First Step: Know What You Want

The success of your home theater system depends on planning.  Planning depends on knowing what you want.  The more you plan up front what it is you want your system to be able to do, the more satisfied you'll be with the results once it is finished.

If you are thinking about planning an audio/video system for a new construction home, you will have it fairly easy.  If you are dealing with an existing home, you can still obtain the same end results, it will just take a little more work to get there.

 The easiest way to get complete list of everything you'll need is to find an electronics store that offers an audio/video system design service for free.  They do this for 'free' because they want to sell you all the pieces of the system you'll need to install.  However, those pieces are typically expensive.  Expensive because they want to convince you that you need them to get good sound.   I'm not saying that expensive products aren't good; they just often are not necessary.

Before you approach the store for a list of what you'll need, you will need to provide them with a list of what you want, and where you want it (in your home).

Onkyo TX-NR717 Rear

Take a look at the back of a home audio video reciever, and read what all the connections do.  Go to the manufacturer's website and download the user manual.  See if the features appeal to you.  Maybe by reading the manual before you buy something, it will help you think about what you want in your system.

How to Plan Your System

The first things to do when planning your home audio/video system is get out a paper floor plan.  Think about how you intend to use each room, and who else will be using those rooms. Then think about what you want to provide in each room.  -Ambient sound?  -Television and multi-channel audio?  Write it down in each room of your floor plan.

Next you need to think about how you want to control everything.  Wall mounted volume knobs?  -Remotes?  -Smartphone or tablet app?  This means you'll need to consider running repeaters so your remotes will work, or making sure your A/V receiver has an app that allows you to control things, or running extra wiring for hard-wired controls.  For example, Onkyo makes a number of receivers that have a free app you can download to control your whole home A/V system; one of those is the Onkyo TX-NR727 A/V Receiver.  I have a similar product from the year prior, and I've been very happy with the performance, and the apps ability to control things from my phone.

Regarding receivers, you also may want to consider zones.  If you think you'll want to play different material in one room than the other, at the same time, you'll need a receiver with multiple zones.  Some receivers have powered zones; some have pre-amp outputs that send the additional zone(s) signal to external amplifiers.  -Something important to think about before spending money.

Selecting Home Audio Speakers

An important (if not the most important) part of your system is the speakers.  After all, they are responsible for everything you finally hear.  I'm not saying this is a reason to spend a ton of money on speakers, but do your research on what you actually need, and how much it'll take to reasonably meet that need.  When I planned a system, I had a retailer give me a system plan based on a list of stated needs, and then I simply looked at each component they suggested, and used the internet to find comparable products at lower prices.  (I had purchased a number of things from the retailer in the past that provided me the free plan, so I didn't feel too guilty about just using the plan to shop around elsewhere).  Lowest price isn't always the sales price; review the retailer's return policy, refund policy, and product guarantees as well.  Sometimes the more expensive product has better support, but not always, which brings me to OSD Audio.

If you are setting up home theater, then I cannot speak highly enough of OSD Audio speakers.  They provide a speaker for all your needs at home, indoors and out, and I have been very impressed with their performance.  For the front speakers, consider their LCR (Left Center Right) in-wall Kevlar speakers, the IW550LCR.  I don't think you'll find a better performing LCR speaker for the money.

Installing Your System

When you have determined all the components you wish to use, where they go, and how they are connected, then it's time to install.

Stud Finders Are Your Friend

Get a stud finder, and learn how to use it.  These devices help you find where all the studs are behind your drywall.  If you are dealing with new construction, and the drywall isn't up yet, then you'll have a much easier time installing.

Fish tape.  You'll 2nd Best Friend

Fish tape is what you'll need to pull wires in areas you can't see.  -Through walls, between levels, under floors, over ceilings, etc.  You'll find a wealth of information online about how to use these tools.

Other Essential Tools & Supplies

  • Black electrical tape
  • White masking tape (for labeling wires/cables)
  • Permanent marker (for labeling wires/cables)
  • Wire stripper
  • Neon electrical conductivity tester (to make sure you don't electrocute yourself)
  • Drywall saw
  • Flashlight
  • Cordless drill, twist drills, and spade drills
  • Fire retardant foam hole filler
  • Flathead & Phillips Screwdrivers
  • Hammer
  • Utility knife (can be used for precise drywall cuts)
  • A helper (for pulling wires, or just plain companionship)

Things to Remember While Installing Your System

  1. Keep audio and video cables as far away from power cables as possible
    1. When not possible, cross wires at a 90 degree angle
    2. Keep video cables as isolated as possible from all other cables
  2. Do not use wire nuts on any audio or video cable
  3. Use a speaker cable gage appropriate for the length of the run, and the power of the amp
  4. Turn off circuit breakers if working with electrical circuits
  5. Always label your cables at both ends.  This will help avoid major headaches later
  6. Check polarity of all connections
  7. Use speakers appropriate for their intended environment.
    1. If installing in a bathroom, or outside under the soffits, consider using speakers which are moisture resistant, such as the OSD Audio ICE600WRS
  8. Have fun!