You’re trying to adjust the volume on your television’s receiver, but you notice the volume is negative, even though the volume is decreasing or increasing, followed by the abbreviation “dB.” Why is this happening, and is it possible to change it?

Receivers show volume as negative numbers to represent the volume level more accurately. Instead of using an arbitrary numeric scale, they show how much your receiver restricts a device’s audio signal. However, it is possible to change the volume display to a numeric scale on some models.

Below, we’ll discuss why receivers show volume levels with negative numbers and how you can change it to a numeric scale if you’d prefer. Keep reading to learn everything you need about how the volume on your receiver works!

Why Your Receiver’s Volume Is Negative?

You purchased a new receiver for your TV’s surround system and hooked up all the necessary components. But, when you turn the volume knob or press the corresponding button on your remote, you notice that the numbers look a little weird. Instead of a traditional numerical scale, you see a negative number followed by the abbreviation “dB.”

Surprisingly, this is not an error on your TV or receiver. The reason you see negative numbers concerning volume is because of the way certain receivers work.

Instead of reflecting the actual volume of your speakers, these numbers represent the amplification factor. When you plug a device, whether a TV, console, or Bluray player, into a receiver, the device sends a signal to the receiver, and the receiver sends it to your speakers.

Receivers help control the volume of the audio signal sent from your device. Without this volume control feature, the sound would always play at full volume. When you turn the volume up or down, you’re not actually changing how loud the device plays audio. Instead, you’re reducing or increasing the volume restriction the receiver allows.

For example, you may see the volume noted on your TV or receiver as “-40 dB.” This means the receiver tells your speakers to play the audio at 40 dB, or decibels, less than the maximum volume. The volume control knob on your receiver is called an “attenuator.”

What Is Attenuation?

In terms of volume, attenuation can be defined as the reduction in the strength of a signal. As mentioned above, the volume knob on a receiver acts as an attenuator or reduces the strength of the audio signal coming from your device.

There are many devices you may have hooked up to your receiver and, in turn, your home’s speaker system. These might include:

  • A television
  • A gaming console
  • A media player

When hooked up to a receiver, these devices output audio at a consistent volume. Turning the receiver’s volume knob or attenuator will reduce or increase this volume by increasing or decreasing the strength of the signal the device sends. Without this capability, your speakers would constantly play audio at the maximum volume.

Can I Change My Receiver’s Volume To Positive Numbers?

Although there is no way to change the way the receiver works functionally, some people don’t like having negative numbers about their volume level. Maybe you’re having trouble explaining to your children or guests why the volume is in negative numbers, or you think it’s less aesthetically pleasing than a traditional numeric scale.

Whatever the reason, some wonder if it’s possible to change a receiver’s volume scale to positive numbers.

Whether it is possible to change how the volume on a receiver is shown or not depends entirely on what your particular receiver allows. Some receivers, most often higher-end models, allow you to adjust your settings to display a numeric scale, but not all do. If you can change the display, however, you’ll typically have two options:

  • dB scale: Negative numbers
  • Numeric scale: Positive numbers

If you can change this setting, you can usually do so through your receiver’s setup menu. Where you can find it exactly will vary by manufacturer, but on Yamaha receivers, for example, you can find it by navigating through “System,” “Display Set,” and finally, “Volume.”

Which Is Better: A dB Scale Or A Numeric Scale?

Generally, whether you should use your receiver’s dB or numeric volume scale depends on personal preference. Using different scales doesn’t make any functional difference, and the volume increments, in most cases, will be precisely the same.

However, if you’re using your receiver to manually calibrate multiple speakers or a surround sound system, it’s typically best to use the dB volume scale.

When setting up and connecting multiple speakers, you want to be sure each is playing audio from your device at the same volume to avoid sound distortion. Different speakers, especially if they come from several different brands, won’t always have the same numeric scale.

dB scales, on the other hand, are consistent and accurate. Decibels are the most accurate way to measure volume output, so if you ever need to calibrate your speakers manually, go with the negative numbers — you can always go back and change it when you’re done if you’d prefer!

The Bottom Line

If you hook up your new receiver and see volume increases or decreases represented by negative numbers instead of positive numbers, don’t panic. This number simply tells you how much the receiver restricts the connected device from playing at maximum volume.

If you don’t like the look of negative numbers on your receiver, or if members of your family find it confusing, you may be able to change it to a numeric scale through your receiver’s setup menu. Not all receivers offer this option, but usually, higher-end models will.

Whether you stick with negative numbers or change them to a positive numeric scale comes down to your personal preference. However, the negative dB scale does offer more consistency across different speaker models.