How to set up an AV receiver (Step by step guide)

AV receivers are the brains for most home theater systems. This is where most of the components are connected to allow for easy switching between devices.

A receiver also decodes and processes audio and video signals and powers speakers.

To set up an AV receiver here is what you need;

  • Find the right placement.
  • Connect the media devices to the receiver,
  • Connect the speakers and display device,
  • Calibrate the receiver.

It is also important to ensure you label all the cables that go to and from the receiver.

Receiver placement

After unpacking your AV receiver, here are some of the components that should be in the package;

  • A user’s guide.
  • Remote control.
  • The power cable.
  • A calibration microphone.

Once you are done unpacking, find the right spot to place the receiver. Before placing it there are several considerations you to make.

Considerations for receiver placement

  • Heat– AV receivers generate heat during operation, most of which comes from the in-built amplifiers and transformers. You should therefore ensure that there is free air flow of air to aid in temperature regulation to prevent heat build up. There should be at least 4 inches of space on each side and at least 6 inches to the back.
  • For a receiver with rear connections, connect all the cables before you slide your receiver into place but with ease of access to the rear connections.
  • If your receiver has an antenna for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections, leave enough space for them.

Receiver placement ideas

A receiver stand– A stand is a better option as it is open on all sides allowing for efficient heat dissipation.

Well ventilated cabinet– The cabinet should have enough room and ventilation holes (should include a large opening on the side and the top for free airflow) to accommodate the receiver.

I would recommend purchasing a cabinet with cable management features such as internal gaps, holes, and rear-panel exit points for running the cables and speaker wires.

A component rack– Using a component rack will keep your media devices, receiver, power amps, and so on for a clean setup. In this case, you also need a remote-control system for the components. You can also use your smartphone to control your receiver if it’s connected to the network.

What about placing the receiver on the floor? Placing the receiver on the floor is a bad idea as it increases the chances of heat and dust buildup. However, there are cheaper DIY options such as;

  • A solid wood crate
  • Granite slab
  • A large piece of wood
  • Paving slab

Label speaker wires and cables

Label all your cables and wires at each ends to keep track of where they run and for easier management. You can use store-bought labels or use masking tape.

Connect the Power cable

Depending on your receiver’s power rating, it may need more or less power.

I would recommend connecting your receiver to a power protection device (surge protector) to protect it from power surges, spikes, or brownouts. Do not connect your receiver’s power cord directly to the outlet.

Now let us get into the connections.

AV receiver connections

1.      Connecting display devices

How to connect a TV to a receiver

The following cables may be needed for a connection between your TV and receiver depending on the type of TV you have and the port selection on both components;

  • Coaxial, optical, and HDMI cables for digital connections
  • RCA cables for analog connections

After you figure out cable type and length to use, you can proceed to the connections.

Most receivers will have an on-screen guide on how to set them up hence the need to connect your display device first.

If your TV has an HDMI input, connect it to the “Main” or HDMI output 1 on the receiver.

How to connect a receiver to a projector

The process of connecting your receiver to a projector is pretty much the same as a TV.

Examine the video outputs on the receiver and the inputs on the projector to know which cable to use then measure the distance between the receiver and the projector. This will help you choose the right cable length, usually HDMI for the video signals.

After buying the right cable, connect it to the corresponding jacks on the receiver and projector, turn the projector on, and play a test video to check if everything is in order.

2.      Connect ethernet and antennas

If your receiver comes with an antenna be it for AM, FM, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth, you will need to connect it.

Some receivers may not come with in-built Wi-Fi but may have a LAN/Ethernet port to connect to your network.

3.      Connect the media devices

Media sources include options such as;

  • DVD player
  • Blu-ray player
  • Gaming console
  • Cable box/satellite box
  • Media server/Computer
  • VCR
  • Turntable

Some sources may require splitting the video and audio signals at the source. From the receiver, the video signals are sent to the display device and the audio signal to the receiver for processing and amplification.

There are different cables that you can use for these connections depending on the port selection on your media devices.

For the image, you can use composite, component, and HDMI cables, and optical or coaxial cables are for audio. HDMI cables can be used for both video and audio signals.

How to connect a phone to a receiver

To connect your smartphone to your receiver using a 3.5 minijack cable (AUX), Bluetooth, or using an adapter such as a minijack to RCA adapter.

Some receivers support Apple Airplay to connect your iPhone or iPad.

Also, if your receiver has an MHL compatible HDMI port and your smartphone is MHL compatible you can use an MHL to HDMI converter/adapter for the connection.

To know if your smartphone is MHL compatible, search for the manufacturer’s specs online or use an MHL checker app for android devices.

How to connect a turntable to a receiver

To connect your turntable to a receiver, use the phono input on the receiver using an RCA cable. Then attach a ground wire to signal GND to prevent noise or hum from the turntable from playing.

