Receiver vs. Amplifier vs. Preamp – Key Differences

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Receiver vs. Amplifier vs. Preamp

When looking to get more power out of your speaker system, you are likely to run across the terms amplifiers and receivers, as well as preamps. Let's find out together what the main differences are!

Receivers are musical instruments that take in multiple sound sources and mix them into one sound source. They take in FM, AM, SAT, DVD, CD, and other analog inputs, and then mix them all for a single sound output. They also have the power to control other components through remote control.

Amplifiers are electronic devices that increase the intensity or power of a signal. They are designed to make an electrical signal stronger. They are often used in conjunction with receivers to strengthen and amplify the sound that is produced. An amp can also be used to only amplify or boost an electrical signal, in addition to receiving multiple sound inputs, as is the case with the receiver.

Preamps are essentially amplifiers, their main function is to amplify and provide a boost to electrical signals. Preamps are essential in the production of sound from equipment that does not produce enough power itself. A preamp essentially takes in the weak electrical signal and gives it power.

What is an AV receiver?

If you are looking to improve the sound in your home, then it’s important to know the difference between an AV receiver, an amplifier, and a preamp. While these terms might seem similar, they do have different functions, and you should use them appropriately. The main difference is that an AV receiver connects and distributes signals from a single source to all of the speakers in your home theater, while a preamp, and an amplifier are used on a more individual basis to control the volume of each individual speaker. An AV receiver also has a dedicated preamp section, so you don’t need to purchase a separate component for this function.

Receivers can be separate units, built into a stereo, or even within a TV. The main purpose of the receiver is to allow you the option of adding more components to the audio setup at a later date. Higher quality audio receivers are capable of providing more power to higher-powered speakers, an increase in the number of channels, as well as surround sound. Most receivers have preamplifier outputs, which allows you to add a separate amplifier for a better sound performance.

The amplifier it's a standalone component, designed to improve the sound performance of a stereo setup. Your amp is connected to the pre-amp output of your receiver. It can amplify the sound without having to go to the power amp, and take the signal to your speakers. This allows for a cleaner and more powerful audio signal. Just like receivers, every amplifier has a different price point and is made for a particular speaker setup.

What is an amplifier?

An amplifier, in the world of audio, is a device that boosts the power of the audio signal. This increases the volume so you can listen to it at a higher volume without the sound quality being affected. Amps are considered essential in an audio setup, and they can be divided into different classes based on their characteristics and size.

Both a receiver and an amplifier boost your audio signal, but the amplifier is for power, and the receiver is for selectivity.

What is a preamp?

In the world of audio, a preamp is a type of signal processor. You might hear it referred to as a preamp processor, and it is utilized to boost the incoming audio signal. It doesn’t do much else but amplify the incoming signal. However, despite its simplicity, a good preamp can transform your sound.

The word preamp is short for "pre-amplifier". Other names that are used to describe a preamp are, –preamplifier”, –preamp”, –pre-amp” or –preamp/amp combo”.

A preamp is one of the first points of contact that your signal comes into contact with on its way to being amplified. Since a preamp is a low-level signal processor, it is typically placed in-line between your receiver or amplifier and the rest of your system.

Some preamps also have tone controls that give you even more control over the frequency response and tonal character of your system. A quality preamp with tone controls can have a similar impact on your sound to upgrading your speakers, source components, or amplifiers.

What else does a preamp do?

A preamp can add gain to a signal more than an amplifier can, or it can amplify a signal to a lower output impedance/impedance load than an amplifier can. With a preamp, you may have the option of a subsonic filter which removes frequencies that are lower than 20 Hz. Since a subwoofer can take 20Hz signals, they are often sent through a preamp's subsonic filter before they are sent to the subwoofer.

A preamp can boost and shape signals to a greater degree than an amp alone. In essence, a preamp is more of a control or adjustment device than an amp is. With only an amp, the sound's final output is heavily influenced by the speaker's design. A preamp and an amp combo is used for equipment with smaller speakers that require a lot of signal to be noticeable.

Differences between an amplifier and a preamp

An amplifier is a device capable of amplifying an analog or digital signal so that the resultant output signal has a larger amplitude. It is used to boost the weak signal from an audio source before sending it to the power amplifier.

