How to Fix Rear Speakers Not Working Home Theater

Authored by: Tech Pro Team

1. Introduction

Part of the experience of going to the movie theater to see a film on the big screen is the audio that goes along with it. The large screen, the immersive sound that comes from all directions - it's a top-notch experience and for most folks, it beats watching things at home.

However, building a home theater system that offers surround sound in your own living room is more accessible these days. Unfortunately, unlike the movie theater, the entire system is your responsibility to both set up and troubleshoot if things aren't working as intended.

One of the biggest differences about having a home theater surround sound system in your home compared to the speakers built-into your TV, or even soundbar solutions, is the addition of rear speakers. These speakers create the immersive experience of adding the sound that would be coming from behind you during a scene to the room you're watching in.

Unfortunately for some users, the rear speaker experience can be underwhelming, and if you're in that situation, you may believe something's wrong. This can be due to a number of different factors. This guide will take through everything to consider when it comes to your rear speakers and help you get the most out of your home theater surround sound experience.

Tools You'll Need:

  • A paperclip
  • iPhone charging cable
  • Access to a computer with iTunes installed
  • Any other non-consumable tools needed
  • Comment out tools section if no tools are necessary


Supplies You'll Need:

  • Zip ties
  • Any other consumable supplies
  • Comment out supplies section if no supplies are necessary


Before You Begin:

  • You must have access to a computer with iTunes installed.
  • You must have that thing for the other thing so you can do the thing.

You must have this thing before you whatever.


Rear speakers not working.

Stereo vs Surround Sound

There's a huge difference difference between Stereo and Surround Sound.

Stereo only uses two channels, a left and a right channel. All modern music is recorded in stereo and most movies and videos have a stereo option. A lot of media you encounter will be encoded for stereo sound.

An example of a stereo system

While stereo has the two channels of sound, surround systems normally have over five speakers arranged in specific ways. Media encoded for surround sound will create a sound field around you, similar to what you would hear if you were in a theater.

An example of a surround sound system

2. Is the Source Material Surround Sound Compatible?

Whether it be content from your cable or satellite provider, a movie you've purchased or are streaming online, or even an album that you're trying to enjoy, it's important to consider the type of audio experience you're expecting vs. what the media you're consuming is capable of outputting. You may find that the audio experience you're expecting can be different than what the media is capable of. Depending on the type of media you're working with and where you're getting it from, this can vary greatly.

One of the most common mistakes made when it comes to home theater surround sound systems is faulting the equipment for not playing audio in surround sound when the audio the system is receiving isn't in surround sound itself. Your home theater system will still output the sound of non-surround sound content, but it may only play back in stereo sound. Stereo sound will never engage the rear speakers of your system, and may give you the impression that something is wrong. So, why would the audio not be in surround sound? There are a number of reasons why this might be the case:

  • Most, but not all post-1980 films are available in at least 5.1 surround sound. The same can be said of many high-definition television shows. That being said, if you're watching through your cable or satellite TV provider's equipment, there are two things to consider: Is the movie or show being broadcast in surround sound? If so, is the cable or satellite equipment outputting that sound properly for the AV receiver to make use of?
  • You may need to contact your cable or satellite provider to help specifically set up their set-top box to output audio in surround sound whenever it's available. Some of these boxes will output stereo sound by default despite certain programming being available in 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound audio formats.
Setting a cable or satellite box's audio output properly. Illustration.
  • If you're streaming a movie or a television show online, the streaming service must offer the programming in surround sound. In many cases, while the streaming service may offer their content in surround sound, the device you're streaming from must also provide surround sound output. If the content being streamed or the streaming device do not offer surround sound output, your AV receiver will only be receiving stereo audio at best.
  • As a rule of thumb, most all music and programming that consists primarily of talking, such as news broadcasts, talk shows, etc. will primarily only be available for playback in stereo audio.
Common cable provider music channels.
  • If you're purchased or rented a DVD or Blu-ray movie, always double-check the packaging. All available audio formats will be displayed on the rear of most disc-based media.
DVD case highlighting a particular movie's audio output capabilities.

Always be sure to check the audio capabilities of the media you're about to watch or listen to before you begin playback. This can help set the correct expectations for what you're about to hear, and avoid blaming your equipment for a simple deficiency of the content that's being consumed.

3. Try Stereo Surround for Stereo Content

As pointed out previously, there is a large amount of content that is specifically designed to be played back in stereo sound. For individuals who consume a great deal of stereo content, this leaves rear speakers sitting idle a large majority of the time. However, this doesn't always have to be the case. Many receivers offer 'Stereo Surround' or 'Multi Channel Stereo' sound options.

Stereo surround or multi channel stereo audio engages the rear speakers as a second set of stereo speakers, which serves to act as a literal form of surround sound - physically surrounding listeners with stereo sound. While this type of playback will not suit all listeners, it is an available option that you may prefer for certain types of stereo content.

