Bi-Wiring and Bi-Amping Explained
Part of the thrill of being an audio enthusiast is the never-ending quest for improved sound from your speakers. Once you catch the “bug” and put together a decent home audio system or home theater system, the next step is to tweak and experiment.
If you’re at this point, you may have come across the terms, “bi-wiring” and “bi-amping.”
Let’s talk about what each of these means and how they may help to improve the sound of your audio system.
Both of these terms refer to how you connect to your speakers.
How Do I Know If I Can Bi-Wire or Bi-Amp?
To determine whether or not your speakers can be bi-wired or bi-amped, take a look at the back of your speakers where the speaker wires connect. If you see only one positive and one negative connection (usually red and black), your speakers are not capable of either one.
If, however, you see two sets of connections, you have speakers that can be bi-amped or bi-wired. Normally these types of connections have “jumpers” (also called "bridges") that connect the two positive terminals and the two negative terminals. If your speakers are set up this way, it’s worth testing it out. The speaker manufacturer went out of their way to build this capability into the speaker, so we recommend at least giving this upgrade a try.
What is Bi-Wiring?
Let’s start by looking at bi-wiring. There is a lot of debate as to how and whether bi-wiring truly works. In our experience, every time we have bi-wired a speaker properly, we have been able to notice an improvement in clarity and resolution. The sound also seems to be more precise in a three-dimensional space.
On a speaker that does not have capabilities for bi-wiring, one set of connections would attach to the crossover. The job of the crossover is to send the lower tones to the bass driver and the midrange, and upper tones to the midrange and treble speakers. A crossover works by filtering out the tones that should not go to the speaker its section is connected to. If your speakers are set up for bi-wiring, those separate connections on the back lead to different connections at the crossover, which keep the bass and midrange/treble sections separate.
The bass driver or woofer in your speaker moves thousands of times faster than the midrange or treble drivers do. The theory is that this movement creates magnetic energy that gets back into the speaker cable. So, imagine you are the small treble frequencies. Would you rather swim up a wire that has all kinds of magnetic ripples and force coming from the woofer, or swim up a wire that is smooth with no resistance? When you bi-wire, you separate out those connections.
How to Bi-Wire Your Speakers
To bi-wire your speakers, first remove those jumpers and use two sets of speaker cables. At the speaker end they will separate and at your receiver or amplifier end, they will typically be joined together. Some higher performance amplifiers even have two sets of speaker connections to make it easier to connect things up.
It is imperative that you use identical cables. They should be the same brand, model, and the same exact length. If not, you are changing the electrical properties of the cable and as a result, altering your sound. As with any speaker connections, make sure they are all solid and tight and confirm the positive is not touching the negative side in any way. If you are using bare wire, even a tiny stray strand of wire touching the wrong terminal can eventually damage and blow up your amp. Of course, using wire that is properly pre-terminated is your best bet.
What is Bi-Amping?
Now, let’s talk about bi-amping, which you may have guessed is the next logical step after bi-wiring. To bi-amp you have to bi-wire. Bi-amping, however, takes things one step further by using a separate amplifier for the bass connection at your speaker and another one for the treble connection. The difference in passive bi-amping and active bi-amping is something that isn’t talked about too often.
Of course, overkill is always a possibility, but generally speaking, we believe that you can never have too much power driving your speakers. It’s similar to driving a high-performance car. You may not need the power all of the time, but when you do, it can perform effortlessly. Musical demands are very similar to a drive through the mountains -- sometimes you’re coasting, but other times (think loud dynamic passages), you need lots of power reserve.
While some people may think that having too much power can “blow up” your speakers, it’s actually having too little power that can do the most damage to your speakers. If you are using an amp that is too small for your speakers and you push it too hard to play loudly, the amp may give out and send a clipped (highly distorted) signal to your speakers. This is what causes the damage. With lots of power, those instant demands just sail through.
Since bi-amping is going to involve two amplifiers, it gives you the advantage of more power combined with the benefits of bi-wiring.
Passive bi-amping is what you typically see when bi-amping is discussed. It’s the most common. With Passive bi-amping, you are still using the crossover parts of your speaker to send the correct frequencies to each speaker driver.
