be sitting. For instance, if your seating goes all the way against the wall, you could have the speaker against the wall. But if your seating ends say 10ft from the wall, don't put your speaker past that point.

Rear speakers should be spaced out equally to the fronts (or close to it). They will also need to be as directly behind your seating as possible. Don't put them 10ft behind where you sit if you can get them closer. They don't do a lot of work in most movies, and most of the work they do is typically quiet compared to the front speakers.

The subwoofer can be anywhere between where you sit and the TV. Optimally, place it closer to the TV and more to the center of the room.

You also don't want to put the subwoofer behind dense objects, doors, walls, or in closets. When possible, let the subwoofer rest on the floor itself. Putting it in a cabinet or anything else that raises it off the floor will diminish its effects.

When positioning your speakers, make sure the front, the center, and the rear speakers are aimed straight out towards where you sit. The subwoofer doesn't matter as much as long as it is not directly blocked by anything. You obviously don't want your speakers facing the floor, the wall, or the ceiling.

The height of your speakers should match your ear level when sitting. You don't have to get it dead on, but try to keep all your speakers as close to ear level as possible. That means if you're mounting your speakers, don't put them at ceiling height. The subwoofer is always best on the floor, and rear speakers need to be as close to ear level as possible.

An exception is the center channel. Its not always possible to get it just where you want it since it is in the center - right where your TV is. You can place a center channel speaker above or below your television, but keep it away from the ceiling and the floor.

Running the Speaker Wire

Start connecting the speakers one by one and running the wire back to the receiver. You're going to want to make sure you connect the right speaker to the right jack on your receiver. First recognize that you will be connecting positive (+) and negative (-) wires on your speakers and on your receiver. Most speaker wire is either colored differently or has writing on one of the cables to designate + vs -.

Figure out which one is which (in the case of identical colors and text on one cable, just pick one for positive and one for negative). As long as you match it up on both ends (the speaker and the receiver), you're going to be fine. Just don't use one of the wires as positive on your speaker and then the other wire as positive on your receiver. Crossing the wires is a no-no and can result in damage (or possibly fire). Keep it simple and use the same scheme for every speaker.

Determining which speaker is which is quite simple. Stand in the center of your room and look at your TV. The speaker to your front left is just that - front left. Then you have center and front right. Behind you and parallel to your front left is your rear left. Opposite that is rear right. Now you know which is which on your receiver.

How to Run Speaker Wire

Speaker Wire Gauge
The gauge of a wire means how thick the electrical wire actually is. Speaker wire is simple electrical wire insulated by a protective sheathing. The thicker the wire, the more electrical current can pass through. The higher the gauge, the thinner the cable. This means 18 gauge is much thinner than 12 gauge. 14 AWG is fine for most installs. A 10 gauge cable is far too thick for most receiver and speaker input jacks.

Gauge also depends on how long the wire is. If you need to run a 100 ft speaker wire, you'll need 12 gauge. For anything less, 14 gauge is optimal. Most rooms won't require a single run of speaker wire longer than 50 feet, so you don't have to worry about distance unless your room is very large.

Some receivers, and even some speakers, can't handle thick speaker wire. This is especially true for HTIB (home theater in a box) systems or extremely inexpensive equipment. Try to connect 14 gauge cable, but if it doesn't fit, you'll have to use 16 or even 18 gauge.

Speaker Wire Length
As mentioned, very long runs of speaker wire require lower gauge cable. But you also need to keep your speaker wire matched. Its simple: If you run 15 ft of speaker wire for your front left speaker, than your front right speaker needs to be 15 ft as well. Your rear speakers should match each other, but they don't have to match the front speakers. You want to do this to avoid sound delays or varying volumes. Different lengths of cable can provide different levels of wattage.

Positive and Negative Leads
You've probably noticed that speaker wire splits off at either end into two separate eletrical wires. These are called leads. One of them is positive and the other negative. They can be used interchangebly, however, as neither is definitely positve or negative. What matters is which one you choose to use for positve and which for negative. Most speaker wire is colored differently or labeled on one side or the other. This helps you match the leads up. For instance, if one of the lead's sheathing (the coating around the electrical wire) is red, use that for negative on your speaker and your receiver. This way, you're not crossing the leads by using the wrong one for negative on the speaker or receiver. Crossing leads can result in damage to your speakers and your receiver. It can also lead to fire under some circumstances.

