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Powering your multi-room music system

Find the best options for powering speakers throughout your home

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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A well-planned multi-room audio system keeps music moving through your home. You can power in-ceiling speakers, floor-standing and bookshelf speakers, and outdoor speakers, all through the same wired system.

Wired multi-room audio systems can range from simple two-room, one-receiver setups to more advanced multi-zone systems. We'll start with the basics and work up to the more complex scenarios.

Audio in two rooms using one receiver

2 Zones

A stereo receiver with A and B speaker outputs lets you play the same audio source in two rooms. The volume control shown in Zone 2 is optional.

Most home theater receivers with seven or more channels have a set of Zone 2 speaker outputs for a pair of stereo speakers in a second room. With a dual-zone/dual-source receiver, you can listen to different audio sources in each zone.

Home Theater system 2 zones

You'll need at least five channels for surround sound in Zone 1. Use two of your remaining channels for Zone 2. The in-wall volume control shown in Zone 2 is optional.

Multi-zone home theater receivers have seven, nine, or eleven channels of power. Sometimes they have more speaker connections than channels. A receiver with nine sets of speaker outputs, for example, might only be able to power seven speakers at a time.

Let's say you have a nine-channel receiver with 11 speaker outputs. You can hook up a full nine-channel surround sound system, plus stereo speakers in another room.

What's the catch?

When you are listening to music in Zone 2, two of the rear channels drop from your surround mix. This leaves you with you 7 channels of surround sound in Zone 1. When you turn off the Zone 2 music, your surround sound reverts to 9 channels.

Audio in three rooms using one receiver

3Zone home theater

Some multichannel receivers have powered speaker outputs for audio in two additional zones. (Again, the volume controls are optional.)

The easiest way to get audio in three rooms with one receiver is to find a 9- or 11-channel receiver with powered speaker outputs for Zone 2 and Zone 3. These models often support 3-zone/3-source audio, so you can listen to something different in all three zones.

Phone screen

With a receiver like the Marantz SR7008, you can power speakers in three different rooms and play different music in each zone. With the remote control app, you can select the music source and control the volume for each zone.

Home theater system 3 zones

Some receivers offer powered speaker outputs for Zone 2 and preamp or line-level outputs for Zone 3.

Using preamp outputs means you'll need a second receiver or amplifier for Zone 3. This is a great option if you have an old receiver you'd like to put to good use.

More than three rooms

Want your audio system to extend beyond three rooms? The first thing you'll want to do is talk to an experienced system designer.

There are a lot of factors to consider when selecting your equipment and setting everything up. How big are your rooms? How loud will you play your music in each room? Do you want to be able to play different music in different zones at the same time?

Your designer can pick out the right multi-channel amplifier for your needs. They'll also show you how to configure it so you end up with an easy-to-use system that does what you want it to.

To give you an idea of what's involved, we'll look at a fairly typical three-zone, five-room system.

Three zone house

One multichannel amplifier can distribute audio throughout your home.

Zone 1

Let's say you have an open floor plan, without walls separating the kitchen, dining room, and great room.

You'll need multiple speakers to evenly distribute sound throughout that large, open area. In our example, we're going with five.

We need six amplifier channels to power the five speakers in Zone 1.

  • Channels 1 and 2 are for the left and right speakers in the great room.
  • Channels 3 and 4 go to a stereo-input speaker in the kitchen.
  • Channels 5 and 6 go to the left and right speakers in the dining room.

Zone 1

The music player for Zone 1 connects to the amplifier's "bus" input (sometimes called a "global" input). The input switch for each pair of channels is set to "bus" so your Zone 1 music player plays through all five speakers.

Zone 2

Zone 2

The music player for Zone 2 connects to the "local" line input for channels 7 and 8. The input switch is set to "line in".

Zone 2 is simple, with just one pair of speakers in the basement den. We'll use two amp channels to power the left and right speakers.

Zone 3

Zone 3

For the Zone 3 music player, we'll connect the left output to the left (mono) input for channels 9 and 10 on the amplifier. The right output goes to the amp's left (mono) input for channels 11 and 12.

Zone 3 is different. There's a single pair of outdoor speakers, but they need more power than indoor speakers. To get them to play at decent volume levels we "bridge" (combine) four amplifier channels into two.

We're here to help

For expert advice and a free system proposal for your home, call our A/V Design Group at 1-800-555-9407. Or you can submit a system design request and upload your floorplans. Our designers can help you plan your system and put everything together.

A/V system design, tailor-made for your home

Here's how it works in 3 easy steps

1) Share your info and ideas

Send us your floorplans and photos. Talk to a designer about your goals and budget. Receive a detailed system plan for free.