Just like with bi-wiring, symmetry is super important with passive bi-amping, but it goes one step further. Your speaker cables need to be identical, the connecting audio cables that go to each amp should be identical, and finally, the amplifiers should be identical or from the same brand with the exact same specs in a couple of critical areas.
You may think, why can’t I get an amp for the treble that is different than the one for the bass? Remember, we are trying to improve our speakers, not change them. Every amplifier has a spec called input sensitivity. This is a number that gives you a representation of how much power it puts out with a certain level of incoming signal. If you have two amps with different input sensitivities that are being used to bi-amp, then either your bass or treble section of your speaker is going to play louder than the other, which is not good. The amplifier’s output impedance spec also affects how it reacts to your speakers. Our advice is to just play it safe - if you want to try bi-amping, make sure the two amps are identical. And remember- as we keep getting this question a lot, there is no possible way to bi-amp with two old stereo receivers or amplifiers, you just can not do it.
A few newer receivers and amplifiers on the market make this step pretty simple. In the setup menu, you can assign four amplifier channels for bi-amping, thus giving you 4 identical channels of amps that make it all work well.
Bi-Amping with an Active System
You can also bi-amp with an active system. This is not very common and only available with a limited number of brands. With an active system, you actually have a separate electronic crossover in front of your two or three amps. It gives each amp the correct set of frequencies and you remove the crossover from the speakers. With this method, you can get away with slightly different amps as the crossover itself has level adjustments on it to balance out any differences. But, you will need separate power amplifiers and an electronic crossover for this method. You can not do it with old stereo receivers or integrated amps. Also, very few speakers on the market allow you to actively bi-amp. Actually, if you owned a pair of these speakers, you would already be bi-amping with them.
What Are the Next Steps?
Now that you hopefully understand bi-wiring and bi-amping, which will give you the biggest bang for the buck? There is no question - it’s bi-wiring. You simply need a pair of speakers capable of it and two identical sets of speaker wires. If you have a great home theater, don’t forget about the ultra-important center channel speaker. Most high-performance center channel speakers have connections for bi-wiring.
If your amplifier or receiver is set up for bi-amping, we’d suggest you also give that a try. Just like with bi-wiring, the only cost is the cables.
Although, getting two amps to bi-amp drives us down another path. Would you be better off with one great amp or two lesser amps for the same investment?
Our advice is to get the one better amp and bi-wire. You also have to look at your system as a whole. Would it be better to keep the amp you currently have an upgrade to better performing speakers or get two amps to bi-amp the ones you currently have? Usually, you will be better off with the speaker upgrade.
We hope this gives you a better understanding of bi-wiring and bi-amping as you continue on your journey to great sound!
What do I need to bi-wire my system?
First, your speakers will need to have 4 connectors on the rear labeled high and low or bass and treble.
Next, you will need two pairs of identical speaker wires or a speaker wire designed for bi-wiring.
Finally, you will need to be able to connect both of these speaker cables to the left and right connections on your amp or receiver
I have two old receiver’s, can I use them to bi-amp?
No, even if they were identical, there is no way to feed them to the same signal and use them to bi-amp.
What do I need to bi-amp?
First, your speakers will need to have 4 connectors on the rear labeled high and low or bass and treble.
Next, you will need two pair of identical speaker wires
Finally, and most importantly, you will need either a newer receiver that has the ability to assign channels (check your manual) or two IDENTICAL power amps. A power amp is not an old receiver, a power amp is just a box, typically with no controls that provide power. You will also need a preamp or have pre-amp out on your receiver or amp to feed a signal to the two power amps.
Which is better, bi-wiring or bi-amping?
Technically bi-amping is better as it delivers more power, but we feel the far better value is had by bi-wiring.
Home Theater Buying Guide
If you are in the market for a new home theater system or improving part (or all) of the one you already own, you’ve probably figured out that the options can be more confusing than advanced algebra! Explore our guide to understand the available options and how they might work or not work in your particular situation. If you need help customizing a solution for your space, reach out - we're happy to help!
A guide on how to get the best sound out of your home theater room. We have some tips and tricks to greatly improve the way your home theater sounds. You’ll learn about how to use some basic things around the house to enhance your acoustics and how to choose aftermarket acoustic treatments....
