Knowing that you have the right equipment can help boost your home entertainment setup. When it comes to choosing between an amplifier and a receiver, many newcomers to AV technology may require some additional context to understand what will best suit their system.
Should you buy an amplifier or a receiver? If you only need to amplify audio from a playback device (TV, smartphone, turntable, etc.), then a “regular” integrated amplifier is the unit to purchase. If you need amplification along with a radio tuner and video functionality, then an AV receiver is the unit to buy.
In this article, we'll break down amplifiers and receivers in greater detail to give you the information you need to make an informed purchasing decision.
Amplifiers Vs. Receivers
It is best for those seeking to enhance their home system’s sound quality to understand better what a receiver and an amplifier actually do. Since there's significant overlap in the purpose of the units, it is best to learn the differences between them so that you can complete the home theatre system of your dreams.
What Is An Amplifier?
Amplifiers are designed to function as standalone devices or as components or circuits within a device. An amplifier is an electronic device that gives an incoming audio signal a boost in level.
There are numerous examples of amplifiers in audio, though when we're discussing home audio systems, we're almost always discussing integrated amplifiers.
Integrated amplifiers have both a preamplifier and a power amplifier.
Preamplifiers bring low-level signals up to line level, while power amplifiers bring line level signals up to speaker level.
In terms of “low-level” signals, we're typically concerned with phono level outputs from turntables and record players. An integrated amplifier's preamp (or a standalone preamp) will boost this signal to line level.
Most recorded audio signals are considered “line level”. This includes analog and digital sources. Line level signals are not strong enough to drive loudspeakers. An integrated amplifier's power amp (or a standalone power amp) will amplify the signal strength in order to provide the speakers with sufficient levels so that the loudspeaker drivers can effectively produce sound.
Related article: Are Audio Amplifiers Analog Or Digital Devices?
So if you're only concerned with amplifying audio and do not plan on ever needing video functionality or a radio tuner, an amplifier is a worthy investment.
Furthermore, if you aren't running phono level signals, you can get away with a power amplifier rather than an integrated amplifier to save on costs.
Note that an amplifier is a single unit. If you purchase one with proper inputs and outputs, you can decide later whether you want to connect a radio tuner, preamp, etc., to the system. Being able to mix and match like this can give greater control over unit selection and make for easier upgrades at the expense of space and higher price points.
What Is A Receiver?
A receiver is effectively an amplifier with additional controls, often including video, remote control, and a radio tuner. It is one of the most fundamental parts of any entertainment system, performing a range of essential tasks that connects each piece of your sound system together.
With the capacity to host numerous devices such as game consoles, home-video players, projectors, TVs, and speakers, a good receiver makes every device in your system functional and easy to use.
Have you ever experienced manually switching cables as you toggle through your various devices? If so, you'll likely enjoy having a receiver that saves you the time and effort of reaching for cables at the back of your player only to retrace your steps when you decide to switch devices back.
By enabling users to automatically switch speaker modes to provide them with an awesome surround sound experience, receivers come in extremely handy as they offer great control over an audio system’s numerous options.
With the capacity to accommodate most of your multi-media devices, receivers offer instant advantages to your sound system by effortlessly advancing its sound and performance.
Receivers handle the sound that comes from the various consoles and connected devices, intricately advancing and intensifying their quality to allow each tonal element to feel and sound better.
If you want audio-video and radio functionality in a single unit that also includes an amplifier, then a receiver is the choice for you.
While dedicated amplifiers tend to offer better sound quality to price ratios, there's no debating the advantages of video and radio functionality. So if you're at all concerned with multi-media, consider a single receiver unit over having to connect multiple devices together for your AV needs.
So Should I Buy An Amplifier Or Receiver?
Let's break down the reasons why you'd want to buy either an amplifier or a receiver.
Reasons why you should buy an amplifier rather than a receiver:
- You're not concerned with radio, video, or other functions in a single unit.
- You want the best audio quality to price ratio.
- You're interested in the modularity of individual units and have space for them.
- You'd rather upgrade individual components as necessary than have to replace an entire receiver unit.
Once you've decided that an amplifier is the right choice for your system, there are more factors to consider. That's why I put together The Ultimate Power Amplifier Buyer’s Guide
Reasons why you should buy a receiver rather than an amplifier:
- You want audio, radio, video, or other functions in a single unit.
- You like the simplicity of a single unit.
- You have limited space.
If you've decided that a receiver is the right choice for your system, there are also more factors to consider. That's why I put together The Ultimate AV Receiver/Amplifier Buyer’s Guide.
Often the much cheaper and more conducive option for a sound system set-up, a receiver is the obvious choice for those who aim to impress during movie and game nights.
Although a high-quality amplifier may hold users back considerably in terms of functionality, they are the best choice for audio quality.