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How do I Choose the Best Home Stereo Amplifier?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

It is important for you to decide what kind of stereo set-up you want in your home before attempting to choose the best home stereo amplifier. The function of a home stereo amplifier is to power the speakers connected to it, and some amplifiers are included in a receiver, which is a unit that powers the speakers and picks up radio signals for transmittal. A receiver can also control the audio mix as well as the power output, speaker selection, and so on. Decide if you want a separate home stereo amplifier unit and receiver unit; this usually offers more power, but it often costs much more as well.

Think about how many speakers you want to power, and what other components will be run through your home stereo amplifier. Many people choose to set up home theater systems, and very often the amplifiers are designed specifically for this application. If you just want a stereo set-up, be sure to check the power output of the amp and make sure it is powerful enough to power the speakers in your system. You will need to choose between a stereo receiver and a home theater receiver; a home theater receiver will offer digital output and easy speaker calibration as well as digital inputs for many components, but it may take more adjusting and care to get the home theater system set up for music rather than movies and television. A stereo amplifier and receiver unit will be much simpler to operate.

Stereo amplifiers may be used in home theater sound systems.
Stereo amplifiers may be used in home theater sound systems.

Make sure your home stereo amplifier contains the features you are most likely to use. If, for example, you are likely to play music through an mp3 player, make sure the home stereo amplifier/receiver unit features an auxiliary input that will allow you to hook your mp3 player up to the stereo system. If you want to listen to the radio, make sure your amplifier features a receiver unit and easy controls to switch between channels such as radio and auxiliary.

The ins and outs of a stereo system can become quite complex as you add more speakers, configure a room for optimal sound, and add other components such as television, turntables, and so on. The more components that will run off the amplifier, the more powerful it will need to be. It may be best to consult a stereo expert for larger systems, because wattage is not always the determining factor of the quality of the system. Sound quality can become distorted for many reasons, right down to the types of connecting cables used, so for larger, complex systems, consult a professional.

Discussion Comments


@Melonlity @Markerrag -- both of your comments hit on the common theme of using one amp for a lot of uses instead of two. That is a great way to reduce clutter around your entertainment center and there is nothing wrong with either method. Whether you use a surround sound system in conjunction with your music or a stereo receiver that doubles as a way to make your television or movies sound great, the matter all boils down to personal preferences.

Let your ears guide you and you can't go wrong.


@Markerrag -- you can certainly go that route, but your last comment leads to one of the reasons this isn't always the best option. If you start mixing and matching speakers, you'll probably have to do a lot of fine tuning to get the system to sound like you want when using surround sound. Those speaker sets for surround sound are usually purchased together in a package and are designed to sound great together.

To avoid that trouble, why not just go for a stereo receiver for everything from the beginning? Your television and movies will sound great through one and you don't have to go through the trouble of stringing wires and surround sound systems throughout your living room or den. Of course, that option is only viable if you don't give a hoot about surround sound and just want a good amp that will replicate stereo sound well.


Why not use a surround sound amp for both that purpose and listening to music? The thing about a multiple-channel, surround sound setup is that it will sound awful if used to play two-channel, stereo music. Surround sound contemplates special effects, dialog and everything else that goes into movies and television programming and does quite well in that realm. The tricks used to make movies sound great, however, don't work terribly well on music.

Still, you can typically use a surround sound amp as a great stereo amp simply be selecting an option that allow the user to stop sending a signal through the surround sound channels and going to stereo channels only. Most (and perhaps all) surround sound systems offer that option, and that means the user can pump an audio signal only through two satellite speakers and a subwoofer if desired.

There is a proviso to this method -- if you are using the system for music only, you might want to get great speakers designed for that function to use as the left and right stereo speakers. You might have to adjust the level of those when using surround sound so as not to drown out the other speakers, but that's not too hard to do.

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    • Stereo amplifiers may be used in home theater sound systems.
      By: ludmilafoto
      Stereo amplifiers may be used in home theater sound systems.