This article is part of our home theater design series, and we will cover how to mount your front projector to your ceiling. If you are thinking about a DIY home theater, mounting the screen and projector may give you some pause, but there is no need to worry. With the right knowledge and some of our tips, you will be able to install your projec...
This article is part of our home theater design series and we will cover how to mount your front projection screen. If you are thinking about a DIY home theater, mounting the screen and projector may give you some pause, but there is no need to worry. With the right knowledge and some of our tips, you will be able to install your first screen li...
For the home theater enthusiast looking to upgrade their picture in a family or media room, the choice between a large, flat panel tv and an ultra-short throw projector can be a daunting one. Watch our latest video where we dive into the pros and cons of each display!...
In this article, we will go over all the things you need to consider when trying to find the best front projection system for your home theater or family room. We have put together a pretty straightforward decision tree to help you quickly determine your ideal front projector choice!...
Learn how to choose the best size for your TV or front projection home theater system. We’ve culminated in the advice of the movie industry and our years of experience with real-world home theaters to take the guesswork out of helping you choose the perfect screen size. You’ll just need a tape measure and a calculator....
While this is one of the most common questions we get, the answer is something pretty hard to pin down. As we’ve heard from thousands of customers over the years, a well-designed home theater room will quickly become your favorite room in the house. As with anything, the devil is in the details. Let’s take a look at what it will take to get ...
Today’s home theater receivers come with so many features, they can make your head spin. Just take a look at the specs on any brand’s website and you’ll probably see more than 50 features listed in the long list of advantages the brand is pitching you. Sure you want all of the latest and greatest, but in the end, room EQ optimization i...
Whether you’re researching for a future home theater installation or exploring ways to enhance your current home theater, we’ve created a series of videos to walk you through upgrades to make optimizing your setup easier — including everything you need to know, from tweaking your picture to improving the acoustics in your room. In this par...
If you are a home theater enthusiast, you are probably aware of how important a role the center channel speaker plays in a great home theater experience. Here, we will give some basic set up tips and hopefully even a couple of suggestions for experts that will help you get the most out of your center channel speaker....
Check out our free tips on how to improve the picture performance of your home theater’s TV or front projector. We go over some simple steps that will allow you to fine-tune your picture like a pro. Whether you have a new home theater or yours has some age on it, these tips are sure to make you smile when you see the improvements....
Imagine you are really getting into a great action movie, the spaceship lands, and all of a sudden, you hear this terrible buzzing or rattling sound coming from somewhere in your room. The effect of the movie has just been totally ruined. This tip breaks down how to find and eliminate noises your room might be making due to vents, furniture, li...
Follow along in our guide where we help explain how and give you the right tools to perfectly set lip sync in your home theater....
This tip is designed to help you nail down the right contrast and brightness settings on your television or projector. If you have not yet watched our Top 5 Tips for improving your Home Theater video, we would suggest you watch that first as it covers all of the major items you want to adjust in order, including brightness and contrast....
This tip is designed to help you perfectly focus your projector and is part of our Top 5 Tips For Improving Your Home Theater Video series. You can follow these steps using your projector’s pattern or we show you in this video. Make sure your projector has warmed up for at least 20 minutes before running this test....
If you follow these tips, you can substantially improve your home theater or media room. This tip breaks down how to get the perfect sharpness settings on your television or front projector....
A guide on how to design your ideal home theater or media room so all your friends and family experience a beautiful picture with great surround sound. Learn about how the dimensions of your room can impact the sound, finding the ideal screen viewing height, and how to design a home theater riser so everyone has a great seat....
As more original Dolby Atmos movies continue to come to streaming platforms, you will not want to choose upgrades for your home theater system until you watch our next video. Since you already own most of the key parts, you won’t even have to change that many components! We will cover essential tips & tricks to get great-sounding uncompre...
Have you ever wondered why you have black bars at the top and bottom of movies? In this video, we explain everything you need to know about widescreen. If you have a home theater or are thinking about building one, this video will demystify aspect ratios and explain how to design and set up your system to get the best experience possible for new...
One of the best ways to house your gear is in a commercial-like equipment rack. These types of racks have been used for decades in data centers, studios, concert halls, and high performance home theaters. We like them because they are very easy to service and make changing things out as you upgrade super simple....