Choosing the Right Receiver

How do you pick the best digital audio receiver?

A digital audio receiver consists of three primary components: a preamplifier, an amplifier and a tuner. Two of these components, the preamp and the tuner, essentially perform static functions. The preamp allows you to select a source input, ranging from your TV, radio or DVD/Blu-ray player to your CD player, smartphone, mp3 player or gaming console. The tuner acts like a radio dial; in radio mode, it allows you to shuttle through the stations on the AM and FM channels, as well as any other channels your system receives. The tuner can also act as a manual volume control or toggle switch. Thus, for better or for worse, the amplifier is the one component that really sets one receiver's performance apart from another's.

Today, wireless home audio receivers, or audio receivers with Bluetooth technology, are becoming the norm. However, some people argue that wired receivers are better, since they tend to come with more powerful built-in amplifiers.

How to Choose the Right Receiver

In the simplest sense, choosing the right receiver means selecting a model which is compatible with your audio system. Thus, a 5.1 home theater receiver would be in order if you had a 5.1 surround sound system set up, and a 7.1 home theater receiver would accompany a 7.1 surround sound system. You can also choose between home theater receivers, which are set up for surround sound, and stereo receivers, which are designed for listening to music. But beyond matching a receiver to your system's configuration, how can you tell one from another?

The answer lies in understanding the tech specs. The most important technical specification when it comes to receivers is the wattage. You need to match the wattage of the speakers used in the system to the wattage of the room they're being used in, if they're wired. You also need to keep in mind that wattage determines the performance of an amplifier.

As a general rule of thumb, the less powerful your speakers are, the more powerful your amplifier needs to be. If you have high powerful, high-end speakers, simply matching the wattage will optimize the system. However, if you're looking to compensate for deficiencies in your speakers, look for powerful, high-wattage receivers instead.

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