How to Use a Speaker Selector Switch for Easy Multi-Room Audio

Two hours and a simple switch can get the multi-room audio you want!

A tower speaker in modern furnished room
A speaker selector switch allows multiple speakers to connect to a single receiver or amplifier. Ivan Stevanovic/Getty Images

If you take a look at your stereo amplifier/receiver, you might notice that it offers a built-in switch to toggle A and B speaker sets. This option allows you to connect a second pair of speakers to play, typically in a different room. So the speakers set to the A switch might be meant for the main TV/movie entertainment, while the speakers set to the B switch can be set for music listening. Typically, the receiver can safely handle both sets operating at the same time.

Some receivers also have multi-room capability to power speakers in as many as four rooms or zones in your home, however not all zones may be able to play simultaneously.

But what if you want to connect more, separate sets of speakers and wire additional rooms? The easiest and safest solution – which is often cost-effective for the budget-minded – may be to use a speaker selector switch. It acts much like a hub or a splitter, allowing users to connect and power as many as four, six, or eight pairs of speakers to a single receiver or amplifier. Some models also offer independent volume control over each pair of speakers. For the mere time (and cost of wire) required to position and connect all the speakers, you can create yourself a pretty slick setup with the option to turn on/off desired speakers.

Not only does this kind of switch handle more speakers, but it's actually necessary to help protect the amplifier/receiver from damage.

Low impedance problems can be caused by playing multiple speakers at the same time. Why? Well, amplifiers/receivers are usually rated for speakers that have 8 ohms of impedance (some are rated between 4 to 8 ohms, but 8 tends to be the norm). The impedance specification is important because it determines how much electrical current flows to the speakers, and connecting more sets of speakers increases the total amount of current.

For example, if two pairs of 8-ohm speakers are connected and playing, the resulting impedance is 4 ohms. Three pairs results in 2 ohms of impedance, and so on. If the current flow increases too much, it can exceed the ability of the receiver. The result can lead to the receiver activating its protection circuit and temporarily shutting off, which can cause permanent damage to the amplifier/receiver over time. Not good.

So the ideal solution is to use a speaker selector switch that also features impedance matching. This way, you can safely play as many as four, six, or eight pairs of speakers simultaneously while maintaining a total impedance of 8 ohms, thus protecting the amplifier/receiver. To use a speaker selector switch, you would connect the left and right channel outputs of the amplifier/receiver to the inputs of the switch. Then simply connect the various speaker sets to the speaker outputs, and that's it! Depending on the types of speakers owned and where you plan to place them, it can take a few hours to run the speaker wires to all the other rooms in your home. Don't forget to check the wire gauge specifications on the speaker selector switch first, just to make sure it's compatible (typically 14 to 18 gauge) with the speaker wires you plan on using.

Also remember to pay attention to how your speakers connect (e.g. banana plugs, spade connectors, pin connectors) so you can pick the right kind of speaker selector switch. Keep in mind that volume on the amplifier/receiver will affect all the speakers, and the speaker selector switch may or may not have separate volume controls. So in this situation, you might want to consider installing a volume control module between each speaker set and the switch. It requires a bit more time to do, but the upside is that rooms will have adjustable volume controls within easy reach. And if the speaker selector switch doesn't have its own labeling system for zones (many do), it can be helpful to create your own labels and stick them above/below each separate switch.

 

There are a wide selection of speaker selector switches available. Here are a few links to compare features and prices: