Receiver vs amplifier: what is the difference?

For audio newbie, receiver and amplifier might as well mean the same thing. However, they are not as there are subtle differences between the two. This guide is meant to clarify their main differences as well as to highlight what you should be getting under certain conditions.


Amplifier vs receiver

An amplifier, as the name suggest, is used to amplifier an incoming signal. Currently, there are different models but for simplicity sake, let’s keep to a basic definition of amplifier first.  There are no controls of any sort in a basic amplifier. It just takes the signal from one end and amplifies through another.

For receiver, there are 2 primary models: the stereo receiver and the AV (Audio/Video) receiver. The former deals basically with speakers i.e. you can’t connect to a TV and streams video. That will be the job of a AV receiver.


Stereo receiver

When talking about stereo receiver, it has the amplifying ability of the amplifier but adds additional functions including volume control and usually a radio tuner as well. Basically, it is an all in one box for you to plug and connect to your speakers for additional power. Some people like to buy each component separately to fine tune their own systems but for the newbie, getting the stereo receiver is the easiest and most convenient to power up your sound.  You can’t connect a stereo receiver to video outputs unless you install a switch box but that is a subject for another article.


AV receiver

If you want to connect to a TV and streams video, then we are talking about AV receiver.  If you want a cheap option, refer to this article on the best home theater receiver for under 200. An AV receiver is able to route video signals so you can stream videos from either your DVD player or your game machine without the need to plug or unplug them from the TV.  All you need to do is to use the control and switch between the different inputs to display videos from different sources on your TV.

Audio wise, it can do what the stereo receiver does, i.e. routing and amplifying the sound signals from source to speakers.  Most of the AV receivers now also have what is called a HDMI pass through. This means you do not need to turn all on your home theater system just to on the TV and watch news.


Amp vs receiver: which option is better

After understanding their differences, here is the million dollar question of which option should you get. The answer of course depends on your needs and budgets.

Get the receiver if you:

  • are a newbie and doesn’t know the ins and outs of putting the different components together
  • want convenience
  • do not want to use too much space
  • want the latest and best of audio technologies as receivers are updated once a year
  • save money as less components are usually used in a receiver which results in lower selling price


Get the amplifier if you:

  • desires to have more power in your audio system as you can channel more than 1000W into your speakers which something a receiver usuaally can’t.
  • want to create your own aesthetics since you can play around with different design, finishing etc
  • want to get the best sound possible via tweaks and modifications



Receiver and amplifier are tools that allow you to power up your sound quality but differences in their capabilities. After reading through this, you should know what are these differences and what option is suitable for your needs and budget. Most common folks would go for receivers for its cheaper pricing and ease of use. Serious audiophiles might want to consider getting your own amplifiers and other components to build your own systems.

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