Zone 2: What You Need To Know

Zone 2 Speaker and Line-Out Connections
Zone 2 Speaker and Line-Out Connections. Images provided by Onkyo, USA

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) is referred to as an A/B Speaker Switch.

This feature allows a stereo receiver to hook up to another set of speakers so that they can either be placed in the back of the room for a more room-filling sound or in another room entirely to make music listening more convenient without having to set up a second system.

From the A/B Speaker Switch to Zone 2

Although the inclusion of an A/B speaker switch added some listening flexibility, the limitation of that 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.

However, with the introduction of home theater receivers, which provide the ability to power five 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 adds more flexibility than just connecting additional speakers and placing them in another room, as with an A/B speaker switch.

In other words, the Zone 2 feature allows control of either the same or a 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 another 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 onboard, controls provide a function that lets users control input selection, volume, and possibly other features related exclusively to Zone 2.

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 can accommodate analog video with digital audio and streaming sources as well.

In fact, a growing number of midrange 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 be 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," then you can connect speakers directly to the receiver and the receiver will power them.

However, 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. In most cases, the same speaker terminals are used 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 setups. However, with this type of arrangement, when Zone 2 is activated, the receiver diverts the power normally sent to the sixth and seventh channels to the Zone 2 speaker connections. In other words, in this type of application, when Zone 2 is activated, the main zone system defaults to 5.1 channels.

Line-Out Zone 2. If you have a home theater receiver that has a set of RCA audio outputs that are labeled Zone 2, 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 line-out Zone 2 capability, this option is more flexible, since it enables users to use the full 7.1 channel option in 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 have 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) than 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, since 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.

The Bottom Line

The Zone 2 feature on a home theater receiver can add some additional flexibility by allowing you to send the same, or a separately connected, source from your home theater receiver to a speaker system, or amplifier/speaker setup in the same or another room, depending on your preference.

When shopping for a home theater receiver, and you want to take advantage of the Zone 2 feature, check to make sure the receiver you are considering offers that feature, as well as what specific signal sources can be sent to a Zone 2 setup. In rare cases, you might find a two-channel stereo receiver that offers both an A/B speaker switch option, using speaker connections, and a Zone 2 line-output option.