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General Home Theater Setup

Even the finest surround sound system won't sound its best unless it is set up properly. And while the subject of speaker placement could-and often does-fill an entire book, a few basic tips will help you obtain the best performance from your home theater system.

Common Mistakes

The three most common setup mistakes involve reversing channels, connecting speaker wires out of phase, and misunderstanding the subwoofer connection

Channel Identification
- On the back of your receiver or amplifier, you'll find a clearly labeled pair of terminals for each of the five theater channels, plus a subwoofer or LFE output. When you're sitting in your listening position, facing the three front (left, center, and right) speakers and the television, the left front and left rear speakers are on your left, and the right front and right rear speakers are on your right. You can assure proper hookup by using your receiver or processor's built-in test tone. As the tone moves from one channel to the next, your receiver or processor will display which speaker is reproducing sound at that moment. Rewire if one or more test tones come out of the wrong speaker.
Polarity
- One of each pair of speaker terminals on the receiver's output panel is black, the other is red. These correspond to the "positive" (+) and "negative" (-) phases, or halves, of the audio signal. The connectors on the back of each speaker will be similarly color-coded. Speaker wire pairs have some way of identifying the two conductors: they will be color coded, marked with "+" and "-," or one wire will have a rib or stripe. Be careful not to reverse the positive and negative wires, as incorrect phase will adversely affect sound quality by canceling bass and producing vague, unfocused images.
Subwoofer Hook-Up
- The easiest method to hook up a sub with a Dolby Digital or DTS Surround receiver is to connect the sub out to the LFE input on your subwoofer using a single subwoofer cable. An audio patch cord or interconnect will work, it does not have to be specifically labeled subwoofer cable. If your subwoofer does not have an LFE input, use either the L or R line input (a Y splitter is optional) then turn the low pass control as high as it will go. For advice on adjusting the subwoofer, please see this article.

This article was last modified Jul 25, 2014

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