How to do the wiring for your home theater

Wiring is needed in every home theater installation. When wiring your home theater you must match all the terminals together correctly according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. This can be done either in-wall or using other methods to brilliantly hide your wires. Wiring will also depend on the scale of your home theater project and your room configuration.

For large projects that may involve alteration of the room, it is always good to seek the help of a professional. However, if you have enough technical skills, you could save yourself a lot of money by doing the job yourself.

You should also know the type of cables and wires that you will be needing for that project and invest in the best quality.

Once you have everything ready including the design, you can then proceed to your installation.

Audio/video connections

First, you will need to familiarize yourself with the terminology used in home theater connections.

An interconnect is anything that is used to join/connect 2 audio/visual components. For example, from a TV box to the receiver or receiver to TV using an HDMI.

Wires are used to send the audio signals from an amplifier/receiver to the speakers. However, in this context, we are going to use the terminology for interconnects, leads, wires, and cables.

Audio and video connections;

  • Digital HDMI interconnects
  • Analog SCART

Audio only connections;

  • Digital Coaxial cables
  • Analog RCA audio cables
  • 3.5 mm mini Stereo jack
  • Digital Optical cables
  • Speaker wires
  • XLR

Video only connections;

  • Digital DVI cables
  • Analog composite cables
  • VGA
  • S-video
  • Component cables

Once you get familiar with these cables, check the back of your devices to know what kind of ports you have at your disposal to choose the cables or interconnects that will be best suited for you.

For, an 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 adapters? Adapters are great if you want to connect one type of cable with a different type. But there are also limitations to using adapters for home theater connections. One of the biggest limitations is that you cannot connect a digital output to an analog connection because they are incompatible.

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 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.
  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 if you think your receiver is not outputting enough power for your soundstage.

Some people may prefer using separates, in this case having a separate preamp and power amplifier for a more customizable setup.

You can also connect your media devices to your TV directly and then send the audio signals to an external integrated amplifier or receiver. But a soundbar would also be great if you are only starting with a basic audio set up.

Home theater speaker wiring

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

First, you need to get the right wires for your speakers as most speakers will not come with their own wires. This is because most home theater owners will have different needs and different room sizes.

Here are some considerations that you should make when you are shopping for speaker wires;

  • The number of speakers.
  • Audio quality.
  • How you will be hiding your wires.
  • Home theater room size.

Audio quality will be affected by the length and width of the speaker wires you use. This is mainly because of resistance and impedance.

What is speaker wire resistance?

Resistance is the force or opposition to the flow of current in a circuit, in this case, our speaker wires. This speaker wire resistance is measured in OHMs (Ω). The speaker’s wires resistance causes them to lose energy in form of heat minimizing the sound quality.

In a home theater, we want to use wires with the least resistance as possible to get the clearest and best sound from the speakers.

You also need to balance the wire resistance to the distance in which the current has to flow. This is because the longer the distance the current has to travel through the wires the more energy is lost which translates to a loss in quality of the sound.

What is speaker wire impedance?

Speaker wire impedance is the opposition to the flow of alternating current (AC). In short, speaker wire impedance is the combination of reactance and resistance in the circuit and is also measured in OHMs.

You should make sure that you match the impedance to prevent loss of sound quality or damage to your electrical equipment. This happens because mismatched impedance reflects the audio signals. Matching your wires’ impedance with your devices will reduce signal reflection and maximize power transfer.

Most home theater speakers will have an impedance rating or 4 Ω, 8 Ω, or 16Ω. Typical a speaker rated at 4 OHMs will vary between 2 and 8 Ohms when in use. You should therefore buy a speaker wire that can match your speaker’s impedance.

However, you can solve the impedance mismatch issue by using a transformer.

Choosing the right speaker wire

You should first consider the distance, impedance, and resistance of the wire as we mentioned above which brings me to my next point, speaker wire gauge.

The Speaker wire gauge is more like the cross-section area of the wire or thickness of the wire and is measure in a unit known as AWG. The higher the AWG number the thinner the wire is and vice versa.

The gauge of the wire can be as low as 10 AWG (thickest) to as high as 22 AWG (thinnest). And the thicker the wire the lower the resistance which will allow you to run the wire for longer distances. Most speakers will work just fine with 16-gauge wires for distances of less than 50 feet. For longer runs, you can use a 14- or 12-gauge wires but you can also go overkill with 10-gauge wires.

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.

You also need to consider what the wire is made of and can either be;

  1. Copper wires
  2. Silver wires
  3. Gold wires

1.       Copper wires

Copper wires are the most widely used speaker wires.

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

You should make sure that what you are shopping for is pure copper and avoid copper alloys at all costs. Copper alloys are less conductive and easily break around tight corners.

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 as you may have guessed by now, these wires are the most expensive to the point where most home theater enthusiasts do not talk about them.

Gold wires will give you the clearest sound, if you can afford them, of course, but you can also find gold-coated copper wires which greatly improve the audio quality.

Speaker wire connections

Once you have bought the right speaker wire for your system, it is time to do the right connections.

Here is what you should know.

Connect the negative and positive terminals correctly

You should make sure that you correctly connect the negative and positive terminals of your speakers to the corresponding terminals on the receiver or power amplifier.

You may also hear some people using the word polarity. A correct polarity will involve connecting the positive speaker terminal to the positive amplifier terminal and the negative speaker terminal to the negative amp terminal. If the polarity is not correct the speakers will be out of phase.

Most of the speaker and amp terminal will be correctly labeled letting you know the negative and positive terminals. However, if that is not the case, most speakers will have the +ve terminal on the left when the speaker is facing up and -ve terminal on the right.

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

Also, if you purchase a 4-conductor speaker wire (green, red, black, and white (yellow), you should make sure that you connect them correctly. The table below will help you better with four-conductor speaker wire.

Channel Terminal Color of the wire
Right -ve green
Right +ve White or yellow
Left -ve Black
Left +ve Red

For transparent speaker wires, you should make sure you label them correctly but usually, most people will use the silver wire for the positive polarity and copper for negative.

Use connectors

Bare speaker wires will work just fine but it is also recommended to use connectors. This is because leaving the ends of the wires bare will increase oxidation on those ends which will in turn, negatively impact performance.

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

  • Banana plugs are designed to work by directly inserting in the holes at the terminal. If the binding post for your amp and speakers’ terminals do not have banana plug holes, 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, you should make sure to crosscheck the speaker gauges for the corresponding connector gauges.

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 are going to need, then make sure that the wires are at least 15 centimeters longer than the planned distance to avoid pulling the speaker wires too tight.

Make sure your wires are of the least possible minimum length to minimize resistance and to get the best out of your equipment.

Hiding home theater cabling and wires (cable management)

Hiding your wires will prevent them from getting damaged fast and you will not be tripped by them either. If you can avoid having wires lying around, that would be great.

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 for your speaker wires, you should first make sure that the wires you buy are rated for in-wall installation (CL2 or CL3). The video and other audio cables should also be rated for in-wall installation.

This where prior planning comes in really handy. Once you have confirmed where you want all your components to go and make holes on your wall, there is no going back.

You should also consider any open spaces that you may have in the room you are going to use for your home theater. 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.

  • When buying wires, make sure that you have allowances if between 10 and 15 percent.
  • You should also invest in brackets to support the volume controls and 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 wire before cutting another wire or before you start pulling. White masking tape and a marker will come in handy when you are doing this.
  • Support your wires using clamps or wire ties.

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 doing planning to make sure that everything fits together, especially for a surround speaker system. If you will only be using the front channel, 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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