Harnessing Receiver Features for Multi-room Home Audio

How to play music in any room in your house

The front panel of a stereo receiver showing knobs for volume and input
Many receivers are fully capable of delivering multi-room audio, sometimes from multiple sources. kyoshino/Getty Images

Many stereo speakers or home audio equipment feature (one or more) wireless technologies as well as traditional analog and digital connections. You may be tempted to upgrade to a comprehensive speaker systems, like Sonos, but the receiver you currently own may already be capable of multi-room or multi-zone listening. You just have to take the time to properly wire everything up.

Setting Up Multi-Room Audio

Most modern home theater receivers have built-in multi-room and multi-source features. At a minimum, it should be able to connect a second set of speakers using the Speaker B switch. Depending on the receiver's brand and model, it may be able to handle additional sets without the need for a speaker selector switch.

Connecting multiple speakers to one receiver means that a single audio source can play in different rooms or zones simultaneously. Some receivers also allow multiple audio sources to play in multiple areas.

Often, a receiver will be compatible with 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound. Some of these allow the reassignment of the surround channels in order to power speakers in other zones. For example, a 7.1-channel receiver will allow users to link the two "surround back" channels to stereo speakers placed in another room, complete with independent source selection. The main theater room could still retain the 5.1-channel audio for entertainment while leaving the second set of speakers for music.

Other Benefits of Traditional Receivers

With traditional receivers you can select from multiple sources, such as turntables, DVD/Blu-ray players, digital media players, cable set-top boxes, smartphones and tablets, AM/FM radio, and more. With the press of a button or two, all connected speakers can be commanded to play a Blu-Ray movie. Or users can choose to split the sources and speakers up into assigned zones—for example, FM radio in the kitchen, cable TV in the living room, CD music in the garage, Spotify in the backyard, and so forth.

Not all wireless speaker systems innately support this functionality. For added convenience, sources connected to the receiver can be controlled from each zone via a wired remote control or remote control extender.

Some receivers have built-in amplifiers for stereo music, which helps ensure proper output to separate zones. In other models, the audio plays only through a line level (i.e. an un-amplified signal). In the latter case, users may want to consider an additional amplifier (or receiver) along with a stereo line level cable for all sets of speakers in other rooms.

Upgrading Existing Hardware

Just because a receiver doesn't have built-in wireless connectivity doesn't mean it can't be upgraded. There are many Bluetooth and WiFi adapters that plug into home receivers via 3.5 mm, RCA, or optical cables. Some may also offer wireless streaming through an HDMI connection to the receiver.

Either way, a single adapter allows for wireless music streaming from a mobile device to any speaker without the need for a separate app. It may take a little more work to set it all up, but it's definitely worth using the full potential of the hardware you already own.

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