As a consumer there’s a lot out there for you to choose when it comes to home theater electronics.
Starting with source components do you buy a CD player, a Blu-ray player, a media server or all of the above?
When it comes to managing these sources and powering your speakers do you buy a single-box A/V receiver that incorporates everything anyone could possibly ever need or do you buy “separates,” which in audiophile speak means an amplifier and preamplifier/processor.
A good case can be made for either category. Receivers offer convenience and cost effectiveness, while separates provide higher levels of performance and an easier upgrade path for hardware and even firmware updates.
In terms of pure costs A/V receivers run from about $300 to $8,000 and separate components can run from about $1,000 to $50,000, excluding esoteric two-channel audiophile gear. So you can power a range of speakers from the exotic to the more budget-friendly.
Focusing specifically on amplifiers and without diving too deep into the audiophile/Vulcan vocabulary, those wanting their systems to live free and prosper should consider essential specifications like power ratings and frequency response, as well as other things like warranties.
A good rule of thumb when looking at the power ratings of an amplifier is to see what it produces when driving a 4-ohm load and 8-ohm load. An amplifier should produce a noticeably higher rating at 4 ohms than 8 ohms. Also look at other ratings such as continuous output. Cheaper amplifiers will often be quoted with a “peak” number that indicates what it produces for a quick second. Robust amplifiers are usually rated for continuous power or RMS (root mean square) and these ratings are used to indicate how much power an amp produces over a long period of time.
Other ratings such as distortion can also be helpful, but consider that in many cases users are not going to hear the differences between a hundredth or a thousandth percent of distortion.
Click here to view a slideshow of six great amps for various budgets.
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Bob is a dedicated audiophile who has been writing about A/V for Electronic House sister publication CE Pro since 2000.