If the receiver does not have a phono preamp but the turntable does, you can simply plug in an audio cable into the receiver’s line-level inputs often labeled Analogue in, Line-in, AUX, and so on.

4.      Connect your Audio devices

How to connect a soundbar to a receiver

You can connect a passive soundbar to a receiver. Passive soundbars are better suited for a receiver but active soundbars are not meant to be used in this way unless you are using the preout outputs on the receiver.

Passive soundbars can either be stereo or multi-channel that can be connected to a receiver using speaker wires for each respective channel.

How to connect speakers to a receiver

The powered speaker outputs are located at the back of the receiver in most cases. These outputs will have well-labeled negative and positive terminals for each channel.

To connect the speaker wires, match the terminals on the receiver to the speaker input terminals. The center channel (C) to the center speaker, the right front speaker to the right front output (FR), the left front speaker to the front left output (FL), and so on.

Also, ensure you match polarity by matching the negative and positive connectors on each end of the receiver and the speakers.

For a system with DTS-X, Auro 3D, Dolby Atmos, or powered 2nd zone (zone 2), the user manual should have guidelines on which terminals/preouts to use.

How to connect a subwoofer to a receiver

For the LFE (low-frequency effects) channel, you will need a powered subwoofer. The output for this channel is labeled as LFE, Subwoofer, Sub out, or Subwoofer Preout. Using an LFE cable, you can connect the sub out to the LFE input on the sub.

Some subs also have line-level input and for this, you may need a Y RCA cable (For the LFE to line-level connection). Connect one end to the sub output on the receiver to the line-level inputs on the sub. This is because most receivers will not have line-level outputs for the sub hence the need for an LFE to line level converter (Y RCA).

For a passive sub, you may need an external sub amplifier to power the sub. From the sub output on the receiver, the signals can be transmitted to the amp for amplification and speaker wires can be used to send the powered signals to the inputs on the sub (spring clips).

However, there is a simple hack to use if you are on a limited budget, and buying an amp may not be an option for you. For this, use speaker wires and connect them to the FR and FL speaker outputs on the receiver to the R (right) and L (left) inputs on the sub.

But for this to work, the sub should also have an in-built crossover and speaker outputs for the FR and FL speakers to power those front speakers. (to correctly set up your crossover on your passive sub, visit the guide in the link)

This will strain your receiver since a sub is a larger load (requires more power) but it should work in the meantime. You will need a sub amp as time goes by as the sub will be underpowered with this kind of connection.

How to wire a Home theater AV receiver
How to wire a Home theater AV receiver

Receiver settings

Video settings

Depending on the device with better video processing, you can choose whether the AVR or TV/Projector should do the processing.

To allow your TV/Projector to do the video processing set the AVR to “OFF” or “Passthrough”. This will allow the video signals to “pass-through” the receiver unaltered. You can then adjust the image settings on the display (sharpness, brightness, mode, etc).

Speaker settings

Here you will be presented with two options which are “small” and “large“. This has nothing to do with the physical size of your speakers but is essential for bass management.

Usually, you want to set the speakers to small which allows the low-frequency effects (Sub-bass) to be sent to an external sub-woofer that can either be active or passive (needs a sub amp). Your main speakers and receiver will thus be less strained for cleaner playback.

Setting the speakers to large will mean that the low frequencies are played back by both the sub and the speakers.

Speaker calibration

Today, most receivers are equipped with auto-calibration features to set the levels, set the speakers’ distances, and fine-tuning the EQ. Auto-calibration is done using an SPL meter (calibration mic) that comes with the receiver or can be store-bought to time-align and balance the sound.

Once you fire up auto-calibration, you will be prompted to connect the mic. Simply plug it into the mic input and place it in your main seating position using a tripod stand. The receiver will then automatically send a test tone to each speaker and back to the receiver for calibration.

Other receivers may not come with a mic but may have a built-in test tone generator. You can then use an SPL meter to calibrate each speaker.

Here is what you need to know about the receiver’s auto-calibration;

  • The room should be completely silent to achieve the best results. If you have a soundproofed home theater room, you will have the upper hand but you can also close the doors and windows for utmost silence if you have not yet done soundproofing.
  • The results from the automatic calibration are not always 100% accurate. Therefore, once the automatic calibration is done check on the menu to confirm that the speaker channels and distance are correct. You can also use a test tone to confirm each speaker level manually.

My final take

AVRs are heavy and big devices that need to have enough space and ventilation for cooling the internal amp. You may need to connect most of the cables to the receiver before permanently sliding it into position.

When setting up your home theater receiver, follow the tips above, the user manual guidelines, and other resources such as YouTube videos and forums.

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