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Is a Receiver the Same as an Amplifier? Receivers vs Amplifiers

In Receiver/Amplifier by Jonah Matthes1 Comment

So you’ve decided to set up your own home theater system, and now you’ve come to a bump in the road. “Do I need an amplifier or a receiver? Aren’t they the same thing?”

It’s not a surprise that this is a confusing topic, as these terms are thrown around pretty interchangeably. But there is a difference between them, so before you make the choice for your own entertainment system, you should probably know the basics at least.

So is a receiver the same as an amplifier? An amplifier is just a device that takes an audio signal and amplifies it so that your speakers can use it to play the audio. A receiver has an amplifier in it, but has extra functionalities such as a tuner, preamp, radio, input selection, volume controls, and more.

When you talk about amps vs receivers, you’re really talking about whether you should buy a system where all of the components(the amp, the preamp, the tuner, etc) are separate and self-contained, usually called separates, or if you want a receiver which keeps all of the components together in one device.

So a receiver is pretty much just an amplifier that comes with more functions? So why shouldn’t you just buy a receiver instead of an amplifier?

Though a receiver is definitely more convenient, there are benefits to using an amplifier. Not only that, but there are multiple types of receivers to choose from as well.

Standalone Amplifiers

Amplifier vs Receiver

An amplifier is just a device that takes a small signal, and amplifies it, or creates a larger replica of it, and then outputs it. This is necessary because, without an amplified signal, you won’t get enough power to make your speakers work.

But when asking the question of amplifiers vs receivers, you’re not just asking if you should buy an amplifier or a receiver, because you’re going to need more than just an amplifier to make your setup work.

When you use a standalone amplifier, it isn’t really standalone. You’re going to need a preamp/processor, the amplifier itself, and the speakers to make the system work. So the question of amplifiers vs receivers is really separates vs receivers.

It may seem like a no-brainer to pick the receiver, there’s actually more factors you should consider before making your final choice!

Receivers vs Amplifiers (Separates)

Home-theater receiver

The more convenient and full package is a receiver since it comes with more functions than an amplifier, and all the other components are already built-in, right? Well, that’s true in some cases, there are cases where an amplifier might be the better choice for you.

If you’re just looking to set up a home theater system and want to connect your TV, speakers, consoles, and more all into one spot, then a receiver is probably the right choice. But if you’re a hardcore audiophile, or just want to use your setup for music, then you probably want to make your music sound as good as possible, in which case an amplifier might be better.

I would say about 95% of people will only need an A/V receiver. Standalone amplifiers are usually only needed for more complex audio setups. If you aren’t sure what type of receiver to purchase, then check out my recommended receivers page! I go over a few different high-quality receivers at various price points.

Pros and Cons of Receivers

Pros and Cons - Receiver vs Amplifier

Pros of Receivers

  • All-in-one Unit – When you get a receiver, you’re getting almost everything you need for your home theater’s audio setup all in one neat package. This includes multiple inputs for audio and video, volume/input controls and added functionalities like, the preamp, amplifier, and possibly a tuner.
  • Conserve Space – A Receiver is going to take up much less space than a separates system will.
  • Cheaper Option – Receiver setups are generally going to cost you less than going with separate components

Cons of Receivers

A receiver is definitely the more convenient choice of the two, but that doesn’t mean that it comes without any downsides.

  • Usually a Lower Quality Amplifier – Though the quality of receiver amps is definitely increasing, you still don’t have a completely dedicated amp with a receiver. Since it has to share the space with all of the other components there’s not enough room for one. This means that if you have a large set of speakers, it might not be able to put out enough power to make them work.
  • Must Replace the Entire Unit when Upgrading – Upgrading a receiver is not very cost-efficient; there isn’t really a way to upgrade individual parts, so you have to purchase a completely new unit.

Pros and Cons of Amplifiers (Separates)

Pros of Amplifiers

  • You’re going to have much more control of what goes into your system with separates. The pre-amps, amplifier, tuner, etc. all get picked by you. You don’t have to go with a pre-built unit that doesn’t include certain components you don’t want.
  • Upgrading a separate system is much easier, if you need a better amp, you can upgrade just your amp, you’re not going to have to get a whole new system just because one component isn’t up to par anymore.

Cons of Amplifiers

  • More Expensive Option – Price is going to be a big factor with amplifiers or separates. You’re going to have to invest a bit more money into your system if you want to have all of your components separated.
  • Takes Up More Space – With an amplifier and separates you are going to need a bit more space to completely set up the full system. Since each component is self contained, the system as a whole takes up much more space than an all-in-one setup with a receiver.

Should you use a Receiver or an Amplifier?

So which one should you choose for your setup? Well if you’re putting your theater system in a room that isn’t too large, doesn’t need huge speakers, you’re only a casual movie watcher/music listener, or you just want the convenient choice, then definitely go with a receiver!

If you’re an audiophile who wants the absolute best sound quality possible, you’re setting up a system with pretty large speakers for a larger room, or you want your system to be personalized specifically for you, then an amplifier with separates is probably the right choice.

Different Types of Receivers

With receivers, you have a few choices, depending on your system’s needs. The main two types of receivers are stereo receivers and A/V receivers. Here is my list of recommended receivers!

Should you Use a Receiver or an Amplifier

Stereo Receivers

Stereo receivers are purely for audio, they usually have functions like radios, input selectors for picking different audio sources, and volume controls, but they usually won’t come with any support for video sources.

These are for people who aren’t interested in a home theater but just want a convenient setup for them to listen to their music. And it’s still a great cost-efficient option to power your speakers for casually listening to music!

A/V (Audio/Video) Receivers

A/V receivers or audio-video receivers are a bit different from stereo receivers. They contain support for audio and video, hence the A/V. A/V receivers usually have spaces for multiple inputs so you can connect things like media streaming devices, Blu-ray players, gaming consoles, and others to your speakers and TV.

This is great for someone who wants an easy way to consolidate all the components of their home theater without too much hassle. If you’re someone who wants a convenient way to set up their home theater, this is probably the route you want to take!

Related Questions

Do you need a receiver and amplifier? Typically, no. An A/V receiver has a built-in amplifier. An A/V receiver is able to receive an audio signal, process it, amplify the signal to the speakers, and allow video to pass-through to a TV or projector. While an amplifier is only able to receive and audio signal, process it, and amplify the signal to different speakers. Most all setups will only need an A/V receiver or an amplifier, never both.

What is the difference between a preamplifier and an amplifier? A preamplifier provides a small amount of power to a boost a weaker signal to line level. An amplifier uses much more power to boost the power of a line level signal to a level in which it can be used by speakers.

Isn’t the audio going to be worse in an all-in-one system like a receiver? This isn’t necessarily true because now-a-days audio quality of receivers is very comparable to an amplifier’s. The difference, though, is a receiver setup won’t be as personalized as one where you pick each component separately. Though for most consumers it shouldn’t be much of a problem.

Can you just connect all the components to my TV? Many TV’s won’t have enough input slots to accommodate all of your devices, and if they do, you probably won’t get the same audio quality through your TV as you would with speakers and a receiver

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