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 main listening option for both music and movies. One feature that most stereo receivers had (and most still have) is an A/B speaker switch.

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

Onkyo A/B Speaker Switch and 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, power going to all the speakers is reduced as the same amplifiers are powering 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 was upgraded to a feature referred to as Zone 2.

Zone 2 Speaker and Line-Out Connections
Onkyo, USA 

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

Yamaha Aventage RX-A1080 Zone 2 Control

Zone 2 Applications

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

Some midrange 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.

Multi-Zone Analog Preamp and HDMI Output Example
D&M Holdings/Marantz

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 will power them.

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 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. When Zone 2 is activated, the receiver diverts the power normally sent to the sixth and seventh channels to the Zone 2 speaker connections. This means that, when Zone 2 is on, the main zone system defaults to 5.1 channels.

Onkyo TX-NR696 Powered Zone 2 Connections
Onkyo USA

Line-Out Zone 2

If a home theater receiver 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 to access this feature. The added speakers are then connected to that external amplifier.

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

Onkyo TX-NR696 Home Theater Receiver Zone 2 Line Out
Onkyo USA

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 room.

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

Using the Zone 2 option, a user can use separate speakers (or a separate amplifier/speaker combination) for dedicated stereo listening in the same room as their surround sound setup. The user would switch over 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 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 be sent to Zone 2.

In rare cases, you might find a two-channel stereo receiver that offers both an A/B speaker switch using speaker connections and a Zone 2 line-output.