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You've decided to build a home theater, but you need to figure out where to start. It's a common feeling and a question we often get. So, we've built this guide to help you through starting a home theater—beginning with the heart of your system, the AV receiver.
AV receivers can accept multiple inputs and have significantly more outputs than your average sound bar or other digital system. Think of it as the hub of your home theater—as it will make sense of your various components, speakers, and music sources.
Many new AV receivers can upscale audio and video signals to match your TV. This unique feature lets you enjoy your movies and music like never before. When choosing your AV receiver, consider whether you need 8K video or are okay with 4K. Are you looking for a 3D audio experience? Or are you satisfied with the standard L&R stereo configuration? If you're building a multi-room audio setup or want to have the option of wireless speakers in your home theater build, search for an AVR that has HEOS® Built-in. Choosing an AV receiver is important, but thankfully there are plenty of good options.
If you love great sound, you'll want to hear as much as you can, as clearly as your speakers will let you. Now, your speakers can only do so much to improve the sound quality, so in many cases, you'll want some help from an AV receiver. High-end models like the Denon AVR-A1H can send up to 150W to up to 15 channels for a surround sound experience that's sometimes better than what you'd hear in the movie theater. While you’d want that kind of power if you’re building an extensive, 15-channel home theater masterpiece, it’s not something we’d recommend for your first home theater project. See, power—measured in watts—will help you determine which speakers to choose for your setup. Because each speaker will list its maximum wattage, it's best practice to get an AV receiver with a lower maximum wattage output than your speakers will handle. This is a pretty easy way to ensure you don't blow out your speakers. If you want to maximize the clarity from your entire setup, stick to around 90w per channel over 5.1 channels. This way, it's less likely you'll outgrow your setup in the short term.
Your new AV receiver should be built for your current life, not vice versa. This means connectivity. Most Denon AV receivers have HEOS® Built-in, which enables the listener to connect other HEOS-enabled devices to their AV receivers via Wi-Fi. The listener can then stream any content to a Denon Home wireless speaker in every room of their home in high-fidelity. If you have it all connected to your AV receiver, you can stream whatever source you like from the receiver to other rooms.
No room is perfect, and neither is any AV receiver, speaker, turntable, or other piece of audio equipment. That’s why developers have created room correction technologies that help eliminate unwanted sounds in your listening or home theater room. This is important if you want an elevated entertainment experience and don’t know the finer points of tuning your room for perfect acoustic. Thankfully, modern audio equipment manufacturers like Denon include effortless room correction technologies like Audyssey and Dirac Live. Audyssey is standard on most Denon AV receivers, and Dirac is an optional extra available in select X-Series receivers. Still, they will correct the sound from your system and optimize every frequency to the room you are setting up.
An AV receiver is only as good as your ability to use it. It’s why we recommend AV receivers with easy-to-use interfaces, menus, buttons, and dials. When you unbox your new home theater or listening room centerpiece, it should be a simple procedure to plug in your speakers, TV, and other components as you manage each with your AV receiver. A simple user interface lets you accomplish all of this and more.
Our recommendation for an AV receiver with an easy interface is the AVR-S670H and AVR-S770H from Denon. It features Denon's signature sound quality, a 110+ year heritage in AVRs, and the confidence in quality from choosing a market leader. Both the AVR-670H and AVR-770H have easy-to-use interfaces, simple menus, and beginner-friendly functions. Plus, you can calibrate your room with Audyssey room correction, giving you the clearest sound no matter what your space looks like. Both the 670H and 770H offer multi-room streaming with HEOS® Built-in, Wi-Fi connectivity, and Bluetooth® Wireless Technology. Both also support the latest 8K video technology along with HD surround sound. (5.2 channels in the AVR-S670H, and 7.2 channels in the AVR-S770H) The channels you require will depend on what your home theater goals are, as you’ll need 5.2 channels for a basic surround sound setup and 7.2 channels if you want to feel even more enveloped in the movie you’re enjoying.
For a full, enveloping sonic experience—choose surround sound. Your movies, shows, and albums will come to life around you as you sit in your home theater or listening room. Choose a Denon AV receiver with at least 5.1 channels, and you'll be guided effortlessly through the set-up process—leaving you more time to enjoy surround sound. We recommend a Denon AV receiver because we've been in the surround sound and AV receiver game since both were invented. This means we've had decades to perfect build quality, sound quality, and accessible user interfaces—leaving you with a fantastic audio experience that won't distract you from your entertainment goals. We also have AV receivers for any audio purpose you are going for, with dedicated inputs, outputs, and wireless options for your surround sound build. If you are after a more straightforward setup, and not a surround sound system (yet), or you don’t have the room, or want to upgrade your TV’s standard audio quality, then a stereo speaker setup mated to a Denon AV receiver will be perfect.
So, you've picked out a room and gathered at least two speakers. Now, where do you put them? Generally, you want to have the stereo left, and right speakers placed equidistant from the center position of the seating area in your listening room. Ensure the speakers are not right up against a wall and not so close to your ears to cause damage.
Speaker channels matter. They’re how you determine if the AV receiver you bought will work for your home theater goals. You might see speaker channels displayed as AVR-S670H: An 8K video and true surround sound, 5.2-channel receiver
So, a 2.0, or stereo sound system has two channels; one left and one right, but NO subwoofer. And a 5.1 setup will have five channels—one for the left, right, center, back left, and back right—as well as one subwoofer. Can you guess how our AVR-A1H’s 15.4 channels are oriented?
