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Home Audio Systems: A Guide for Beginners

A stereo system can be confusing, but it only requires a few key components.

You don’t have to be an audiophile to have a great home audio system. Let’s take a look at what it takes to create a listening experience that goes beyond a smartphone with earbuds, Bluetooth or other types of wireless speakers.

Macintosh Labs

Why Stereo?

Stereo provides a listening experience that creates a stage by placing sound on two channels.

In music mixing, some sounds are placed to the left of the default listening position and others to the right. Sound placed on the left and right channels (eg vocals) comes from the phantom center channel between the left and right speakers.

What you need for your home stereo system

Home audio stereo systems can be pre-engineered or assembled from separate components with the following key characteristics:

  • stereo amplifier or receiver: Acts as a hub to connect and control content sources and speakers.
  • speaker: A stereo system requires two speakers. One for the left channel and one for the right channel.
  • source: Source provides access to music content. In systems with integrated amplifiers, the source is external and must be connected. If your system has a receiver, it has a built-in tuner and, in some cases, Bluetooth or Internet streaming. You must connect another source.

off-the-shelf stereo system

If you’re an everyday listener, have a small room, or are on a tight budget, a small prepackaged system may be the right choice for you. It has everything you need to listen to music (including amplifier, radio tuner, receiver and speakers).

Denon DT-1 mini system

Denon / Sound United

Additional features may include a built-in CD player, additional inputs for connecting one or more external source devices, and Bluetooth for wirelessly streaming music from a smartphone to the system.

However, the downside of these systems is that they either lack power or lack speakers, so they cannot deliver high-quality sound in large spaces.

combine your own system

Systems can be built from separate receivers or integrated amplifiers, speakers, and source equipment. This type of system gives you the flexibility to fit your preferences and budget, as you can choose the components and speakers you want.

Onkyo TX-8220 Stereo Receiver Front and Rear View

Onkyo USA

This increased flexibility allows the system to take up more space than a pre-built system and can increase costs for customization and upgrades.

Key Features of Stereo Receiver

A stereo receiver has the following properties:

  • amplifier: Supports 2-channel (stereo) speaker configuration.
  • AM/FM tuner: To listen to local radio stations.
  • analog audio input: Connect a compatible source device.

Additional connectivity options for stereo receivers

Some of the connectivity options you can find on stereo receivers include:

  • Phono input: This input can be used to connect a record player on most stereo receivers.
  • digital audio connection: Digital optical and coaxial audio inputs give you access to audio from some CD players and most DVD and Blu-ray players, cable and satellite boxes, and TVs.
  • A/B speaker terminals: You can connect 4 speakers. However, surround sound listening is not supported. Speaker B mirrors the main speaker and is powered by the same amplifier. Half of the power goes to each pair of speakers. The A/B speaker option lets you hear the same audio source in a second room, or provides more range in a larger room.
  • Zone 2: Some stereo receivers have a Zone 2 output that passes the stereo signal in a second location and requires an external amplifier. Zone 2 can play different audio sources in primary and secondary positions.
  • subwoofer output: You can connect a subwoofer using a stereo receiver of your choice.

The 2.1 channel setup is a stereo system with a subwoofer.

  • Wireless multi-room audio: Some stereo receivers include platforms such as MusicCast (Yamaha), DTS Play-Fi, and Sonos (Onkyo/Integra) to wirelessly stream music to compatible speakers.
  • Ethernet or WiFi: You can access music streaming services and network audio storage devices via Ethernet and Wi-Fi.
  • Bluetooth: Enables wireless music streaming on compatible smartphones and tablets, if included.
  • USB: You can listen to music from flash drives and portable hard drives via the USB port.
  • video connection: Some receivers have a video connection. This can be analog (synthetic) or HDMI, which only provides signal throughput. The stereo receiver does no video processing or upscaling.

Onkyo TX-8270 2-Channel Network Stereo Receiver

USA Onkyo

Speaker type and placement

Speakers come in many types and sizes, and placement is very important. Bookshelf speakers are your best bet if you’re short on space. Consider floorstanding speakers in a spacious room, especially if your receiver doesn’t have a subwoofer output.

Cerwin Vega VE Series and LG Tall Boy Speakers

Serwin Vega and LG

It is best to place the speakers about 2 to 2 meters (about 3 to 4 feet from the center of the front wall) or at the front corners. However, do not lay the speaker flat against a wall or corner. Space is required between the speaker and the wall or corner.

The speaker must not face forward. Speakers should be aimed at the primary listening point (sweet spot) for best directional balance.