Plugging Speakers In
Now that you understand the basics to wiring your speakers, you can go ahead and connect them. Most receivers have speaker jacks in the form of binding posts. Bind posts work by tightening a plastic cap down on your speaker wire. You would loosen the cap by turning it counter-clockwise until you can slip a lead into it. Then you would turn it clockwise to tighten it down on the lead. However your receiver or speaker jacks are designed, make sure you get a good amount of the lead into the jack. You might have to strip your wires yourself (or extra on pre-stripped wires). Stripping means cutting away the protective sheathing on the end of the wires to reveal more of the leads. A good rule of thumb is to leave a quarter inch of electrical wire exposed. You want to get as much of it as possible into the speaker wire jacks to ensure a good connection. If your speakers aren't working or are giving off static/low volume, check to make sure you have good contact with the leads in the wire jacks. You might have to strip the wires a bit more to get enough electrical wire into the jack.

Some speakers and receivers have easy connect posts such as banana connectors. This makes it easy to disconnect and connect.

Connect the Subwoofer

Subwoofers come in a variety of designs with many different capabilities and features. Most subwoofers today are powered, that is they have an amplifier inside the speaker enclosure. Also, most subs have controls for volume and phase along with connections for RCA cables and speaker wire. If you have a Y-adapter, go ahead and plug that into your sub's red and white RCA inputs (line level). Then plug a subwoofer cable or an RCA cable (if you have a red and white pair, just select either the red or white and let the other cable dangle) into the Y-adapter. The other end goes into your audio/video receiver's subwoofer pre-out RCA jack. Now plug the power in for your sub and you're finished with connecting the subwoofer.

If you don't have RCA inputs (line level) on your subwoofer, you might not even have a power cable for it either. That means your subwoofer is un-powered. Therefore it will not and cannot sound as impressive as a powered subwoofer. Either way, if you don't have RCA jacks (or your receiver doesn't have a subwoofer pre-out), you've got to connect the subwoofer a bit differently. You'll notice some speaker wire jacks (speaker level) on your subwoofer. There should be four pairs of them (two inputs, two outputs). What you have to do is run your front left and front right speaker cable into the left and right speaker outputs on the subwoofer. Yes - that means instead of running the front speakers to the receiver, they go to your subwoofer's outputs.

Next, use more speaker wire to connect the speaker inputs on the subwoofer to the left and right speaker jacks on your receiver. Make sure you're going left to left, right to right (check the labels) and not crossing positives and negatives (remember your wiring scheme). Once you've done that, you're all set with your subwoofer except you may have to adjust the phase and volume on the subwoofer to match your other speakers. Whatever sounds best to you is how to set your levels.

Powered Subwoofer Panel

Connect source device to audio/video receiver

Now connect audio cable from your DVD player to your receiver. If you have digital coaxial or fiber optic jacks on both the receiver and DVD player, choose one of them and connect the output on your DVD player to the input on your receiver. If your receiver has multiple inputs, choose one labeled DVD.

If you don't have digital connections, run a pair of red and white RCA audio cables from the outputs on your DVD player to an audio input on your receiver.

For the video (picture) connect a yellow composite video cable or component (green, blue, red) RCA video cables from the source device to your TV.

The last thing you need to do is select the input you want on the receiver. For the DVD player, select DVD.

When using a digital audio connection, refer to your receiver's manual. You need to select which digital input you're using (usually labeled Digital 1, Digital 2, etc.). Its simple but every receiver is different. Some might even automatically select the DVD player if it is the only digital audio input connected to the receiver when you turn on the DVD player.

When using analog (composite, red and white) audio connections, just select the input you used. They might be labeled Video 1, Audio 1, TV, DVD, CD, or some similar label. The back of your receiver should be labeled as to what input you connected.

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