A preamplifier may have one or more channels and can have different gain settings to accommodate input devices of different levels. It is installed after the input signal is amplified, so it doesn’t function as an amplifier. If you need an amplifier, you can install an amplifier into your setup by connecting it to the preamp.

Sound quality comparison

A pre-amp, or pre-amplifier, is a relatively simple device, though it is one of the most important components of your sound system. While an amplifier has the job of boosting a signal, it must be preceded by a pre-amp, so that it can receive the signal in the first place. A receiver is a place where each of these components is housed, and it is a combination of all three of these components in one box – the pre-amp, amplifier, and receiver.

In your living room, for instance, you will most likely chain a receiver directly to a TV or DVD player. This will enable you to playback your music files, shows, movies, or whatever the source is. Because you'll be using these devices with a video screen, you'll want your sound system to be of better quality.

When are separates better than a receiver?

The terms "Receiver", "Amplifier", and "Preamp" mean different items to different people. If someone asks you "Do I need an amplifier for my receiver?", they first need to explain which end of the audio chain their receiver/amplifier is connected to, and which parts they rely on the preamp for. Even experienced professionals will sometimes confuse receivers/amps/preamps, as they’re often connected using the same equipment.

The receiver prepares the signal (the audio) for amplification, and amplification is where we add "punch" (volume) to the signal. Sometimes an amplifier is simply referred to as a "power amplifier" or PA, because it amplifies the power of the audio signal.

A preamp, which is also a part of the receiver, has a more important role in the audio chain. It additionally senses the signal and is used to switch between sources. Many receivers have a very simple input section that consists of a few basic RCA inputs. A preamp will be used in this case, and the signal will be analyzed and routed accordingly, from the preamp to the power amplifier.

Pros and cons of receiver vs. amp and preamp

Receivers (also called AM/FM tuners), amplifiers, and preamps are essential pieces of audio equipment for your home speaker set-up.

These devices are built to deliver signals from your media player and audio/video components to your speakers.

While the names of these devices tend to confuse people, the devices themselves are relatively easy to understand. You may have noticed that both receivers and receivers come in different sizes. This size category applies to both amplifiers and preamps, but the amp is usually larger and houses more complex circuitry.

So, in reality, the difference between receivers and amps is how many elements they have. Amplifiers fall under the receiver category. They are smaller and typically house fewer connections than receivers.

These connections may include a USB port, which you can plug in a thumb drive or flash drive to play music. However, when it comes to audio quality, amplifiers just don’t pack the same punch as preamps and receivers.

Today’s advanced home theater components such as TVs, digital video players, and DVD/Blu-ray players are becoming more and more sophisticated.

Pros and cons of receivers

While receivers are the first choice of people who are not tech-savvy, and simply want a piece of equipment that can play, record, and amplify sound, the advantage of using one is that you don’t have to buy 4 different components.

The downsides to using receivers, especially budget models, are that they have no digital inputs and they don’t have Optical or Coaxial connections. This means that if you hook up a DVD player with a digital audio output, or you have a satellite box or an Apple TV that outputs audio digitally, you won’t be able to use it with your receiver. Also, if you have higher-quality speakers with digital inputs for better sound quality, your receiver won’t be able to connect to the speakers.

I think receivers are a great way to get started, especially if you don’t know much about audio and you’re looking for an immediate solution with a minimal learning curve.

Pros and cons of amp/preamp system

An amplifying system, also called a powered audio system, is composed of two parts – a receiver and an amplifier. The receiver connects to the TV and other audio devices and processes the TV's and DVD's audio signals. Typically the smaller satellite speakers, which are connected to the receiver, are driven by the receiver’s internal amplifier. This makes the amplifier the heart of the system.

An amplifier serves the same purpose as the preamp, but amplifiers are larger and more powerful. This also means that the amplifier is not the best option if you are looking to save space. They can be quite heavy, so they are not a practical solution if you are trying to set up a surround sound system at home.

Unlike an amplifier, a preamp is not part of an audio system but is purely used as a signal converter. The preamp takes two audio signals from the source (TV, DVD, CD player, MP3 player, etc.) and combines them into one. The signal output by the preamp is then fed as an input to the amplifier’s channel. The amplifier then boosts the quality of the audio signal from the two combined sources to a greater audio signal.

Some final thoughts

Receivers, amplifiers, and preamps can be confusing for many people when setting up a home-theater system. This detailed explanation should come in handy when you consider which one is the best option for your needs.