A Jedi’s Guide to Audio Signal Flow & A/V Receiver Setup.
Picture this. There’s a knock at your door and finally, your crystal clear 4K HD TV, top of the line speakers and future proof receiver have arrived! The excitement hits and you start cracking open all of the boxes. Once everything is perfectly in its place, now it’s time to wire it up. But which cable goes where on the receiver? You might scratch your head and wonder. Fear not my fellow audio enthusiast!
In this article we will go over each individual section of your receiver. We’ll keep it simple and break down one fragment at a time. We’ll also discuss some of the highlights and why you might consider using a particular input or output. With the proper knowledge in your pocket, you can decide how to hook everything up in a way that works best for you. So turn on your learning lightbulb and let’s untangle this mess!
Before we jump in and start throwing cables at your receiver, let’s go over a basic concept of signal flow. Don’t worry; you won’t need an advanced degree in electrical engineering to understand this concept. Once you grasp the idea it’s much easier to understand the functions of your receiver.
Audio signal flow is the path an audio signal takes from source to output. – Steven Roback 1
In our world of audio recordings, signal flow is the single most important element. It will make or break whether your audio is able to be recorded. If the signal is routed incorrectly or cut short at any point, it won’t make it to the last step in the chain. Signal flow is an order of operations for your audio signal path. To make things simple, an input goes to an output, or an output goes to an input.
Over the years, signal flow and evolutions of technology have enabled us to route audio signals into many different effects processors before getting to the end result – listening to a speaker playback the recorded sound.
Signal flow starts with your acoustic audio signal, aka: source. A microphone then transduces the signal through the cables and into a recording machine then finally can be played back through your speakers. These days the most common recording device is a digital interface which translates information to a computer. The computer uses programs such as Pro Tools or Apples Garageband to both record and playback the audio. In the good ol’ days the recording device was a tape machine.
Let’s go over an example of signal flow and imagine we’re recording your voice.
1. Your voice goes into the microphone and the signal is transduced to an electrical current
2. That electrical current travels through the cable into the mixing board
3. The mixing board sends audio to multitrack recorder and a copy of the audio is saved
4. Upon playback, the multitrack recorder sends audio back to the mixing board
5. Mixing board sends signal to speakers for you to hear
Did that make sense?
Essentially you’re creating a chain of events that will allow your signal to succeed in making it to the end result. Signal flow is a universal concept that relates to all things audio, video and computer networking. Believe it or not it, the concept is used even in the power lines throughout our cities.
If there’s a break in any part of the chain, your signal will not be able to get to the next step in the chain. Imagine setting up a new office desk with a computer and speakers. You plug everything into a power strip but computer and speakers are not turning on. You check the power strip and it isn’t plugged into the wall outlet… That is an example of a broken signal flow; the power strip is not receiving any power from the main source to distribute electricity to your devices.
How exactly does signal flow relate to my receiver?
Similar to a mixing board and tape machine, your receiver is programmed to divide and distribute all incoming and outgoing data. Like a mixing board, your receiver will receive and process all incoming audio and video data. Like a tape machine, your receiver will send outgoing processed audio and video data to the speakers and TV.
Congratulations! You’ve graduated with a basic signal flow degree. Time to walk the stage and collect your certificate! If any of this is still confusing please give us a call and we can continue the discussion.
The Good Stuff – Diving Into Your Receiver
Now that you have an all-encompassing awareness of signal flow, let’s move on and break down each section of a receiver. Once broken down, you’ll easily be able to impress your friends with your new-found powers!
We’ll use images from the Marantz SR7010 as our example. At first glance it may seem overwhelming. Don’t let the massive amount of inputs and outputs overpower you. Quite literally your brain is divine and has a much larger processing capacity than any receiver could fathom. After all, a combination of humans successfully invented the receiver.
There are two main sections of your receiver, video processing and audio processing. Looking at the back of the SR7010, the top half is for video processing while the bottom half is for audio processing.
There are many types of cables that can be used for signal routing. Cables can vary in quality and have their own unique features and specs. However we won’t go into details of what makes a great cable in this article. We’ll just cover the function of each cable and where to plug them in on your devices. Knowing this, let’s get to the good stuff. We’ll start by analyzing the video section followed by the audio section.
VIDEO INPUTS & OUTPUTS OVERVIEW – The V in A/V
As we just learned in the concept of signal flow, it’s all about connecting the proper inputs and outputs. This will ensure that we route the signal correctly and your TV will reproduce the video signal that it receives. The video sections include HDMI, Coaxial, Component Video and Composite (standard) Video.
