It has been five years since we wrote extensively about what an AV receiver is, and five years later a lot has changed. The basis of a receiver is still the same, but the possibilities and extra features have been expanded considerably in recent years. In this article we explain what a receiver is exactly and what you should pay attention to when buying one.
From all-in-one to a separate receiver
If you are just starting out as a home cinema enthusiast, chances are that the receiver is a new device for you. Most simple home cinema systems (from a few hundred euros) use a built-in receiver. Consider, for example, a Blu-ray home cinema set where the speakers are connected to the player, or a soundbar where no separate receiver is visible. However, if you want to make the step in quality and start putting together a home cinema system yourself, you really cannot ignore the AV receiver.
What is an AV receiver?
Simply put, an AV receiver is the centerpiece of your home cinema system – provided you have a system with separate components. The device receives all incoming signals, both wireless and wired and both audio and video. Think of the input of a Blu-ray player, game console, CD player, smartphone or media box. All these components are connected to the receiver (receiver), hence the large number of connections on the back (and at the front) of the receiver. The receiver is the central hub of the system, and due to its wireless capabilities, nowadays often also of the multiroom system in the house. You don’t have to connect devices directly; everything goes through the central receiver.
When all inputs (sources) are connected, the receiver ensures that the signals from these devices are sent to the components that need to display them, also connected by cable or in the case of multiroom streaming wirelessly. Normally this involves a TV (or projector) and a speaker system. Most receivers have speaker connections for at least a 5.1-channel (five speakers and a subwoofer) system, but with a larger budget you can also find receivers that support 11.2-channel or even larger systems. It all depends on the speaker setup that you have in mind. In most cases, at least one HDMI output is available for connecting a display or projector. More expensive receivers come with an extra HDMI output for a second zone or a separate projector.
The receiver offers you the possibility to switch between all inputs and outputs, and thus get the desired signal on the desired display device. It’s fairly easy for video; in most cases the receiver does nothing with this and is sent from the source to the screen or the projector. The audio is a different story, because in most cases the audio will have to be played by the speakers connected to the receiver. As indicated above, home cinema receivers come with a minimum of five speaker outputs and one subwoofer output. You can connect speakers to these ports using a speaker cable.
What is an AV receiver – The amplifier
However, something else is needed to control the analog speakers; the amplifier. The amplifier is a very important part of the receiver because it ensures the correct supply to the speakers. The receiver receives the signal, for example from your Blu-ray player, your media box or (wirelessly) via your smartphone. Subsequently, the (digital) signal is converted to an analog signal with which the speakers can be controlled. For example, if you send a Dolby True HD audio track to the receiver via Blu-ray, then the receiver knows which signal should go to which speaker. The whole story of ‘decoding’ is done by the receiver.
If you connect a component analogously, the decoding will have to be done by the source. The amplifier, the part that then provides the speakers with analog input, is very important. Receivers therefore always receive specifications about the amplifier class, wattage and impedance (resistance). This says something about the quality and the speakers you can connect to it, but not everything.
Power and impedance
Perhaps the first thing many people look at is the power of a receiver, but this specification is often overestimated. Most entry-level receivers can control almost all consumer speakers without any problems and the wattage of a receiver is measured by manufacturers in different ways. To compare a wattage of two receivers, you have to pay attention to the resistance and the number of channels that are controlled. Some manufacturers try to communicate a higher wattage through certain methods in order to get more consumer attention. In short, you can use the wattage as a guideline but not as a starting point.
A higher wattage also hardly says anything about the quality of the sound. A 60 Watt receiver can easily sound better than a 100 Watt receiver. Also, 10 watts more does not mean that you can hear that the receiver can be louder. Only a small number of Watts are used continuously and you are therefore not constantly at 120 Watts, for example. Still, a wattage is important for your speakers. These have to be controlled. If your speaker indicates that it can handle 120 Watts, a 60 Watt receiver (depending on how it is measured) may not be the best choice. On the other hand, it is also too quickly thought that a 150 Watt receiver will damage the speaker. The receiver is then even less likely to reach its max than a receiver with less power and therefore poses a smaller risk for your speakers. To make a long story short; if you are in doubt between two AV receivers and one has a little more power than the other, don’t let the decision depend on this. Listen, get advice and choose based on your experience.
Impedance, or resistance, is a specification that receives a lot of attention and partly deserves. Simply put, impedance indicates what the resistance of the speaker is to the signal from the receiver / amplifier. You should not take the given resistance rating of the speaker literally. For example, a loudspeaker normally never has a constant resistance of x ohms. That’s because the resistance fluctuates with pitch. The important thing to know is that a low resistance puts a greater load on the amplifier. If a receiver delivers 80 watts at a resistance of 8 ohms, this means that the wattage will be higher with a 6 ohm speaker. If a speaker has less resistance than the output of your receiver can handle, then the receiver is “surprised” that the power goes away so easily. More power than the receiver can supply according to the booklet, so the receiver heats up as the volume is turned up. Here it is wise not to make a big difference between the receiver and the speakers. If a speaker has a higher resistance than the amplifier, it is more difficult for that receiver to send the current through the speaker, more is lost. So you have to adjust the volume knob up for the same sound level. So you can tune speakers or your receiver, but usually an average speaker should fit an average receiver without any problems. So it is more of a directive than a law. If a speaker has a higher resistance than the amplifier, it is more difficult for that receiver to send the current through the speaker, more is lost. So you have to adjust the volume knob up for the same sound level. So you can tune speakers or your receiver, but usually an average speaker should fit an average receiver without any problems. So it is more of a directive than a law. If a speaker has a higher resistance than the amplifier, it is more difficult for that receiver to send the current through the speaker, more is lost. So you have to adjust the volume knob up for the same sound level. So you can tune speakers or your receiver, but usually an average speaker should fit an average receiver without any problems. So it is more of a directive than a law.
