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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.

3 easy steps

1

Share your info and ideas

2

Approve your design

3

Install your gear

Need a system for your business?

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!