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How to power a multi-room music system

Find the best options for powering speakers throughout your home

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.

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.

Sonos Port and other music player options

You may have noticed that the music player in our multi-channel amplifier illustrations looks a lot like the Sonos CONNECT (which has been discontinued and replaced by the Sonos Port). That's no accident, it's a popular choice for systems like the ones in our examples. Just remember, if you want to play different music in each zone, you'll need a  Port for every one.

Of course, you could use a CD player, a network music player, or just about any other audio component. Many brands besides Sonos offer wireless multi-room audio systems that include streaming adapters like the Port.

NAD gives you a space-saving option in the CI 5180 V2 4-zone, rack-mountable streamer. It provides four separate music streams from one small component. And it's compatible with the Bluesound wireless multi-room system.

Get a free system design

In a well-designed home, form and function are on the same team. Furnishings and appliances smoothly serve your family and guests. You should expect no less from your audio/video gear. But first you need a plan, and that’s where your Crutchfield A/V design specialist comes in. Submit a system design request today! You’ll receive a detailed system plan and a link to a pre-filled shopping cart.

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Residential audio gear isn't well suited for stores, restaurants, and other commercial buildings. We have a separate team of designers to help you put together a system for your business. Get started by filling out a commercial system design request form.

  • Kila Kamakawiwoole from Hawai'i

    Posted on 7/21/2021

    Is it possible to run 4 bookshelf speakers on a 2.0 Sony STRDH190 only using speaker A channels. Because I'm running my subwoofer off speaker B channels, I wanted to run 2 sets of Sony sscs5 speakers in series per L and R in the same zone. Would this work or would I be pushing the amplifier too hard.

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 7/23/2021

    Thanks for your question, Kila. We recommend only powering one pair of 8-ohm speakers at a time with your receiver.

    If you need more power (or more channels of power), you might consider an entry level home theater receiver — they're much better equipped to drive four stereo speakers at the same time.
  • Adam Francis from Whistler

    Posted on 4/5/2021

    My Denon AVR X 3000 works fine for zone 1 -5 channel + sub home theatre but when streaming Spotify of Sirius XM to the Zone 2 some instrument sounds are missing? Any ideas? Is this a problem with AVR's outputting to zone 2 with these digital sources? I am using Sirius and XM from a Samsung TU 8000 smart tv. Thanks.

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 4/7/2021

    Hi Adam, thanks for reaching out. I'm sorry to hear that you're having trouble with your gear. The best way to troubleshoot your system is to give our tech support folks a call — their toll-free number is on your invoice.
  • Kate from Newcatle

    Posted on 3/14/2021

    for the past 8 years i have enjoyed a sonos system with 4 rooms each with Bose speakers. From my computer i can play different tunes to each room. Suddenly we are having internet problems, the wifi i have depended on is spasmodic . I now have enough money to go get a amplifier. Can i connect any amplifier that will have the ability to send different things to each zone?

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 3/15/2021

    Hi Kate, thanks for reaching out. The first thing I'd address is the Wi-Fi issue. If your wireless router is older, it may not be up for the task of supporting a modern household's slew of connected devices. I highly recommend getting a mesh Wi-Fi system like the Netgear Orbi. It provides ultra-fast and reliable streaming for smart TVs, iPads, computers, phones, and in this case, your Sonos system.

    As for an amplifier, there are lots of ways to create a multi-room audio system. I recommend giving one of our Advisors a shout. They can walk you through your options, and help you choose the right gear for your system.
  • George from Red Deer

    Posted on 1/31/2021

    What receiver is recommended to power 8 ceiling speakers in 2 zones.

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 2/3/2021

    Hi George, thanks for reaching out. We'll want to get a bit more information about your speakers and how they're configured. Please give one of our advisors a call for a free personalized recommendation.
  • Lee from Toronto

    Posted on 6/25/2020

    Wow, I've learned so much from all of these articles on your site today! Thank you for that! I have a question about the Zone 1 example. Is there a way to turn the speakers on/off in each of those 3 rooms independently? Or do you have to use a wall mounted controller to do that? I'm hoping there is a model of amp that would allow that kind of control through an APP or something? Thanks!

