Preamplifier Basics For Home Theater

Marantz AV7702mkII AV Preamp/Processor
Marantz AV7702mkII AV Preamp/Processor. Images provided by D&M Holdings

What is a Preamplifier?

A Preamplifier (preamp) is a device in which the user can connect all audio or audio/video source components (such as CD, DVD, or Blu-ray Disc players). The preamplifier then can switch between sources, process audio and/or video, but also supplies an audio output signal to what is referred to as a Power Amplifier.

In a Preamplifier/Power Amplifier configuration, while the Preamp takes care of the input sources and included audio/video processing, the Power Amplifier is the component that supplies the signal and power needed for the loudspeakers to produce sound.

In other words, you cannot connect speakers directly to a preamplifier (there are no speaker connection terminals on a preamplifier), unless they are self-powered speakers for which preamp outputs are provided. Also, it is also important to note that AV Preamp/Processors also provide a preamp output(s) that can be connected to a Powered Subwoofer

Other Names For Preamplifiers

In home theater, preamplifiers may also be referred to as Control Amplifiers, AV Processors, AV Preamps, or Preamp/Processors due their increasing role in providing both audio decoding/processing and video processing/upscaling capabilities.

Additional Features a Preamplifier Might Include

In some cases, an AV Preamp Processor may also include the ability to be the central hub of a multi-room audio set-up either via Multi-zone or wireless multi-room audio capability, as well as accept direct streaming from Apple AirPlay or Bluetooth-enabled devices, such as many smartphones and tablets.

It is also possible that an AV Preamp/Processor may be equipped with a USB port for accessing compatible digital media content directly from plug-in flash drives or other compatible USB devices.

However, it is also important to note that beyond core audio decoding and processing features, whether video, streaming, and/or multi-room distribution and control features are provided at the manufacturer's discretion. This means when considering the purchase of AV Preamp/Processor, make sure it has, in addition to audio, any video or networking features you may desire.

Integrated Amplifiers

When a preamplifier and power amplifier are combined in one unit, it is referred to as an Integrated Amplifier. In addition, if an Integrated Amplifier also includes a radio tuner (AM/FM and/or Satellite Radio and/or Internet Radio) then it is referred to as a Receiver.

The Choice Is Yours

So, there you have it. Although most consumers opt to use a home theater receiver as the central hub of home theater connection and control, you do have the option of separating the functions of a home theater receiver into two separate components - an AV Preamp/Processor and a Power Amplifier. However, doing so can be a much more expensive option. The choice is up to you, but my suggestion would be to consult a home theater dealer or installer to determine what might be the best option for your specific home theater setup.

Examples of AV Preamp/Processors Include The Following:

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