Amplifiers vs Receivers: What’s the Difference?

Setting up a home theater system in your home is now easier than before, thanks to most components being simplified over the years. Many home theater systems are usually composed of the following: main AV receiver, speaker selector unit, main speakers (the larger ones), home theater speakers (the smaller ones), and either an amplifier or receiver unit.

However, there is a debate among the audiophile community (especially home theater aficionados) about the last components mentioned. The common question boils down to is it an amplifier or a receiver? Many first-time owners of home theater systems are caught confused by the topic of amplifiers vs receivers. Is there a major difference between the two components? Is one better than the other overall?

It doesn’t help that both words have been interchanged with one another on many occasions for many years now. But like any other device, both are different devices that you should properly learn about when it comes to correctly setting up your home theater system. So understanding the basics of each item wouldn’t hurt and help you better choose which to get over the other. Read on to learn more.

Amplifiers Vs Receivers
Home Theater System (From AV Gadgets)

What Is an Amplifier?

An amplifier is a device where the signals of a sound source pass through. Those are then amplified to be played to the corresponding speaker unit the amplifier has been paired with.

What Is a Receiver?

A receiver, on the other hand, is basically an amplifier unit beefed up with additional functions. Those functions are the following: tuner, preamp, radio function, input selection, and volume controls. Aside from those mentioned, a receiver can be further customized to have more additional functions if a user desires so.

Suppose you want to set up a home theater system with all its additional functions in a standalone format (i.e. separate units for the amp, preamp, tuner, radio function, volume control, etc.). In that case, you will need an amplifier for that. That kind of setup is usually coined as “separates”, as all-important control functions and features are their own solo devices.

If you want to have a setup with a single component featuring all functions you want, you should go for a receiver unit instead. This is a better option for those who don’t have a spacious location in their home for a home theater setup. Additionally, you won’t be needing to fiddle with additional components as everything can be found in the receiver instead.

You might be now wondering if you should directly go for a receiver instead and totally forget about the amplifier. However, that would be a bad move, as there are several pros that an amplifier offers over a receiver, which we will look at in further detail later on.

Standalone Amplifier vs Separates: What Are They?

Marantz PM6007 review | What Hi-Fi?
Marantz Stereo Amp (From Amazon)

Speaking of amplifiers, they are a basic necessity if you want to make sure that your speaker units will work. Without an amplifier, speaker units of any design and model won’t work with your system at all.

The reason why your speakers won’t work without it is due to the amplifier being responsible for sending the required amount of power for the speaker to work. In addition, it provides the required power of each type of speaker unit that it is paired with. Therefore, it is required for home theater systems and sound setups with larger speaker units in order for those to work without a receiver.

However, note that just having a single, standalone amplifier is enough for a decent sound system setup. You will still need additional things to fully utilize the power of a sound system setup. This is where the previously mentioned term “separates” comes into the picture, as a single amplifier can be called a “separates” by default. Other separates are usually either the preamp or processor. Then, of course, the last would be the speaker units themselves.

Now, we will look into receivers more in the next sections, so take note if you want to have a receiver instead of separates instead for your home theater setup.

Amplifiers vs Receivers: When To Use Them

Onkyo AV Receiver Unit (from Onkyo)

If having a tool or component with the full package is the most convenient for you, you should get a receiver rather than an amplifier for your home theater setup. However, do take note that not all instances of a receiver are better than an amplifier. Likewise, there will be some situations that an amplifier will be the best choice over a receiver.

Still, having the convenience of connecting and setting up your home theater components into a single unit is pretty nice and convenient to many. In addition, you won’t be needing to bother yourself in setting up many components, where it can be taxing and confusing for first-timers setting up their system.

In a receiver unit, you can basically connect your TV, speaker units, various consoles, and other devices and systems compatible with it. You won’t be needing to set them up individually, as you only need to set up the receiver unit instead.

However, you will need to ditch a receiver and go full amplifier if the purpose of your home theater is for consuming music like music videos. It is also the preferred setup of many hardcore audiophiles who like to play their favorite tracks in their system.

To put it simply, if you are aiming for a complex and music-oriented home theater or sound system setup, then an amplifier is the right choice for you. But if the purpose of your said setup is for consuming movies, TV series, and playing game consoles, then having a receiver is the right and recommended choice.

What Are the Different Types of Receivers Units?

For most receiver units currently present in the global market today, there are currently known two types. Each type of receiver has a specific purpose that it is made for. Therefore, if you plan to have a receiver setup for your home theater setup, it is highly advised for you to know about those two types of receivers. Here are they:

Stereo Receiver

Denon DRA-800H Stereo Receiver (From Amazon)

This type of receiver is purposely meant for the playback of audio-only. This means that it is best used for setups that are music-oriented since it provides functions related to playbacks such as radio function, input selectors, and dedicated volume controls. Unfortunately, that means that this type of receiver doesn’t support any video playback at all. Therefore, you will need a different receiver unit for that purpose.

This Denon DRA-800H Stereo Receiver will be perfect for those who love to casually listen to music in their home via a sound system setup.

A/V (Audio/Video) Receiver

Pioneer VSX-534 A/V Receiver (From Amazon)

If you intend to watch multimedia files such as movies, TV series or even play consoles in your home theater setup, having an A/V (Audio/Video) Receiver is the way to go. As its name suggests, it is meant for handling both audio and video playback. In addition, it is notable for multiple input ports on its back, where they can be used to connect various devices such as Blu-ray players and even some gaming consoles. Aside from those, it is also where your speaker units connect to.

This would be the perfect choice for those who are constantly consuming multimedia files, both audio and video. And for people who are into gaming, this kind of setup will help elevate their gaming experience at home. The Pioneer VSX-534 A/V Receiver is an example of an excellent A/V Receiver.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Each Component?

As with any kind of device, there will surely be pros and cons for it. Both amplifiers and receiver components have their own sets of pros and cons. It is best to know them for each component, as it will significantly help you choose the correct one for your setup.

Receivers: Pros

  • All-in-One – as the name suggests, all of the essential features and functions are handled by a receiver unit. This eliminates the need for individual components (separates) that are only made for a single function or feature. This is great for individuals who don’t have spare time to bother themselves in setting up a system that can be complex at times.
  • Space Saver – thanks to it being a single unit, a receiver doesn’t eat up as much space when compared to separates, which can come in many numbers due to each being a single component.
  • Generally Cheaper – since a receiver unit is an all-in-one device, you will be saving a lot by not buying individual components that you will need for your home theater or sound system setup.

Receivers: Cons

  • Amplifier Properties are Lower – as mentioned earlier, a receiver is a beefed-up amplifier with additional features combined into one component. Unfortunately, the amplifying properties of a receiver are significantly lower than a dedicated and standalone amplifier. That means that you will not be getting the best sound quality when it comes to playing music.
  • Upgrading Means Replacing the Whole Unit – if in the future you want to upgrade your home theater system, unfortunately, you will need to replace the whole receiver unit during that process. And since it is an all-in-one unit, there is no way that you can replace and upgrade any features it has. So you must instead purchase a new unit with better features and built-in components.

Amplifiers (Separates): Pros

  • Separates Have More Freedom – unlike a receiver, in a setup with separates, you have the total freedom of choosing what components to have in your setup. You can even mix and match what components to be added to your setup, giving you the freedom to make experimental setups as you please. Additionally, you can get other features and functions separately, unlike in a receiver unit wherein you are stuck on what it currently has.
  • Upgrade Friendly – since most features and functions in your setup are individual components, you can easily upgrade them by simply buying a better version of that particular component. Need a new preamp, tuner, or amplifier? Just buy a newer and enhanced version at your local supplier! Additionally, it also makes repairs much cheaper and easier, as you can easily pinpoint what component must be fixed.

Amplifiers (Separates): Cons

  • Separates are Expensive – this would be one of the biggest and well-known cons of having a setup with separates. Since you are buying more devices, expect to have a bigger bill when purchasing a new home theater or sound system set up in this kind of format. Furthermore, some components can significantly cost more than others, so be sure to have a bigger budget when aiming for this kind of setup.
  • Consumes More Space – in a setup with separates, it is given that it will consume a lot of space as each of the features and functions present in the setup are individual components. This might become an issue for those who don’t have enough space for this kind of setup. Avoid this kind of setup if your location is only enough for your necessities.

Conclusion: Amplifiers vs Receivers

Choosing between the two might be a hard choice for you, especially if it is your first time setting up a home theater or sound system. However, it is quite easy to choose between the two as long as you know what purpose your setup is meant for. This is very crucial at the start.

Choose a receiver if you aim to have either a home theater or sound system set up that isn’t composed of many devices. Also, consider choosing this option if the location you are planning to use isn’t spacious enough to accommodate a huge number of devices and equipment. Speaking of receivers, do also take note of the types of receivers units to use: stereo receivers are only meant for music listening and playback, while A/V receivers are meant for consuming multimedia files such as movies and TV series. It can also be used for gaming consoles, from which many gamers can greatly benefit.

On the other hand, choose an amplifier if you want to have the freedom of fully customizing a specific feature and function to your specification. This is also applicable if you have a large and dedicated place for placing many components and devices in a single location. Additionally, if you want to be able to upgrade your current setup in the near future, then having standalone components (a.k.a. separates) is the best choice for you. Nothing beats having the ease of upgradability of your devices when you want to have a better and newer experience when it comes to consuming multimedia files in the comfort of your own home.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Is an amplifier required for an A/V receiver?

In most setups, the simple answer is no. As mentioned earlier, a receiver is still an amplifier, only with added features and functions that an amplifier lacks on its end. In the case of an A/V receiver unit, it has its own built-in amplifier specifically meant for both audio and video playback (i.e. watching movies, etc.). Therefore, most home theater setups with an A/V receiver will only have the said unit, and the amplifier is not included in the said setup.

2. What are the differences between a preamplifier and amplifiers?

Both function in the same way, but the only difference between the two is how much power each device uses when amplifying audio signals towards the speaker units. A preamplifier only uses a small amount of power to send audio signals to the line level. Meanwhile, an amplifier uses a certain amount of power to send signals to the speaker units, making it work as a result.

3. When using a receiver, is the audio quality poor?

One of the cons of using a receiver instead of an amplifier is that it will may have inferior audio quality and output when compared to each other. However, that doesn’t mean that receivers are bad at producing sound; nowadays, many newer models of receiver units have built-in amplifiers that can noticeably match the output quality and performance of a dedicated amplifier. The only problem is that the user won’t be able to fully customize the built-in amplifier of a receiver unit, unlike in a standalone amplifier unit.

4. Can TVs act like a receiver and connect all components all at once?

Unfortunately, the answer to this is a big no. Most TV models these days aren’t designed to handle and connect many components to it at the same time. Even if there are models that can do so, the audio quality will suffer heavily as a result since the speakers of a TV aren’t made to be powerful enough as individual speaker units connected to a receiver.

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