The terms “amplifier” and “receiver” are very similar yet distinguishable when it comes to audio/sound systems.
If you're wondering which device would be best for your system or are just curious as to the differences between the two, then you've come to the right place!
What are the differences between an amplifier and a receiver? The main difference between a “regular” integrated amplifier and a receiver regarding sound systems is that a receiver has a built-in radio section, and an amplifier does not. So, then, all receivers are technically amplifiers (with radio functionality), but not all amplifiers are receivers.
In this article, we'll first define what amplifiers are and then look at how receivers build upon the functionality of such amplifiers. We'll wrap up the article by looking at examples of amplifiers and receivers to help solidify our understanding of the difference between the two devices.
What Is An Amplifier?
Let's get started by defining what an amplifier is.
What is an amplifier? An audio amplifier is an electronic device that increases an audio signal's amplitude (power/voltage/current). Amplifiers utilize electric power (from a power supply) to amplify the audio signal by a specified amount of gain (the ratio of output voltage, current, or power to input).
Amplifiers come in a wide variety of forms. They can be designed within various audio equipment types (microphones, hardware processors like equalizers and compressors, active loudspeakers, powered mixers, etc.).
The term amplifier also applies to individual audio components such as operational amplifiers, transistors and vacuum tubes.
They can also be designed and manufactured as standalone units, which is the style we'll focus on today.
There are plenty of ways to categorize amplifiers. For example, we could split them up by class (Class A, Class A-B, Class B, etc.), by the number of channels (monoblock, dual mono, stereo, surround, etc.), and more.
The factor we're most concerned with in this article for standalone amplifiers found in most consumer-grade and audiophile sound systems is that referring to the signal type being amplified.
By that, I mean whether the amplifier is a preamplifier, a power amplifier or an integrated amplifier.
What is a preamplifier? A preamplifier is an amp that amplifies low-level signals up to what is known as line level. Preamps are typically required to bring up a microphone signal, some instrument signals, and/or signals from vinyl records up to line level to properly drive power amplifiers or process and record line-level signals.
What is a power amplifier? A power amplifier is an amp that amplifies line level signals (from a preamp, some electronic instruments or most recorded audio formats) up to speaker level in order to drive loudspeakers properly.
What is an integrated amplifier? An integrated amplifier is a single unit that combines a preamplifier circuit and a power amplifier circuit.
Home sound systems (entertainment systems, home theatres, etc.) will require, at the very least, a power amplifier to drive passive speakers. Many people opt for integrated amplifiers for the additional capabilities of amplifying low-level signals.
However, much of the audio we access today (from streaming, hard drives, CDs, etc.) is already at line level and thereby only requires a power amplifier.
Related article: Top 11 Best Power Amplifier Brands In The World
My New Microphone has plenty of information on amplifiers. Check out the Amplifier category of the website by clicking here.
What Is A Receiver?
What is a receiver? In terms of audio/sound systems, a receiver is an electronic device that contains an amplifier (often a stereo-integrated or surround sound integrated amp) and some sort of built-in radio tuner.
Receivers will often have a visual component as well (making them “audio/video receivers” or AVRs). These devices will not only amplify and route audio from various sources. They will also process video signals and route them to their intended displays (television, monitor or video projector, etc.).
Note that Bluetooth is a popular method of transferring audio wirelessly in the modern world of technology. The Bluetooth protocols actually utilize radio waves (at and around 2.4 GHz) to transfer information digitally.
However, when it comes to semantics, if an amplifier has Bluetooth functionality but does not have a regular radio tuner, then it is still labelled an amplifier (and not a receiver).
But this is all just terminology. So long as you read the specs about what a unit does, you'll be able to discern whether it's the right product for your setup! More on that in a moment.
Related article: Top 11 Best AV Receiver Brands In The World
What Should You Choose For Your System?
So, what should you choose for your own sound system? If you want radio capabilities or a single unit for audio and video, you'll need a receiver. Otherwise, I'd suggest opting for an amplifier.
Without any additional circuitry for the radio unit and video hardware, amplifier manufacturers can improve the amp's performance-to-price ratio while also reducing the unit's physical space.
In other words, amplifiers are more “focused” on their task of amplifying audio and will generally perform better than their equally-priced receiver counterparts.
Strictly for audio purposes, you'll likely get a better product in an amplifier. However, it can be nice to have a single unit to take care of your home AV needs, in which case an AV receiver is the logical choice.
Of course, there are many specifications to consider when choosing either an amplifier or a receiver for your speaker setup. These specs include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Number of channels (mono, stereo, surround, etc.)
- Output impedance
- Power rating
- Tone control
For more information, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• Receiver Or Amplifier: Which One Should I Buy?
• The Complete Guide To Power Amplifier Specifications & Data
Let's look at a few examples of standalone audio amplifiers. We'll discuss an example of a preamplifier, a power amplifier and an integrated amplifier.
The NAD C 165BEE is a stereo preamplifier with a phono section for connecting to phonograph/record players.
The Niles SI-2150 is a stereo power amplifier with independent right and left-channel level controls and a mono bridged mode.
The Yamaha A-S301 is a stereo integrated amplifier with both analog and digital inputs.
We could go even further and begin to discuss the preamplifiers and power amplifiers used for microphones, instruments and recording technology at large. However, in this article, we'll keep our focus on amplifiers and receivers for consumer applications.
My New Microphone has plenty of additional resources on amplifiers. Consider reading through the articles in the Amplifier category.
Let's now turn our focus to a couple of examples of audio receivers.
The Denon AVR-X7200W is an integrated network receiver with a left/right-separated monolithic amplifier design. It has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Dolby Atmos capabilities and can handle up to 11.2 channels.
The Sony STRZA5000ES is a 9.2-channel AV receiver with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X capabilities. It boasts 130 W of power per channel and offers automatic calibration of each channel to tailor its performance to the listening environment.
Does an amplifier improve sound quality? Amplifiers increase the signal level of audio and, when driving transducers (speakers, headphones), increase the perceived loudness of the sound. Amplifiers will have some effect on the quality of the audio signal, and some amplifiers will sound better than others, both subjectively and objectively.
Related article: Do Amplifiers Improve Sound Quality?
Do loudspeakers need amplifiers? Loudspeakers require amplifiers to be driven properly. Amplifiers will amplify line level (or mic, instrument or phono level) signals to speaker level and convert the audio signal's impedance. The resulting power and impedance of the amplifier output signal can drive the speaker(s) to produce adequate sound levels.
Related article: Why Do Speakers Need Amplifiers? (And How To Match Them)
Choosing the best AV receiver for your AV setup can be a daunting task. For this reason, I've created My New Microphone's Comprehensive AV Receiver Buyer's Guide. Check it out for help choosing the centrepiece of your entertainment system.
Choosing the best power amplifier for your car, home sound system, or pro audio application can be a complicated assignment. For this reason, I've created My New Microphone's Comprehensive Power Amplifier Buyer's Guide. Check it out for help choosing the best power amp for your applications.