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 6/26/2020

    Hi Lee, thanks for reaching out. Nearly all of today's multi-zone home theater receivers can be controlled with an app on your phone or tablet, which allows you independently control each zone's source, volume, etc.

    That changes a bit with traditional multi-zone amplifiers, many of which do not have "smart" capabilities. These are generally controllable through in-wall keypads, or with a handheld remote control through an infrared extender.

    If you'd like a hand mapping out the right gear for your system, just give us a shout — we're happy to help.
  • Brian from Carnelian Bay

    Posted on 4/21/2020

    I have a 7.1 receiver and want to either: 1 - add 2 more speakers to zone 2 (only have a 2 speaker left and a right connection for zone 2) or, 2 - add another zone - 2 more speakers Do I have options? Thanks!

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 4/24/2020

    Hi Brian, we're happy to help you expand your system. I'll need a little more info to make a recommendation for you. Feel free to let me know the specific receiver and speakers you have, or give us a call at 888-955-6000 and one of our advisors can help. Thanks!
  • cdgatti from Knoxville

    Posted on 3/20/2020

    A question about using an AVR with zone 2 outputs - Can the zone 2 output be active without the receiver playing anything in the main zone? Question is mainly for the Denon/Marantz line.

  • Mond.Hebe from 2559 Lawson Sq

    Posted on 3/7/2020

    If we do or don't do it, someone will laugh

  • Jom from Austin

    Posted on 1/4/2020

    I seriously cannot find solid information regarding amp wattage vs speaker wattage. I've seen that speakers should be higher, I've seen that amps should be higher, and I've heard it doesn't matter and that it strictly relates to the volume you're trying to achieve by using the decibel sensitivity as a guide, and not worrying about wattage. Why can't anyone give a straight answer on this? I don't understand. Can you please help? Thank you

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 2/7/2020

    Hi Jom, thanks for reaching out. I understand your frustration, and I wish the answer to your question was more cut and dry. In a perfect world, all wattage ratings would be equal. In actuality, amp and speaker manufacturers use different measurements to determine the specs that they publish. A 100-watt amp from company A often delivers a different amount of real-world power than a 100-watt amp from company B (sometimes dramatically different).

    Your best bet is to try to match the RMS ratings of your speakers and amplifier as closely as possible. But it's okay to have a higher-rated amp than your speakers. It's almost always better to have "too much" power than not enough — you're far more likely to blow a speaker by underpowering it and causing distortion than overpowering it.

    If you'd like any help matching gear up, just give us a shout. One of our expert advisors is happy to help.

    My apologies for this reply coming so late. I actually published it back in early January, but for some reason it never appeared on the article. I just discovered that; I'm sorry for leaving you hanging for so long!
  • Matt F from Lake Orion

    Posted on 8/2/2019

    Great article Deia! I moved into a new construction subdivision and most houses have prewire whole home audio. I posted on my subdivision WhatsApp page and everyone loves your summary. I'm sure I'll have plenty more questions as I buy hardware, but this is very informative. Thank you!

  • Commenter image

    Deia Z. from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/3/2018

    Hi Serge. Without knowing more about your setup, it's hard to say, but generally speaking it's best to connect your outdoor speakers and sub to the same set of speaker outputs. I hope that helps. Feel free to get back in touch if we can be of further assistance.

  • Serge from Moscow

    Posted on 4/27/2018

    I just purchased Polk Atrium 6 speakers and Polk Atrium sub. I have Yamaha 659 receiver and free speakers "B" output on it. Can I hook both atriums (L&R) and sub to this output. Or it's better to hook atriums to "Presence/Zone2" output and sub to "speakers B"?