  • Engaging stereo surround can be as simple as pressing a Stereo Surround button directly on your receiver's remote control.
Diagram of a remote showing the stereo button
  • Alternatively, some receivers may require that you use their on-screen menu to change sound modes for your system.
Adjusting the mode to stereo

Keep in mind that changing sound modes on your receiver is never done automatically. This means that if you've set your receiver to use Stereo Surround or Multi Channel Stereo audio while listening to stereo content, you will have to change to the sound mode back to surround sound when watching surround sound content.


4. Ensure the Receiver is Set to Surround Sound

If you've determined the media you're working with is surround sound compatible, the first thing to make sure of is that your receiver is set to properly deliver the audio it's receiving to all the audio channels of your surround sound system.

This is accomplished by setting your receiver to the proper sound mode for surround sound. On most receivers, this means selecting the Dolby Surround or Surround sound mode option.

  • There may be an available button on the remote control of your receiver for this setting.
  • Alternatively, some receivers may require that you use their on-screen menu to change sound modes for your system.
Surround sound select in settings

5. Test with Increased Volume and Boost Levels if Necessary

If you are still having difficulty with the rear speakers on your surround sound system, the next step is to make sure that their levels are not severely imbalanced. Increase the volume level on your receiver, and listen closely for sound coming from the rear speakers.

Master volume knob being turned
  • In many TV shows and movies where surround sound is utilized, the rear speakers are often used for the sake of ambience. This means that the sound coming from those speakers may already be subtle by default, and can be difficult to discern within the room your system is set up in.
  • Depending on the type of media that's being played, louder sound effects coming from those speakers may not happen very often.
  • Many times, depending on the room the system is set up in and the listener's distance from the speakers themselves, rear speaker sounds can be drowned out by the front left, right & center channel speakers.

If you're able to confirm that sound is coming from the rear speakers, but their volume is very low compared to the front speakers, speaker configuration settings can be adjusted to boost the volume levels of the rear channel speakers.

  • Speaker configuration settings are used to give the receiver an idea of how far the listener is sitting from each individual speaker, and also offers decibel (dB) boost options to increase the volume of an individual speaker.
  • If both rear speakers sound very low, adding a considerable dB boost would be recommended. Keep in mind, there is no "right" setting for this - it is something that you as the listener will have to adjust until you find a volume that you are happy with for your rear channel speakers.
  • Each receiver's speaker configuration menu will look different and will likely have to be accessed in a different manner. However, the options provided will largely be the same.
AV receiver speaker configuration screen.

When adding additional dB boosts to your speakers, always make sure you're sitting in the most "optimal" spot in the room the surround sound system is set up in. This will ensure you get the best "room filling" sound that will not have to be adjusted again later on.

6. Use Test Tones to Check Speakers

If you're still unable to hear anything at all from your rear speakers, it's time to test whether or not your receiver is able to get sound to the speakers in question. Thankfully, most receivers have the ability to send test tones to your speakers. Test tones can be sent to individual audio channels, or to the entire system at once. If your receiver is able to get a test tone to play on the problematic speakers, it means your speakers are connected properly and the issue either lies with the media that's being played, or the settings your receiver is using.

The process of sending test tones to your system's speakers will vary greatly depending on the brand and model of receiver you are using. The following instructions and images are provided as a general guide to what this process will likely entail on your equipment.

  1. Using the remote control or the buttons on your receiver, access the system's setup menu and look for Speaker Setup or Speakers.
Denon setup menu
  1. Your receiver may offer multiple ways to configure or calibrate the speakers connected to it. In order to access test tones, look for a Manual Setup option.
The manual setup option
  1. In this example, test tones can be found in the Levels option of manual speaker setup.
Selecting levels
  1. Select Test Tone Start to begin playing a test tone. In this example, the test tone will play across all speakers.
Selecting the test tone
  1. In this example, the receiver then offers the ability to increase or decrease individual speaker channel levels by a measure of decibels (dB).
Testing speakers
  1. Once speaker channel levels have been adjusted to your preference, exit the receiver's menu system and test things again to see if this has made any difference.

7. Check Speaker Cabling on the Receiver

Before moving your equipment or checking any cabling, make absolutely sure that your A/V Receiver and any other components that are currently on are fully powered off.

If you were unable to hear test tones from one or more of your speakers, the next step is to make absolutely sure that all of the speaker cabling connected to the rear of the receiver is connected properly and is in good physical condition.

  1. Speaker wires can be inserted into receivers in a few different manners. Making sure that the bare wires of each speaker cable are making good contact with the binding posts, poles or ports and has not come loose is very important.
  2. If your A/V receiver uses binding posts or poles, ensure that the speaker wires did not slide out or come loose while tightening things down or moving the receiver in place.
AV Speaker wires being tightened
  1. If your A/V receiver uses spring-loaded clips, ensure that the bare wire is inserted fully and making good contact with each port. This type of connection can be prone to coming loose if wires are pulled on.
Spring loaded clips for speaker wires
  1. Some speaker wire is not color-coded for positive and negative, and may have text labels or only a line to indicate positive from negative. Ensure that positive and negative ends are connected properly at both the receiver and each speaker.
Connected wires

8. If the Rear Speakers Still Don't Work

If all the cabling is connected correctly between your speakers and your receiver, and you're still not able to hear any sound coming from the rear channel speakers: