It’s a common question in AV forums all over the internet – which is better, AV receivers or separates? Ask any audiophile this question and they will be quick to cast a strong vote for AV receivers or separates depending on their experience with the devices and what their audio goals are.
Both AV receivers and separates have advantages and disadvantages, depending on what you are looking for.
An AV receiver is excellent if you are seeking an integrated, inexpensive, easy-setup system that requires little space. On the other hand, separates are excellent choices if the cost is not a factor and you seek greater power and flexibility.
What Is An AV Receiver?
A receiver is an integrated audio device with an inbuilt capacity to combine multi-channel sound processing, audio-visual swapping, and augmentation in one framework.
All audio components, including the AM/FM tuner, preamplifier/processor, and amplification are contained in one box, i.e receivers are single-box solutions.
What Is A Separate?
A separate is not an integrated audio device, so when we use the term “separate”, we mean “separate components”. While they have the same capabilities and functions as receivers, separates divide the components out into multiple chassis.
Normally, separates are divided into two chassis with one for the tuner and preamplifier/processor and another box for the amplification.
In other words, if you were to remove the radio tuner, you would really have an integrated amplifier and with the radio tuner, it functions more like a receiver. To earn more, check out our article on receivers vs integrated amplifiers.
Parts of Component of Separates
With all of these components, separates have the ability to perform video switching, audio processing, and some amplification duties. For better understanding, we explain each component below:
- Power amplification: The power amplification component increase the power of the analog sound signals from the controller. It is this power that directly drives the speaker to recreate the sound you hear. A power amplifier is a large box fitted with an on/off switch, one or more RCA jack audio inputs, and speaker terminals on the back for a seamless A/V controller.
- A/V controller: This component is responsible for the switching and preamplification – controlling audio signal levels to regulate your volume – and included DACs and DSPs which are responsible for the conversion of digital audio into analog audio, and surround sound decoding.
- Radio tuner: As its name suggests, a radio tuner gives you access to several radio signals within your reach. A regular antenna, DSS satellite dish, or digital cable accessories will help you receive the various radio stations. Because many A/V controllers do not have an in-built tuner, buying a separate tuner to enjoy this service is necessary.
In other words, separates may be devices such as a five-channel, a 7, or even 11-channel amplifier for extensive systems, or at least some form of mix-and-matching will form any of the combinations mentioned.
AV Receivers Vs Separates
Now, with all that bit of background, you can probably begin to make some sense of the perceived user experience or even the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Below, we go over some quick reasons as to why you may want to use AV receivers over separates:
- Wiring: Firstly, a receiver brings simplicity – simpler connectivity because you don’t need all the complex wiring between the amplifiers and a preamp.
- Space: Moreover, it will take up much less space than a separate would.
They would therefore be the most befitting choice for music lovers who do not want to engage in doing massive cable wiring or those with little space and would want to enjoy great musical experiences anyway.
On the other hand, below we go over some reasons why you may want to use separates over receivers:
- Choice: Separates give you an expanded room to make choices. This level of scalability and even design flexibility does not, therefore, limit you on the level of sound amplification you can achieve.
- Power Amplifier Flexibility: Separates allow you greater flexibility in terms of the type of amplifier you may want to use whether it may be a class A, AB, D, G, H, or whichever, the choice of the right amplifier to use at any time is yours. The advantage is, you can get more power when you want it. After all, a very massive 7.1 AV receiver may struggle to send just 100 watts of power to the speaker from every channel (and that’s going by the manufacturer’s specs which might get even lower). Whereas a separate like the Anthem’s M1 Monoblock can send massive bluff of up to 1,000 watts to your face, one speaker at a time. However, the fact is most people don’t have any use for 1kW monoblock amplifiers.
Which Is Better: AV Receiver Or Separates?
As to whether AV receivers are better than separates or vice versa, that remains a debate. The AV receiver and Separates debate divides music lovers into two distinct groups.
Those that buy and use receivers and are loving the all-in-one solution, and the diehards of separates love the flexibility it gives them.
Why Choose Separates?
For the lovers of separates, it’s all about quantitative and qualitative debates. The quantitative view puts it this way:
You can easily increase power in your home theatre using a multi-channel amplifier with a higher power rating per channel than you can with AVRs.
On the other hand, the qualitative side argues that when the power-hungry, overheating parts of the amp together with the sensitive circuits of the processor are kept in separate compartments, the device records a higher performance.
