You thought you could hook everything together, and your home theater system would just work. Instead, you have to turn up your receiver volume. Your audio leaves your speakers very quiet, like they are barely there. The instructions with your receiver recommend increasing the volume by passing the signal through an amplifier. You have it figured out now, but you may be wondering why.

Audio receiver output signals must be amplified to make them hearable due to how audio devices handle audio. Audible sound is a power-hungry signal. Because the required current can burn out any electronics, most audio devices try to minimize this power output until necessary. As a result, you must amplify the volume before you can send the signal to your speakers.

Fortunately, there are numerous ways you can increase the volume of your audio signals once they leave your receiver. Therefore, reading further will teach you about these methods and the best times to use them. Either way, you should have a more enjoyable home theater experience.

You Must Always Increase the Volume of Your Receiver Output

After gathering your gear and investing in the best receiver on the market, your setup may leave you confused. You thought you did everything mentioned in the instructions. Yet, the volume of your music is way too low to hear. Sure, you can fix the problem by increasing the volume way up, but it might leave you wondering If there is a more straightforward, permanent fix.

Unfortunately, all audio signals must be attenuated or altered at some point. The volume, or line level, is set so low to help protect your equipment. Audio processing is a power-hungry endeavor with a near-perfect coloration between volume and the required current. If your receiver output something audible, that current increase could damage your equipment.

Because of this, you must make sure that your setup has an amplifier. This is so your receiver has enough power to drive all your speakers.

How Your Receiver Works

Before we continue, we must discuss what an audio-video (A/V) receiver does because they are the reasons why you need an amplifier in the first place.

An A/V receiver acts like a relay. It takes audio and video signals and directs them toward their appropriate output devices. Some models even have built-in amplifiers and other features that allow you to process your audio content without additional hardware.

These features can include:

  • Surround Sound Decoder or Signal Processor.
  • Various audio and video inputs.
  • Amplifiers and pre-amplifiers.
  • Various audio and video outputs.

Through these components, your receiver identifies the various audio channels in your music. It then splits these channels before sending them down separate connections to your various speakers.

Your Speaker Levels are the Key

While you must raise the volume of your receiver output, you only need to raise it to a level your speakers can use. Your optimal speaker level will vary between speaker brands and models, but they all share one thing. Setting the right speaker level can make or break your home theater experience.

Setting your optimal speaker levels can pose a challenge to even the experts. Setting the speakers too high can be as bad or worse than setting them too low. Some notable issues to worry about include the following:

  • Volumes set too high can harm your ears and damage your hearing.
  • High volumes can disturb your neighbors and housemates.

As a result, you want to set the speaker levels to something you can enjoy to the fullest without damaging your health and relationships.

Your Optimal Speaker Level

Before we continue, we must reiterate that the volume numbers on your receiver aren’t as important as you think they are. The only thing that matters is the decibel level passed to your speakers, which only needs to be around 70-80 decibels (dB). Because of this, you only need to consider the following:

  • Your receiver’s power rating.
  • The size of your room.
  • The prominence of bass/mid/treble frequencies.
  • The sensitivity of the speakers.
  • Distance from the speaker.
  • Speaker locations.
  • The general acoustics and layout of your room.

These factors can force you to raise your receiver volume so high with very little headroom. Because of this, there is no definitive optimal level for every speaker system on the market, just a recommended average of 75 dB.

Aim for 0 dB Receiver Output

However, you must make these adjustments to your speakers. You generally want to keep your receiver output set to “0 dB.”

As mentioned before, the receiver volume defines the attenuation, or deviation, from the output from the player. It is meant to correct imperfections in the recording levels. This correction then allows your amplifier to adjust the sound to match the sound profile of your room, ensuring the most optimal listening experience.

As a result, your receiver should not produce any audible sound.  Setting its output higher can introduce distortions or clippings once the signal passes through the amplifier.

Adjusting for Room Size

We cannot express this enough. The acoustics of your room determines the required final output level. Speakers change their specifications based on the size and shape of the room. These altered specifications will then alter the required power output from your receiver. The same settings can have drastically different results depending on the environment.

As such, your speakers must raise the volume of your audio to something you can hear around your room. However, how much your speakers can boast the audio largely depends on the size and quality of your speakers. Your receiver must therefore compensate for these limitations.

 With that said most audio experts agree that:

  • 70 dB is good enough for small rooms.
  • 89 dB works best with larger rooms.

Anything above these values could cause distortions or hurt your ears.