2) Approve your design

Your system plan comes with a link to a pre-filled shopping cart. Ordering is easy. Delivery is fast and free.

3) Install your gear

Many of our clients save money by doing their own installation. Free tech support is available 7 days a week. Your satisfaction is guaranteed. 60-day returns.

Let's get started

We won't rest until you're satisfied.


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Last updated July 06, 2016
  • Keith

    Posted on 5/10/2015 9:23:57 PM

    Ok.. here it is . I know nothing about audio. I just bought a house with speaks in every room. There are 18 total speakers in the home overall including outside on the porch. There is a large group of wires in the living area that I guess belong to these speakers. There are knobs for each room in the home except the living room area that have knobs that I guess are used to control the sound for each room. My desire is to have it so that I can have sound for the main living area, my upstairs man room and out on the back porch. My question is what type of receiver would be best for me. Honestly I would probably get someone to install since I have no idea what to do about it. THanks

  • Gary Grossklaus

    Posted on 6/28/2015 2:56:36 PM

    can you play a network source such as Pandora on zone B

  • Mike markowitz from California/Bay Area

    Posted on 6/29/2015 7:57:39 PM

    What are my receiver options for 3 room/3 source receivers when my primary concern is stereo sound, not TV.

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/30/2015 9:36:20 AM

    These are excellent questions. For expert recommendations, please call, email, or chat with one of our advisors.

  • Sue Lynch from Suffolk, VA

    Posted on 7/4/2015 1:33:58 PM

    We have pre installed speakers in the ceiling of our home living room 2 pr/kitchen 1 pr /outdoor kitchen 1 pr/ hall & laundry 1 pr / office & hall 1 pr. 6 pair total 16 awg cable wiring what do I need to make them work?

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/7/2015 9:43:24 AM

    Hi Sue, sounds like you have a lot of stuff to hook up. Please call us, email, or chat with one of our advisors to get the best recommendations.

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/7/2015 9:43:30 AM

    Hi Sue, sounds like you have a lot of stuff to hook up. Please call us, email, or chat with one of our advisors to get the best recommendations.

  • Jon Peck from Santa Fe

    Posted on 9/5/2015 10:04:41 PM

    My house has pairs of speakers built in to each of 8 rooms. I have been using a very old receiver (Luxman) to power four rooms with a Sonos Connect or a CD player as the main inputs. The receiver has begun cutting out if used continuously, although it returns to service after a while. I am guessing that it is being overdriven. I also have an inexpensive Pioneer receiver that separately drives two rooms. What do I need in order to make this setup function properly? I don't need different outputs in different rooms. TIA

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/7/2015 9:20:17 AM

    Jon, I sent your question to our sales team for the best solution. They'll be contacting you via email soon. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat.

  • Keith from Queen Creek

    Posted on 2/28/2016 10:14:54 PM

    I have 13 pairs of speakers though out the house and two of the pairs are for the outside patio. I have my older Yamaha RX-V630 home theater to power this. what do I need to accomplish this? Thanks

  • Crutchfield Writing Team from Crutchfield

    Posted on 2/29/2016 12:10:12 PM

    Keith, we sent your question to our sales team for the best answer. They'll be contacting you via email soon. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat.

  • Julie

    Posted on 3/29/2016 1:41:45 PM

    The subject of this is Audio and then all the solutions assume there is a home theater involved.

  • Harry Hulle from Smithtown, NY

    Posted on 5/16/2016 1:04:36 PM

    Hello Looking for a Stereo Receiver to power main room with Klipsch 5.1 speakers and 8 additional speakers. 2 each in living room, kitchen, patio and deck What do I need to do I have old Yamaha 2500 doing the 3 sets of speakers off of Speaker B but tried Niles 4 speaker switch on B and think did some damage Thanks

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/16/2016 5:09:43 PM

    Harry, It sounds a little like you may be trying to hammer in a nail with a screwdriver. In other words, to safely and effectively power a speaker system such as you describe, I believe it's going to take more than just a single stereo receiver to do the job. Please give our advisors a call for some help in choosing a setup that will work best for you.

  • Nikhil Singhal from Redmond

    Posted on 7/27/2016 3:05:09 PM

    I just moved into a house that looks like it is wired with 24 speakers. There are banana plugs for these speakers in the family room. What receiver or amp do i need to buy to make this work. Room # of speakers Family room 4 Kitchen 2 Dining 2 Living room 2 Master bedroom 4 master bathroom 2 den 2 game room 4 hallway 2 Total 24