The right speaker(s) for your space may vary from room to room. For example, if you have a small office and want better sound from the bookshelf, pick a pair of bookshelf speakers and a compact amplifier to elevate that smaller space. You may opt for a wireless home speaker if you have an even smaller space—like a bathroom. But, if you're building a home theater or listening room, we recommend you start with a 5.1 channel setup. This gives you the enveloping surround sound that today's movies and albums are optimized for while remaining simple to set up—perfect for starting your first home theater build.
Now that you’ve decided how many speakers you’ll be buying and in what orientation they will be, it’s time for the fun part: Buying equipment.
If you want to build a home theater, choose some speakers. There's no way around it. First, ask yourself, "Do I need passive or powered speakers?"
The difference between powered and passive floor-standing speakers comes down to amplification. Powered or active speakers have built-in amplification, while passive speakers need to be powered by an external amplifier, which can take the form of an AV receiver or dedicated power amp.
With powered speakers, you don't have to worry about matching your speakers to the proper amp or adding more gear and cables to your setup. Audiophiles tend to gravitate toward passive models, however, because they allow designs that sound better than equivalently priced powered speakers and give you more flexibility to mix and match components in the pursuit of your ideal sonic profile.
When buying your AV receiver for your first home theater, there are quite a few factors to consider—the first of which is price. At Denon, AV receivers range from $399 to $6,499. And, while the price is essential, it's more important that the AV receiver you purchase does what you want while allowing for future upgrades. For example, you may start with a simple stereo setup to upgrade your TV's audio quality, but a few years later, you could decide to build a 5.1 surround sound setup! You shouldn't need to buy an entirely new AV receiver to accommodate your new, exciting home theater build. An excellent example of an AVR that is future-proof but won’t break the bank is the AVR-S670H. It has 5.2 channels, so you’ll be able to build that surround sound home theater, and it has multi-room technology called HEOS, which means you’ll be able to mate it to other Denon Home speakers throughout your home.
Next, consider how many channels you need. Are you simply upgrading your TV's audio quality? Get something like the AVR-S670H. You can run two passive or powered speakers for starters, then get more speakers to build a surround sound theater down the road. On the other hand, if you're creating your home theater magnum opus, go with something from our X-Series or our AVR-A1H premium AV receivers. These are packed with features, channels, and power you've likely never heard before in a home theater setting.
Setting up your audio equipment can be daunting if you don't use the right tools. If you buy used, you won't get anything from helpful setup guides or room correction microphones. But, if you buy new from reputable brands, your AV receiver and speakers will be easy and intuitive. For example, the award-winning Denon Setup Assistant ensures you get set up right the first time by visually guiding you through each step in the setup process. It appears on your TV screen to walk you through audio configuration step by step. Then, on the back of the AV receiver, a row of color-coded speaker connections is laid out horizontally, making organizing and connecting speaker wires simple. Many Denon AV receivers will then rename HDMI inputs automatically when connected, or you can rename them manually for your convenience.
Adjusting audio and video settings: To adjust audio and video settings, you’ll need to use the Menu on your AV receiver. For Denon AV receivers, you’ll first need to connect your model to a TV and operate the AV receiver while viewing the TV. Recommended settings have been selected as a default, but you can adjust everything from center, subwoofer, and surround sound parameters to your volume, picture, and output settings. For more information on audio and video settings, check out this manual.
Every home theater is different. Some have audio idiosyncrasies that reflect or amplify specific frequencies—leading to a sound that is imbalanced or less-than-perfect. You could spend thousands by hiring a professional audio engineer to fine-tune your speaker placement and audio levels, or you could use technology to your advantage. Denon AV receivers have premium room calibration technology from Audyssey onboard that automatically measures and optimizes your AV receiver to provide a truly immersive 3D audio experience custom-tailored to your unique listening environment. Our higher-end models even come with Dirac Live, which takes room correction to a new level.
Ensure you buy an AV receiver with at least 5.1 channels because you may want to add surround sound speakers and a subwoofer. The surround sound speakers will go around your room and make it feel like the sound is happening around you. The subwoofer will go on the floor as it adds bass impact to your favorite movies—all leading to a more enveloping audio experience. You need to plug these speakers into the back of your receiver in corresponding labeled outputs to add them. If your AV receiver comes with a setup assistant, like Denon, you'll want to review the individual workflows for surround sound and bass calibration. This extraordinary audio experience is why getting an AV receiver with enough outputs for your wildest home audio dreams is essential.
Use the built-in HDMI inputs on your AV receiver to incorporate streaming devices and media players into your first home theater build. Not sure which of these you need? You could start with a Denon AV receiver with HEOS® Built-In, which allows you to stream audio from multiple sources while letting you instantly play music in every room of your home.
Expanding your home theater with additions like turntables, amplifiers, network audio players, or other components is one of the great joys of being an audio enthusiast. It lets you set up your system the way you want and hear every intricacy of as many forms of audio as you wish.
If you want unforgettable audio in your home theater, you want Dolby Atmos. These days, many premium AV receivers have 3D audio with Dolby Atmos®, Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization Technology, DTS:X® and DTS Virtual:X™. A Dolby Atmos surround system using Dolby Atmos elevation speakers, or dedicated overhead speakers, can give you the ultimate home theater experience. DTS:X gives your movies, games, and music a realism unmatched by traditional 5.1 surround sound. Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization Technology and DTS Virtual:X provide immersive audio without height channels.
Starting a home theater build can be daunting, but there's one thing you can do to set yourself up for fewer headaches in the future: buy a quality AV receiver. If streaming is important to you, make sure it has Bluetooth and HEOS® Built-in and plenty of HDMI inputs. If you are starting in stereo (L&R) but dream of building a surround sound setup, ensure you get an AV receiver with at least 5.1 channels. Just go slow, piece together your setup the way you want, and enjoy the process.