Receiver Buying Guide

It’s easy to get lost in complicated specifications when looking for a new receiver!

Is the Total Harmonic Distortion to your liking? How about the Damping Factor? The easiest way to cut through all the technical mumbo-jumbo is to decide how you’re going to be using your receiver the majority of the time. Once you know that, you’ll be able to narrow down your selection and make an informed decision. The first choice you’ll face when picking out your new receiver is stereo vs. multi-channel, or put another way, music vs. movies.

Multi-channel vs. Stereo


Most receivers on the market today are multi-channel. If you’re trying to get that movie theater experience at home this is the way to go. Most current multi-channel receivers are built for a 7.1 system (7 speakers and 1 subwoofer), but some that max out at 6.1 or 5.1 are still available. Although they are more complicated to setup than a stereo receiver, the sounds you will hear from a DVD, Blu-ray, or HD DVD will simply blow you away.


If your true love is music, then a stereo receiver is a great place to start. With all the technological advances home audio has experienced over the years, the vast majority of music is still recorded in stereo. If you want to hear your favorite artists as they were meant to be heard, you cannot beat a quality stereo receiver and speakers. There’s no need to load up on the complicated features found in most surround receivers if you’re never going to use them.

Surround Sound

Modern surround sound is usually associated with a 5.1, 6.1, or 7.1 setup although some systems can support up to 11.2 channels with an additional power amplifier.
The traditional 5.1 setup is an excellent starting point and provides very realistic surround effects from three speakers up front, two on the sides, and a subwoofer. If you have the space and the inclination, adding two more speakers in the rear will allow for a full 7.1 setup which is the current pinnacle of home theater sound (a 6.1 system uses one speaker in the rear instead of two).
With the DVD format, most films are encoded in Dolby Digital or DTS which produce a discrete 5.1 experience. There are a few formats that allow 6.1 or 7.1 sound from a DVD such as Dolby Pro Logic IIx, Dolby Digital EX, and DTS-ES but they're not universally supported.
The very best audio formats can be found on Blu-ray discs. Because each disc can hold substantially more data than DVDs, new lossless audo formats were developed to take advantage of this extra room. DTS-HD provides high resolution 7.1 audio whereas Dolby TrueHD & DTS-HD Master Audio offer up to 8 channels of completely uncompressed audio for the best possible sound. Although these new formats support up to 8 channels of sound, not all Blu-ray discs will utilize all 8 channels.

Additional Features Worth Considering

  • Video Switching / Upconverting
    While most new TVs include lots of inputs/outputs for video players it’s often more convenient to run all your video sources along with sound through an A/V receiver. Many receivers today are also capable of upconverting standard definition video (VHS, DVD) to high definition via HDMI outputs.
  • iPod Control
    Most major receiver manufacturers offer an add-on iPod dock that will allow you to listen to and control your iPod through your receiver remote. If you’ve got an iPod full of music this could be a feature you might not be able to live without.
  • Network Connection
    A growing trend in receiver design is to include a way for your receiver to integrate into your home network. Through either a wired or wireless connection, a networked receiver can stream music right from your computer’s hard drive or over the internet.
  • THX Certification
    Being THX®-Certified means that a piece of audio equipment has passed the most stringent and rigorous audio quality and performance tests set by THX, the audio experts in the movie industry. This assures you will get movie theater quality sound from any component bearing this certification.