How to Hook Up Your Surround Sound System
If you want to cement your home’s status as the best place to watch a movie—even taking the nearest cinema into account—you’re going to need more than your standard TV sound system. But even a shiny set of surround sound speakers might not be enough to earn you the title. Want that crown? You have to know how to precisely position those speakers and master the ins and outs of how to hook up surround sound to your TV.
Plenty of people find themselves practically paralyzed when it comes to the prospect of running wires and angling speakers. Countless more have given it their best shot but found they could still use some pointers on maximizing their surround sound systems. Allow Klipsch give you everything you need to know about hooking up your surround sound system. At the end of the day, you’ll stop calling your friends and family by their names and start referring to them as “the audience.”
Fig A. – The full 7.1 system setup.
Surround Sound Speaker Placement
Before you begin any surround sound setup, you have to believe one crucial truth: You are the center of the universe. The focal point. The Reason with a capital R. This also goes for anyone else you welcome into the heart of your soon-to-be marvel of audio engineering. Every speaker will be pointed at you to create a direct line of sound. These speakers and their carefully calibrated positions exist to please your ears. Focusing the surround sound speakers on a single, central point will best allow them to do what they were made to do.
Also important: the surround sound system itself. The number of speakers you get will help you to determine how to position them, which, in turn, factors into how you hook them up.
The most common surround sound systems are 5.1 and
, with the “5” or “7” indicating the number of speakers in the setup and the “1” indicating a solitary subwoofer. Either of these is a good-sized sound system for TV viewing, movies, game playing and more. Of course, you will never hear any complaining if you add an extra subwoofer, as that will even out the room’s bass response.
It should be noted that the arrival of Dolby Atmos sound has created an additional dimension to this traditional sound formula. Dolby Atmos sound calls for the addition of elevation speakers, allowing sound to come not only from all around you, but also from directly overhead. An example of a Dolby Atmos setup would be 5.2.4, which represents five speakers, two subwoofers and four elevation channels.
The Klipsch team has gone into great detail about 7.1 speaker placement elsewhere, but a quick explanation here can’t hurt: You’ll want a center channel front and, well, center, just above or below your screen. Set up the two front speakers to either side of the center channel, at least six feet apart and angled toward where you’ll be sitting. The general rule of thumb is to place the front speakers at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock to your listening positions. Two surround sound speakers should go to either side of—and just a bit behind—your viewing position, while the final two (ignore this step for a 5.1 setup) should settle three feet behind the sitting area, about three feet above the viewers’ heads and angled inward like the front pair.
You have some flexibility with the subwoofer, which can be tucked into a corner on the same wall as the screen or sit next to one of the front speakers. As we discussed in a previous blog post, there is no true formula for finding out where to place your subwoofer. It’s up to your ears to decide! Experimenting is key.
One final, but crucial, element of surround sound setup: the room itself. A lot of hard, flat surfaces can make for a less-than-ideal listening experience, since sounds will bounce around and grow muddy, ruining the effect. If you are blessed to have a dedicated home-theater room, you can get specifically designed acoustic material to go on your walls, ceilings and corners. Consider softening surfaces wherever you can, whether that means laying some carpet on a hardwood floor (or at least finding a nice rug that really ties the room together) or installing shelves on otherwise bare walls and stocking them with books. Don’t forget windows. Cover them with curtains and close them. This is best for stopping an unwanted muddying effect, as well as for preventing any neighbors from spying on you while you snuggle up with your special someone. Yes, romance movies come in surround sound, too.
As you arrange the room, be sure to keep anything from intruding into the space between your speakers and your viewing area. Direct access is a must for surround sound.
How to Hook Up Surround Sound to TV
With the speakers positioned right where you want them, it’s time to connect them. Typically, they need to be wired to a surround sound receiver, which acts as the brain of the entire system, receiving input from your Blu-ray player, cable TV box or gaming console and sending the sound through the wires to its designated speaker. Of course, new speakers utilizing WiSA technology, like the Klipsch Reference Premiere HD Wireless sound, substitute the AV-Receiver for the HD Control Center.
Having your setup positioned before you begin this step will allow you to determine the length of the wires necessary to connect the various pieces, assuming you’re not using cables with connectors, which are often called banana plugs. If you are, plug everything into the designated ports and move on. If you’ve got a wireless surround sound system, your speakers will coordinate through a specialized control center.
For any wiring endeavor, start by shutting it all down. Avoid the chance of an electrical shock by unplugging every component in the entertainment and surround sound system that can be plugged into the wall.
Next, run the appropriate length of wire from each speaker to the receiver and, if necessary, strip the ends to ensure enough bare wire is available to be secured in the clips. The back of your receiver should feature a bank of these clips, arranged in pairs: one for positive, one for negative. Red typically indicates where the positive wire should go, and black or blue indicates the negative.
