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Receivers vs Integrated Amplifiers

Receivers vs Integrated Amplifiers
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When setting up a sound system, one important consideration is do you chose a receiver or an integrated amplifier? In this article, we compare receivers vs integrated amplifiers. 

An integrated amplifier is made up of a preamplifier and a power amplifier in one cabinet.A receiver is made up of a radio tuner, preamplifier, and a power amplifier in one cabinet. Both can have any number of channels. In some cases, both may have tuner/preamp combinations, without power amplifiers.

If you are looking for a general recommendation, we suggest that you go with a receiver. Modern receivers offer an incredible amount of performance and a wide array of features at any given price point. The slight benefits that you get from an integrated amplifier in terms of performance is often not worth it considering the expense. 

FeatureReceiver Integrated Amplifier
ComponentsTuner, preamplifier, and a power amplifierA preamp and a power amplifier
Radio signalsDo not receive radio signals. Need an external tuner Receive radio signals (involves a radio tuner) by definition, but some modern receivers to not have this option
ChannelsAny numberAny number
PowerUses less powerUses more power
AmplificationLessMore
Sound QuaityNo noticeable difference in most casesNo noticeable difference in most cases
BassBass management often includedOften lack bass management
InputsHDMI, optical, etcMost lack HDMI but include optical and coaxial inputs
CostRanges from budget friendly to expensiveExpensive
PerformanceGoodSlightly better
Room correctionOften included in mid to high end modelsOften absent

What Is An Integrated Amplifier?

An integrated amplifier is a system that is made up of two components, i.e.:

  • A power amplifier – generates the wattage required to power the loudspeakers.
  • Preamp – it accepts the inputs from all the musical source components. It also lets you switch between wireless and wired sources, control the volume, and even balance the sound and control tones. 

Integrated amplifiers are widely used to listen to music by audiophiles, although they may opt for a separate preamp and amp.

What Does A Receiver Do?

They serve many purposes, but the main purpose is to take separate audio and video sources (like a turntable, Blu-Ray player or cable box), amplify their signals, and send out the audio to your speakers. Receivers also act as a switcher for those same devices.

Integrated Amp Vs. Preamp/Power Amp

Some music lovers prefer systems with separate preamp and power amp for the benefit of much cleaner sound. This is because power can introduce some noise into the preamp circuitry. It is, however, much more expensive to purchase the two components separately. 

What Is The Difference Between An Integrated Amplifier And An AV Receiver?

Generally, amplifiers take audio signals and amplify them so that the speakers can use them to play audio. On the other hand, a receiver also comes with an inbuilt amplifier with extended functionalities such as preamp, tuner, radio, volume controls, input selection, and many more. 

So, a receiver is pretty much similar to an amplifier with more functions? Then, why not just buy a receiver instead? Though receivers are more convenient due to the added functionalities, an integrated amplifier brings some benefits too. Besides, there are several types of receivers you can choose from. 

Standalone Amplifiers

As we already mentioned, an amplifier is a device that takes a small signal, amplifies it, and creates a much larger output replica of it. This kind of amplification is essential as, without an amplified signal, the power can be too little to drive the speakers. 

When we talk about standalone amplifiers, it is not literally that they are standalone, you still need the amplifier itself, a preamp/processor, and the speakers to make up a complete system. When we talk about amplifiers vs. receivers, therefore, the discussion is basically about separates vs. receivers. 

Receivers Vs. Amplifiers (Separates)

If your interest is to set up a home theater system by connecting your TV, console, speakers, and many more in one spot, getting a receiver is just the best choice.

However, if you intend to set up a musical system and make the music sound much better, an amplifier works better. Standalone amplifiers are therefore more suitable where more complex audio setups are required. 

If you want to earn more about receivers and separates, check out our article on receivers vs separates.

Integrated Amp Features

Analog Audio Inputs

Analog inputs have been the only inputs in traditional amplifiers. However, modern integrated amplifiers come with digital inputs and wireless connectivity features also. Input features such as RCA, phono, cassette deck, and standalone DAC are therefore provided.

Digital Audio Inputs 

Some integrated amplifiers include an inbuilt DAC that turns digital signals into analog sound. Some of these features include:

  • Optical digital input (Toslink)
  • USB type B connection
  • Ethernet port 
  • HDMI input 

Wireless Connectivity

Several modern integrated amplifiers support wireless connectivity for music streaming. This adds to the convenience you get from integrated amps, as you can easily add compatible components to build an expandable wireless home audio system. Some of these wireless options include Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay 2, built-in Wi-Fi, among many others.  

Pros And Cons Of Receivers 

Pros Of Receivers

  • Cheaper option – receivers are much more affordable than amplifiers 
  • All-in-one unit – receivers come with almost every component of the home theater system built-in. These include all the necessary inputs such as audio, video, volume/input controls, and added functionalities such as preamp, amp, and a tuner.
  • Conserves space – because every other necessary component is already built-in neatly in one package.

Cons Of Receivers

  • Difficult to upgrade – as it comes with all components inbuilt, upgrading them is not very easy. There is no easy way to boost the individual parts, and you may be forced to buy a completely new receiver unit. 
  • It’s a lower quality amplifier – although the quality of amps in receivers seems to improve, getting a wholly dedicated amplifier in receivers is still a nightmare. This is because the amp still shares space with all the other components of the receiver, and it will not be able to power large sets of speakers. 

Pros And Cons Of Amplifiers

Pros Of Amplifiers

  • This system is much easier to upgrade. If you need a new amplifier, you will only need to replace that as it is independent, and you won’t need to replace the whole system just because the amp failed. 
  • It gives you much more control of what goes into the system. You choose what goes into your home theater system, from the preamps, tuner, amp, etc. that means you will not have to put up with pre-built units that include some components that do not please you. 

Cons Of Amplifiers

  • It takes more space – with separates to complete your musical system, you will need more space since every component is self-contained. 
  • Going with the separates option makes the whole system more expensive as you will have to put a bit more money into buying the other components of the system. 

Do Integrated Amps Sound Better Than Receivers?

Many audiophiles agree that integrated amplifiers sound much better than receivers. This is because an integrated amplifier is made and designed with music reproduction as the primary goal. At the same time, receivers are built to deliver multiple functions such as movie sound, FM radio, among other functionalities. 

Are Integrated Amplifiers Better? 

Integrated will offer the power needed to drive speaker systems. However, if you are putting up a home theater system in a small room that does not require huge speakers, and you are just a casual music listener or just looking for a convenient choice for mild movies, then receivers are a good choice. 

On the other hand, if your interest is to get the best sound quality or video experience with thumping action sound like in a real theatre, you will need to set up prominent speakers. In this case, an integrated amplifier is the best choice to go with.

The choice you make, whether receivers or integrated amplifiers, will therefore depend on the kind of system you intend to set up, the budget, and even the space available to set up the system. 

Do You Need A Receiver?

So do you need a receiver for surround sound? For traditional speakers, a receiver is highly recommended, almost always required. For active Soundbars with wireless or satellite speakers, a receiver is not needed.

Do you need an Integrated Amp?

An integrated amp is a right choice if you want to connect all of your music sources to a dedicated two-channel amplifier using one component. And most of them can accommodate wireless music streaming too.

How to Connect an Integrated Amplifier to an AV Receiver

To connect an integrated amplifier to an A/V receiver, you need some RCA cables. The purpose of the cables is to connect the Left and Right channels on the receiver to the speaker ports on the integrated amp.

  1. Find the pre-out section on the AV receiver

You can find the pre out section directly on your AV receiver, it is appropriately labelled. In the pre out section, you can find the Right and Left channels to plug the RCA cables into.
The Left and Right channel options are generally found as red and white ports on the AV receiver.

2. Use RCA cables to connect to the Left and Right channels

  • The Left and Right channels are located in the pre out section of the AV receiver. The right channel is usually red, while the left channel is white.
  • Take your RCA cables and plug them into their corresponding respective ports.
  • Then, you will need to connect the respective RCA cables to your Integrated Amplifier by plugging it into the correct audio input/output receiver port. You will likely find this as a much less complex system to understand on the back of your Integrated Amplifier system.

3. Connect a speaker wire to the Integrated Amplifier

To complete the entire process, you have to connect a speaker wire to the integrated amplifier. Without that, the sound will have no output system, meaning it will have “nowhere” to go.

Does An Integrated Amp Affect Sound Quality?

Amplifiers ideally amplify audio signals linearly and, therefore, do not technically improve or worsen sound quality. However, less-than-ideal amplifiers, amp settings, and amplifier-speaker combinations may worsen sound quality.

Does A Receiver Affect Sound Quality?

Receivers allow you to manage the audio across more speakers, taking advantage of 5.1 and 7.2 channel audio options, while also amplifying that sound, and even performing single room correction on the signal, all of which improve sound quality.