How to set up a receiver for a home theater

Audio/Video receivers are the brains of the home theater where most of the components are connected and allows for easy switching between the devices. A receiver will also provide audio decoding and processing, connectivity, power the speakers, and video processing.

However, different receiver models may have different functionalities and features but most of them will have the basic and most common features that are needed for a home theater.

To set up a receiver for your home theater, you need to find the right placement, connect the media devices to the receiver, connect the speakers and display device, and calibrate the receiver. It is also important to make sure that you label all the cables that go to and from the home theater receiver.

Receiver placement

After unpacking your AV receiver these are some of the components that may be inside the package;

  • A user’s guide.
  • Remote control.
  • The power cable that may come as a separate entity or attached to the receiver.
  • May have foldable antennas for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (can come separately).
  • In most cases, a microphone is provided to aid in the calibration of the speakers.

Once you are done unpacking, you will need to find the right spot for the placement of the receiver. Before placing it there are several considerations that you need to make.

Considerations for receiver placement

  • The heat generated by the receiver– During their operation AV receivers generate heat, a lot of the heat coming from the in-built speaker amplifiers. Because of this, you need to make sure that there is a free flow of air to the receiver to aid in temperature regulation. This will help prevent internal heat from building up.
  • Some receivers may have a fan to cool the system, therefore, you should leave at least 4 inches of space to each side and at least 6 inches to the back. The user manual may also have guidelines on how much space you should leave for the receiver.
  • For a receiver with rear connections, make sure that you connect all the cables before you slide your receiver into place. It is recommended to make the rear connections easy to access.
  • If your receiver has an antenna for the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth leave some space for their rotation.

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 and to dissipate heat from the amp. Placing the receiver in a tight space will leave no place for the heat to go and this can damage the receiver’s internals. At least 4 inches of space should be left at the top.

I would also recommend you purchase a receiver with cable management features such as internal gaps, holes, and rear-panel exit points for easy connection and running of cables and wires.

A component rack– Using a component rack will help keep your media devices, receiver, power amps, and so on away from children and out of sight for a clean set up. In this case, you will also need a radio transmission remote-control system for the components. You can also use your smartphone to control your receiver if the receiver has network-connection capabilities.

Some of these options can be too much for your budget which begs the question, can you place the receiver on the floor?

Placing the receiver on the floor is a bad idea as this can increase the heat and buildup of dust, however, there are cheaper options such as;

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

You should also make sure that these slabs or crates are high enough to allow heat distribution and proper ventilation. A rubber stopper should also be used under the slabs.

These are cheap options that you can get from your local home depot.

Label your speaker wires and cables

You will need to label all your wires and cable as this will come in handy when you are connecting the other components later and keeping track of where they all go.

Labels can be store-bought or made using masking tape and taped to the wires and cables. You should label both ends of the wires and cables for better and easier management.

Powering a receiver

The amount of power you will need for your receiver will depend on the speakers you choose and the number of channels.

Different speakers will have different sensitivities at certain amounts of power. Sensitivity is measured by the number of decibels a speaker can produce per watt at 1 meter from the speaker. More sensitive speakers will need less power to reach the same volume level.

Depending on the power rating of the receiver, you may need more or less power.

However, I would recommend connecting your receiver to a power protection device to protect the receiver from power surges and spikes. Do not connect your receiver’s power cord directly to the wall as this can damage your gear.

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 which cable to use and getting on of the right length, you can proceed to do the connection.

Most receivers will have an onscreen guide on how you can set up your receiver. This is why the first thing you should connect is your TV using either of the cables.

If your TV has an HDMI input connect it to the “Main” or HDMI output 1 on the receiver. You can also use an optical or any other cable that is the best fit for the TV that you have.

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.

You need to examine the image outputs ports on the receiver and the inputs on the projector and get to know which cable is right for you and also take measurement of the distance between where you will place the receiver and where you will mount the projector.

After buying the right cable, connect it to the corresponding ends of the receiver and projector, turn the projector on, and play a test video to see if everything is working right.

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 for internet connection.

3.      Connect the media devices

Media sources include an option such as;

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

Some of these sources will need splitting of the image from the audio signal. From the receiver, the image is sent to the display device and the audio signal is sent to the speakers.

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

For the image, you can use composite, component, and HDMI cables, and for the audio signals optical and coaxial cables are common. HDMI cables can be used to send both audio signals and images. There are also specific cables for digital or analog signals.

You can also choose to connect the image cables directly to the TV.

These are some examples of cables that you can use. For deeper dive on home theater cables and wire visit our cabling guide.

How do I connect my smartphone to a receiver?

You can connect your smartphone to your receiver using 3.5 minijack cable, Bluetooth, or using an adapter such as a minijack to RCA adapter. Some receivers also have Apple Airplay that you can use 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, you can search for the manufacturer’s specs online.

