For a truly immersive, cinema-like entertainment experience, a home theater receiver is your best bet. Most of today’s surround sound receivers not only deliver awesome immersive audio but also serve as effective connection hubs for various audio/video sources. Despite the tremendous number of choices on brands and models on the market, shopping for a home theater receiver doesn’t have to be a daunting challenge.
Distinguish real power from pure hype
Much of the marketing gimmickry employed by home theater receiver manufacturers utilizes numbers. Unfortunately, consumers are easily misled by large numbers, including wattage ratings that have been perennially equated with better sound quality. Thus, manufacturers have run circles around consumers by subjecting their products to less stressful evaluations to keep the figures high. To ensure uniformity of testing conditions, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has mandated the disclosure of testing conditions used by manufacturers, which empowers the buyer to distinguish between legit and exaggerated power ratings.
One factor is root-mean-squared (RMS), which is a complete foil to mere peak power rating. While peak power output can only denote the number of watts output by the unit for every millisecond, the RMS rating denotes how much continuous power is delivered for extended periods of time, which reveals more about a home theater receiver’s power capacity.
Another effective indicator is the statement “all channels driven”. This signifies that amplification is on all receiver channels, which is what a premium home theater receiver can boast. On the other hand, models on the lower side of the spectrum that claim to output 250 watts per channel on stereo mode will have the rating fall considerably lower on surround mode, indicating that the power of a single amp gets divided among the number of speakers. This results in lower power provided to each of the channels.
The measure of electrical resistance is referred to as impedance. Not all home audio speakers boast about 6 to 8 ohms impedance. Based on this scenario, manufacturers simply state power ratings obtained while running on a lower 8-ohm load, which results in impressively doubled power ratings. Performance-wise, such receivers can’t realistically drive a 4-ohm speaker. Forcing the receiver to do that will break the unit as well as the speakers. When checking out home theater receivers, make sure a 4-ohm power rating is accompanied by an 8-ohm rating as well.
Bandwidth is also an effective determinant of power. Under low stress conditions, you can easily find specifications like 100 x 5 (@ 1 kHz), which is greatly bloated compared to what the unit can actually put out. For rating accuracy, check out units that state (@ 20Hz-20kHz), denoting that the product underwent rating while running a full range audio signal.
Check out performance
Majority of today’s home theater receivers are equipped with special audio modes dedicated to music listening. A stereo music mode enables the user to listen to only the subwoofer and the front two speakers. The Dolby Pro Logic IIx and other similar modes commute 2-channel music to multi-channel immersive sound. Some models are outfitted with audio processing to enhance the sound quality of MP3 along with other compressed forms of digital audio.
To optimize any high-quality audio sources you have, it is sensible to invest in a more expensive home theater receiver to preserve the integrity of the audio signal. While other units allow music playback in the original format, higher-end units apply some audio processing to shut off video circuits and reduce potential sources of noise.
Some high-end receivers also deliver advanced video processing, significantly improving image quality of all sources, either high definition or standard. Analog content can be upscaled to 1080p and perhaps even 4K, with compressed videos getting cleaned of noise and grainy characteristics. Each video source is calibrated separately by the receiver, optimizing every one of those sources. On top of that. some models even feature HDMI connectivity to your TV.
Determine how many inputs you need now and in the future
You may not own a ridiculous quantity of gaming consoles, but you should still get a home theater receiver that has an adequate number of inputs, maybe even more than the audio and video sources you already own to make way for future expansion.
A good way to begin is taking note of all the existing equipment you have to connect to the unit, as well as the type of connections they have. Older audio/video sources may have component audio and video connections, SCART, composite audio and video connections, stereo audio and TOSLINK optical audio connections.
Any future expansion will likely require HDMI for transmitting digital video and audio signals using a single cable.