We all now how difficult it can be to set up an audio system. A lot of components come together to form the perfect home theater system. Out of those, one of the main components is an audio receiver. Audio receiver, also called as a stereo receiver, is an integral part of any surround sound system or home theater system.
Most people still aren’t sure about what a stereo receiver does or if they even need one. We will answer everything for you in this guide about stereo receivers!
What Does an Audio Receiver Do?
Let’s cut the chase straight away. What exactly does an AV receiver do? An AV receiver’s job is to receive signals from various audio and video sources, amplify them (using a built in amplifier) as per requirement and transmit them to your output device’s multiple AV channels. It also allows audio switching and video switching when receiving signals from multiple inputs. AV receivers are also used for tuning and listening to radio stations!
It is important for the audio signals to be amplified using the integrated amplifier, so that they are able to drive multiple speakers! The signals received and amplified from your digital audio inputs and video inputs are received by your televisions, monitors, speakers etc. (output devices).
What Are the Components of Stereo Receivers?
A stereo receiver is one device that has the ability to do the job of many. Following are the components that a receiver comprises:
- Audio and Video Inputs (Audio Devices, Blu-Ray Player, DVD players, Game Consoles, CD Player)
- Surround Sound Decoder (Signal Processor)
- Power Amplifiers
- Outputs (Television, Speakers, Monitors)
Let us try and understand the path of audio and video signals from the input devices to the output devices. The audio sources or video sources feeds a signal into the receiver via connected cables. Once the signal has been received by the device, its pre-amplifier defines the line of the signal and amplifies it to a certain extent.
Thereafter, the receiver further sends your video signal to your display device and the audio signal is sent to the decoder. The job of the decoder is an important one. It identifies the different audio channels from the signal and sends them to the power amplifier to further be sent to the intended output channels.
What are the Commonly Used Digital A/V Inputs/Outputs on a Receiver?
Most receivers come with following input/output options on them:
- Analog Audio (RCA connector)
- Phono Input
- Digital Connections (Transmission of Dolby Digital, DTS etc)
- Composite Video (RCA connector, Standard Definition)
- S Video
- Component Video (High Definition)
What Do Channels Mean on an Audio Receiver?
A common word we often come across when talking about a speaker system or a surround sound system is “channel”, but what exactly does it mean?
For example, we often read “5.1 channel system” when looking for home theater systems. This basically indicates that your system has 5 channels of amplification. We will explain it in more detail below in our section about surround sound formats.
Receivers can be broadly categorized into two types, Stereo Receiver and A/V Receiver(also called a surround receiver). Although used interchangeably, there is a slight distinction. A stereo receiver only has 2 channels of amplification, with or without a subwoofer. Whereas, an A/V receiver may have 2 or even more channels of amplification, and is mostly used for the best surround sound systems.
What are Different Surround Sound Formats?
Following are different surround sound systems you can explore. You need to know them before you learn how to set up surround sound.
2.0 Channel System
The basic sound system is a 2.0 channel system that comprises of two channels of speakers – the left channel and the right channel. This is often called as a stereo system.
2.1 Channel System
A 2.1 channel system is similar to a 2.0 channel system but it adds one subwoofer to the system (indicated by “.1”). The subwoofer gives your system that extra bass and oomph which it needs to feel more complete. A 2.1 channel system is the most cost effective sound system out of the lot.
5.1 Channel System
This is when we truly get into the domain of home theater systems. A 5.1 channel system has five speakers, three more speakers than the 2.1 system viz. center speaker, rear left speaker and rear right speaker. In other words, four channels for the sides and one in the center. The “.1” indicates one subwoofer. This system gives you a better surround sound effect than the previous two. 5.1 channel systems are preferred for gaming setups, home theater setups, etc.
6.1 Channel System
6.1 channel system is not used as often as the other formats. It has one additional center speaker than the 5.1 system which is usually used as a rear speaker.
7.1 Channel System
A 7.1 channel system is the real deal! This system comprises of seven speakers and one subwoofer. It introduces two additional speakers than the 5.1 system. This system comprises of two front channels, two side channels, two rear channels and one center channel, unlike a 6.1 system that has 2 center channels.