Analog and Digital Video Inputs and Outputs
Digital Video Inputs and Outputs
There are two types of cables for processing digital video; HDMI and Coaxial.
An HDMI cable is by far the most efficient way to transfer the source information to your receiver. It’s a unique cable that carries both audio and video signal. HDMI also supports the latest in HD video quality like 4K Ultra. The new Blu-Ray formats also require HDCP 2.2 compliance in order to watch the disc, so be sure your cable supports that spec.
Most companies have conveniently labeled the HDMI inputs of the receiver so you can quickly match your devices to the corresponding inputs. Others might be labeled Aux 1, Aux 2 or AV 1, AV 2 and so on. You can toggle between your source inputs using the remote.
Using your newfound powers of signal flow let’s hook up your Blu-Ray player. Plug the HDMI cable into your Blu-Ray HDMI output and connect the other end to the receiver HDMI input labelled Blu-Ray. Same goes for any other device that needs to have information sent to the receiver, Games, Cable/Satellite, CD player and etc.
Finally, let’s connect your TV. Connect an HDMI cable to the receiver where it’s labelled HDMI Monitor 1 output. Then connect the other end to your TV HDMI Input. If the input or output is labelled ARC you’ll want to use that.
You can send a duplicate visual signal to another TV using the Monitor 2 Output from the receiver. And if you want to watch different content in a different room then use the Zone 2 from the receiver.
One side note on HDMI cables; some are bidirectional (signal travels both ways) and some are directional. To find out if your HDMI cable is directional or not take look at the cable and you should see arrows pointing in the direction that the signal is flowing. If you are using directional cables just make sure that your device is sending the signal in the proper direction.
Similar to HDMI, a coaxial cable will carry both audio and video. It is most typically known to work well with your set top box. One advantage to this cable is it’s very well shielded. These cables are also great for handling long distances without signal loss. For the SR7010, there is not an output for a coaxial cable. However there are other receivers that have a coaxial output.
Analog Video Inputs and Output
The two video cables used for passing analog video information into your receiver are Component and Composite.
Another way to hook up your TV or projector is through the Component Video section. This was used previous to the arrival of HDMI. Component Video supported the highest quality video at that time and uses a 3 way RCA cable which has color coded tips that correspond to each input and output.
Again, signal flow applies here. Connect the colored cables to the output of your DVD player and connect the other end to the input section of the receiver. Follow up by connecting the receiver Monitor Output to the TV input.
Lastly we have the classic video section. It uses a single yellow RCA style cable to connect each device to the receiver. The same goes for the output to the TV. This was the early style cable and was used when large tube TV’s were in the market.
By this point you probably guessed it; signal flow. Plug the output of your DVD to the input of the receiver. Then plug the output of the receiver to the input of the TV.
That wraps up the video section of your receiver. Whether you choose to use HDMI, Coaxial, Component or Composite cables to connect, they virtually accomplish the same goal. If you have any questions about the video section of your receiver please give us a call and we’ll be happy to help you out.
AUDIO INPUTS & OUTPUTS OVERVIEW (The A in A/V)
Now let’s throw some cables at the audio section of your receiver. We’ll start with how to get audio into your receiver and then wrap by covering how to get the audio to your speakers. Then you can finally enjoy the sonic awesomeness that you deserve.
And of course, the signal flow concept applies here too! Good thing we became a self-induced signal flow master! Let’s go over ways to get audio into your receiver.
Digital and Analog Audio Inputs and Outputs
Digital Audio Inputs and Outputs
There are three ways to route audio in and out of your receiver using a digital signal; HDMI, Coaxial, and Optical. Let’s go over them.
As mentioned earlier, an HDMI cable will process both audio and video. In turn this takes your audio and video signal from your source to the receiver, hence the convenience.
If this is your chosen way of routing audio into your receiver then you can skip to Audio Output section of this article. However it’s still good to know the other ways to get audio into your receiver.
HDMI passes a digital audio signal and can also handle multi-channel audio. The high-resolution audio includes the latest sound formats of Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio. The digital signal is considered to be better quality than RCA, however some audiophiles swear by their analog audio inputs!
Once again, a coaxial cable will carry both audio and video. If this is your chosen method of getting audio into your receiver then you can skip to the Audio Output section. Since it is very well shielded it will be less likely to pick up any interference or static signals from crossing cables.
Optical is a great way to pass clean, high quality digital audio from your source device to the receiver like HDMI. It is still considered better than typical RCA cables. Just run the cable from your device optical output to the receiver optical input and you’ll get a high resolution audio signal.