Audio-only source option

Audio sources that can be connected to a stereo receiver or amplifier include:

  • turntable: May have a grounded phono connector or an analog line connector.

If your turntable has a USB output, this is for connecting to a PC supported by additional software.

  • CD player: CD players offer analog audio connections, and some offer analog, digital optical and coaxial audio connections.
  • tape player: The audio cassette deck can be connected to a stereo receiver using an analog audio connection.
  • TV: If your TV has audio output, you can connect it to a stereo receiver for TV sound.
  • network audio player: Network audio players can access music from streaming services and music stored on PCs and media servers. Bluetooth and USB are useful for receivers that do not have these capabilities. Analog and digital audio connections are available.
  • media server: If the stereo receiver is connected to the network, you can play music from the media server (NAS or PC) without connecting to an external network audio player.

Audio/Video Source Options

A stereo receiver with analog or HDMI video pass-through allows you to connect the following video sources:

  • DVD, Blu-ray and Ultra HD players
  • Media Streamers (Roku, Chromecast, Fire TV, and Apple TV)
  • cable and satellite box
  • VCR

Make sure all video connections on the stereo receiver are compatible with the source video connections.

Stereo system versus surround sound

Some people have stereos for music and separate surround sound systems for TV and movies.

You can even use your home theater receiver to listen to music in stereo, as almost all have a two-channel (stereo) listening mode. This will turn off all speakers except the front left and right speakers.

2.1 to 5.1 Channel Speaker Layout - Dolby Labs

dolby lab

Home theater receivers can also process stereo signals for distribution to more than five channels using Dolby ProLogic II, IIx, DTS Neo:6, or other audio processing. It provides a more immersive listening experience, but changes the nature of the original music mix.

final result

Before you get your hands on your wallet, consider the following:

  • Critical Listening vs. casual listening: Try demos of the system or component you are considering, whether you are a critical listener or a regular listener. If it doesn’t sound good at the dealer, it doesn’t sound good at home either.
  • small or large room: If space is limited, a compact system is sufficient. If the room is large, make sure it can fill the room with satisfactory sound.
  • Watching music versus watching TV and watching movies: If you want to use a stereo system for TV and movie sound in addition to listening to music, consider a system that connects a subwoofer and provides a video pass-through connection.

If you mostly watch TV and movies, and only listen to music occasionally, consider a soundbar or home theater receiver and surround speaker set.

Stereo System Cost-Performance

Balance it with your budget. No need to buy a high-end stereo receiver. Still, make sure the device you’re buying has all the features and connectivity options you’ll need or plan to use in the future. Stereo receivers start at $120 and go over $1,000. Also, keep these tips in mind:

  • Don’t be fooled by the amp performance specifications.
  • No need to spend a lot of money on cables and wires. Beware of 6-foot speaker cables that cost $100 or more.
  • Don’t assume that a $2,000 speaker sounds twice as good as a $1,000 speaker. An increase in price often leads to a gradual improvement in quality. There are some great and expensive speakers. However, some budget speakers offer good performance for the price.

10 Best Hi-Fi Speakers of 2022


More information

Home Audio Systems: A Guide for Beginners

Stereo systems can be confusing but you only need a few key components

You don’t have to be an audiophile to have an excellent home audio system. Let’s check out what you need to get a listening experience beyond a smartphone with earbuds, Bluetooth, or another type of wireless speaker.

McIntosh Labs Why Stereo?

Stereo provides a listening experience where sounds are placed across two channels to create a stage.

Music mixing places some sounds to the left and others to the right of a primary listening position. Sounds placed in both the left and right channels (such as vocals) come from a phantom center channel between the left and right speakers.

What You Need for a Home Stereo System

A home audio stereo system can be pre-packaged or assembled from separate components with the following core features:

Stereo amplifier or receiver: Serves as a hub to connect and control content sources and speakers.
Speakers: Stereo systems require two speakers, one for the left channel and another for the right.
Sources: Sources provide access to music content. On systems with an integrated amplifier, sources are external and need to be plugged in. If the system has a receiver, it will have a built-in tuner and, in some cases, Bluetooth or internet streaming. Other sources need to be connected.
Pre-Packaged Stereo Systems

If you’re a casual listener, have a small room, or are on a limited budget, a compact pre-packaged system may be the right choice. It provides everything you need (including an amplifier, radio tuner, receiver, and speakers) to listen to music.