The 7.1 system has the best directional distribution quality and will give you the best aural experience when watching the television, listening to music or blasting away your enemies when gaming!
You can further improve your 7.1 system by converting it into a 7.2 sound system by using two subwoofers instead of one! Although, it is important to keep the balance between the level of bass and other audio frequencies. You should also remember that the more components you add, more expensive your system becomes!
How to Choose the Right Audio Receiver for Your Speakers?
There are some important factors one should keep in mind before choosing the right A/V Receiver for yourself! Let us take a look at them:
1) Type of Connections Available
As listed above, there are a number of input/output options that one may use as and when needed. It is advised that you should buy a receiver that has more connection options as you never know when you might need a certain kind of connection. More expensive receivers come with more connection options than the budget friendly ones.
Not only the type of connections, but the number of connections available also matters. For example, if you have one 1 HDMI port, you will have to choose between a Blu-Ray or a PlayStation but if you have 4 HDMI ports, you can use both as well as other devices as well. Preparedness is better than having to make unnecessary upgrades.
2) Number of Channels
We’ve already explained above what the concept of ‘channels’ is. To put it simply, the more channels you have, the more immersive your sound experience will be. You can choose anywhere between a 2.0 to a 7.2 channel system supported receiver but we recommend you go for the receiver compatible with the highest possible system.
You can always go from a 2.1 system to a 7.1 system, without having to change your AV receiver. We recommend having at least five channels to truly enjoy your home theater system.
What good are your high-quality expensive receivers when you cannot even understand how to use them properly? You should always go for receivers that are easily navigable so that you really understand what you are doing. It could very well be the difference between getting the best output and being clueless about your receiver.
Some top-of-the-line receivers have graphical interfaces for their main menu navigation which makes using them so much easier. You can use this interface to properly set up and operate your receiver.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a receiver with more power will perform better than a receiver with lesser power. The power level does not only merely determine the volume level, but also the level of clarity and detail your receiver will be able to reproduce from the stereo sources.
There are a lot of factors that go into determining the right power level for your receiver. Speaker sensitivity is one of those. A speaker with a low sensitivity will need a receiver with more power, whereas a speaker with higher sensitivity will need a receiver with relatively lower power. Also, the size of the room where you plan on putting together your home theater system will matter a lot. Halls or bigger size rooms will need more powerful receivers than otherwise.
Some receivers also allow you to add power amplifiers later on, if you feel the need. This is a better option so that you can ensure any future need for excess power can be managed without much fuss.
5) Wireless Options
Whenever we imagine receivers, we automatically imagine cables and wires. But that is not the case anymore. The point to which technology has advanced, most quality receivers come with built-in wireless capabilities.
Imagine wanting to listen to music in a different room with equipment that has a wi-fi connection but is not directly connected to your receiver via cables. A receiver that can be connected over wi-fi is the ultimate solution here. Most such receivers have remote control via software or apps that can be used on your smartphones or computers.
Even if your receiver does not have built in wireless capabilities, you can connect external equipment to give your receiver the freedom for wires it needs. Some of the leading brands for making such equipment are Sonos, Yamaha and Bose. They not only allow you to go wireless, but also let you listen in to radio stations from around the world over the internet.
How can we ever not consider budget? Budget is very important when it comes to picking the right receiver! Not everyone will be comfortable spending a lot of money to listen to music or to watch television. Many receivers, regardless of their price, will be able to fulfill your basic requirements but a more expensive receiver will surely have more options than a more budget friendly one.
If you spend more, you can get a receiver with more input/output options which will allow you to be more prepared in case of future additions to your home theater system. You can also get other features such as the graphical interface and wi-fi capabilities if you spend a little more.
To conclude, an AV receiver is a very valuable component of a home theater system. We have explained all there is to be explained about AV receivers for your basic understanding. Go through this guide before you choose which AV receiver to buy for your home theater system!
Although, there are some equipment these days that allow you to bypass the usage of receivers. But we recommend always using receivers as it also helps in keeping your system in check. Pair the best power conditioner with your receiver to safeguard your expensive equipment from facing any damage! Feel free to let us know more about your queries or suggestions in the comments section below!