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Why bi-amp your speakers?

A beginner's guide to getting better sound from bi-amp capable speakers

Author's note: This article covers bi-amping with a home theater receiver, also known as "passive bi-amping." It's written for folks who have bi-amp capable speakers, and a 7-channel home theater receiver with unassigned channels of power. 

There's another approach called "active bi-amping" that employs outboard crossovers, power amplifiers, and expert-level tweaking to achieve even better sound. One reason I don’t go into detail about active bi-amping in this article is that we don’t offer the gear you’d need to do it.

Bi-amped speaker connections

A bi-amp capable receiver uses two different pairs of amp channels for a single speaker. Here we show the connection points for the front right speaker in a home theater system.

I like getting the most out of my A/V gear. If there are features available that will improve my listening experience, I want to use them. A few years ago I upgraded my 5.1-channel home theater receiver to a 7.1-channel model. This gave me a chance to engage one of its lesser-known features — bi-amping.

I designated the two rear amp channels that weren’t being used with my five-speaker system to bi-amplify my front left and right floor-standing speakers. In other words, instead of just one channel of power going to each speaker, I now had two channels of power driving each speaker. The increase in the performance of my speakers was audible.

Why did bi-amping make a difference? Let's talk about the nuts and bolts of how it works first. Then we'll dive into what you need to bi-amp your speakers.

How does bi-amping work?

On the speaker side

Bi-amping is a speaker connection method that uses two channels of amplification to power a single speaker. It's commonly used with the front left and right speakers of a home theater system.

Instead of a speaker's woofer and tweeter sections sharing one channel of power, they each get dedicated channels of amplification. This feature is found on select tower speakers and premium bookshelf speakers.

Bi-amped speaker connections

A bi-amp capable speaker has two sets of input terminals for connecting to two separate receiver channels.

On the amplifier side

Many of us have a 7.1-channel home theater receiver, but only use it to power a five-speaker surround sound system. Bi-amp capable receivers let you redistribute the power from the sixth and seventh channel outputs for other applications.

You might use this extra pair of assignable channels to power rear surround speakers, speakers in a second zone, or in this case, to bi-amp your front left and right speakers. Connecting these channels to a pair of bi-amp capable speakers increases the amount of usable power that each speaker gets.

How does bi-amping make a difference?

Bi-amping provides more usable current to the speaker. Instead of a single channel’s worth of power divvied up between the woofer and tweeter sections, each speaker section gets a full channel’s worth of juice. Increasing the total amplifier power to each speaker provides more headroom and greater control, which can yield better sound.

There's a lot of debate in the audio world about the effectiveness of bi-amping — the comments at the bottom of the article are a testament to that!

Some folks say they can hear a difference. Others say it's no substitute for getting a bigger, more powerful amplifier.

Since bi-amping is a feature found in many home theater receivers and speakers, I recommend trying it for yourself to see whether or not it makes a difference in your system.

Setting up a bi-amped system

Here's a short checklist of what you need to get started:

  1. A 7.1 (or greater) home theater receiver with an unused pair of assignable amp channels.
  2. A pair of floor-standing speakers or bookshelf speakers that each have two sets of input terminals.
  3. Four sets of speaker cables (two sets for each speaker).

Preparing your speakers

Speaker jumpers connected

The first step to bi-amping your front speakers is removing the brass jumpers that link the top and bottom speaker terminals together.

Speaker jumpers disconnected

Removing the jumpers lets you connect separate receiver channels to each set of terminals.

Dive into your receiver's settings

To bi-amp your speakers, you need to enable this feature in your receiver. This setting is usually located in the speaker setup section of your receiver's menu. Designate the unused assignable channels to bi-amp your front speakers.

Assignable speaker connections

On this Denon receiver, the surround back outputs are assignable as bi-amp channels. Each one pairs with a front channel to increase power to your speakers.

Connect each set of speaker terminals to the receiver

Once your receiver is set up to bi-amp, it's time to connect your speakers. One set of speaker cables connects to the front left and right outputs on your receiver. The second set connects to the assigned bi-amp channels.

Since each speaker cable is carrying a full-range signal it generally doesn't matter which channels plug into the top or bottom sets of speaker input terminals. But refer to your owner's manuals to see if there's a preferred connection point.

Make the right connection

There are a few different types of speaker cables that you can use to connect your bi-amped speakers.

A popular choice is buying bulk wire, cutting it into four equal lengths for each speaker, and adding banana connectors on each end. This gives you a simple, secure way to connect your gear together.

Pre-terminated speaker cables are also a good option for bi-amping.

Passive versus active bi-amping

The bi-amping method we describe in this article is sometimes called “passive bi-amping." That means the speaker’s internal crossovers are solely used to direct the traffic of the incoming signal.

Passive bi-amping doesn’t make any changes to the signal the speaker is receiving — it only increases the amount of available current being sent to each portion of the speaker.