Turn Up Your Receiver - Room Size

Use an SPL Meter to Better Gauge Speaker Levels

You can use an SPL meter to help fine-tune your speaker level. An SPL meter measures the reliability of your audio signals by comparing the results of a test tone to the capabilities of your speaker. Your receiver usually supplies this test tone consisting of a beeping sound. To run the test, activate this test feature. You can then hold the meter as you move around your room.

Other Ways to Improve Your Receiver’s Audio Quality

While you must raise the output of your receiver by some amount, it should not be by much. You only need to raise the output enough to drive the speakers. As such, there might be ways you can lower the output level and still achieve the same great results. Depending on your setup, these methods can also be quality and easy to do.

Use Better Audio Equipment

Because speaker power ratings largely determine receiver output levels, you can reduce your need to boost receiver output with better speakers. This is because most speakers are unpowered. They must draw their audio-boosting power from the receiver. However, powered speakers can draw from a separate power source, minimizing the strain on the receiver.

However, you can also get the same effect by choosing smaller speakers. Small speakers require very little power to function. They might not be suitable for every room, but they will give you the space to expand your theater system.

Optimize Your Speaker Level to Match your Audio Needs

Optimizing your system to how you like to hear music is another helpful way to reduce your need to fine-tune your receiver output. Most people do not need their music to be as loud as they play it. You just need your music loud enough to enjoy it.

That means tuning your speakers so that the music is perfect where you like to sit and listen. You can use an SPL meter or just wing it. It should be good if the sound quality meets your preferences.

Luckily, most modern receiver models will do this for you if you do the following steps:

  1. Set the receiver volume to something relatively quiet to prevent the test tone from becoming too loud.
  2. Find and record the distance from each speaker to your listening locations using a tape measure.
  3. Find and activate your receiver’s general setup menu.
  4. Find and select the “Speaker Delay” or “Speaker Distance” menu options.
  5. Input your speaker distance measurements when prompted.
  6. Return to the settings menu and activate your receiver’s test tone.
  7. Go to your listening position and use the SPL meter to find your optimal level.
  8. Make the necessary volume adjustments and then retest until everything is perfect.

Utilize Audio Return Channels When Possible

Cable length can significantly affect sound quality as well. As such, you want to use the shortest cables possible in your home theater setup. However, your cable length options are limited by the size and positions of your audio equipment. Luckily, you can use bidirectional cables and their audio return channels (ARC) to reduce some of them.

ARC sends audio data back and forth between your player and your receiver. Its purpose is to reduce the processing lag for players with built-in speakers. For instance, you can use ARC-enabled cables such as HDMI to connect your television to your receiver or soundbar.

These channels help you extend the capabilities of your audio sources, especially when their internal speakers are not that great. For example, you can use ARC to enjoy Netflix shows in beautiful 5.1 sound through a TV that only outputs 2.1 audio.

However, you can only use ARCs through a bi-directional cable. Therefore, you must make sure that both your player and receiver can use them. You can tell if your cable offers ARC benefits if you see the ARC logo on it.

Manually Improve Your Receiver Output

Up to this point, our recommendations used your receiver’s built-in self-configuration tools to reduce the burden on the receiver. In doing so, we hoped to reduce your need to raise the output volume to ridiculous amounts. However, there might be a more efficient way to do it manually.

Manually configuring and calibrating your home theater system can also reveal hidden modes you cannot access through the usual settings process. You can partially automate many of these manual settings using your phone to improve things. The trick is using your phone as an SPL device to adjust each device in your home network manually.

Partially Auto Configure Your Receiver by Turning Off Its Features

Overprocessing is one possible cause of inaudible sounds. So, there is a chance that you can improve your system’s audio quality just by manually disabling unneeded features.

You can do this by listening to your favorite tunes or movies and opening up your receiver’s settings menu. You can then play with the Multi EQ, Dynamic EQ, Dynamic Volume, and similar controls until the sound becomes perfect.

Adjust Each Speaker Separately

Most auto-config options presume your speakers share the same size and power rating. While this works in most cases, most speaker systems are slightly off in one way or another. Manually adjusting them can help you right-size your output by taking advantage of these differences. Doing so may lower your effective output level.

 Just note that most receivers will require you to dictate how many speakers you have before you can adjust them manually. That means going into your receiver’s Speaker Configuration menu options and selecting what type of home theater system you have.

You can then go into manual setup to input each speaker’s size, distance, and power rating. You can use an SPL app and a tape measure to calculate these things. However, you can also start with the smaller size options and then increase the size until your speakers work as expected. From there, you need to adjust the individual volume levels to balance them out.

Why You Need To Turn Up Your Receiver Conclusion

Your A/V receiver is the powerhouse of your home theater system, but it can get annoying if you must constantly raise the output volume levels. While some adjustments will always be required, there are ways you can reduce the need to turn them up as high.