A popular reason to go with separates is for a situation when you may want to connect two receivers together to get more power. Using separates is a better choice.
Why Choose AV Receivers?
AV receiver users however stick to the opinion that “less is more”. It may be valid anyway, because it eliminates the need for cables, saves on space, and practically consume less power.
Also, they have more current features inbuilt compared to many of the surround processors. This makes them more adaptable and appealing to many.
AV Receiver vs Separates Pricing
Some of these arguments seem to bear atoms of truth. But it would be more harmful to consider them in whole as factual.
For instance, many people will tell you that receivers are substantially cheaper than separates because they have fewer redundant parts and far more receivers are produced yearly (economics of scale).
However, to say that AV receivers are cheaper than separates is an overstatement as some separates are more affordable compared to some of the best AVRs. Also, some AV receivers have higher power ratings than conventional multichannel amps.
It is therefore obvious that there is no clear divide between AV receivers and separates apart from the systemic design. Perhaps we should examine which product would more suitable for you if you are not yet decided. Let’s take a case-by-case study.
AV Receiver Or Separates Pros and Cons
Separates Pros and Cons
If you set up a dedicated home theater, with high-level movie presentation – from sound, image, décor, and seating – separates will do more justice. Besides, if you get this set up by a professional, separates will deliver powerful, flexible surround audio even in a big room.
As the setup provides ample room for larger elements – heat sinks, capacitors, power transformer – adding a multichannel amp can only be limited by the home electrical circuits.
- They deliver high design flexibility: By giving you the freedom to select components that are more relevant or fitting to your musical situation, separates are considered by many a better choice. Besides, you are not restricted to a one-brand show – for instance, a radio tuner from brand A and an amplifier from brand B. Additionally, the upgrade path is more flexible. At no time will you ever feel the urge to upgrade the whole system.
- Ultimate sound quality: In fact, it is better to have these components divorced as they do not have the opportunity to interfere with each other and result in sound distortion. As such, they offer balanced inputs/outputs for improved noise immunity, as well as fully differential circuits. All these components help to reduce distortion.
- Not limited by room size
- They are powerful and deliver more precise power
- Better performance with hefty speaker units that are tough to drive
- Better components in terms of elegant and sleek designs as well as higher quality internals
- Consume more space
- They can be very expensive
- Restricted in terms of innovative features such as music mainstreaming and connectivity
- May remit more power than necessary
- May be restricted by older technology. Release cycles can be as long as 5-6 years
AV Receivers Pros and Cons
If you are yet to experience AVR-powered audio, they are the best alternatives to filling small to medium-sized rooms with surround sound.
But room size isn’t the bigger picture. What matters is the extent to which your receiver matches with your speakers. As already mentioned, speakers with higher impedance ratings are much easier to run than those with lower ratings.
On the other hand, speaker sensitivity (sound produced per watt in decibels) also determines what value you are likely to derive from your receiver set.
It is therefore true that speakers with moderate to lower impedance and higher sensitivity are rather harder to drive, especially with an AVR with a low power rating working in a large room.
- Require less space
- Easier to assemble
- Packed with more features
- Provide more desirable value
- Provides sufficient power to drive many speaker systems
- Yearly recycles, i.e new receiver models means updated technology
- Grapple to power demanding, low impedance speakers. Budget models tend to choke driving low impedance speakers at high levels
- Does not give adequate clean power required to run your system
- Highly dependent on room size
- Actual performance may differ from paper rating or manufacturer specs
- May fail to offer equal performance as that of a good preamp
- Normally use cheaper component, especially budget and midrange options
AV Receivers vs Separates Power Rating
Receivers and Power Rating
Power rating is the Route Mean Square (RMS) of a sound system otherwise referred to as the wattage. A large number of audio device manufacturers tend to be more conservative in disclosing the exact power ratings of the devices they send to the market.
Now, while we discuss, keep in mind that you may not be able to change the power rating of a receiver, especially if you purchase a budget option. On the other hand, if you purchased a high-end receiver with preamplifier outputs, you can always add a separate amplifier to deliver more power. This is what a preout receiver is all about.
Precisely, very few manufacturers will disclose how much power to expect per channel when all the channels are engaged. They will always provide single or double-channel utility ratings only to avoid the shame of power drops that occur when the devices are fed with more than they can gnaw.
The fact is that there is a great variation in terms of the power ratings you get on paper from the manufacturers and what they deliver.
