A home theater receiver performs several functions in home entertainment, including:

  • as a tuner for auditions AM/FM, satellite and/or the Internet- radio.
  • As preamplifier, which controls which audio/video source is selected ( Blu-ray Disc player, player DVD, VCR, CD player , media streamer iPod, etc.) and processes incoming stereo/surround audio signals. At desire video from components (such as a Blu-ray Disc or DVD player) can be send through the receiver to the TV .
  • As a multi-channel amplifier (5, 6, 7 or more channels) that sends surround sound signals and power to the speakers, as well as providing a preamp output for one or more external powered subwoofers .

In addition, many home theater receivers serve as multizonal sound distribution systems.

What is multizone

Example of multi-zone analog power, preamp and HDMI output
Onkyo/D&M Holdings/Marantz

Multizone is a feature where the home theater receiver can send a second, third, or fourth original signal to speakers or separate audio systems in a different location. It’s not the same as just plugging in extra speakers and placing them in another room, and it’s not the same as wireless multi-room audio (more on this at the end of this article).

Multizone home theater receivers can control the same or a different source than the one being heard in the main room in a different location.

For example, the user can watch Blu-ray Disc or DVD a surround sound movie in the main room while someone else can listen to the CD player in another at the same time. Both the Blu-ray or DVD player and the CD player are connected to the same home theater receiver, but they are accessed and controlled separately using additional built-in or remote options available with the receiver.

How the multizone is implemented

The multi-zone capability of home theater receivers is implemented in three different ways:

  1. On many 7.1 channel receivers, the user can start the unit in 5.1 channel mode for the main room and use the two spare channels (usually reserved for surround back speakers) to drive the speakers during second zone . Also, on some receivers, you can still run a full 7.1 channel system in the main room, as long as you don’t use a second zone set up at the same time.

  2. In addition to method #1, many 7.1 receivers are configured to allow full 7.1 channel operation for the main room, but provide an additional line out preamplifier to send a signal to an additional amplifier (sold separately) in another room that can power an additional set of speakers. This allows you to use the same Multi-Zone features, but does not require sacrificing a full 7.1-channel interface in the main room to benefit from running the system in a second zone.

  3. Some high-end home theater systems have the ability to drive both Zone 2 and Zone 3 (or, in rare cases, even Zone 4), in addition to the main zone. These receivers provide pre-outs for all additional zones, which require separate amplifiers (in addition to speakers) for each zone. However, some receivers allow you to run Zone 2 or Zone 3 using the receiver’s built-in amplifiers. In this type of setup, the user can run a second zone with the receiver’s internal amplifiers, and a third or fourth zone using a separate amplifier. However, if you are using the receiver to power a second zone, you will still sacrifice the full capability of a 7.1 channel receiver in the main room, and you will have to settle for 5.1. In rare cases, a high-quality receiver can provide 9, 11, or even 13 channels to operate both the main and other zones — reducing the number of external amplifiers you may need for other zones.

Additional multi-zone features

In addition to the basic ways to implement multizone capabilities in a home theater receiver, there are also some other features that can be enabled.

  • In many cases, while the receiver may be able to use all of its audio and video features in the main room, it may be that only analog audio or analog + internet radio features are available for use in multiple zones.
  • If video features are available for use in multiple areas, they may be limited composite video signals . This means that while you may have access to an HD video source and a surround sound source in the main room, for use in the second or third zone. However, it is important to note that some higher-level receivers may use component video or exit HDMI for use in Zone 2. If these options are important to you, make sure you check before you buy.
  • The receiver may have additional speaker connections that allow you to connect a full 7.1 channel, as well as a second and/or third zone, which can be powered by the receiver’s internal amplifier. However, in this type of setup, if you are listening to the main zone in full 7.1 channel surround sound, you cannot use Zone 2 and Zone 3 at the same time. What happens when you want to access Zone 2 or Zone 3, you will need to switch through the receiver’s operating menu from 7.1 channel main zone to 5.1 channel, which will allow the two additional channels to feed the Zone 2 or Zone 3 speakers. Some home theaters perform the above switching function automatically when the second zone function is activated.