Denon / Sound United
Additional features might include a built-in CD player, extra inputs for connecting one or more external source devices, and Bluetooth to stream music wirelessly from your smartphone to the system.

However, one downside of this system is that these systems might not have adequate power or good-enough speakers to provide high-quality sound for a large room.

Assemble Your Own System

You can assemble a system using a separate receiver or integrated amplifier, speakers, and source devices. This type of system provides flexibility for your preferences and budget, as you can choose the components and speakers you want.

Onkyo USA
That increased flexibility may result in your system taking up more space than a pre-packaged system, as well as adding to your expenses as you customize and upgrade.

Stereo Receiver Core Features

A stereo receiver has these features:

Amplifier: Supports a two-channel (stereo) speaker setup. 
AM/FM tuner: For listening to local radio stations. 
Analog audio inputs: For connecting compatible source devices.
Additional Stereo Receiver Connection Options

The connection options you may find on a stereo receiver include:

Phono input: These inputs are included on most stereo receivers to connect a turntable.
Digital audio connections: Digital optical and coaxial audio inputs enable you to access audio from select CD players and most DVD and Blu-ray players, cable and satellite boxes, and TVs.
A/B speaker connections: Allows the connection of four speakers. However, surround sound listening isn’t supported. B speakers mirror the main speakers and draw power from the same amplifiers. Half the power goes to each pair of speakers. The A/B speaker option allows listening to the same audio source in a second room or provides more coverage in a large room.
Zone 2: Select stereo receivers include a Zone 2 Output, which supplies a stereo signal to a second location and requires external amplifiers. Zone 2 allows different audio sources to play in a primary and second location.
Subwoofer output: Select stereo receivers allow the connection of a subwoofer.
A 2.1 channel setup is a stereo system with a subwoofer.
Wireless multiroom audio: Select stereo receivers include platforms such as MusicCast (Yamaha), DTS Play-Fi, and Sonos (Onkyo/Integra), allowing music to be sent wirelessly to compatible speakers.
Ethernet or Wi-Fi: Ethernet and Wi-Fi provide access to music streaming services and network audio storage devices.
Bluetooth: If included, it allows wireless music streaming from compatible smartphones and tablets.
USB: A USB port allows music listening from flash drives and portable hard drives.
Video connections: Select receivers have video connections. These may be analog (composite) or HDMI that provide signal pass-through only. Stereo receivers don’t perform video processing or upscaling.

Onkyo, USA Speaker Types and Placement

Speakers come in a variety of types and sizes, and placement is essential. If you have limited space, bookshelf speakers may be best. Consider floor-standing speakers for a large room, especially if the receiver doesn’t have a subwoofer output.

Cerwin Vega and LG
It’s best to place the speakers about six to eight feet apart (about three to four feet from the center of a front wall) or in a front corner. However, don’t place speakers flat against a wall or corner. You need space between the speaker and the wall or corner.

Speakers should not face directly forward. Speakers should be angled toward the primary listening spot (the sweet spot), providing the best sound direction balance.

Audio-Only Source Options

Some audio sources you can connect to a stereo receiver or amplifier include: 

Turntable: A phono connection with a ground or analog line connection might be provided.
If a turntable includes a USB output, that’s for connecting to a PC, supported by additional software. 
CD player: CD players provide analog audio connections, and some provide analog, digital optical, and coaxial audio connections.
Tape deck: An audio cassette deck can connect to a stereo receiver using analog audio connections.
TV: If your TV has an audio output, you can connect it to a stereo receiver for TV sound.
Network audio player: A network audio player can access music from streaming services and music stored on PCs and media servers. Bluetooth and USB are practical for receivers that don’t have these features. Analog and digital audio connections are provided.
Media server: If a stereo receiver has network connectivity, it can play music from a media server (NAS or PC) without a connection to an external network audio player.
Audio/Video Source Options

A stereo receiver with analog or HDMI video pass-through allows the connection of video sources, such as:

DVD, Blu-ray, and Ultra HD players
Media streamers (Roku, Chromecast, Fire TV, and Apple TV)
Cable and satellite boxes
VCRs
Make sure any video connections on the stereo receiver are compatible with the video connections of the source.
Stereo System vs. Surround Sound

Some people have a stereo system for music and a separate surround sound system for TV and movie viewing. 

However, you can also use home theater receivers for stereo music listening, as almost all have a two-channel (stereo) listening mode. This turns off all speakers except for the front left and right speakers.

Dolby Labs
Home theater receivers can also process stereo signals for distribution to five or more channels using Dolby ProLogic II, IIx, DTS Neo:6, or other audio processing. It provides more immersive music listening but changes the character of the original music mix.

