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Considerations when buying an AV amplifier

When looking at buying a preamp or audio receiver, the numbers and statistics can be overwhelming; however, for most people, these numbers will not impact your enjoyment. If you are a total audiophile, this is one to skip; for everyone else, here is a breakdown of some of the key features to look for in an AV amplifier to enable you to get the most out of your home theatre.

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Number of channels

Probably the most important thing to pay attention to is the number of audio channels the receiver controls. This will typically be 5.1 or 7.1, referring to the number of speakers and number of amplifiers in the setup – five and seven speakers being the most typical home surround sound options. For the most part, this is a matter of preference. 7.1 is objectively better; however, 5.1 is more than enough for the clear majority.

Power and compression

The point of an amplifier is obviously to amplify; therefore, the amount of power it can deliver to the connected speakers is important. Typically, the number you want to pay attention to for ‘loudness’ is gain, which is usually measured in decibels – the more decibels, the louder the output. Again, this is strictly a matter of preference.

The much sneakier thing to pay attention to is compression, which affects how the preamp will handle low volume situations. An amp with poor compression can result in unintelligible dialogue, with action segments still being ‘too loud’. Consider how often will want to keep the volume at a more reasonable level and how often you will really want to crank it up.

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If you enjoy any sort of online streaming services or have a music library on a computer, some level of wireless connectivity will be desirable. Going one step further, many modern AV systems can work with home automation systems from specialists such as

Required setup

More speakers mean more work running wires. More elaborate audio mixing modes, such as Atmos and Dolby DTS, require ceiling mounted speakers. If you are not prepared to put in some serious time, you may want to stick to a more basic setup; even then, you will need to spend some time positioning the speakers to balance the audio. Luckily, most receivers will help you out with this.

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