Zone 2 - What You Need To Know

Zone 2 Speaker Out (left) - Zone 2 Line Out (right)
Zone 2 Speaker Out (left) - Zone 2 Line Out (right). images provided by Pioneer Eletronics

It All Started With The A/B Speaker Switch

In the days before home theater receivers and surround sound, stereo was the main listening option for both music and movies. One interesting feature that most stereo receivers had (and most still have) with what is referred to as an A/B Speaker Switch.

What this feature allowed(s) is the ability to connect a second set of speakers to a stereo receiver so that they can either be placed in the back of the room for a more room filling sound, or another room to make music listening more convenient without having to set up a second system.

However, the limitation of the Speaker A/B feature is that if you have those extra speakers in another room, you can only listen to the same source that is playing in the main room. Also, by connecting those additional speakers, the power going to all your speakers is reduced due to the splitting of the signal to four speakers, rather than just two.

With the introduction of home theater receivers, which provide the ability to power 5, or more channels simultaneously, the A/B Speaker Switch idea was upgraded to a feature that is referred to as Zone 2.

What Zone 2 Is

On a home theater receiver, the Zone 2 feature allows a second source signal to be sent to speakers or a separate audio system in another location. This is more than just connecting additional speakers and placing them in another room, as with the Speaker A/B feature.

In other words, Zone 2 feature allows control of either the same, or separate, source than the one being listened to in the main room, in another location.

For example, the user can be watching a Blu-ray Disc or DVD movie with surround sound in the main room, while someone else can listen to a CD Player, AM/FM radio, or other two-channel source, in another room, at the same time. Both the Blu-ray Disc or DVD player and CD player are connected to the same Receiver, but are accessed and controlled separately using the same main Receiver.

For receivers that offer a Zone 2 option, the remote, or on-board, controls provide a function that lets users control input selection, volume, and, possibly other features related to the 2nd Zone.

Zone 2 Applications

The Zone 2 feature is usually limited to analog audio sources. However, as you move to higher-end home theater receivers, you might find, in some cases, that the provided Zone 2 option might accommodate analog video with digital audio and streaming sources as well.

In fact, a growing number of mid-range and higher-end receivers also provide HDMI audio and video output for Zone 2 access.

Also, some higher-end receivers may include not only a Zone 2, but also a Zone 3, and in rare cases, a Zone 4 option.

Powered vs Line-Out

The Zone 2 feature, if available, may accessible in one of two-ways: Powered or Line-out.

Powered Zone 2: If you have a home theater receiver that has speaker terminals labeled "Zone 2", this means that you can connect speakers directly to the receiver and the receiver will power them.

However, it is important to point out that when this option is available on 7.1 channel receivers, you cannot use a full 7.1 channel setup in the main room and still use the Zone 2 option at the same time.

The reason for this is that in most cases, the same speaker terminals are used for both the surround back channels and the Zone 2 functional.

Line-out Zone 2: If you have a home theater receiver that has a set of RCA audio outputs that are labeled Zone 2, this means that you will have to connect an additional external amplifier to your home theater receiver in order to access this type of Zone 2 feature. The added speakers are then connected to that external amplifier.

In 7.1 channel receivers that include Zone 2 capability, this is a more flexible option, since it enables users to use the full 7.1 channel option the main room, and still operate a separate Zone 2 because of the use of external amplifiers for that purpose.

In many cases, both options are available, but in some cases a specific home theater receiver may only one of the above Zone 2 access options.

Using The Main Zone and Zone 2 In The Same Room

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

For example, many prefer serious music listening using different speakers (and a different amplifier) that the ones that may be used in a surround sound speaker setup.

In this case, taking advantage of the Zone 2 option, a user can set-up separate speakers (or a separate amplifier/speaker combination) for dedicated stereo listening in the same room as their surround sound setup. The user would just switch over to Zone 2 when listening to music only for a CD player, or other compatible Zone 2 source.

Of course, this means that, since both the main zone and Zone 2 setups are the same room, it wouldn't be advisable to use both at the same time - but it does provide an interesting option that you can take advantage of if you like a more dedicated stereo listening option - but don't want to set it up in another room, or don't have another suitable room for a Zone 2 Setup.

More Info

When shopping for a home theater receiver with a Zone 2 feature, check what specific signal sources are included.

For more details on how Zone 2 (and additional Zones) are implemented on home theater receivers, refer to my supplementary article: Home Theater Receivers and the Multi-Zone Feature as well as additional article How to Use the Multiroom Audio Features in a Stereo or Home Theater Receiver.