We have already briefly discussed it, but receivers come with support for specific audio formats. Think of Dolby and DTS as the most famous formats. The development of these formats has also not stood still and that now brings us to Dolby Atmos and DTS: X, among others . These are the most advanced and extensive surround formats, but you do need a specific and extensive speaker setup for this.
If you want to install a 7.1.4-channel speaker system, you also need a receiver that supports these surround formats. Another new format is Auro 3D , which is partly comparable to Dolby Atmos and DTS: X. This audio format cannot be played by all receivers either and must therefore be supported if desired.
As for the music playback is high resolution audio -support one of the latest trends. Receivers equipped with this can reproduce larger music files with more detail. If you have a lot of high-resolution audio files, check whether the receiver in question can handle those specific audio formats.
Many AV receivers are equipped with calibration techniques that optimize the audio reproduction. These techniques work by means of a supplied microphone that is connected to the receiver and placed at different listening positions in the room. The receiver then analyzes the room and calculates the optimal sound settings.
Various techniques are available. Yamaha has developed its own YPAO, Onkyo uses AccuEQ and receivers from Denon and Marantz, among others, use Audyssey’s MultEQ technology.
In terms of connections, you can make it as crazy as you want. Receivers generally come with a large number of connections. In addition to the speaker inputs, they often have various analog and digital inputs and of course HDMI ports for the playback of video material. How many analog and digital audio inputs you need depends on the components you want to connect.
A modern receiver can no longer do without HDMI connections, as almost all modern devices can be connected to it. Before you purchase, check which devices you want to connect to your receiver and make sure that the receiver you want has more HDMI ports than you need. After all, you will always see that you buy a new device and cannot get rid of it. Do you have a TV and a projector or a TV and a second TV in another room? Make sure that the receiver has two HDMI outputs, one of which can be used to send the image to an extra display.
In the field of HDMI, it is also wise to look at the version of the connections. At the moment, HDMI 2.0a is the latest HDMI version and with this version you are good at the field of 4K Ultra HD content and there is full high dynamic range support. This content is accepted by the receiver and can be forwarded to a display. It is also important that HDCP 2.2 support is present, which makes streaming 4K content possible. Please note; In the field of HDR there are today several standards and if a receiver has HDMI 2.0a then all standards are supported, except Dolby Vision. Dolby Vision must be listed separately as this requires specific hardware.
A final point that we want to mention in the field of connections is the possibility for a second or third zone, also called multi-zone . Often it is a reinforced extra zone or a pre-output for a zone. In the first case, you can connect extra speakers that you place in the kitchen, for example. Then you can play the same or a different source there. In the second case, the pre-output, this is also possible, but then an amplifier has to be added. The pre-output is connected to the amplifier and the speakers are connected to it.
Multi-room is an important part of receivers today. They are no longer only the focal point in the home cinema, but also in the house. Multi-room streaming is a standard and today there are quite a few different standards. For example, Google has developed Chromecast built-in , Yamaha has brought its own MusicCast on the market, uses Onkyo FireConnect, Denon uses Heos and we see DTS Play-Fi on various receivers. So there are enough standards and it is important to know that only those standard compatible equipment (other receivers, wireless speakers, sound bars, etc.) can be used to connect to the receiver. A receiver with only DTS Play-Fi can therefore only control a wireless speaker with the same standard.
More possibilities and features
Nowadays AV receivers are equipped with many more features, in particular because they can now easily be connected to the internet. In addition to normal FM / AM radio, you have access to internet radio and in some cases DAB + radio . Most receivers today also offer access to streaming services, services that allow you to play music from the cloud. Think of Spotify , Deezer and TuneIN. Of course you can also connect to your own network, so that thanks to DLNA media, for example, you can stream from your computer, mobile device or NAS to the receiver and thus connected display equipment (speakers and displays).
Not only WiFi makes these wireless options possible. Nowadays we see Bluetooth on many receivers, so you can quickly connect a smartphone or even headphones to play and listen to music. There are also models that are equipped with Apple AirPlay, a streaming standard for Apple devices. However, you can also physically connect media. In many cases, several USB ports are available for this.
What is an AV receiver – Service
It goes without saying that all receivers come with their own remote control, but the operation nowadays goes further than that. Nowadays we want to operate everything with our smartphone, which is why all major receiver manufacturers have developed their own apps with which the receivers can be operated. Most apps give access to all functions that you can also access via the remote control. An additional advantage is that the app from some manufacturers lets you adjust things without calling up the menu on TV. This way you will not be disturbed while watching a movie.
What is an AV receiver – Go listen
If you basically know what you are looking for with the above information and have made a selection, then there is only one thing left to do; go listen. In this way you can really determine which receiver suits you best. Each brand / model has its own sound, and especially if you already have speakers (on the eye), you can use this to determine whether the combination meets your taste. Preferably – and with a somewhat larger budget – get advice from a Hifi specialist and listen here with your own favorite music.