Like jumpstarting your car, wires should run from the positive clip on the speaker to the positive clip on the receiver. Same with the negative clips.
Before actually securing any ends in place, be sure that all wires and cords are hidden and out of the way as possible. You’re not going to stretch them tight across a frequently walked-through area at ankle height, of course, but go the extra mile to tuck them beneath rugs and run them behind furniture and other features of the room.
Be sure that every speaker and subwoofer is connected. Subwoofers have a slightly different setup on the back, likely going from a port labeled with some variation of “sub” on the receiver end and “LFE” on the subwoofer end.
At this point, the receiver is ready to welcome inputs from your devices: your TV, disc player, gaming system, etc. This step will likely be as simple as plugging in both ends of an HDMI cable. For equipment that still uses an optical digital-audio out, follow the color coding to connect the cables, video to video, audio to audio. Component video and audio can’t travel through the same cables, which is why there will be cables for each. Same with composite, if you have them.
Consider developing your own labeling system for identifying at a glance which wires and cables go where, whether that means affixing your own color-coded stickers to the various cords or simply attaching tags that read “left rear speaker” or “Blu-ray.”
Surround Sound Test
Once everything is arranged and connected, run a surround sound test to ensure each speaker is getting the proper signal from the receiver and blaring it accordingly.
A surround sound test will involve more than popping in the latest superhero blockbuster—though you will want to use something of that caliber for your first showing. To start, follow the audio setup instructions on screen when you plug everything back in and turn it all on. These will walk you through any necessary steps to get your system running based on pre-set standards. Once a baseline is established, begin tweaking the system to deliver your customized surround sound experience.
Surround sound system tests are available on disc and for download, and will send sounds to each separate channel to ensure everything is working as it should. A test may also include sounds to check the interplay between two speakers, revealing whether they are in or out of phase with each other.
How to Configure Surround Sound System for Optimal Sound
Modern technology has advanced to the point that some home system setups allow you to position a microphone where you plan to sit in the heart of your personal media temple, then fire up an automatic program, step out of the room, and let your surrogate ear and its attached gear do all of the work.
Not yet ready to welcome your robotic overlords—or at least their helpful, pristine-audio-delivering helpers? You can still assert your humanity by settling yourself in and fiddling with the surround sound system yourself. And by “settle in,” we truly mean it, since our guess is that you don’t watch your movies in a perpetual state of rigid-spined alert. Get comfy, like you’re going to watch a movie. You want your ears in the spot your ears will be the next time you hit play.
From that comfortable vantage point, do your best to accurately determine the distance from you to the front of each speaker. Your setup menu’s speaker settings should have a speaker distance/delay menu that allows you to enter these distances. The numbers will tell your sound system the precise point in the room where the different tracks need to arrive to form a harmonious whole.
The other main element of your configuration efforts involves setting each speaker’s level to ensure it’s at a volume Goldilocks would love: not too loud, not too quiet. This is different for everyone so you should determine your personal preference (generally aim for the 75- to 80-decibel sound pressure level range) and adjusts accordingly. Handheld devices with built-in microphone and decibel-reading sensors give you accurate readings as you navigate the system, moving from speaker to test-noise-emitting speaker.
Surround Sound for Gaming Consoles (Optional)
If you know games, you know that titles today are closer to cinematic experiences than the first-person shooters of years past. Graphics are stunning and the sound effects and scores tend to come in 5.1 or even 7.1 format. Plus, certain gaming systems, such as the PS4 and Xbox One, can also play movies.
The variety of input and output ports on various TV, receiver and game console combinations mean you may have to experiment to get the best surround sound between HDMI and optical cables. Keep in mind, though, that optical cable can only support 5.1 formats.
Great debates have been waged as to whether it is best, ports allowing, to connect an Xbox One or PS4 to the receiver, then the receiver to the TV, all with HDMI, or to route the game console audio to the receiver, but send the video directly to the TV, with the idea that a direct path for the visuals is best. The keep-the-audio-and-video-separate option is most often suggested by people who have no HDMI output connections on their receiver, meaning they use HDMI cable to transmit stunning graphics straight to the screen, while they pump 5.1-format sounds and music through optical cable to the central system that will farm it out to the speakers.
You may need to experiment with this on your own to get the most out of your own surround sound setup, but that should be no problem, given your gaming experience. Think of it as leveling up.
Just remember that no matter what you choose for games, movies or listening to music, any surround sound speaker setup—and heck, even a sound bar—is going to be better than the speakers built into your TV.
Do you have any questions on how to setup your system for surround sound? Post in the comments below!