This is different from "active bi-amping," which employs multiple amplifiers and external crossovers to achieve better sound. Active bi-amping can offer greater improvements in performance, but requires specialized gear and set up knowledge to pull off.

How is bi-wiring different from bi-amping?

Bi-amping uses two channels of amplification to power a speaker that has two sets of input terminals. Bi-wiring uses just one channel of amplification to power the same type of speaker. Bi-wiring is useful when you have a single stereo amplifier or receiver as your power source.

A bi-wire cable has one pair of connections on the amplifier end, but two pairs of connections on the speaker end. This lets it take a full-range signal from the amp and send it down separate paths, which can improve treble and bass performance.

Bi-wiring also removes the connective brass jumpers from the signal path, which are typically less conductive than bi-wire cables.

Personalized advice from our team of experts

Have questions about planning your new bi-amped system? Our expert Advisors know the gear inside and out. Contact us today

Free lifetime tech support is included with every Crutchfield purchase.

  • Richard from Indialantic, Fl

    Posted on 11/27/2021

    Thanks much Kramer. Can I still bi-wire the front Polks using the front channels and use the 7th channel for Atmos?

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 11/29/2021

    Thanks for the question, Richard. Your receiver can power up to seven channels at once, so if you're bi-amping the front towers you can't also do Atmos channels at the same time — it's one or the other. Personally I'd rather have the Atmos channels in the mix myself (forgoing the bi-amped towers), but you can try it out both ways and see which sounds best to you!
  • Richard from Indialantic

    Posted on 11/22/2021

    Hi..I bi-amped my pair of polk this 400s to my sony str dh 790 using the unused surround/height channel..I am running a s35 center and 2 wharfdale satellites for rear surround..if I ever wanted to add a pair of atmos speakers can I just wire them to the same terminal used by the bi-amped speaker or do I just disconnect the bi-amp set up and connect the atmos speakers to the 7th channel?..or would I bi-wire the tsi 400s and hook up the atmos speakers in the normal manner?

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 11/24/2021

    Thanks for reaching out, Richard. If you decide to switch to an Atmos setup then you'll need to first disconnect the Surround Back amplifier channels from your towers before connecting them to your Atmos speakers. (Friendly reminder to reinstall the jumpers that came with your floor-standing speakers if you move away from your current bi-amped setup.)
  • Gilberto Vega

    Posted on 9/1/2021

    Thank you for your prompt answer Kramer! Best regards!

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 9/1/2021

    You're very welcome my friend!
  • Gilberto Vega

    Posted on 8/30/2021

    Thank you very much for the article! I just bought the Onkyo TX-NR696 with the bi-amplify option, I currently have Polk RT800s from about twenty years ago and they have the bi-amplification option, I have doubts about how many watts would reach each speaker in the bi-amplified mode , and how many watts without doing it. On the other hand, my listening room is 3.30 meters wide (where the speakers are located) by 4.50 meters long, I have been thinking of changing the RT800 for the S55 or the S60 but I do not know if my amplifier can fill the S60 or if these speakers are too big for the size of my listening room, what do you think? Should I go for S55 or S60? Thank you very much in advance for your attention Cheers! Gilberto

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 9/1/2021

    Thanks very much for reaching out, Gilberto. Excellent choice on the Onkyo TX-NR696 — I have an affinity for their home theater receivers, and I expect you'll love yours!

    As for new floor-standing speakers, my recommendation is to go with the larger S60s. Your receiver has plenty of power to drive them, especially when bi-amped, and I think you'll appreciate the fuller sound of the third woofer. My only caution is the cabinet size — I'd double check that it will fit depth-wise in the space that you're considering. Happy listening!
  • vaurapung

    Posted on 8/25/2021

    how would bi amping through my reciever, say an onkyo txnr646, make a difference on klipsch r-28fs... the reason i ask is because my channels past 1 and 2 have no audible power. mt front 2 channels overdrive with bounds of bass and oomph that the other channels lack. ive heard that when unstrapped the klipsch power each woofer seperately. in my avr speaker setup i would then have unbalanced woofer power in a shared space box. that could only spell doom. i would love to bi amp my towers. but i more so want all my channels powered evenly, and i have not figured out how to do that yet without creating to much latency between my player/console and video and audio.

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 8/26/2021

    Hello Vaurapung, and thanks for reaching out. As long as you aren't already using your "Back or Height" channels already you can certainly bi-amp your front towers. All you need is some extra speaker wire and a quick change to your receiver's settings. Page 51 of the owner's manual has directions on getting things going.

