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You No Longer Need a Receiver for Surround Sound Setups!

Everyone considering a home theater system is new to set up and components at some point. With so many components, knowing which pieces are required for what setups can leave you more confused than when you started. One of the most commonly confusing components is the A/V receiver.

So do you need a receiver for surround sound? For traditional speakers, a receiver is highly recommended, and almost always required. For active Soundbars with wireless or satellite speakers, a receiver is not needed. Passive Soundbars will require the use of a receiver.

From what it does to whether it is required, the receiver you choose needs to work with your setup. Below, we take a look at why you need a receiver for certain home theaters as well as why you don’t.

Key Takeaways

  • Relevance of a Receiver: A receiver is crucial for traditional surround sound setups, as it processes and amplifies audio signals. For active soundbars, a receiver is unnecessary, while passive soundbars require one.
  • Getting the most out of a receiver: Consider a receiver based on your system’s channel needs for optimal performance. Ensure proper speaker placement and connection, with attention to ventilation for the receiver.
  • Soundbar Simplicity: Soundbars, especially active ones with built-in amplifiers, offer a simpler setup allowing you to enjoy good audio without the need for a traditional surround sound receiver.

Traditional Surround Sound Setup with a Receiver

Home Theater Surround Sound System with a Receiver

If you are looking to establish a home theater that uses the traditional surround sound setup – a receiver is essential. This is true regardless of the number of speakers you intend to include in your home theater.

What is the Purpose of the Receiver?

A traditional home theater setup includes various components, including speakers, devices, and more. Not all of these components work seamlessly with one another.

This is where your receiver comes in. A home theater receiver, also referred to as an AV (audio/video) receiver, is a consumer electronics component serving as the connection hub through which all of your audio, video, and streaming sources relay various signals between each other. (Source)

A receiver receives and processes audio signals from various devices, cleans them up, and amplifies them to deliver clear, crisp sound to external speakers.

Most modern receivers, like Onkyo, Denon, and Marantz for example, also help to enhance video signals as well. As with the audio signals, the video inputs are received, processed, and converted if needed through our AV receiver.

If you’re having trouble choosing a receiver that fits your needs, then take a look at our recommended A/V receivers page where we include the best receivers out there that are very reasonably priced.

Understanding the Home Theater Setup with a Receiver

Every home theater setup is different. However, some general similarities can help you understand the basics of any home theater setup with a receiver.

AV Receiver Icon

Determine the type of system you want. How many speakers or channels do you want to have?

If your ideal home theater system is just playing high-quality stereo music, a simple 2-channel receiver could be an awesome and sufficient solution. However, if you are looking for the full home theater experience – you must have a 5-channel receiver at the very least.

(Keep in mind that each channel connects to a separate speaker! This means you need 1 channel per speaker used in your home audio system.)

Determine where you will set up each piece of equipment

Most home theaters make use of between 5 and 7 speakers, as well as a subwoofer. This is commonly referred to as a 5.1 or 7.1 channel speaker setup.

(Need help finding the perfect speakers for you? Check out which surround sound speakers I highly recommend for home theater use!)

Knowing where you will place each speaker and component helps you decide how much cabling you will need to successfully attach each speaker to the receiver.

Keep in mind that your receiver should be placed in a well-ventilated area to prevent overheating during continual use.

Connect your speakers to the receiver

This is the most tedious part of setting up your audio system and will likely require a few additional items: wire strippers and banana plugs.

Strip the wire back roughly 1/4 – to ½-inch and insert it into a banana plug to make connecting and disconnecting easier.

Make sure your connections correspond correctly: positive to positive, negative to negative.

Your subwoofer will likely connect directly to your receiver via a single RCA cable; make sure you use the appropriate “Sub Out” or “Sub Preout” port.

Connect your source components to the receiver

Unless you want to swap cables between devices, you need to make sure each component can connect to your receiver via the necessary wires.

For example, if your DVD Player, Roku, and PS4 all need HDMI connections, you will need at least 3 ports that allow you to do so.

After all of your components have been connected to your receiver, you should test your configuration with all devices, like iPhones, as well (our tutorial). Many receivers now come with an “Auto Setup” function that can help you quickly get started.

Soundbar Surround Sound Setup

Soundbar Surround Sound Setup 9.2.4 Channels
Image provided by Nakamichi

In most cases, you will not need a receiver if you decide to go with a Soundbar. But why is this? Let’s take a look.

Soundbars typically include everything you need for enhanced sound. This includes two or more speakers that are strategically placed to enhance audio.

Check out our in-depth overview of the difference between 2.1 and 5.1 soundbars (this will help you understand the major differences between multi-channel soundbars.

Each speaker is powered by built-in amplifiers, which help to deliver quality sound without having to use a receiver to do so. However, receivers are great for improving sound quality too as we explained in our other guide.

While most soundbars are “active” with built-in amplifiers, requiring no receiver, “passive” soundbars do need an external receiver or amplifier and are less common.

Understanding the Home Theater Setup with a Soundbar

watching TV in the living room with a connected soundbar

With a soundbar, you can connect devices either by linking them through the TV for simplicity, or directly to the Soundbar for better sound quality, though this method is more time-consuming.

After connecting your multiple components, you may opt for connecting your Soundbar with a subwoofer or other speaker system. Many Soundbars come with or will work with, wireless subwoofers and speakers.

Recommended Soundbars

If you want an outstanding soundbar surround sound system, we suggest the ultimate Nakamichi Pro 7.1 (on Amazon)! This unit is by far one of the top surround sound capable soundbars on the market, and at an outstanding price. If you would like to know more, take a look at our video below:

Nakamichi Pro 7.1 Review

If you aren’t interested in the Nakamichi Pro 7.1, then check out our recommended soundbars page for the best soundbars for the money. We only recommend options that are well-priced and completely worth the money! You should also note that certain brands of Soundbars, like SONOS and Bose, will require you to stick with their products. In other words, your SONOS Playbar will only work with other Sonos Speakers


Thursday 26th of December 2019

I am buying a Uled Hisense tV with a Samsung series 70 soundbar and an uhd 4k blu ray player.I dont see that I need a receiver as I can run it all through the TV with everything Dolby Atmos compatible.Thanks for the insight.

Kimberly Burcke

Thursday 19th of December 2019

In all my research so far you're the only one who made it understandable for a (slightly) older non-geek. At last my questions have been answered. Thank you!

Jonah Matthes

Thursday 19th of December 2019

You're welcome! I'm glad I was able to answer your questions!