Guide to Stereo Component Features and Specifications

A home stereo receiver and amplifier next to a single bookshelf speaker
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The heart and brains of a stereo system — the point where all components connect — lies in the receiver. It powers the loudspeakers and controls the entire system, so it's important to select one that has the right features for your system. If the price isn't an issue, you could buy an integrated amplifier or separate components to accomplish what a receiver does, but good, even great audio performance is possible with a moderately priced receiver and a well-matched pair of speakers. So how do you know what's best for your situation? Start with this overview of stereo components to learn the advantages of each type.

How Much Amplifier Power Do You Need?

After picking out a receiver, integrated amplifier, or separate components, you should consider the power output of the amplifier. Factors to weigh in your decision include the speakers, the size of the listening room, and how loud you like your music.

Power output specifications can be confusing. An amplifier with 200 watts per channel will not play twice as loud as an amplifier with 100-watts per channel. In fact, the difference in maximum volume will be hardly audible: about 3 decibels. A typical amplifier playing at a moderate level will output only about 15 watts to the speakers. When the music reaches a peak or crescendo, the amplifier will output much more power, but only during the period of highest demand. Read more about amplifier power to figure out how much you really need.

What Source Components Do You Want to Connect?

Stereo systems can include a variety of components, from old-school CD players, tape decks, and turntables to DVD players, hard disk recorders, game consoles, and video components. The number and type of components you have will dictate what kind of receiver, amplifier, or separates you need. Our guide to audio and video connections describes the different types of components and connections available.

Understanding Stereo Terms and Specifications

Stereo receivers are generally simpler than home theater receivers, but they still have plenty of features you might want in your system.

Terms and specifications that describe and measure the performance of stereo components are many, and they can be confusing. Some specifications are important when it comes to choosing your receiver, and others are not. Our list of stereo specifications and our glossary of terms is a good source to help you understand the lingo and ultimately put together the system of your audio dreams.