I have personally experienced some of the 100-watt-per-channel power-rated receivers that almost sucked the life out of my ears without much hassle, and similarly others with the same power ratings on paper that miserably dragged their feet while on a similar task at the same SPL.
A strange fact is that at times, receiver manufacturers use a 6-ohm load instead of the standard 8-ohm load to rate their outputs.
This means that the “160-watt” receiver that makes you go out of your way may struggle to deliver just about 50 watts per channel if it is put to task with an ideal home theatre unit.
That doesn’t seem like much power, right? Well, it may, or may not. You may not be very familiar with the relationship between speaker sensitivity, amplifier output, and impedance.
If that is the case, follow us for more discussions on this topic or review our previous articles like the difference between 8 ohm and 4 ohm speakers.
It, therefore, means that you will need to develop a better understanding of the sensitivity of your speaker before disregarding receiver ratings. Maybe you answer these questions first:
- How loud do they sound from one meter away when powered by a 1-watt signal?
- How far do you sit from them either in front or in the back?
- How much sound does your room material absorb?
- How big is your room?
- And, how much load do your speakers place on the amplifier you use?
- After all, you may end up that the 50-watt receiver is even much more than what you ever needed.
Separates and Power Rating
So, of course, you can change the power rating of your separate by simply changing the amplifier. But does that mean that AV receivers are better than separates in terms of power? Not quite, it depends on what you want.
While the average speaker may be adequately powered by AV receivers, “adequate” is not the kind of satisfaction may audiophiles want to associate with. Music lovers want sufficiency and better if that can be superseded with extreme satisfaction.
There is always a reason to want more power than what an average AV receiver can drive into your speakers.
Consider, for example, that your heart is set on or maybe you have already acquired Dali Euphonia speaker units.
As much as they may not be the toughest speakers in the world to drive, the 4-ohm impedance rating on them means that they are hungrier power. They will therefore draw heavier current from your amplifier than an 8-ohm speaker would.
Can My AV Receiver Handle A 4-Ohms Load?
Well, many modern receivers claim on paper that they can handle 4 ohms. However, they most likely only do so by limiting the voltage when the 4-ohm selector switch is engaged. Otherwise, they would quickly turn into a smoking kiln!
Besides, there are several claims that some receivers can provide high currents to comfortably drive 4-ohm loads. The claim is however not verified by many manufacturers. To make more sense, if you feel you have an exotic speaker that will be exceptionally hard to drive, acquire an amp that is more stringent than the average AV receiver.
Are The Stereo Amp Better Than the AV Receiver?
The stereo amplifier is aimed to function as the regulator and connection hub for the audio-only listening experience. Thus, if you are more interested in the audio quality of your music, you should go for a stereo amplifier rather than an A/V receiver
Do I Need a Separate Amp?
You only require an amplifier when your source’s maximum electrical output through the headphone jack- whether it is a smartphone, laptop, or something else – is lower than what your headphones require to reach the output level you want.
Do I Need an AV Receiver?
A/V receiver acts as the nerve center of your home theater system. They perform a host of essential functions, including decoding your DVD’s surround sound formats, driving your loudspeakers, and switching between audio and video components; if you want high-quality surround sound, you need a high-quality A/V to receive.
What is an AV Receiver Used For?
Put, a receiver has two main functions; firstly, it augments the sound so it can be fed to your speakers, and secondly, it allows you to select the audio and video you wish to watch. You can use it to switch from a DVD to free-to-air TV, for example, with the touch of a single button.
We have discussed all the possible technical considerations, but probably the big elephant in the room remains power consumption. Will you embrace a high-power separate over an opportunity to utilize a more energy-efficient AVR alternative? Although some separates are more energy-efficient and some power-hungry AVRs exist, you should come to terms with the fact that AVRs are generally more efficient.
If going green makes more sense to you, you may need to answer this question alongside those of desired performance levels, available space for components, and budget.
The fact is, both types of devices are excellent choices depending on what you want to achieve. If you are looking for an option that is inexpensive, simple and requires little space, a receiver is a great choice. On the other hand, if you require more power, better build quality and more flexibility, a separate may be the better choice for you.
Norvan Martin is the founder of BoomSpeaker.com. He is a professional Electronics Engineer and is passionate about home theater systems and AV electronics. BoomSpeaker was created as an online hub to share his knowledge and experiences as it relates to home theaters and home audio electronics.