Introduction to Audio Components

Differences between receivers, integrated amplifiers and separate components

A home stereo receiver and amplifier next to a single bookshelf speaker
IvanWuPI / Getty Images

The components of a stereo audio system can be confusing for those just starting to put together a system. What are the differences between receivers and amplifiers? Why would you choose to have a system of separate components, and what do each of them do? Here is an introduction to the components of audio systems so you can better understand the role each one plays in your listening experience.


The Cambridge Audio CXR120 Home Theater Receiver
The Cambridge Audio CXR120 Home Theater Receiver. Images provided by Cambridge Audio

A receiver is a combination of three components: an amplifier, a control center, and an AM/FM tuner. A receiver is the center of the system, where all audio and video components and speakers will be connected and controlled. A receiver amplifies the sound, receives AM/FM stations, selects a source for listening and/or viewing (CD, DVD, Tape, etc.) and adjusts tone quality and other listening preferences. There are many receivers to choose from, including stereo and multichannel home theater receivers. Your decision should be based on how you will use the receiver. For example, if you enjoy listening to music more than watching movies, you probably won't want a multichannel receiver. A stereo receiver and a CD or DVD player and two speakers would be a better choice.

Integrated Amplifiers

Yamaha A-S1100 Two-Channel Integrated Stereo Amplifier
Yamaha A-S1100 Two-Channel Integrated Stereo Amplifier. Images provided by Yamaha

An integrated amp is like a receiver without the AM/FM tuner. A basic integrated amplifier combines a two-channel or multichannel amp with a pre-amplifier (also known as a control amp) for selecting audio components and operating tone controls. Integrated amplifiers are often accompanied by a separate AM/FM tuner.

Separate Components: Pre-Amplifiers and Power Amplifiers

Marantz MM8077 7-Channel Power Amplifier
Marantz MM8077 7-Channel Power Amplifier. Image provided by D&M Holdings

Many serious audio enthusiasts and very discriminating listeners prefer separate components because they provide the best audio performance and each component is optimized for its specific function. In addition, because they are separate components, there is less possibility of interference between the pre-amp and the higher current stages of a power amp.

Service or repair can also be important, should it become necessary. If one part of an a/v receiver needs repair, the entire component must be taken to a service center, which is not true of separates. It is also easier to upgrade separate components. If you like the pre-amplifier/processor, but want more amplifier power you can purchase a better amp without replacing the pre-amp.

Pre-Amplifiers or Control Amplifiers

A pre-amplifier is also known as a control amplifier because it’s where all components are connected and controlled. A pre-amp provides a small amount of amplification, only enough to send the signal to the power amplifier, which amplifies the signal enough to power speakers. Receivers are excellent, but if you want the best, no-compromise performance, consider separate components.

Power Amplifiers

A power amplifier provides the electrical current to drive loudspeakers and they are available in two-channel or several multichannel configurations. Power amps are the last component in the audio chain before the loudspeakers and should be matched with the capabilities of the speakers. In general, the power output of the amp should be closely matched with the power handling capabilities of the speakers.

Was this page helpful?