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Using Stereo Receivers & Amplifiers for Home Theater

the front selector controls of an amplifier

Stereo receivers and amplifiers can be ideal to use in your home theater system, but it is an option that is often overlooked by many people.

I discussed in the guide to hooking up surround sound, that you can improve the sound in any home theater system by adding a separate amplifier and speakers.

But, you have two main choices when looking at amplifiers to improve your TV sound – you can have a stereo amplifier/receiver for stereo audio – or an AV amplifier/receiver for multichannel audio.

In this article, I will discuss using stereo amplifiers and receivers.

If you are more interested in surround sound, take a look at my guide to the best AV receivers for home theater.

What Are Stereo Amplifiers?

The easiest way to improve the sound in your room is to use a simple stereo amplifier.

You may have one of these as part of your home stereo system already.

Stereo amplifiers take the 2-channel stereo audio output signal of a device, and then send this audio to the connected speakers. This type of amplifier has two speakers connected to it – audio left and right.

Most music and TV sound are produced using stereo audio.

Connecting a Blu-ray player to a stereo amplifier and TV
Connecting a Blu-ray player to a stereo amplifier and TV

Therefore, you can take the 2-channel output of your CD player, DVD player, cable box, PS3 – whatever – plug it into an input on the amplifier, and you’ve improved the sound in the room straight away.

What Is a Stereo Receiver?

So what’s the difference between a stereo amplifier and a stereo receiver?

Not much.

When you see the term receiver used with hi-fi or home cinema equipment – it just means it is a 2-channel amplifier that powers your speakers.

Why the word receiver then?

It just means the amplifier also has a built-in radio tuner – and that is the only reason it is called a receiver rather than an amplifier.

Rear view of stereo amplifier connections
Stereo amplifier rear connections

The receiver will probably need connecting to an appropriate aerial/antenna to receive the radio signal – but you can pick up radio channels on the receiver and send this to the speakers.

You will also have all the other 2-channel inputs just like an amplifier to plug in your CD, DVD player, PS3, etc.

Some of you may have a separate radio tuner unit as part of your Hi-Fi setup. Well, the stereo receiver just has one of these built-in.

Apart from that, there is no difference between an amplifier and a receiver. You may well use the receiver purely as an amplifier – and may not even use the built-in tuner.

Stereo or Surround Sound?

So why might you want a stereo receiver rather than a multichannel AV receiver?

There are a few reasons.

Firstly, and probably the main reason is that a quality 2-channel receiver will probably give you more bang for your buck – a better quality sound at a cheaper cost.

A stereo receiver/amplifier only has one purpose – to amplify the sound. They will be designed to give you a great sound for music – and will probably be able to do a good job for TV and DVD audio too.

An AV receiver is designed to handle multichannel audio and video signals – and you will probably have to spend a great deal more money on an AV receiver in order to get a comparable sound quality to a stereo amplifier.

It’s not that an AV receiver will sound terrible – but if you’re used to the sound of a good stereo amplifier and speakers – you may find the audio quality of an AV receiver isn’t quite up to the same standard.

You may find the audio of TV and movies sounds fine – but the playback of music is where you may notice the difference.

Another reason is that you may already own a high-end stereo amplifier – and have it connected to an excellent pair of speakers.

For no extra cost you can connect your AV equipment to your existing setup – and benefit from the excellent sound quality that your Hi-Fi amplifier provides.

Plenty of TV sound is still transmitted in stereo – and all DVDs/Blu-rays will have a good quality stereo mix included.

So, you can still benefit from a vastly improved experience when watching TV, DVD and Blu-ray.

Stereo Receivers and Subwoofers

However, if you are hoping to use a stereo amplifier/receiver for a 2.1 sound system – front left and right speakers with a subwoofer – then you should be careful.

There aren’t so many stereo amplifiers with a subwoofer output – and if you find one, they are usually the more expensive models.

Cambridge Audio CXA61 Stereo Amplifier
Cambridge Audio CXA61 Stereo Amplifier
Image Credit: Cambridge Audio

There are a few about – like the Cambridge Audio CXA61 pictured here – but as a rule, most stereo amplifiers won’t have a subwoofer output.

However, that still doesn’t mean you can’t use a subwoofer.

Many subwoofers will have what is known as a high-level input.

A high-level subwoofer input is different from the more common low-level input. It takes a full-range speaker signal – taken from the same outputs that power your stereo speakers.

You can then use a built-in filter and volume control on the sub to balance the amount of bass with that from your front speakers.

Just make sure that the subwoofer you buy has a high-level input.

You can also use a stereo pre-out connection if this is supported by your amplifier and subwoofer.

For more on this, learn how to wire a subwoofer in my guide to hooking up a sub.

Other options for a 2.1 setup are either to:

  1. Buy an AV receiver – and just connect it as 2.1 rather than 5.1 (you can upgrade later if you wish)
  2. Get a 2.1 all-in-one home theater system
  3. Buy a stereo or 2.1 soundbar system

Who Makes the Best Stereo Receiver?

So where do you start when looking for a stereo amplifier/receiver?

There are quite a few manufacturers building very high quality receivers/amplifiers – and there are a range of options depending on your budget.

There are more manufacturers to choose from than for AV receivers – although most AV receiver manufacturers will also make 2-channel receivers.

Mainly because the market for stereo amplifiers/receivers has been around for far longer.

The main manufacturers of stereo amplifiers and receivers to look out for are:

  • Denon
  • Marantz
  • Onkyo
  • Rotel
  • Yamaha
  • Harman Kardon
  • NAD
  • Pioneer
  • Sony

Buying Guide: What to Look For

The main things to look out for when looking for a 2-channel amplifier are:


The use of stereo receivers and amplifiers in a home theater setup is often dismissed.

Many people are either happy with the sound from their TV speakers (or don’t know any better), or they automatically go straight for a surround sound AV receiver when they decide to improve their home theater experience.

However, while I think surround sound is fantastic, I appreciate there are people who are quite happy with stereo sound – and have become used to a great sound with a high-quality stereo amplifier and speakers.

So don’t dismiss the option of a 2-channel amplifier/receiver in your home cinema system at home. It can give you excellent sound.

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About The Author

Paul started the Home Cinema Guide to help less-experienced users get the most out of today's audio-visual technology. He has been a sound, lighting and audio-visual engineer for around 20 years. At home, he has spent more time than is probably healthy installing, configuring, testing, de-rigging, fixing, tweaking, re-installing again (and sometimes using) various pieces of hi-fi and home cinema equipment. You can find out more here.

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