How to Hook up Surround Sound
So let’s get started by listing things you need (some things will be obvious, such as the TV, but will be listed here anyway). Take a moment to look over the How to Hook up Surround Sound Diagram shown below.
Equipment you need for Connecting a Surround Sound System
The quick list is you need a TV, Surround Sound amplifer, speakers, Wire, Connection Cables and a source such as: Cable/Satellite/Uverse set top box, Antenna, DVD player, Blue Ray Player, Gaming Console such as Wii or Xbox or PSIII. (We depicted these items in the How to Hook up Surround Sound Diagram above)
The TV can be literally any type of working TV you want to use. You can use a flat screen TV. You can use a movie projector and movie screen. Basically anything you want to use to view either TV or a movie or sports programming.
AVR or HT in a Box or Sound Bar
For the best sound performance you will want an Audio Video Receiver (aka: AVR). This is a stereo amplifier which you can connect your speakers and subwoofer. The Home Theater in a box is a complete surround sound system in one box. This type of system usually contains everything you need to make a surround sound system and can usually be purchase for as little as a couple hundred dollars up to around $1,000. In this case, the price will directly relate to the quality of the system. The less you pay the lower the sound quality and the reverse of that is maybe all you want is some background sound all around you. But, if you are looking for a solid sound quality plan to pay money for it. Onkyo has a real nice complete package (minus the speaker wire) for a reasonable price. The last option is the sound bar. A sound bar works by projecting the sound out into a room to create the allusion of sound from all sides. The benefit of a sound bar is that it is easy to install and setup and the cost can run between $200 and $400 depending on whether you go with a wireless Subwoofer.
If you have a HT in a Box you don’t need extra speakers. Nor do you need extra speakers if you have a Sound Bar. If you bought an AVR then you need 5 speakers (you can use less and you can use more if your AVR can handle more) and you need 1 subwoofer. Check the label on the back of each speaker for the OHMs rating. Also check the back of the amplifer for its ohms rating. Make sure your stereo amplifer is rated to support the speakers you want to connect, if you don’t you risk damaging your equipment.
Cable Box or DVD player or BluRay DVD Player
You need some kind of source or if you want, multiple sources.
Connection Cables for Wiring a Surround Sound System
Take a quick look again at the diagram above. Look at the lines connecting the SOURCE to the AMPLIFER. At the very least you will need one of those cables (HDMI, Toslink, RCA) to make that audio connection between the SOURCE and the AMPLIFER and we will describe each of them below. In addition you will need speaker wires for wiring your surround sound system speakers to your amplifer.
HDMI – This wire will transmitt both the audio signal and the video signal. HDMI is currently the best overall type of connection cable to use but it’s by no means the only very good method of connectivity between devices. In the diagram above we depict the HDMI run between the SOURCE and the AMPLIFER however there are other methods you can use depending on your situation and the cables you have on hand at the time. For example, you can connect the HDMI direct between the SOURCE and the TV and then run one of the other audio cables we depicted in the How to Hook up Surround Sound Diagram (above) between the SOURCE and the AMPLIFIER.
Digital Optical / Toslink – This is an audio only cable. The digital optical toslink can not transmit a video signal, only the audio signal. It’s used to transmit a digital (more clear sounding to the human ear) signal. Many times you can use this or a similar cable called the Digital Coaxial audio cable which also performs the same function. A digital Coaxial cable is rated at 75ohms.
Red/White RCA – This is the most common audio only connection cable available today. Nearly all electronics until recently have this RCA cable in the packaging. Often times you’ll find it in a RED/WHITE/YELLOW configuration with the YELLOW being for the transmission of video (very poor quality video). RCA is an analog audio cable and the sound quality to lower quality when compared to Toslink (noted above)
Speaker Wires – You have to connect one wire pair from the amplifier to each respective speaker, 5 speakers means you have to connect 5 wire pairs. If you buy a Home Theater in a box or Sound Bar usually you won’t need speaker wires, they are typically included when you purchase the product. But just to be safe double check the packaging before you leave the store or place your order online. It would be pretty frustrating to open a new box only to discover you don’t have everything you need to hook up your new surround sound system.
If you need to buy speaker wire here’s where things can get a little unclear, what wire should you buy and how much should you spend? A very general rule of thumb would be that the more you spend to hook up a surround sound system then the more attention you should pay (and higher price) to buy speaker wire. If you are spending a few hundred dollars then probably any inexpensive speaker wire will do. The opposite of this would be if you spend $5,000+ on hooking up a surround sound system then you should pay attention to getting a good quality speaker wire. Speaker wire quality is identified by the gauge, how large is the copper core of the wire. Small gauge wires like 20 or 24 are what you can expect in an inexpensive system. Whereas 18, 16 and 14 gauge speaker wires will perform better in hooking up a more expensive surround sound system. The smaller the number equates to a larger wire (yes you read that correctly) and thus less resistence and improved sound performance.