Analog Audio Inputs
If you opted out of using a digital signal for audio input, then your other option is analog input using an RCA style cable.
COMPOSITE AUDIO INPUT
The Audio In section is similar to how your HDMI inputs are labeled. Using a red and white RCA cable you would hook up your separate devices into this section. This connection will send over a combined right and left stereo signal. Devices like a CD player or your cable/satellite box for the most part are only transmitting a stereo signal.
Again and again, signal flow has made its way to the audio section as well. It looks like we can’t escape the fact than an external device output connects to the receiver input!
We covered how to reproduce stereo signal. But what if you want to immerse yourself in the surround sound experience?
MULTI-CHANNEL AUDIO INPUT
The section just to the right of the Audio In section is labeled 7.1 Ch In. You’ll notice the inputs are labeled and correspond to your speakers. Blu-Ray and DVD players typically will have a full 7.1 RCA output section that will match the inputs of your receiver. This area would be used if you have chosen to connect your TV using the Component Video.
To connect you can either use a “snake” style cable, which has all needed cables bundled together. Or you can use individual RCA cables.
I bet you’re feeling pretty confident with hooking up a receiver at this point. Let’s go over the Audio Output sections and you’ll be ready to sit in the sweet spot and listen to sweet tunes!
We’re in the final stages of hooking up your system. Feels great doesn’t it? Let’s first have a look at the Pre Out section.
A pre-output allows an audio signal to pass through without amplification. A speaker will require amplification before any sound is heard.
Most likely the speakers in your home theater won’t have an on-board amplifier. Speakers without an on-board amp are known as a “passive” speaker. An example of a speaker with an on-board amplifier would be a subwoofer or the Allaire Bluetooth speakers. These are also identified as an “active” speaker.
Therefore the pre-out section of your receiver would be used to send an audio signal to an amplifier. Once the signal arrives at the amplifier, the amp will send both power and audio signal to the speakers.
You’ll see the pre-out portion of the receivers labelling system is practically identical to the Audio Input section.
The most common use for the pre-out is the subwoofer output. Virtually every subwoofer has an amplifier on-board. To connect, use an RCA cable. There are a couple of options to connect using RCA.
You can use a single tip to single tip RCA cable and plug into the sub 1 output which would go into the LFE input on the sub amp. The other option is to use a single tip to a Y-Splitter (as seen in the photo) and you would plug in the single tip side to the receiver sub output and the dual-tip into the sub R/L inputs. A couple of benefits of using the Y-Splitter are gaining a 3dB boost and allowing control of the onboard crossover knob on the sub.
Be particularly aware of signal flow with this one. If you’ve plugged in your sub and aren’t getting any sound then double check if you’re plugged into the correct output of the receiver. Since the receivers Pre Out section and 7.1 Channel Input section are labelled identically you may have accidentally reversed the signal flow. An input to an input or and output to an output will not pass any signal.
Another common use for the Pre Out section is the front wide or height channels. Again, these pass a non-amplified signal. You would have to route them to an external amplifier to produce sound if using passive speakers.
The Zone 2 and Zone 3 outputs are another commonly used output. These allow you to play sound in another room. You would also have to route these to an external amplifier if using passive speakers. The image shows the receiver sending audio output to an external amp input, and from the external amp output to the speakers.
This covers the pre-output elements of a receiver. Now let’s go over the most commonly used section that connects your receiver to your speakers, the powers outputs. We’re one step away from you being able to reconnect with your sources of joy and auditory awe.
Look at the large red and black gold plated outputs. Each is labelled to go to the corresponding speaker. Whether you use banana plugs or screw in the bare wire, just make sure that the red and black (positive/negative) outputs match the inputs of the speaker.
Once this is done you are now ready calibrate your receiver and get your speakers in tune to your room. After dialing in your speakers you’ll be set to enjoy your entire music library all over again!
Again the purpose was to cover the functionality of the inputs and outputs. There are many factors that play a role in the nature of audio and video. These quality traits range from your source material, to the source device, types of cables being used, overall power and processing of the receiver and finally the TV and speakers that you choose.
With that said, the solutions are found through your ability to simplify your options. In the end, it’s all about choosing the input and output options you’re going to use and ignoring the rest. If you trip and fall over your wires or get lost while slapping cables on your speakers and receiver, give us a call. We’re happy to help you untangle the mess and lead you out of the forest.
1. Pro Tools 6 for Macintosh and Windows (2nd ed.).