Setting Up an Audio System in a Media Room or Home Theater

Learn how an audio system works and the best way to set it up in a media room or home theater.
Modern Room with Home Theater 3D Rendering

Black and White Media Room

DIYNetwork gives you step by step instructions on how to set up an audio system in your media room.

DIYNetwork gives you step by step instructions on how to set up an audio system in your media room.
By: Bob Gatton

The basic building blocks of any entertainment system are sound, sources and displays. For most media rooms, the sound or audio system is a combination of an audio-video (AV) receiver plus five or more loudspeakers and a subwoofer.

The heart of the AV system is the receiver. Today's receivers perform many functions:

They power the loudspeakers; the speaker wires are connected to the back of the receiver.

All of the sources (cable box or satellite, DVD, game system, etc.) are connected to the receiver, which lets you select which source you want to hear.

The AV receiver lets you control the volume and adjust the balance between the loudspeakers.

The receiver also sends the video signal to the television or monitor.

The receiver processes the audio, including the information for surround-sound effects. On some newer receivers, it also performs video conversion.
Many better televisions also have audio amplifiers, connections for multiple sources and surround processing, but for most applications it is better to use a separate audio video receiver. The receiver will almost always have more power and flexibility.

Watt's that?

Home Cinema with Black Chair and Projector

Home Cinema

DIYNetwork gives you step by step instructions on how to set up an audio system in your media room.

Photo by: Nick Free

Nick Free

DIYNetwork gives you step by step instructions on how to set up an audio system in your media room.

The receiver contains five or more audio amplifiers, which power the main loudspeakers. Most subwoofers have their own amplifiers. It's easy get wrapped up with the wattage rating for a receiver, but keep in mind that all watts are not created equally. There are many different ways of measuring the wattage output of an audio amplifier; lower-quality amplifiers are often rated at a smaller frequency range. So it's a good idea to stay with quality brand names and look for a power rating that covers the full range of human hearing: 20Hz to 20kHz.

The loudspeakers in a typical media-room system include:

  • A center channel loudspeaker, which is the most important loudspeaker. Virtually all of the dialogue is sent to the center channel. Don't skimp here; a low-quality speaker will make it difficult to understand the actors in your favorite movie. The center channel speaker should be placed as close as possible to the television. It is usually mounted directly above or below the screen.
  • A left front and right front loudspeaker, which should be identical and placed an equal distance to the left and right of the television.

  • At least two rear surround sound speakers to give the sound a three-dimensional effect. They should be placed above and slightly behind the main seating area. How much sound comes from these speakers depends on what the sound engineer producing the program wants. In many movies that are mostly dialogue, the rear speakers might never be used, while in an action adventure movie, they could be utilized during the majority of the film. Sound coming from the back can be as dramatic as an airplane flying overhead, or a car approaching from the rear in a chase scene, or as subtle as background noise in a restaurant.

  • A subwoofer can be placed almost anywhere in the room. Humans can't identify the direction from which a bass sound comes --a phenomenon that makes it very convenient for placing the subwoofer in home theaters and media rooms. Usually the largest of all of the loudspeakers in a surround-sound system, the subwoofer can be placed where it is partially or totally concealed. In some loudspeaker systems, the woofers for the bass are in the main left and right loudspeakers.

  • For more on speaker placement, check out the section on room layout at the Dolby website.

Some of the most common questions I get are about Dolby Digital and DTS surround systems, often defined by numbers such as 5.1. With such systems, the number 5 specifies the number of main speakers that can be used; the 1 indicates that a subwoofer can be connected. Later versions of surround-sound processing allow for six or seven main loudspeakers; they are labeled 6.1, 7.1, etc.

Dolby Digital and DTS (digital theater system) are the main surround-sound processing systems. Most audio video receivers are capable of decoding either one.

Next Up

Home Theater Trends

From high-tech projectors to the latest apps, find out what's new in home cinema.

Home Theater Audio: Tips, Advice and FAQs

Experts from DIY Network's hit show Hollywood Hi-Tech provide insight on how to set up the audio system in a home theater or media room.

Electricity in the Workshop

These tips offer information on workshop electricity.

Bathroom Electrical Tips

Keep these tips in mind whenever you're dealing with wiring in a bathroom.

The Ultimate Workshop: Lighting and Electrical Layout

Workshops have special electrical and lighting requirements and it's critical to plan these elements thoroughly to create an efficient workspace.

Automotive Workshop Details

Learn what's required to create an automotive workshop that will accommodate any car repair, from tune-ups to a full-scale restoration.

How to Cut and Grout Kitchen Tile for Electrical Receptors

Host Paul Wilson shows how to cut kitchen tile for electrical receptors and gives grouting tips.

Keeping Remote Controls Organized

Keep the clutter in a media room under control with these new home theater gadgets.

Planning Around Utilities During a Kitchen Remodel

One of the first steps in a kitchen remodel is determining what type of utilities you will need and their location. Find out how to plan for utility placement and what steps you'll need to take after that.

Blog Cabin 2009: Luxuries and Home Technology Voting Choices

See a detailed view of the luxury and home technology choices for Blog Cabin 2009.

Get Social With Us

We love to DIY. You love to DIY. Let's get together.

Consult Our A-Z Guide

Everything You Need to Know

Browse a full list of topics found on the site, from accessories to mudrooms to wreaths.  

How-To Advice and Videos

Get video instructions about kitchens, bathrooms, remodeling, flooring, painting and more.

Watch DIY Downloads Now

Watch DIY Network LIVE

Don't miss your favorite shows in real time online.