The Bottom Line

Before you reach into your wallet, consider the following:

Critical vs. casual listening: Whether you’re a critical or casual listener, try a demo of the system or components you’re considering. If it doesn’t sound great at the dealer, it won’t sound good at home.
Small or large room: If you have a small room, a compact system might be sufficient. If you have a large room, make sure your choice can fill the space with a satisfying sound.
Music vs. TV and movie listening: If you want to use a stereo system for TV and movie sound in addition to listening to music, consider a system that enables you to connect a subwoofer and provides video pass-through connections.
If you’re primarily a TV and movie viewer and only listen to music casually, consider a soundbar or home theater receiver and a set of surround speakers. 
Stereo System Cost vs. Performance

Balance what you want with your budget. You don’t have to buy a high-end stereo receiver. Still, make sure the one you buy has all the features and connection options you need or plan to use in the future. Stereo receivers start as low as $120 and go up to over $1,000. Also, keep these tips in mind:

Don’t get seduced by amplifier power output specifications.
You don’t have to spend a fortune on cables and wires. Beware of 6-foot speaker wires that cost $100 or more.
Don’t assume a $2,000 pair of speakers will sound twice as good as a $1,000 pair of speakers. As prices increase, there’s often only an incremental increase in quality. There are excellent, expensive speakers. However, some moderately-priced speakers provide superior performance for the price. 
The 10 Best Hi-Fi Speakers of 2022

#Home #Audio #Systems #Guide #Beginners

Home Audio Systems: A Guide for Beginners

Stereo systems can be confusing but you only need a few key components

You don’t have to be an audiophile to have an excellent home audio system. Let’s check out what you need to get a listening experience beyond a smartphone with earbuds, Bluetooth, or another type of wireless speaker.

McIntosh Labs Why Stereo?

Stereo provides a listening experience where sounds are placed across two channels to create a stage.

Music mixing places some sounds to the left and others to the right of a primary listening position. Sounds placed in both the left and right channels (such as vocals) come from a phantom center channel between the left and right speakers.

What You Need for a Home Stereo System

A home audio stereo system can be pre-packaged or assembled from separate components with the following core features:

Stereo amplifier or receiver: Serves as a hub to connect and control content sources and speakers.
Speakers: Stereo systems require two speakers, one for the left channel and another for the right.
Sources: Sources provide access to music content. On systems with an integrated amplifier, sources are external and need to be plugged in. If the system has a receiver, it will have a built-in tuner and, in some cases, Bluetooth or internet streaming. Other sources need to be connected.
Pre-Packaged Stereo Systems

If you’re a casual listener, have a small room, or are on a limited budget, a compact pre-packaged system may be the right choice. It provides everything you need (including an amplifier, radio tuner, receiver, and speakers) to listen to music.

Denon / Sound United
Additional features might include a built-in CD player, extra inputs for connecting one or more external source devices, and Bluetooth to stream music wirelessly from your smartphone to the system.

However, one downside of this system is that these systems might not have adequate power or good-enough speakers to provide high-quality sound for a large room.

Assemble Your Own System

You can assemble a system using a separate receiver or integrated amplifier, speakers, and source devices. This type of system provides flexibility for your preferences and budget, as you can choose the components and speakers you want.

Onkyo USA
That increased flexibility may result in your system taking up more space than a pre-packaged system, as well as adding to your expenses as you customize and upgrade.

Stereo Receiver Core Features

A stereo receiver has these features:

Amplifier: Supports a two-channel (stereo) speaker setup. 
AM/FM tuner: For listening to local radio stations. 
Analog audio inputs: For connecting compatible source devices.
Additional Stereo Receiver Connection Options

The connection options you may find on a stereo receiver include:

Phono input: These inputs are included on most stereo receivers to connect a turntable.
Digital audio connections: Digital optical and coaxial audio inputs enable you to access audio from select CD players and most DVD and Blu-ray players, cable and satellite boxes, and TVs.
A/B speaker connections: Allows the connection of four speakers. However, surround sound listening isn’t supported. B speakers mirror the main speakers and draw power from the same amplifiers. Half the power goes to each pair of speakers. The A/B speaker option allows listening to the same audio source in a second room or provides more coverage in a large room.
Zone 2: Select stereo receivers include a Zone 2 Output, which supplies a stereo signal to a second location and requires external amplifiers. Zone 2 allows different audio sources to play in a primary and second location.
Subwoofer output: Select stereo receivers allow the connection of a subwoofer.
A 2.1 channel setup is a stereo system with a subwoofer.
Wireless multiroom audio: Select stereo receivers include platforms such as MusicCast (Yamaha), DTS Play-Fi, and Sonos (Onkyo/Integra), allowing music to be sent wirelessly to compatible speakers.
Ethernet or Wi-Fi: Ethernet and Wi-Fi provide access to music streaming services and network audio storage devices.
Bluetooth: If included, it allows wireless music streaming from compatible smartphones and tablets.
USB: A USB port allows music listening from flash drives and portable hard drives.
Video connections: Select receivers have video connections. These may be analog (composite) or HDMI that provide signal pass-through only. Stereo receivers don’t perform video processing or upscaling.

Onkyo, USA Speaker Types and Placement

Speakers come in a variety of types and sizes, and placement is essential. If you have limited space, bookshelf speakers may be best. Consider floor-standing speakers for a large room, especially if the receiver doesn’t have a subwoofer output.

Cerwin Vega and LG
It’s best to place the speakers about six to eight feet apart (about three to four feet from the center of a front wall) or in a front corner. However, don’t place speakers flat against a wall or corner. You need space between the speaker and the wall or corner.

Speakers should not face directly forward. Speakers should be angled toward the primary listening spot (the sweet spot), providing the best sound direction balance.

Audio-Only Source Options

Some audio sources you can connect to a stereo receiver or amplifier include: 

Turntable: A phono connection with a ground or analog line connection might be provided.
If a turntable includes a USB output, that’s for connecting to a PC, supported by additional software. 
CD player: CD players provide analog audio connections, and some provide analog, digital optical, and coaxial audio connections.
Tape deck: An audio cassette deck can connect to a stereo receiver using analog audio connections.
TV: If your TV has an audio output, you can connect it to a stereo receiver for TV sound.
Network audio player: A network audio player can access music from streaming services and music stored on PCs and media servers. Bluetooth and USB are practical for receivers that don’t have these features. Analog and digital audio connections are provided.
Media server: If a stereo receiver has network connectivity, it can play music from a media server (NAS or PC) without a connection to an external network audio player.
Audio/Video Source Options

A stereo receiver with analog or HDMI video pass-through allows the connection of video sources, such as:

DVD, Blu-ray, and Ultra HD players
Media streamers (Roku, Chromecast, Fire TV, and Apple TV)
Cable and satellite boxes
VCRs
Make sure any video connections on the stereo receiver are compatible with the video connections of the source.
Stereo System vs. Surround Sound

Some people have a stereo system for music and a separate surround sound system for TV and movie viewing. 

However, you can also use home theater receivers for stereo music listening, as almost all have a two-channel (stereo) listening mode. This turns off all speakers except for the front left and right speakers.

Dolby Labs
Home theater receivers can also process stereo signals for distribution to five or more channels using Dolby ProLogic II, IIx, DTS Neo:6, or other audio processing. It provides more immersive music listening but changes the character of the original music mix.

The Bottom Line

Before you reach into your wallet, consider the following:

Critical vs. casual listening: Whether you’re a critical or casual listener, try a demo of the system or components you’re considering. If it doesn’t sound great at the dealer, it won’t sound good at home.
Small or large room: If you have a small room, a compact system might be sufficient. If you have a large room, make sure your choice can fill the space with a satisfying sound.
Music vs. TV and movie listening: If you want to use a stereo system for TV and movie sound in addition to listening to music, consider a system that enables you to connect a subwoofer and provides video pass-through connections.
If you’re primarily a TV and movie viewer and only listen to music casually, consider a soundbar or home theater receiver and a set of surround speakers. 
Stereo System Cost vs. Performance

Balance what you want with your budget. You don’t have to buy a high-end stereo receiver. Still, make sure the one you buy has all the features and connection options you need or plan to use in the future. Stereo receivers start as low as $120 and go up to over $1,000. Also, keep these tips in mind:

Don’t get seduced by amplifier power output specifications.
You don’t have to spend a fortune on cables and wires. Beware of 6-foot speaker wires that cost $100 or more.
Don’t assume a $2,000 pair of speakers will sound twice as good as a $1,000 pair of speakers. As prices increase, there’s often only an incremental increase in quality. There are excellent, expensive speakers. However, some moderately-priced speakers provide superior performance for the price. 
The 10 Best Hi-Fi Speakers of 2022

#Home #Audio #Systems #Guide #Beginners


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