What you want in a receiver:
Inputs: Make sure you have LOTS of inputs of all kinds. You never know what you might incorporate into your system so it’s better to have more than not enough. You should have a least 4 analog audio inputs especially if you are using a 2 zone receiver. You will also need 2 digital coax and 2 optical audio inputs. These days, you must have at least 4 HDMI inputs as well.
2 or 3 zone receivers: A multi-zone receiver is a great option if you want to setup a simple multi-room speaker system. It allows you to connect all your devices to one receiver, and gives you the ability to listen to one thing in one room and another thing in another room. For example, you can watch the Charger game inside and the kids can listen to an iPod outside while they play in the pool. Combine a multi-zone receiver with keypads, speaker selectors, external amps, or volume controls to add even more great features like the ability to control the system from outside. Check the receiver specs carefully. Find out if it can control AND power the zone or if it is control only and needs an external amp for power. Most 2 zone receivers control and power 2 zones. Most 3 zone receivers control 3 zones but only power 2. As a side note, we recommend using external amps to power all your other zones to maintain sound quality in the main zone.
3D ready: Receivers that are 3D ready will make your life easy when you setup a 3D system. They have the ability to pass the 3D signal from your Blu-ray player to your TV.
iPod docks: iPod docks allow you to connect your iPod to your receiver. They can charge your iPod and allow you to control your iPod via an on-screen menu sent to your TV. Before you buy, make sure the dock is compatible with your iPod or iPhone. Some manufacturers such as Pioneer include an iPod cable that serves as a dock, while others like Yamaha sell a proprietary dock separately.
Auto Calibration: Most new receiver come with a microphone you place in the main listening position then connect to the receiver. Once you plug it in, the menu should pop-up on the screen and you should only have to press start. Most calibrations will dramatically change the speaker setting for the better. You might want to tweak a couple settings here and there, but the auto calibration will give you great start in the worst case scenario.
Wattage: Manufacturers like to play with this number a bit, so you can’t always trust the label on the box. The idea behind a high wattage system is that your receiver won’t have to strain to push your speakers into high volumes. The harder it has to work, the lower the sound quality it can produce. The bigger the speakers, the more wattage they need. You may find that you need a separate amplifier to get the quality you want, but this is rare. 80-90watts per channel is average and should work for most systems. Nice tower speakers should get around 100-130 watts per channel.
Surround Sound Formats: Don’t confuse this with “sound fields.” Blu-ray has introduced new players into the surround sound world. Now we have heavy hitters like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. There are a few others as well, but these are the most popular. Your receiver must decode these new sound formats or you’re wasting your money. The difference is night and day. The new sound formats will give your system a true workout and will add a whole new element to your home theater experience.
Sound Fields: This is just a label that manufacturers can throw on the box to try to sell more receivers. It’s a variety of different sound schemes such as “concert hall, adventure movie, sports, etc.” They are all pretty much the same, and nobody uses them so this is negligible. Sometimes manufacturers will try to develop a new sound field that combats things like getting volume blasted during commercial breaks, but it’s not a reason to buy one receiver over another.
Network and streaming capable: Streaming media is great. If you’re not doing it now, you will be once you try it. If you connect your receiver to a network, you not only get the benefits of streaming media, but you can get your CRITICAL firmware updates that keep your receiver up-to-date. Some receivers such as Pioneer and Yamaha, have free iPhone apps that can interface your networked receiver.
Video Processing: A major and often over-looked part of a receiver is the video processor. A high-quality receiver uses high-quality video processors which means you get a better picture.
Class A,B or D amplifiers: Most receivers will use class A or B amplifiers to provide power to the speakers. They run hot and use a lot of power. Higher-end receivers will use a more efficient and cooler-running class D amp.
Many manufacturers will boast a line of other features and options, but the ones that are listed here are what you need to be most concerned about. If you find something we haven’t addressed here, please contact us.
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