Use of 2 zones in one room

Another interesting way to use a multizone home theater receiver is to use the second zone option in the same room as the 5.1/7.1 channel setup. In other words, you can have a dedicated 2 channel supervised listening option in addition to a dedicated 5.1/7.1 listening option in the same room.

This setup works so that you will have your home theater receiver set up with 5.1 or 7.1 channel configuration with 5 or 7 speakers and a subwoofer that you use primarily for home theater listening, but then you will have an additional external power amplifier connected to the receiver’s Zone 2 pre-outs (if the receiver provides this option) with an external amplifier additionally connected to a set of front left and right front speakers that you specifically use for two-channel audio-only listening.

This setting option will work for those audiophiles who want to use a more powerful or more powerful two-channel stereo power amplifier and speakers for listening to audio only, rather than the front left/right main speakers that are used as part of the main 5.1/7.1 channel surround listening setup for movies and other sources. However, in a multizone home theater receiver, both systems can be driven by the same preamplifier stage.

You don’t need to be the primary and secondary zone at the same time—and you can lock your two-channel source (such as a CD player or turntable) as the designated source for zone 2.

Many people think that Zone 2 (or Zone 3 or 4) can only be used in another room, but this is not true. Using a second zone in your main room can allow you to have an independently dedicated (and controlled) two-channel audio system (using additional speakers and an amplifier) ​​in the same room, which can also have a 5.1 or 7.1 setup powered by the receiver.

Of course, this setup adds a bit more noise to your room, as you will have two physical sets of front left and right speakers, and you won’t be using both systems at the same time as they are designed to be used with different sources.

Other Factors to Consider When Using a Home Theater Receiver in Multizone Settings

The concept of connecting and controlling all your components with a single home theater is very convenient, but when it comes to Multi-Zone capabilities, there are still additional factors to consider.

  • If your receiver does not have a secondary remote control for use in the second or third zone, you will have to go to the receiver in your main room to switch sources for the second or third zone.
  • Even if an optional remote control is provided for use in the second and/or third zone, you will still need to install remote control expanders in the second or third zone rooms in order to use the remote control in those rooms to control the source you wish to access. from the main receiver.
  • Whether you’re using a home theater receiver to power your second and/or third zone speakers, or using the receiver’s preamp outputs to power an additional amplifier in a second or third zone, you should still have either speaker wires or audio / video cables from the main receiver to the second or third zone.

Wireless multi-room audio option

Another alternative that is becoming very practical for whole house audio (not video) is a wireless multi-zone audio system. This type of system uses a properly equipped home theater receiver that can wirelessly transmit stereo audio from designated sources to compatible wireless speakers that can be placed throughout the home.

Most of these types of systems are closed, which means that only certain brands of wireless speakers will work with certain branded receivers and home theater sources. Some of these systems include Sonos , Yamaha MusicCast , DTS PlayFi FireConnect (used by Onkyo) and HEOS (Denon/Marantz)

Some home theater receivers offer Multi-Zone and Wireless Multi-Room Audio for added audio distribution flexibility.

bottom line

For complete details on how a particular home theater or stereo receiver implements its own Multi-Zone capabilities, you should refer to the owner’s manual for that receiver. Most user manuals can be downloaded directly from the manufacturer’s website.

It is important to note that home theater or stereo receivers that have Multi-Zone capability are designed to be used when only a second and/or third seat is required for listening to music or watching videos. If you would like to install an extensive wired audio or A/V system for your entire home using your home theater as a reference point, you should consult a professional home theater or multi-room system installer, to assess your needs and provide specific equipment suggestions. (e.g. audio or audio/video server(s), distribution amplifiers, electrical wiring, etc.) that will achieve your goal.

For examples of home theater receivers that provide various levels of multizone capability, please see our periodically updated list. receivers for home theater — from 400 to 1299 US dollars and home theater receivers — $1,300 and up.

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