How do I connect my turntable to a receiver?

To connect your turntable without a phono amp to a receiver, your receiver will need to have an in-built phono preamp. The turntable is then connected to the “phono” input on the receiver using an audio cable then attach a ground wire to the 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 analog audio inputs. The analog inputs in a receiver are 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 both an active and passive soundbar to a receiver. However, passive soundbars are better built for integration with a receiver but active soundbars are not meant to be used in this way, especially if you are planning to add surround speakers to the system.

The alternative to adding surround speakers to a receiver is shopping for an active soundbar that comes with separate and wireless surround speakers.

For passive speakers, they can either be single or multi-channel. A single channel soundbar can be connected to a receiver’s center-channel using single speaker wire. For a multi-channel soundbar, you will need to connect 3 pairs of speaker wires to the left, right, and center channel on the receiver.

To connect a receiver to a soundbar, you can also use HDMI, optical cable, RCA, or aux cables to the corresponding outputs on the receiver.

How to connect speakers to a receiver

The outputs for the audio signals are located at the back of the receiver in most cases for the front center, surround (left-right) and zone B/surround back. These outputs will have both negative and positive terminals that are well labeled.

When connecting speaker wires, you should make sure that you match the terminals on the receiver to the speaker terminals. The center channel to the center speaker, right front speaker to the right main channel, the left front speaker to the main left channel, and so on. Also, make sure that you match the polarity by matching the colors of the connectors on each end.

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

How to connect a subwoofer to a receiver

For the LFE (low-frequency effects) channel, you will need to connect a subwoofer. The output this channel is labeled as LFE, Subwoofer, Sub out, or Subwoofer Preamp. An RCA-style audio cable (line-in or R and L for Y RCA cables) or speaker wires can be used for this connection depending on your port selection (Spring clips).

 Receiver settings

Speaker calibration

Today, most receivers will have auto-calibration to set the levels, set the speakers’ distances, and fine-tune the amplifier performance to the surrounding. This auto-calibration can be run using a set-up mic that comes with the receiver for a time-aligned and balanced surround sound.

Once you are prompted to use the mic, simply plug it in and sit in your main seating position. 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 and you can use a sound meter or your ears to set the speaker level for each speaker and the sub.

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.

How to set up a home theater speaker system

If you have other speakers such as Dolby Atmos speakers, you will need to let the receiver’s amp know before calibrating.

Open the speaker setting on the menu and let the receiver know that you will have in-ceiling or up-firing speakers and let it calibrate accordingly. You will also need to have a tape measure because the amp may ask you for your room’s height.

You should also let the receiver know if you are using one or 2 subwoofers, set the sub volume to half, run the calibration tone, and adjust according to how it sounds.

Sometimes the receiver calibration may flag a fault on one or more speakers, so double-check the connection to make sure that the terminals are connected correctly.

In other instances, the receiver may fail to recognize whether your speakers are large or small. Go to the setting and set it manually.

When doing the manual calibration, you can play around with the position of your furniture or speakers and run the calibration again until it sounds right.

DSPs and surround sound modes

DSP or digital sound processing modes can vary from DTS to Dolby processing modes to create or stimulate the acoustic properties of different music venues, gaming, and movie environments. This can enhance the sound experience but is in some cases, may sound strange to listen to.

Pure direct, direct, or straight modes are mostly used by audiophiles because they focus more on sound quality offering pure audio signals from the source to the speakers.

Dialog lift or dialogue enhancement may be offered by some receivers and can be used when you are having trouble hearing the dialogues such as commentaries. This makes the dialogue louder than the sound effects and background music by raising the volume of the center channel relative to the left and right channels.

Compressed music enhancement improves the sound quality of compressed music formats such as VMA and MP3. It can also be used to improve the sound performance of streaming services and radio.

Remote control

The receiver comes with an IR (infrared) remote control with dozens of buttons. These remote controls are not a great option if you plan on putting your receiver in another room as their transmissions cannot go through walls or corners.

However, you can add an external receiver to communicate with your receiver through the remote-control In. You can also use an app if your AVR offers it as a remote-control option and is much easier to use.

New technologies such as universal remotes and voice assistants are also reshaping the way we do things, so, if you can afford a receiver with such functionalities, I would highly recommend you get one.

Set up the network

Each receiver model will have a manual with instructions on how you can set up the network.

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.

I also recommend that you keep the cables and wires as short as possible for the best sound and image.

When setting up your home theater receiver, you will need to follow the tips that we have given you in this guide, the user manual guidelines and you can also use other resources such as YouTube videos.

Update your receiver’s software, when they are updates.

After you are done setting up, you are good to go and can sit relax and enjoy your work.

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