How to wire a Home theater (Surround sound Guide)

Following the manufacturer’s guidelines when wiring your home theater is crucial. But in some instances, these guidelines may not be available hence the need for this guide.

Wiring during your home theater system will depend on your components, the scale of the project, and the room’s configuration. This will affect the length and type of cables you will need and cable management, which can be a hassle for most enthusiasts.

However, unless you are technical enough, you will need to seek the help of a professional for large installations.

With that said, having knowledge of the different types of cables and how they work will come in handy for your DIY project.

So, here are some of the interconnects needed for home theater wiring.

Audio/video connections

First, a short terminology lesson;

  • An interconnect is a cable with specialized connectors at each end for transmitting audio/visual signals. For example, a TV box to the receiver or receiver to TV via HDMI. In this instance, the HDMI is the interconnect. Any cable can be accurately referred to as an interconnect such as RCA cables, HDMI cables, and the likes.
  • Speaker Wires are used to send analog audio signals (wattage) from an amplifier/receiver to the speakers. This term is often used interchangeably to mean interconnects, leads, wires, and cables. Anything that is not speaker wire can be referred to as an interconnect.

Once you are familiar with the below cables (visit the link to learn more), check your devices’ ports to ensure you choose the cables/interconnects best suited for you.

Audio and video connectionsAudio only connectionsVideo only connections
Digital HDMI interconnects
Analog SCART
Digital Coaxial cables
Analog RCA audio cables
3.5 mm mini Stereo jack
Digital Optical cables
Speaker wires
XLR cables
Digital DVI cables
Analog composite cables
VGA
S-video
Component cables

For example, to connect your soundbar to your TV using an HDMI ARC interconnect, both the TV and the soundbar need to have HDMI ARC ports.

What about cable adapters?

Adapters are great for connecting cable type to a different type. But there are limitations to using adapters such as incompatibility between digital and analog signals. Adapters for such connections need to be active, are costly, and may lower video/audio quality.

Active adapters should be connected to a power source and include additional chips thus cost more. Meanwhile, passive adapters are cheaper and don’t need a power connection.

However, for analog to digital connections or vice versa, you can go for a converter which is a more expensive option.

How to connect audio/visual devices

Here is a summary of what you need to do;

  1. Connect all your playback devices such as your Blu-ray player, CD player, turntable, and so on to your audio/visual processor, in this case, a receiver or a preamp.
  2. Use a compatible interconnect to connect your processor to your display device, which can be a TV or a projector. For this, you are better off using an HDMI cable if the ports are available.
  3. Use wires to connect your speaker to the receiver on the respective channels as labeled at the back of the receiver.
  4. You can use an additional power amplifier for your front channel (FR & FL) to avoid straining your receiver if it is not that powerful.

Some people may prefer using separates, in this case having a separate preamp and power amplifier for a more customizable setup. For a preamp to an amp, connect the line-level output on the preamp to the input on your amplifier for the various channels,

If you still use a stereo CD player, use RCA to connect the audio output (Audio out) to your amp for the left and right channels. This will mean hooking up your CD player to the amp each time you need to use it.

Most receivers will have a CD RCA inputs. Ensure you match white to white and red to red when doing this connection.

For a turntable, you will need a receiver with a phono input or a phono preamp to convert the low voltage signals to line level before they can be amplified.

Some turntables may have line-level outputs which are useful if your receiver does not have a phono input. For this, you could use a 3.5 mm aux cable or RCA cables and connect them to the respective inputs on your receiver or preamp.

You can also connect your media devices to your TV and then send the audio signals to an external integrated amplifier or receiver.

A soundbar would also be great for a basic beginner audio set up.

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

Surround sound speaker wiring

Connecting your speakers, especially in a surround system can be more tasking than just hooking in your media and display devices.

First, you need the right wires for your speaker runs as most speakers don’t come with wires out of the box. This is because most home theater owners have different needs and room sizes.

Here are some considerations to make when shopping for speaker wires;

  • The number of speakers.
  • Cable management
  • Home theater room size.
  • Speaker run length

Audio quality will be affected by the length and width of the speaker wires you use due to DC resistance on the speaker wires and the speaker’s impedance.

What is speaker wire DC resistance?

Resistance is opposition to the flow of current in a circuit, in this case, speaker wires. This speaker wire resistance is measured in OHMs (Ω). The higher the DC resistance the higher the power losses as heat resulting in lower SPL (volume).

Current always wants to flow in a path of the lowest resistance meaning. The lower the resistance the better for minimizing power losses as current flows from the amp to the speakers.

Thicker wires have lower resistance which increases with the distance of the wire runs.

What is speaker impedance?

Speaker impedance is the opposition to the flow of alternating current (AC) in the speaker circuit. Impedance is the combination of reactance and resistance in the circuit and is also measured in Ohms.

Your speaker’s impedance will affect the gauge of wire you need to use and the distance of your runs (see the table below).

Most home theater speakers will have impedance ratings of 4 Ω, 6 Ω, or 8 Ω which varies depending on the frequency being played, the temperature of the speaker circuit, and so on. Typically, a speaker rated at 4 OHMs will vary between 2 and 8 Ohms on average when in use.

Speaker impedance is higher at the resonant frequency (20-80 Hz) and at the higher frequencies.

Choosing the right speaker wire gauge (thickness)

Since you are now familiar with wire resistance, we should now look at choosing the right speaker wire gauge.

The Speaker wire gauge is the cross-section area of the wire or thickness of the wire and is denoted as AWG American wire gauge). The higher the AWG number, the thinner the wire is and the higher the resistance.

