A/V Receiver: Next Level of Home Theater

With home theater technology getting better and better, it’s getting easier and easier to approximate a theater-like experience in your living room. Out of the box combo systems, called integrated systems, that include Blu-Ray or DVD players, and an A/V receiver are user friendly; but if you really want to take your home listening and viewing to the next level, a separate A/V receiver is the first step toward a complete home theater. Of course, there are a few things that you need to be aware of, before you make the purchase.

What IS an A/V Receiver?http://theater in a box

A receiver is a single unit that includes a pre-amplifier, a tuner and an amplifier. These three things receive the audio, or video signals from whatever sources you connect to it, and process them to an output. For example, audio output might be translated to speakers; video output might be translated to a television, or laptop monitor.

These days, A/V receivers have any number of “standard” outputs, including an RCA/Analog Audio output, a Digital Audio output, a Separate Video Output, a Component Video Output, and a Composite Video Output. And, A/V receivers can be connected to any number of devices, including a Blu-Ray player, a TV, speakers, your iPod, cable/satellite or even video Games. Most newer A/V receivers even have additional “tuner” features to include satellite radio, in addition to the AM/FM bandwidths. The Yamaha RX-V475 is an example of a standard receiver, with newer amenities.


Think of “channels” like paths; the number of channels that a receiver has is the number of paths it will follow to a set number of speakers. Obviously, it’s not as simple as the “path” that the sound follows; the channels indicate the full range of audio frequencies. The industry standard is 5.1, which refers to a speaker location pattern: left, right, center, left surround and right surround. Newer, 7.1, or even greater numbers, are now available, which also include locations like left rear, and right rear. For example, the Sony STRZA5000ES 9.2-channel AV Receiver has nine channels. The “.1” refers to LFE, or Low Frequency Effects, or bass sounds.

Having a working knowledge of these numbers is important for choosing the correct number of channels, both for the size of your space, and for your other components. If you are outfitting a smaller room, you may want to chose a 5.1, like the Yamaha RX-V481, for example. And, as you continue to building your home theater system, piece by piece, you will want to pay attention to the channel ratings on each new component, being sure that you are buying items that are rated to match your receiver’s capabilities.

Matching Speaker Power

One of the most important parts of choosing an A/V receiver, is making sure the receiver has enough power for the speakers. Speakers are rated in a power measurement (Watts), and in impedance (Ohm). Most current receiver models have variable impedance, to automatically adjust to match the impedance of the speakers; the impedance between the two must be equal. However, equally important is the output rating of the speakers, which must be equal to, or less than, the power of the receiver. Counter-intuitively, more powerful speakers do not provide better sound, unless they are matched to an appropriate receiver; in fact, they will overpower the amplifier and slowly destroy it. The Cambridge Audio CXR200 has variable impedance, with a minimum impedance of 4 Ohm.


Like all home theater investments, cost is a factor in choosing an A/V receiver. There are plenty on the market under $1,000. For example, the Pioneer Elite SC-81 7.2 is very highly rated, and is relatively inexpensive. However, many are well over that cost; like the Marantz SR7010 9.2, which is also very highly rated, but for a distinctly higher cost point. Like any large purchase, evaluate your needs and compare that to your budget, before you buy.

Warranty and Service

Like any other electronics purchase, be aware of warranty information on your receiver. The industry standard on an A/V receiver is 12 months. Additionally, shop for a product that offers customer service, both for set up, and for any maintenance. If you are a home theater novice, or even an audiophile, setting up an A/V receiver can be intimidating, so make sure you have access to decent customer service, before you buy.

An A/V receiver doesn’t get a lot of attention because it’s not especially showy. It doesn’t play your Blu-Ray discs, or turn your records; but, it does make those experiences better, if you’ve got one. It’s a great first step toward building, or expanding a home theater. Not only is the A/V receiver the foundation to a next-level home theater, it’s the heart of any system.


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