How to Buy a Stereo System that's Right for Your Needs

Should I Buy a System or Separate Components?

Common Connectors on the Back of a Receiver
Thomas Wolter / CC0 Public Domain

Stereo systems come in a wide variety of designs, features and prices, but they all have three things in common: Speakers (two for stereo sound, more for surround sound or home theater), a Receiver (a combination of an amplifier with a built-in AM/FM tuner) and a source (CD or DVD player, a turntable, or other music source). You can purchase each element separately or in a pre-packaged system. When purchased in a system you can be sure that all the components will work together, when purchased separately you can pick and choose the performance and convenience features that are closest to your needs. Both offer good performance.

How to Determine Your Needs

Consider how often you’ll use a stereo system. If you will use a stereo system infrequently and mostly for background music or easy listening entertainment, consider a pre-packaged system according to your budget. If music is your passion and you want to hear your favorite opera as if it were live, select separate components based on audio performance. Both offer excellent value, but separate components are generally considered the best choice for music fans interested in the finest sound quality. Before you go shopping, make a list of your needs and wants and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How often would I listen to a stereo system?
  2. Is a new stereo mostly for background music, or am I a more critical listener?
  3. Will anyone else in my family use it and how important is it to them?
  4. Which is most important, sticking within my budget, or getting the best sound quality?
  5. How will I use the system? For Music, TV sound, movies, video games, etc?