What is a Stereo Receiver?

Phil Shepley

A stereo receiver is a major electrical component that is used to decode signals from a variety of sources and transmit them as sound through speakers or headphones. They can also be used to transmit pictures and sound to a television and are an essential part of most home theater systems. A wide variety of stereo receivers are available, and can vary in size, output, style, compatible components and more. Stereo receivers can also be referred to as audio, high fidelity or AV receivers.

A HDMI® cable.
A HDMI® cable.

The “receiver” portion of the name comes from the fact that a stereo receiver was initially intended to receive AM and FM signals with a built-in tuner. Today, however, a wide array of sources can provide the signal through which a stereo receiver will output audio or video. Sound sources can include CD, record and mp3 players, and more. In addition to signals from radio stations, a receiver can also be designed to decode and play radio signals from satellite and HD Radio.

A stereo receiver may be used to receive satellite transmissions.
A stereo receiver may be used to receive satellite transmissions.

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There are also many options for video sources that can be hooked up to a receiver, which include Blu-ray®, DVD players and others. Pictures and audio can also be received from cable and satellite transmissions, as well as from local television station signals through an antenna. A stereo receiver can even be used in conjunction with a home computer for the purpose of viewing sources, such as streaming video, from the Internet on a home theater system.

Handheld MP3 player with earbud headphones.
Handheld MP3 player with earbud headphones.

For the purpose of decoding signals from video sources such as movies, a stereo receiver is usually built with the capability of reading several different available formats. Some of these include Dolby® Digital and DTS, and many variations are available that are designed to output audio and visual signals with a high amount of power and clarity. This is essential for home systems that include features like large-screen televisions, surround sound, and advanced technology like Blu-Ray® or TrueHD.

Stereo receivers can typically get AM and FM radio signals.
Stereo receivers can typically get AM and FM radio signals.

A basic stereo receiver has two channels for amplifying sound, which are simply the left and right channels. More advanced models such as 5.1 and 7.1 receivers are much more common today than simple 2-channel systems. These provide five or seven channels for transmitting surround sound to speakers located all around the user. They also provide an output for a bass-producing subwoofer.

A stereo receiver can be quite complicated to hook up, mainly depending on the amount of components that it is to be used for. Since there are so many possibilities, the receiver will usually contain many different AV inputs and outputs. A few types of these include analog/digital audio, S-video, HDMI, optical, and component video, and there are many more. Adapters are often available to convert one type of input or output to another since technology is constantly changing and improving.

Stereo receivers can vary in size, style, output and compatible components.
Stereo receivers can vary in size, style, output and compatible components.

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Discussion Comments


Here's something else to keep in mind. If you hook a record player up to a modern, surround sound receiver you will also probably need to buy a powered pre-amp. Those don't cost a lot but amplify the signal from the record player to a level a modern receiver can use. Those amps were almost always built into older receivers, but are pretty rare on modern ones.

By the way, an old LP just comes to life through a good surround system with a subwoofer. Just remember to set the receiver to two-speaker stereo for the best sound -- those old albums weren't mixed for surround sound, you know?


Here's a tip -- if you get a surround sound receiver, make sure it is loaded up with different types of input ports. A good stereo receiver would set you back a lot of money just a few years ago, but the price on them has come down a lot over the past decade. Get one with plenty of inputs and you will have something that will last for a long time for only a few bucks more than you'd spend on a cheap one that may be obsolete in a hurry.

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