When it comes to connecting all of your home theater components, the task can be overwhelming – to say the least. This is especially true if you are not expertly versed in all the associated jargon. “Powered”, “active” and “passive” are all terms commonly used to explain the type of speaker you have. However, add this to the mass amount of other components and phrases – receiver, amplifier, source, and channel to name a few – everything can suddenly become rather confusing. (Not to mention the clarity lacking in the often poorly drawn diagrams and manufacturer’s direction!)
Often, this leads to confusion over which parts connect to what and whether the equipment will even work together. If you happened to purchase powered speakers and plan to use them with a receiver, you may be in for a rude awakening. That is – unless you know how to appropriately connect the two together!
So how do you connect powered speakers to a receiver? Your receiver will need to include pre-outs or Zone 2 lines in order to connect powered or active speakers to it. Simply connect your speakers to the pre-outs or zone 2 outputs. You cannot connect powered or active speakers to a receiver’s normal speaker terminals because it WILL damage the speakers.
If you find yourself struggling with understanding how to connect your powered speakers to your receiver, you are not alone. Below I explain the most direct way to connect these items. I also provide two other, lesser-known, options should your receiver not include pre-outs.
How to Connect Powered Speakers to a Receiver
Powered speakers, also known as active speakers, are called such because they include a built-in amplifier. This means that they do not require the use, nor will they work with, am exterior amplifier. (In contrast, a passive speaker does not include the built-in amplifier.)
A receiver, however, comes with a built-in amplifier. Because of this, you may find yourself struggling to successfully connect your powered speakers to your home theater receiver.
Step 1: Locate Your Receiver’s Pre-Outs
Before you get started, you should identify where your pre-outs are on your receiver. (You should note that some brands refer to these as “Line Outs”.) Originally designed to allow for the connection of an external amplifier, which helps ease the burden on your receiver, these lines are commonly the only ones that work with powered speakers.
The number of pre-outs will limit how many powered speakers you can link to your receiver. (It also allows you to expand your home theater beyond the channels it was originally designed to support!) The good news is that the majority of receivers currently being produced likely include pre-outs.
Older models, however, probably do not. In this case, you will need to invest in passive speakers, which do not come with a built-in amplifier or upgrade your receiver to a model that includes pre-outs.
Step 2: Determine Where Your Speakers and Receiver Will Be Situated in Your Home Theater
Before you run cables, cut holes, or do anything else – you need to determine where your speakers and receiver will be positioned in your home theater.
For longevity, your receiver will need to be placed in a well-ventilated area. The placement should also allow for easy access to the back for connection purposes. For many, the receiver is often placed within an entertainment center.
Speaker placement typically depends on how many channels you have available to you. Identifying where you will place each speaker can help you determine how much cable you will need to run each speaker to your receiver.
Step 3: Connect Speakers to Pre-Outs
Once placements have been determined for your receiver and speakers, you will need to connect the two via the appropriate cables. Depending on placement and personal preference, you may want to run the cabling through the walls in order to obscure them from view. Most modern receiver models accept inputs from HDMI, RCA, and optical or coaxial cables. In the majority of cases, the pre-outs will require standard RCA cables.
Most experts recommend that you use speaker wire connectors when it comes to connecting your receiver and speakers. While this may be tedious, it helps to ensure your wires never touch and prevents the likelihood of short-circuiting your receiver.
You should connect your speakers and sources prior to powering on your receiver. It is also highly recommended that you invest in a surge protector, which can further protect your home theater from power surges to your home.
Are There Other Options?
Pre-outs are the standard way to connect powered speakers. However, they are not necessarily the only option you have when it comes to using powered speakers with your home theater system.
Zone 2 Lines
Some receivers come with Zone 2 lines, which you may also use to connect powered speakers. Zone 2 lines were developed to support the use of a different source in a second area of the home. For example, streaming music in the master bedroom while your kids enjoy a movie in the family room.
As displayed in the above picture, some receivers have a Zone 2 pre-out and regular Zone 2 output that is powered. Because of this dual configuration, Zone 2 also allows the connection of a second amplifier to help power your other speakers or you can connect directly to powered speakers.
Zone 2 also allows you to expand beyond the channels supported by your receiver. For example, your receiver may be sold as a “5.1-channel” unit; however, the additional Zone 2 ports may allow you to expand your home theater to a 7.1 channel system. You should also note that some manufacturers include the Zone 2 feature in their overall channel count.
As with the pre-out option, you need to identify where your powered speakers will be placed. Zone 2, and the occasional Zone 3 and 4, typically use standard RCA cables but may also have dedicated binding posts to provide both power and the audio signal for passive speakers.
Additionally, depending on your main usage, some stereo receivers also accept AV inputs. While stereo receivers are not designed to support a home theater, owners who use them for both music and video have found them suitable. (They certainly work better than your television’s built-in speaker system at the very least!) The Harmon Kardon HK3390, for example, includes three video inputs and includes pre-out jacks.