Wire gauge can be as low as 10 AWG (thickest) to as high as 22 AWG (thinnest). And the thicker the wire the lower the resistance allowing you to have longer runs.

Most speakers will work just fine with 16-gauge wires for distances of less than 50 feet. For longer runs, you can use 14- or 12-gauge wires but you can also go overkill with 10-gauge wires.

The table below is as guide chart for optimal wire run distances depending on the gauge and for different speaker impedances;

Speaker impedance4 Ohms6 Ohms8 Ohms
Wire gauge (AWG)Distance (ft.)Distance (ft.)Distance (ft.)
12604530
14353020
16201510
181075

You should also use thicker wire for low impedance speakers, which is 4 or 6 ohms. A 16-gauge wire will be great for an 8-ohm speaker.

The wires can be made of any of the following conductors ;

  • Copper
  • Silver
  • Gold

1.       Copper wires

Copper is the most common conductor used for speaker wires.

These wires are the least expensive, are low resistance but oxidize easily increasing their resistance. After oxidation copper speaker wires turn green from their grayish color.

Ensure you get wire with pure copper when shopping. Avoid copper alloys as they are less conductive and can break easily.

2.       Silver speaker wires

Silver wires have slightly less resistance than copper wires but are more expensive than copper wires.

These silver wires also oxidize.

3.       Gold wires

Gold speaker wires are the least resistive of the three wires and also do not oxidize. But are the most expensive and are not worth buying for the price unless your pockets are deep enough.

Gold wires are very durable but you can also find gold-coated copper wires that last longer than standard copper wires as they do not tarnish easily.

Speaker wiring steps

Once you have bought the right speaker wire for your system, you can now hook up your speakers.

Here are the steps;

1. Plan your speaker connections

When you have an idea and plan it out correctly, connecting your whole system becomes easier.

After planning your speaker placement, you can measure the distance to determine what length of wire you’ll need. Ensure the wires are at least 15 centimeters (0.5 ft) longer than the planned runs to avoid straining the wires.

Home theater wiring diagram
Surround sound wiring diagram

2. Match the polarity

Polarity matching involves correctly connecting the negative and positive terminals on your speakers to the respective terminals on the receiver or power amplifier.

If the polarity is not correct the speakers will be out of phase.

Most speaker and amp terminals will are labeled letting. However, some speakers have the +ve terminal on the left and the -ve terminal on the right.

For a 2-conductor speaker wire, black will be negative and red positive.

Meanwhile, if you purchase a 4-conductor speaker wire (green, red, black, and white (yellow), connect them correctly too. The table below will help you better with the four-conductor speaker wire.

ChannelTerminalColor of the wire
Right-vegreen
Right+veWhite or yellow
Left-veBlack
Left+veRed

For transparent speaker wires, label them correctly.

3. Use connectors

Bare speaker wires will work just fine but it is recommended to use connectors. Leaving the ends of the wires bare increases oxidation on those ends negatively impacting performance.

There are 3 main types of connectors you can use in your home theater namely;

  • Banana plugs are designed to work by directly inserting in the “holes” at the terminals. If the binding post on your amp and speakers’ terminals do not have banana plug jacks, you can always purchase banana plugs’ binding posts.
  • Spade connectors are U-shaped and are connected at the bottom of the binding posts the same way you would do with bare wires. Tighten your binding post once you connect the spade connectors.
  • Pin connectors work with spring clips but can also work with binding posts with holes on the side.

Most connectors are designed to work with most speaker wire gauges from 12 to 18 AWG. However, ensure you crosscheck the speaker gauges for your wire gauge.

types-of-speaker-wire-connectors
Types-of-speaker-wire-connectors

Hiding home theater cabling and wires

Cable management will prevent damage and accidents too. If you can avoid having wires lying around, that would be great.

Here are some quick tips;

1.      Trunking

This is an enclose usually with a rectangular cross-section with a hinged or removable side to protect the cables and wires.

Trunking is the cheapest way to conceal your speaker wires and any long cables that you may have. This enclosure can then be nailed or glued to the wall for better cable management.

They can be made of metal or plastic but plastic is cheaper and easier to install.

You can also invest in cable management trays to keep cables at the front tidy or install mounted cable plates.

2.      In-wall wiring

When doing in-wall wiring, your wires should be rated for in-wall installation (CL2 or CL3). Video and other audio cables should also be rated for in-wall installation.

This where prior planning comes in handy. Once you know where your components will be placed and make holes on your wall for snaking your cables, there is no turning back.

Also, consider any open spaces in the home theater room. This can be carpets, cabinets, and so on to reduce the number of cuts that you will be making.

In-wall wiring may not work great for plastered or lath walls.

Here are some quick in-wall installation tips;

  • When buying wires, make sure that you have allowances of between 10 and 15 percent.
  • Invest in brackets to support the volume controls, receptacles, and wall plates as entry and exit points for the wires. Fish tapes are also a great investment to help you pull wires behind an installed wall.
  • Label all the ends of the wires before you start fishing. White masking tape and a marker should do the trick.
  • Support your wires using clamps or wire ties but don’t tie them tightly.

My final thoughts

With some DIY skills and a bit of creativity, wiring your home theater should not be a daunting task.

The hardest part in my opinion is planning to ensure everything fits together, especially for a surround sound system. For a stereo system only, the wiring should be as easy as eating a pie.

Once you have planned everything, buy the right cables for your system and then get to work.

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