Primary tabs

Do You Prefer an A/V Receiver or Separates?

At the heart of all home theaters is a central signal switcher/processor to which all the source devices are connected and one or more power amps to drive the speakers. These functions can be performed by separate components or combined into one unit called an audio/video receiver (AVR) or, in some 2-channel audio systems, an integrated amp.

Most enthusiasts agree that a separate preamp/processor (or pre/pro) and one or more power amps provide the best possible sound. On the other hand, such a system is more expensive and more complex to set up than an AVR, and the performance of AVRs has steadily improved over the years. On the third hand, if any function of an AVR fails, you must replace the entire thing, whereas a failure in a system of separates means replacing only the defective device. And even if there's no failure, separate components can be upgraded in a piecemeal fashion rather than all at once as with an AVR or integrated amp.

All of this leads me to wonder: Which do you prefer, the convenience and economy of an AVR/integrated amp or the ultimate performance and flexibility but greater hassle and expense of a system based on separate components, and why?

Vote to see the results and leave a comment about your choice.

Do You Prefer an A/V Receiver or Separates?
Share | |
uavtheo's picture

Hi Scott,

To answer your question, I prefer separates for the following reasons, many of which you outlined:

1) I like having a separate pre-pro and amplifiers because I can upgrade them separately or tailor them to my preferred setup. For example, my pre-pro is an older Anthem AVM20. It sounds great but doesn't have HDMI. So, now when I need to upgrade, I only need to focus on the processor and not the rest.

2) I like the flexibility of my amp selection. I have had separate amplifiers for my fronts and rears in the past. While I right now have a Lexicon 7-channel (which sounds wonderful) my preference is to have either two-channel or monoblocks for my front so that I have dedicated power for my fronts for stereo/2-channel listening. To put it out there, I can't afford an all monoblock setup, but if I could, then that is what I would do.

3) In general, I have heard and understand that separates have tended to sound better.

4) I've had an issue with another amp in the past and it was great to still have a working system as I could just plug in an older receiver to power my speaker while my amp was out of commission.

5) I don't like the space and weight requirements

6) I generally like to be able to biamp my speakers and having a receiver doesn't readily allow for this (in general).

7) Processor technology changes much more rapidly than sudden amplifier breakthroughs. As a result, I feel as though I can get more mileage from separates.

8) I tend to be able to get more power from separates than with a multi-channel receiver. I can easily get 150 or 200 watts/channel with separates which isn't necessarily the case with AVRs.

9) Old habits die hard :-) My first system was NAD separates and my only exception was a lower-end Marantz multichannel receiver. I found my wife's NAD integrated (rated at half the power) sounded better than the Marantz in 2-channel.

10) No flexibility with speaker connectors. I have used both spade and banana and you don't have that luxury with AVRs.

11) BALANCED OUTPUT!!!! I have a 16 foot run from my current Pre-Pro to my Subwoofer via a balanced cable. I love using balanced cables and none of the AVRs I've looked at offer balanced pre-outs. At best, you get unbalanced.

How's that for some thoughts!

Seth G.'s picture

I've been a fan of the integrated amp since I got into the hobby for music years ago and I still am and for many years used that as a catch all for a 2.0 music and cinema system.

Though now that I have a house with space for all the speakers needed for a home theater I prefer a pre/pro and a good multichannel amp mostly because a good amp will be around for a while, and amplifier design is fairly stable and mature.

However codecs and connectors seem to evolve and change every year in the AV realm and while AVRs do have a place in the market I really dislike that ultimately they are disposable and made to become nothing more than very flashy doorstops in only a few years time.
A decent pre/pro costs much less than a very good multichannel amp, and I feel less guilty replacing it when the time comes, rather than having to "throw out" everything and starting all over again.

Jarod's picture

I voted AVR because that is the set-up that I use now. The decision is because of my money factor. If I could afford it I would use seperates. I am now saving for a multi-channel power amp to use as power duty. I then am gonna use my current AVR, Pioneer Elite VSX-32, as the sound processor. I am very satisfied with my current 5.1 system but in the future Im going to upgrade my Polk Monitor 40 speakers and Im wanting the power of a seperate amp to use with them.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
I agree all the way down the line; thanks for such a thoughtful and thorough post! My only request (and this applies to Seth and Jarod, too) would be to add a photo of yourself to your UAV profile so we have a face to associate with all your great comments.
Audio_Geek_00's picture

I think one's budget dictates their preferences at least half the time. Practicality has forced many a choice in a direction that may not have been made before the economic collaspe imposed it's will, at least for me. So what I prefer these days is either not in my budget, or it isn't practical, either for my setup or in my living enviroment. Let me clarify that last part as a low "SAF" number (Spousal Acceptance Factor) which I do factor in. As a reviewer I've had the pleasure of spending some time with some truly fantasic sounding and great looking gear, most of which were seperates. As I'm sure you know, components that are purpose built for a specific use are generally able to avoid compromises introduced when, for instance, you are mixing signal processing with power handling requirements and the signal path may be adulterated because of improper shielding/isolation, ect. But I've seen the opposite where the perfomance of a particular integrated component is special too.
I currently have a preamp/processor, a video processor and 5 channel amp that is satisfying and allows me to continue to pursue the "best of breed" component for future upgrades, which as another commenter pointed out was important to him and I agree.
I've had monoblocks in the past but price and space preclude them in my 5.1 setup. That is a compromise from my early hardcore audiophile days that I've made to include video with my love for audio over the past 7 years or so.

Enter your Sound & Vision username.
Enter the password that accompanies your username.