The components of a stereo audio system can be confusing for those who are just starting to build a system. What are the differences between receivers and amplifiers? Why did you decide to have a system of separate components, and what does each of them do? Here is an introduction to components audio systems, so you can better understand the role each plays in your listening experience.


Cambridge Audio CXR120 home theater receiver

Cambridge Audio CXR120 home theater receiver.
Images courtesy of Cambridge Audio

The receiver is a combination of three components: amplifier, control center and AM / FM tuner . The receiver is the center of the system where all audio and video components and speakers will be connected and controlled. The receiver amplifies the sound, receives AM/FM stations, selects the source to listen to and/or watch (CD, DVD, cassette, etc.) and adjusts the sound quality and other listening options. There is many receivers to choose from, including stereo and multi-channel home theater systems. Your decision should be based on how you will be using the receiver. For example, if you enjoy listening to music more than watching movies, you probably won’t need a multichannel receiver. A stereo receiver and a CD or DVD player and two speakers would be the best choice.

Integrated Amplifiers

Yamaha A-S1100 two-channel integrated stereo amplifier

Two-channel built-in stereo amplifier Yamaha A-S1100.
Images courtesy of Yamaha

The built-in amplifier is like a receiver without an AM/FM tuner. The basic integrated amplifier combines a two-channel or multi-channel amplifier with a preamplifier (also known as a control amplifier) ​​to select audio components and drive control tones. Integrated amplifiers are often accompanied by a separate AM/FM tuner.

Separate components: preamplifiers and power amplifiers

Marantz MM8077 7-channel power amplifier

Marantz MM8077 7-channel power amplifier.
Image courtesy of D&M Holdings

Many serious audiophiles and very picky listeners prefer individual components because they provide the best sound quality and each component is optimized for its specific function. Also, since they are separate components, there is less chance of interference between the preamplifier and the higher current stages of the power amplifier.

Maintenance or repair may also be important should it become necessary. If one part of the audio/video receiver needs to be repaired, the entire component must be taken to a service center, which does not apply to individual ones. It’s also easier to upgrade individual components. If you like the preamp/processor but need more amp power, you can get a better amp without changing the preamp.

Preamplifiers or driving amplifiers

The preamplifier is also known as the driving amplifier because that is where all the components are connected and driven. The preamplifier provides a small amount of amplification, just enough to send the signal to the power amplifier, which amplifies enough signal to power the speakers. The receivers are excellent, but if you want the best performance without compromise, consider the individual components.

Power Amplifiers

The power amplifier provides the electrical current to drive the loudspeakers, and they are available in two-channel or multiple multi-channel configurations. Power amplifiers are the last component in an audio system before speakers and must match the capabilities of the speakers. All in all, output power amplifier must be precisely matched to the capabilities of the loudspeakers.

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