    As for the mismatch in output level, have you tried manually raising your center channel by a dB or two after running the speaker calibration system? In my system I had to raise the level of the center channel and my Atmos channels to get evenly balanced sound throughout the room. Definitely worth exploring if you haven't already!
  • Jim from SPRINGFIELD

    Posted on 8/15/2021

    Kramer, Thanks for taking time to answer Q's on this forum. Recently built PP tube amp using Hammond 1620 OT's w/ separate 4 & 8 ohm coils per channel. OT's initially wired as single output so each channel powers mid/high, and low frequency separate enclosures. Mid/high speakers have dedicated LC crossover, as do lows. Lows crossover is second order w/ 100uf shunt cap. Then separated OT coils; Mid/highs now powered from each channel 8 ohm tap & lows from each 4 ohm tap- Noticeable improvement to mid/high freq sound w/ extended ceiling; No audible affect on low freq's. Q, Do you think sound improvement is due to isolating woofer shunt cap from mid/hi freq speakers? Or is it something else?

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 8/19/2021

    Hi Jim, thanks for reaching out. It sounds like you're deep into your amp design project. I've never designed one myself, so I don't have any insight to offer you, but wish you the best of luck with your endeavor!
  • GERALD GREEVES from Chesapeake, Va

    Posted on 8/9/2021

    I'm using a Yamaha RX V795a 5.1 receiver and I have just bought Polk S60 speakers to replace my Klipsch KG 5.2s. I also use Klipsch RC 3 for my center, Klipsch RS3 for my surround and I also use Polk PSW 505 for my sub. I have two sets for my mains but now after a week of breaking in the S60s I have also been comparing the KG 5.2s to the Polk's S60 and I have now disconnected the KG 5.2s so I decided Bi-amp the Polk S60s so what I did I'm using channel A for the bass and channel B for the highs. It has made a big difference on my mid to highs but I just wanted to be sure that this will work and no harm to my new Polk S60s. My receiver is 85w x five per channel at .05% distortion and 100w peak x five at .07% distortion. Two channel with sub is 115w. PSW 505 - 300w with 480w peak 23Hz to 180Hz. it does have real nice deep base when driving the sub with the Polk S60 and of course Polk's 26Hz to 40K is a real nice touch. I know rule of thumb is not mixing dome tweets with horns but I have to say that the Klipsch RC3 and RS3 sound really nice with the Polk's in 4K and Blu-ray! If there is a proper way to Bi-amp please inform me the correct way. PS I bought the Polk' through Crutchfield UPS did a great job no damage to the boxes and speakers.

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 8/19/2021

    Thanks for reaching out, Gerald. I did some research on your receiver (it's not one I was familiar with). It doesn't have a conventional bi-amp mode from what I can tell. Generally speaking, you'll want to stick with one channel per speaker (and not use A and B together), and that's how I recommend connecting your Polk S60s to your V795a.

    As an aside, I happen to like the look and sound of Polk's Signature Series speakers quite a bit. They're an excellent choice for the money — especially for surround sound.
  • Mike from La Crosse

    Posted on 8/5/2021

    I have a Yamaha A2A in a 5.1 setup. I just got two Polk Signature S55, center S35, sub HTS10, and my old TL250s for the rear. If I bi-amp my S55s will it overpower the center channel? Also with this configuration, is it worth it to get the most out of all speakers? Thanks!

  • Ed from Philadelphia

    Posted on 7/25/2021

    I use B&W 803s for Front LR and HTM3 for center. Rotel RMB 1575 to power five channels single wire with jumpers. Pioneer Elite SC-25 as preamp. Can I utilized Pioneer's unused amplifiers to bi-amp LCR? On wire from Rotel and one from Pioneer? They both similar sounding D-class amps with plenty of wattage. If yes - which amp to feed Low vs High side of the speaker?

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 7/26/2021

    Hi Ed, thanks for reaching out. That's a sweet system you have there!

    What you're asking about goes beyond the scope of this article, which is limited to passive bi-amping with a home theater receiver. That said, I don't recommend mixing the Pioneer with the Rotel, which should have plenty of power to drive the 803s with authority.

    If you're looking to improve your system's performance I'd take a look at replacing your preamp. There have been significant advancements in HDMI technology (HDR, eARC, Dolby Atmos, etc.) since the SC-25 debuted a decade ago. I think a modern pre/pro will give you a marked boost in the quality of what you hear and see in your home theater.
  • Sunil Sathyanarayana from Melbourne

    Posted on 7/14/2021

    I have a marantz AV7706 and i have a 7.2.2 set up. I am using Emotiva 3 ch power amp for my LCRs and Rotel RMB1512 to power the rest of the speakers. Since i have extra channels on my Power amp, can i use that to Bi-Amp my Klipsch Rp-8000Fs, if Yes , then how do i do that.

    Commenter image

    Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    on 7/16/2021

    Hi Sunil, thanks for reaching out. Your separates-based setup doesn't support passive bi-amping — that's a specific connection method for home theater receivers. But given the efficiency of your speakers, my hunch is that they get plenty loud with the power they're already getting. I don't think you're missing out on anything by not feeding them additional wattage.