Zone 2: What Does It Mean in Home Theater?

Expanding the reach of your home theater receiver

Before home theater receivers and surround sound, stereo was the primary listening option for music and movies. One feature that most stereo receivers had (and most still have) is an A/B speaker switch.

This switch allows a stereo receiver to connect to an extra set of speakers. These speakers are placed in the back of the room for room-filling sound or in another room for convenient listening without setting up an additional system.

Zone 2 Speaker and Line-Out Connections

Onkyo, USA

From the A/B Speaker Switch to Zone 2

Although an A/B speaker switch adds flexibility, you can only listen to the same source that is playing in the main room. Also, it reduces the power going to all the speakers, as the amplifiers power four speakers, rather than two.

With the introduction of home theater receivers, which can power five or more channels simultaneously, the A/B speaker switch idea upgraded to a feature referred to as Zone 2.

The Zone 2 feature on a home theater receiver sends a second source signal to the speakers or a separate audio system in another room. This feature is more flexible than connecting additional speakers and placing the speakers in another room, as with an A/B speaker switch. Unlike an A/B speaker setup, Zone 2 provides control of the same or a separate source from the one you're listening to in the main room.

For example, you can watch a Blu-ray Disc or DVD movie with surround sound in the main room while someone listens to a CD player, AM/FM radio, or another two-channel source in another room at the same time. The Blu-ray Disc or DVD player and CD player are connected to the same receiver but accessed and controlled separately with the same remote.

With receivers offering Zone 2, the remote or onboard controls allow input selection, volume, and possibly other features designated for Zone 2.

Zone 2 Applications

The Zone 2 feature is usually limited to analog audio sources. However, the Zone 2 option may accommodate analog video with digital audio and streaming sources on select home theater receivers.

Some mid-range and high-end receivers also provide HDMI audio and video output for Zone 2 setup. Some higher-end receivers may also include a  Zone 3, and in rare cases, a Zone 4 option for analog audio.

Powered vs. Line-Out

The Zone 2 feature comes in two flavors: powered and line-out.

Powered Zone 2

If a home theater receiver has speaker terminals labeled Zone 2, you can connect speakers directly to the receiver, and the receiver powers the speakers.

If provided on 7.1 channel receivers, you can't use a full 7.1 channel setup in the main room and the Zone 2 option at the same time. In most cases, the same speaker terminals work for both the surround back channels and the Zone 2 function.

On the other hand, some receivers provide separate speaker connections for both a 7.1 channel and Zone 2 setup. When Zone 2 is activated, the receiver diverts the power generally sent to the sixth and seventh channels to the Zone 2 speaker connections. When Zone 2 is on, the primary zone system defaults to 5.1 channels.

Line-Out Zone 2

Suppose a home theater receiver has a set of RCA audio outputs labeled Zone 2. In that case, you must connect an additional external amplifier to your home theater receiver to access this feature. The added speakers then connect to the external amplifier.

7.1 channel receivers that include line-out Zone 2 capability enable the full 7.1 channel option in the main room while operating a separate Zone 2 with external amplifiers.

Select home theater receivers provide both powered and line-out options for Zone 2.

Using the Main Zone and Zone 2 in the Same Room

Another setup option you can try with Zone 2 is having separate surround sound and stereo setups in the same room instead of a speaker system in another area.

For example, you may prefer serious music listening using different speakers (and a separate amplifier) than those used for a surround sound setup.

Using the Zone 2 option, you can use separate speakers (or another amplifier/speaker combination) for dedicated stereo listening in the same room as the surround sound setup. You would switch to Zone 2 when listening to music only for a CD player or other compatible Zone 2 source.

Since the main and Zone 2 setups are in the same room, using both at the same time is not advisable.

The Bottom Line

The Zone 2 feature adds flexibility by allowing you to send the same, or a separately connected, source from a home theater receiver to a speaker system or amplifier/speaker set up in the same or another room.

If you want to take advantage of Zone 2, make sure the receiver you are considering offers that feature, and check what specific signal sources can travel to Zone 2.

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