Home theater receiver setup guide
Tips on how to hook it up and tweak it like a pro
Deia began her Crutchfield career in 2010, as a sales advisor in the Spanish/International department. Crutchfield's hands-on sales training quickly converted her interest in photography into a full-fledged hobby. After five years in sales advising customers on choosing the best A/V and camera gear for their needs, she is happy to share her knowledge and enthusiasm for top-notch gear as an A/V writer.
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Are you the proud owner of a brand new home theater receiver? You're in for an awesome surround sound experience once you get it connected. We'll walk you through the setup process so you'll know what to expect.
The amount of time it takes to set up a receiver can vary greatly, but setting aside two hours should give you plenty of time to get everything hooked up in most cases.
What you'll need
Take stock of all the components you'll be connecting to your receiver (Blu-ray players, cable/satellite boxes, gaming consoles, etc). Make sure you have enough cables to connect each piece. For the best audio and video performance, use the highest quality audio and video connections each component will allow (HDMI in most cases).
Cable labels make it easy to keep track of what goes where if you ever have to move your setup, or if something comes unplugged.
Before you begin, it's a good idea to plan where all your speakers will go. See our article on speaker placement for home theater to learn about optimal configurations.
Ready to get started? Read on for a basic step-by-step breakdown of how to get your system up and running as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Step 1: Receiver placement
Pick a spot for your receiver where cables connecting other components can reach it easily. Keep in mind that the receiver needs room to breathe or it can overheat, so be sure to allow enough space for heat to escape. See our home theater receiver placement tips for more information on this important topic.
While you’re setting everything up, it helps to have the receiver out in the open — either sitting on a cabinet or rack pulled out from the wall, or on the floor in front of your cabinet. This allows you to run cables through the back and easily connect them to the receiver.
Pro tipProtect your investment by not plugging anything directly into outlets or inferior surge protectors. A quality power protection device will keep your gear from being fried in the event of an electrical surge.
Step 2: Connect your TV
Connect your TV to the receiver using an HDMI cable. Use HDMI input 1 on the TV and HDMI output 1 or “Main” on the receiver. This will allow you to view any onscreen setup guides the receiver might have built in.
If you use an antenna for over-the-air TV, or you use your TV's built-in apps for streaming, see if your receiver and TV both support Audio Return Channel (ARC). This feature allows audio to travel from the TV back to the receiver over the HDMI connection, so you can hear it through your speakers. If you have an older TV or receiver, you'll need to connect an optical digital cable between your TV and receiver to hear audio from your TV's tuner or apps.
Pro tipIf you have a 4K TV and your receiver is capable of passing a 4K signal, take care to make the connection between them using HDMI connections that support 4K and HDCP 2.2. These connections may or may not be clearly labeled on the back panels of the TV and receiver, so if you need help figuring it out, feel free to ask us. See our article on HDCP 2.2 copy protection and 4K TV to find out more.
Step 3: Follow the onscreen guide
Most receivers don’t include printed manuals in the box anymore. Instead, most of them offer a helpful onscreen setup guide. For example, Denon and Marantz receivers have an On-Screen Setup Assistant built right in. You just connect the receiver to your TV and follow the instructions that appear on the screen. Yamaha offers a convenient AV Setup Guide app for tablets on the same Wi-Fi network as your receiver. These kinds of guides walk you through the entire process from start to finish.
Step 4: Speaker setup
Set your speakers up around the room. Use string to measure the distance from each speaker to the receiver, and cut your speaker wire accordingly. Consider using speaker connectors like banana plugs for a more secure connection.
Step 5: Connect your speakers
Before you start making speaker connections, be sure to unplug the receiver. Take a look at your speaker wire and note the differences in coloring on both halves. Split the wire down the center at the end, using wire cutters to trim off the insulation from the tip. Keep the ends of the wire separate. The speakers and the receiver should have speaker terminals labeled right and left. Match the colors on the terminals (usually black and red) to the colors on each side of your speaker wire. It’s important to be consistent here to maintain the proper polarity, so if you insert black wire into a black socket, be sure to do this with each subsequent connection.
Next, connect your subwoofer using a mono RCA subwoofer cable from the subwoofer output on the receiver to the subwoofer’s LFE input. Check out our subwoofer setup guide for other types of connections, along with tips on how to dial in the perfect bass for your taste.
Step 6: Connect your A/V components
Whenever possible, we recommend using HDMI cables to connect your components to your receiver. HDMI connections transmit the highest-resolution audio and video signals, often without additional cables. Make sure to connect any 4K components you have to an HDMI input on the receiver that supports HDCP 2.2. Once everything is connected, test each source to be sure you're getting both audio and video.
Pro tipDon’t want to hear surround sound every time you watch TV? HDMI standby pass-through (a feature found in many receiver models) lets the receiver send signals to your TV from connected sources, like a cable box, when the receiver is powered off.
Step 7: Calibrate your speakers
Most receivers come with auto-calibration systems you can use to fine-tune the sound to account for the size of your speakers and the room they’re in. Plug the included setup microphone into the dedicated jack on the front of the receiver, and place the microphone where you’ll sit most of the time. Follow the instructions to optimize your system. You may be able to do this from multiple seating positions, depending on the receiver model. See our speaker calibration video for more information.
Pro tipDon’t place the setup microphone directly on the couch or chair where you'll be sitting, or the soundstage will end up too low. Put the microphone as close as possible to where your ears will be. If the receiver includes a tripod or cardboard stand for the setup microphone, use that. Otherwise, a camera tripod or a makeshift stand works just fine.
Step 8: Network setup
If you haven’t already been prompted to do this by your receiver’s setup guide, now’s the time to connect your receiver to your home network so you can take advantage of online streaming services. Just follow the instructions specific to your receiver model and you should be connected in no time.
Pro tipEnabling “network standby” on your receiver lets you power it on with a remote app on your phone or tablet (if one is available with your receiver). The default setting for this is normally “off”, so you’ll need to go into your receiver’s settings to turn it on.
Step 9: Take control
Now that you’ve gotten your system all hooked up, have you thought about how you’ll control everything? If you have a lot of components, a universal remote might be useful. See our universal remote buying guide for more information.
If your receiver offers a good control app for mobile devices, you’ll probably want to check it out. You’ll be able to switch sources and control all your streaming services with one convenient interface. These work from any room in the house, which is extra convenient when your receiver allows multi-room audio and video.
We're here for you
Still have questions? Each Crutchfield purchase includes free lifetime tech support. One of our technicians would be happy to guide you over any hurdles you might encounter during your installation so you won't have to spend hours buried in your owner's manual.