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Receiver Setup and Connections

by September 21, 2004
Onkyos TXSR701R

Onkyo's TXSR701R

Onkyo's TXSR701R is an affordable THX Select certified receiver with all the most common connector types available. This will be our example for making all the most common connections you'll be required to make when hooking up a Home Theater receiver.

The back a of a Home Theater receiver can be confusing for a beginner, but as you learn what all the connections are taking a look at the back becomes the fastest way to assess the options and whether or not the unit will fill your needs. We'll break it down section by section.

Speaker Outputs

These probably take up the most space on the back of today's home theater receivers. The large binding posts are designed for speaker wire connections either bare wire or using one of an assortment of clips for easy removal and reconnection. There is no difference in audio quality between the available methods of connection. Each speaker output has its own title based on the position of the speaker connected to it. Center, Front or Surround (also called Rear) should be positioned appropriately with enough speaker wire to reach its place at the proper gauge wire so the signal doesn't suffer any degradation on the way to the speaker. Here is a very general guideline:

Distance from speaker to receiver/amp Gauge

Less than 100 feet

14

100 to 200 feet

12

More than 200 feet

10

Each individual speaker output has two posts; positive and negative polarity, which must be consistent with every speaker connected by only connecting positive on your output to positive side on your speaker's binding posts. Getting polarity reversed will result in sounds that are out of phase and prevent your system from sound as good as it can. Double checking consistent polarity is a worthwhile practice when making your connections.

Pre-Outs

Also called Line Outs. Some receivers won't include pre-outs but they've become fairly standard even at lower price points. Pre-outs are used to connect an external amplifier to your receiver so they can power speakers in your Home Theater system. This is convenient if you have an extra amplifier you'd like to use or if any of your speakers require more power than your receiver alone can provide. Using an external amplifier to power any of your speakers will offset the workload of your receiver's amplifier section which could improve performance. An array of pre-outs allows you to turn your receiver into an exclusive pre-amp/processor by using external amps to power all your speakers. You don't have to be expected to use your pre-outs when you buy a receiver but they definitely add flexibility to your system and open your home theater to many potential upgrade options.

RCAconnector_th.jpg

Standard RCA connector

Zone 2 Line Out

Zone 2 capabilities are becoming a popular option on better quality Home Theater receivers. You'll notice the speaker outs have a pair of "Zone 2" outputs used to power speakers in another room. Zone 2 gives you the option of playing from a different source to that second zone. (i.e. listen to a CD in the reading room while your kids watch Finding Nemo downstairs in the rec room). The Zone 2 line out allows you to use another amplifier for your second zone. Line out is simply a non-amplified audio signal, all of the pre-outs can also be called line outs.

Digital Audio (S/PDIF) Connections

It is widely held that the best possible sound reproduction comes from these digital connections. Digital audio connectors use the S/PDIF format; high bandwidth digital connections capable of receiving many channels of audio from one cable. One apparent advantage of S/PDIF is that the audio signal remains digital as it travels to the receiver and is only converted to analog in the receiver before it is amplified and reaches the listener's ears. Digital signals are less prone to degradation than analog so it's generally preferred.

The S/PDIF format comes in two types, Toslink and coax. Onkyo's TX-SR701 has digital ins and outs in the same section. The "In Optical" section shows two Toslink (digital optic) inputs to be connected to any playback devices Toslink output. Next to the optical inputs is a single optical output to be connected to any device you'd want to pass the audio signal to such as a recording device, TiVo or DVR. There are only two coaxial connectors, a single input and a single out. These are for digital coaxial cables, they perform the same as Toslink for purposes of audio quality and bandwidth but the cables are generally cheaper. Digital Coax cables look just like RCA connectors but they're always rated at 75hohms.

ToslinkPlug_th.jpg
Toslink or Optical connector

Analog Inputs

analoginputs_th.jpg Can also be called lin- ins. This is the array of two-channel inputs and tape monitor outs from all your two channel stereo sources such as CD player, tape deck, DAT, or VCR. Some of the line-ins are paired with a line-out, this is called a "Tape Monitor". Any source (such as a CD player) connected to a line in can be recorded through one of the tape monitor's line outs simply by engaging the "tape monitor" switch on the receiver. This line-out would be connected to a recording device such as a VCR or Tape Deck setup to record.

It's important when using two channel connectors to maintain lateral consistency, connect the left input on the receiver to the left output on the source, etc. It's worth double checking your connections for consistency because if it's not setup right the soundstage and directional ability of source material will be compromised. Some two-channel source components such as many CD players have a digital (S/PDIF) output which provides an alternative (and generally superior) method of connection to your receiver.

5.1 Analog In

Also called line-in or DVD inputs or even pre-in. These are required for use with DVD players capable of playing back the SACD or DVD-Audio formats, high-resolution audio output cannot be transmitted through coax or Toslink so these separate analog inputs must be used (the digital HDMI format stands to change this in the near future). A Universal DVD player (or any DVD player capable of playing back SACD or DVD-Audio) will have corresponding 5.1 line outputs. Each connection on your receiver's line-ins should be connected to its corresponding output on the source device with standard RCA cables. It's critical to keep connections consistent not just left and right channels but also the center, sub and rear.

Video Inputs/Outputs

videoinputs_th.jpg Each video connector is shown in two types, Composite and S-Video, both work for standard analog NTSC video but do not deliver HDTV. S-Video is superior so if your components have available S-Video outputs and a TV with an available S-Video in, you should use S-Video for all connections. All inputs are titled as to what video component they should come from and a single Monitor Out goes to the TV. Although the receiver performs no functions (except sometimes on-screen displays) it's a convenience to be able use the receiver to switch between video devices at the same you're switching audio sources.

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S-Video connector

Component Video In/Out

Performs the same as the standard video in/out section except Component is designed for HDTV. Component connections are the best available analog connection method to an HDTV set. This receiver features two component video inputs and a single output to be connected to your HDTV. Many HDTVs come equipped with digital inputs that are HDCP compliant, these include DVI or HDMI. At this time HDCP compliant digital video connection methods are difficult to find on receivers but are sure to become more common in the near future. If your DVD player has a digital video out and your TV has the compatible digital video input they should be directly connected. Bypassing your receiver means you'd have to switch to your digitally connected DVD player on the receiver for audio only and make a separate switch on your HDTV.

Special Thanks to Home Theater Focus

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About the author:

Wayde is a tech-writer and content marketing consultant in Canada s tech hub Waterloo, Ontario and Editorialist for Audioholics.com. He's a big hockey fan as you'd expect from a Canadian. Wayde is also US Army veteran, but his favorite title is just "Dad".

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