Skip to Content

What is a Home Theater Bypass? How Does a Bypass Work?

A home theater bypass is a feature found on high-end integrated amps used in home theater systems. It is used to connect an external two-channel stereo system with a surround sound home theater system via RCA. This feature allows you to bypass all of the complex digital processing of the integrated amplifier.

When it is active, the signal from your two-channel stereo system is sent directly to the main speakers. Because the signal is bypassing the digital processing, the integrated amp will not impact the eq, the volume, or the gain. The two-channel signal will be sent to the main left and right speakers only. In some cases, it may also utilize your subwoofer.

The most common use for home theater bypass is integrating high-fidelity music systems with your high-quality theater systems.

Does My Home Theater System Have A Bypass?

The easiest way to determine if your system has the bypass feature is to check the manual. You can also examine the jacks on the back of your integrated amp.

The bypass connector will consist of two RCA ports, and be labeled appropriately. Sometimes the bypass will be referred to as “Direct Input” instead of “Home Theater Bypass”.

Should I Use The Bypass Feature?

If you want to use your home theater system for playing records, or music in general, a bypass may be a great solution. It is possible to connect your music source directly to the home theater without a bypass. However, this leads to several issues. Most music is mixed and mastered for two-channel stereo systems. Films and video games are often mixed and mastered for multi-channel surround sound.

When combining these two sources into one system, it may be difficult to manage the relative volume between the two. The EQ parameters may sound great with one, but terrible with the other. The bass levels might be perfect for a film but overpower your music.

If you do not use the bypass, you will have to change your home theater settings back to default to get a clean signal from your music source. Even then, the signal will send to all of the connected speakers, which can lead to disorienting and unpleasant audio effects.

By introducing the home theater bypass, the volume and EQ parameters are not affected by the settings of the integrated amp. This is the result of sending the signal directly to the left and right speakers. The remaining surround sound speakers will not produce sound.

Whether or not you should use the home theater bypass feature depends on what you are connecting to your home theater system. The bypass feature is best suited for connecting a two-channel stereo system. The stereo system you connect must also have its own volume control.

How Do I Use a Home Theater Bypass?

When using the home theater bypass, the controls on the integrated amp will be disabled entirely. The integrated amp will power the signal from your two-channel stereo, and pass it directly to the speakers at full volume. All Adjustments must happen on the two-channel system itself.

If you connect a phone or laptop, you must control the volume and EQ with the software on the device. If you are connecting a record player, you will need a pre-amp with its own volume knob.

To use the bypass feature, connect the left and right RCA OUT channels of the external stereo system to the BYPASS ports on your integrated amp. If you are connecting a device with an AUX output, you will need an AUX to RCA cable, like the one found here.

Though uncommon, it is possible that your integrated amp will have a “TAPE” input that functions as a bypass. If you cannot find an RCA Jack labeled ‘DIRECT’ or ‘BYPASS,’ it would be a good idea to check your manual.

Once you connect the stereo through the bypass, there will be no need to swap cables or mess with volume or settings. Once you activate the bypass, the signal will pass straight through with no processing from the integrated amp. When you select other components on your integrated amps, such as Blu-Ray, Cable, or Game, the volume controls will operate normally. Though this solution is elegant and convenient, it can also be expensive. Receivers with bypass features can range from $1,200 to over $7,000.

How Does a Home Theater Bypass work?

When it comes to audio playback, there is mono, stereo and surround sound. These are generalized terms to describe how many audio channels exist, along with the positioning of those channels. A single-channel system is ‘mono.’ A system with two channels is ‘stereo.’ Anything higher than that is ‘surround sound.’

Stereo generally consists of two speakers in front of you and mixes sound left, right, and center. If you stood directly in front of the speakers and closed your eyes, it could sound like something moving from one spot to another.

To create better immersion, surround sound speakers were introduced. These additional speakers typically go behind you, so you could close your eyes and hear different sounds in different directions. A place could fly by in a film, and sound like it goes right over your head. When you hook a music source to your 3+ speaker surround sound system, the music likely won’t sound the way it was intended. One channel with the drummer might end up sounding like it’s behind you, for example. Check out our article, on the differences between a home theater system and a hi-fi audio system.

The reverse scenario would be watching a movie mixed for more channels than your system is configured to use. You could end up hearing all the background noise of a film, but the channel with the voices will be gone completely. This wouldn’t happen with a stereo system, but rather an improperly configured surround sound system.

The integrated amp takes your surround sound signal and sends it to the proper channels, and the bypass works by sending the appropriate stereo signal to the left and right speakers.

What Are the Alternatives?

The easiest solution for combining your home theater and music listening system is purchasing a high-quality system to replace your two-channel preamplifier entirely, for instance, buying a receiver will usually mean that you don’t need a preamp as we explained in our guide. . This allows you to have high-quality sound in two channel mode without the complexity of having two amps. Most modern systems have features that enable switching between pre-set profiles or channels.

Though these systems are the most simple, they will not achieve the purest untouched signal the source. The digital processing in these systems is impressive, but for some audiophiles, it’s still not enough.

One of the most inexpensive options is integrating a switch, or physically switching the main channel outputs from the stereo and home theater preamps physically. A switch like this would work well.

What Should I Buy?

It can be somewhat tricky to track down a high-quality integrated amp that has a bypass feature. You can find a list here that features every amplifier by every manufacturer as recently as September 2017. The Marantz PM8005 was on the lower end of the price spectrum but this product is currently hard to find. Therefore, we recommend an its updated version, the Marantz PM8006.

The Parasound’s Halo integrated is an excellent choice at about $2,500.

There are several options to choose from, and carefully selecting the equipment based on reviews and other user experiences is essential. Ultimately, it can be hard to go wrong when dealing with equipment of this caliber.