5.1 Sound Systems

Its important to realize what a 5.1 sound system really is: surround sound. It consists of 5 speakers, a subwoofer, and some kind of surround sound receiver.

The basic idea is that you connect your five speakers and subwoofer to the receiver to enjoy 5.1 sound.

This article will give you some clear instructions on how to hook up a 5.1 sound system. If you need something more advanced, check out How to hook up a receiver.

Step 1: Identifying Components of a 5.1 Sound System

The first step in hooking up your 5.1 sound system is determining what types of inputs and features your system is capable of. By "system", I mean your surround sound receiver, your speakers (five speakers and a subwoofer), your TV, and any other components (like a DVD player).

In order to setup true 5.1 surround sound, you'll need a surround sound receiver with digital inputs: fiber optic or digial coaxial.

You'll still get sound without fiber optic, digital coaxial, or HDMI, but it won't be true 5.1 (only simulated).

You should also have speaker wire for connected your speakers and subwoofer. Measure out the distance from where you want each speaker back to your receiver. Add it all up and that's how much speaker wire you need.

If you're connected more than TV and DVD or Blu-Ray player, you'll need to figure out if your receiver has the correct inputs that you need for these devices. A Blu-Ray player should use either HDMI out to the receiver or a fiber optic/digital coaxial cable.

You'll also want to have a subwoofer pre-out on your receiver. This is usually colored purple and included with a whole set of inputs labeled "Pre-Outs". Check your receiver's manual to determine whether or not you have a subwoofer pre-out and to figure out where it is on your receiver.

If you don't have a sub pre-out, there's an alternate way of hooking up your subwoofer, but its not optimal. Your bass will be drastically reduced and you won't "feel" it as much. This involved connected your front speakers to the subwoofer, then the subwoofer to the receiver, thus powering your speakers through the subwoofer. This is considered a passive subwoofer (not powered).

Step 2: Cables for 5.1 Sound System Capability

For an optimal surround sound setup, you'll need the following:

- (1) or more HDMI cables for your TV, Blu-Ray player, and/or any other components that support HDMI (if your receiver does)

- (1) Fiber optic OR digital coaxial cable (for DVD or Blu-Ray player without HDMI, or if your receiver doesn't support HDMI)

- (1) Subwoofer cable (or a regular RCA cable - works just as good, but an actual subwoofer cable is preferred)

- (1) Y-Adapter (this plugs into the red and white RCA jacks on your subwoofer and combines them into just one jack if your receiver only has one subwoofer preout connection)

- Enough speaker wire of 14 or 16 gauge quality to connect your 5 speakers and your subwoofer (200ft is more than enough for most rooms)

If you don't have digital inputs on your receiver and/or DVD player, you'll need a pair of RCA cables (red and white). And if you don't have a subwoofer preout, you'll need a little extra speaker wire, as mentioned in the above section on the alternative method.

Step 3: Connect your 5.1 Sound System

Now that you have everything you need to enjoy your 5.1 surround sound system, let's plug it all together.

- First, wire all of your speaker cables. Make sure to pay attention to connecting positive and negative. If your cable isn't labeled, just decided which side of the cable will be positive and which will be negative, and follow suit throughout.

- Now plug in the subwoofer. If it has a power cord, make sure you plug that in. Hopefully you have a subwoofer cable, a Y-jack, and a subwoofer pre-out on your receiver. Plug the Y-Jack into the subwoofer, then the subwoofer cable into the Y-Jack and then into the receiver.

- All that's left now is your components, such as TV, Blu-Ray, or game console. Choose to connect via the best connections first, such as HDMI from your cable box and Blu-Ray player, component from a DVD player, and whatever other cables you need for other components.<

- Depending on what you connected, pay attention to the labels on the back of your receiver. They should be called things like "Video 1" or "DVD" or "Game". These will be the labels you'll go by when switching between inputs on your receiver (such as switching to "Game" for your Blu-Ray if that's where you plugged it in).

At this point, you just need to plug in the power for your receiver. This should complete a very basic setup of your 5.1 sound system!

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