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How to Connect a Stereo System

December 31, 2017
Written by Nick Bock

Setting Up a Stereo System:

A Step-by-Step Guide to a Simple System

I started working for the Stereo Barn in late 2007 .

I must confess that when I started, I didn’t know how to set up a basic stereo system.

I knew the red wires went in the red holes, black wires in the black holes, and that was about it!

Well, everyone starts from somewhere and after assembling and disassembling numerous demo stereo systems I learned pretty quickly the ins and outs of a stereo system and how everything works together to make your music sound the best it possibly can.

What I realized is a lot of people who come to our store looking for a stereo system may not have the slightest clue how to set one up.

Understandably, they have not had many years of experience connecting stereo equipment on an almost daily basis to learn how to do it themselves.

My goal is to walk you through how to hook up a simple stereo system so you can enjoy listening to your favorite music, whether you listen to CDs, MP3s, radio, records, or any combination.

What do you need to set up a stereo system?

Having worked in the audio/video business for the past few years, I’m no stranger to hooking up a stereo system. On an almost daily basis, I’m connecting or disconnecting receivers, CD players, record players, or whatever so I take for granted how easy it is for me to do so after all this time.

Again, many people don’t know what you need to do to connect a good, basic stereo setup and that knowledge isn’t something people are just born with (or else I wouldn’t be writing this!).

So, before I dive into any lengthy explanations, here’s a simple list of everything you need for a basic stereo system:

  1. Stereo receiver – The receiver amplifies your audio for your speakers.
  2. Sources – A stereo source is anything you get music from, like a CD player, tape deck, turntable, AM/FM radio, iPod, etc.
  3. Speakers – For a stereo system, you need TWO speakers.
  4. Cables – You need cables to connect your sources to your receiver. Typically, you’ll use those red and white audio cables for this.
  5. Speaker wire – You need speaker wire to carry the audio from your receiver to your speakers.
  6. A/V stand or shelf – Any piece of furniture with shelves will do, as long as you can run wire between each shelf.

This isn’t an end-all, be-all list of requirements. Each stereo system is unique and can get way more complicated pretty quickly, depending on your listening requirements. However, a basic setup like this will give you great sound for whatever you listen to.

Here’s your (1) stereo receiver and (2) your CD player.

You will need (3) a pair of speakers.

These are your (4) audio cables (pictured in front) and your (5) speaker wire (pictured in back)

Speaker wires and audio cables to hook up a stereo

This is your (6) audio/video stand.

How to hook up a stereo system in 5 steps

Now that you have all your equipment, it’s time to start building it into your personal music machine! (See the pictures below for a visual aid! They will walk you through these steps to make it easier to understand.)

1. To start, it helps a great deal to draw a picture of what you are connecting. Just like the blueprint to a house, a diagram of your stereo system will help you visualize what you’re working towards. Draw all of your equipment (speakers, receiver, and sources) and then draw the connections between them. Basically, your sources will connect to the receiver, and then the receiver goes to the speakers.

2. Set up your equipment where you want it to go. Figure out where you want to put your speakers. How will you run the cables in between everything? Should you put your CD player on top of the receiver to make it easier to reach the disc tray? Do you need to make room for a turntable? Think of how you will use the system the most and what will be most comfortable for you.

Here’s a rear view of the stereo receiver and CD player with the many connections available.

3. Connect the audio output from your first source (a CD player, for instance) to an audio input on your receiver with your cables. The red cable will plug into the red holes, and the white cable will plug into the white holes. Which audio input do you use on the receiver? Try to match it to the name. So, if you’re hooking up a CD player, you’ll plug your audio cables into the “CD” input on your receiver.

CD player analog audio output connection

Plug in the audio cable into the CD player’s audio output (top picture) and then plug the other end into the stereo receiver’s CD audio input (bottom picture).

4. Run your speaker wire from the receiver to your speakers. Look for the speaker terminals (red and black) and stick the wire in there. Some receivers may have clips that you push down to stick the wire in; others you may have to unscrew a cap to stick the wire in and screw it back down again. You’ll have to do the same thing at the speakers. Make sure your speaker wires are not too tight as this could cause problems later on. Give yourself enough slack to connect everything comfortably! Pro tip: label your speaker wires and cables where you connect them into the receiver because if you have to disconnect your receiver for any reason, you’ll be able to quickly identify which cables go where.

Receiver terminals with speaker wire

Connect the speaker wires from the terminals on the receiver (top picture) to the inputs on the back of the speakers (bottom picture).

Here’s a rear view shot of your receiver with all the connections you’ve made. Here, your CD player is connected on the left side, while your speakers are connected to the terminals on the right side.

5. Enjoy your stereo system!

At this point, you should have everything connected and ready to go.

Try moving the speakers around to see what positioning gives you the best sound. Use wire ties or zip ties to bundle up your cables, giving you a clean, organized stereo system.

Once you do this a few times, you will get the hang of it. It’s just like doing anything, the more you practice it, the better you get.

I hope this has been educational and has helped you get your stereo system setup and running. If you have any questions about setting up a stereo or want a more in-depth explanation of anything in this article, please comment below.  

03-23-2021 – Please note that this post is no longer being monitored.  Thank you.