  • Dan from MARBLE FALLS

    Posted on 9/6/2017

    The diagrams in the article do not show volume controls between the distribution amp and the speakers. Seems like this is needed to be able to control volume.

  • CJ from Dallas

    Posted on 4/12/2017

    Need a possible receiver/amp to run about 6 pairs of speakers throughout the house with 2 outdoor. There is also a volume control in each room. Need a recommendation on what type of system I need.

  • Jason from Mentor Ohio

    Posted on 3/31/2017

    I have option 2 with Audio in 2 rooms with 1 receiver. The issue is, now that I have only HDMI connections into my receiver I have no stereo output for the second zone. Even if the source is stereo, since it is on HDMI I cannot get a 2 channel output for the Zone 2. Even with a second amp! I have 2 receivers and both of them have this same issue. Any solutions? Thanks!

  • Phil from Dallas

    Posted on 3/25/2017

    My house has ceiling speakers in multiple rooms, including a volume control in each room. My receiver has a powered Zone 2 option. How do I connect the the speakers to my receiver ensuring a proper 4 - 8 ohm load is shown to the amplifier? If possible, I would rather not use a separate Zone 2 amplifier, as some rooms, such as the guest bedrooms, are only occasionally used. The existing volume controls are 15+ years old & were installed by the builder (no visible name/model/etc). Do I need new impedance matching volume controls? Any other options?

  • B from San Diego

    Posted on 3/15/2017

    If I have a 16 year old elan system with powered volume knobs and we just want to use 4 Channel amps in series for each set of speakers, can we ignore the power line on the volume knobs and just run the speaker sound passively through a volume knob? Why have to use these expensive volume knobs when we can both turn the volume up or down there and at the amp? I just want simple solution, 12 pairs of speakers so 3 of the amps will do and each of the 2 pair of speakers can be controlled in 2 spots. I just want to dump the 12v power as I don't need it right? Thanks

  • Barry from Park City, Ut

    Posted on 3/13/2017

    I am planning a new house that will have in ceiling speakers in 4 different rooms and one set of weather resistant speakers on a patio. All speakers will listen to the same audio, so no need for a second zone setup. There will be wall controls in each room to control on/off and volume. This will be a wired system. The question is this. I currently have a very similar setup in another house. In that location everything runs streaming audio from a Sonos Amp, thru a six channel distributor module and on to the speakers. I love the Sonos app for streaming and overall control. We principally stream from Pandora and occasionally from someone's IPOD or Android device. The problem is the amp in the Sonos unit is not really sufficient to provide the power, depth and range across such a setup. Is there now a receiver from one of the "principal" manufacturers (Denon, Onkyo, Marantz, etc) that can offer a comparable remote app control, has streaming comparable to the Sonos unit and has sufficient punch to deliver the goods to up to five spaces simultaneously? Many thanks in advance!

  • Nikhil Singhal from Redmond

    Posted on 7/27/2016

    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

  • Commenter image

    Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/16/2016

    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.

  • Harry Hulle from Smithtown, NY

    Posted on 5/16/2016

    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

  • Julie

    Posted on 3/29/2016

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

  • Commenter image

    Crutchfield Writing Team from Crutchfield

    Posted on 2/29/2016

    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.

  • Keith from Queen Creek

    Posted on 2/28/2016

    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

  • Commenter image

    Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/7/2015

    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.

  • Jon Peck from Santa Fe

    Posted on 9/5/2015

    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

  • Commenter image

    Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/7/2015

    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.

  • Commenter image

    Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/7/2015

    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.

  • Sue Lynch from Suffolk, VA

    Posted on 7/4/2015

    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?

  • Commenter image

    Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/30/2015

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

  • Mike markowitz from California/Bay Area

    Posted on 6/29/2015

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

  • Gary Grossklaus

    Posted on 6/28/2015

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

  • Keith

    Posted on 5/10/2015

    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