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Intro to home stereo systems

Love music? If you're not playing it on a genuine stereo system, chances are you could love it a lot more

In a nutshell. A home stereo system includes two speakers for two good reasons. Most recordings have two separate and distinct channels. And you have two ears.

When you listen in stereo, recorded music sounds more like a live performance. It's a feeling you won't get from a single wireless speaker.

Most stereo systems include three things:

  1. A stereo receiver or amplifier
  2. A matched pair of speakers
  3. At least one music source

This article will help you choose a home stereo system that suits your lifestyle and your listening space.

Wireless speakers are super convenient. One box is all you need. And some of them sound surprisingly good. For background music, I love them.

But stereo recordings have discrete left and right channels for a reason. They give you the unmistakable impression that you’re in the room with the performers. In this regard, a pair of speakers always beats one.

Stereo imaging

Listening to music in stereo gives you the experience the artist had in mind. And it’s just plain more fun! You can hear the musicians spread out across a three-dimensionsal sound stage.

With stereo, different instruments come at you from different points between and beyond the speakers. You hear your music in three dimensions – just like you hear real musicians positioned in different places on an actual stage. You experience the music and the space in which it’s played.

Parts of a home stereo system

A home stereo system typically includes three main ingredients:

  1. A stereo receiver or amplifier
  2. A matched pair of speakers
  3. At least one music source

Stereo components

The music source could be an external component, such as a turntable or CD player. It could be a receiver’s built-in AM/FM tuner. Or it could be a wireless connection to a smartphone or a home network.

What is a stereo receiver?

Traditional stereo receivers combine an AM/FM radio tuner with a 2-channel power amplifier and a preamp section. The preamp section gives you control over source selection, volume, tone and balance.

What's an integrated amplifier?

An integrated amplifier is just like a receiver, but without the radio. Some models are as large as a typical receiver. But there are plenty of compact amps, too. For more info, see our integrated amplifiers buying guide.

For a super-simple system, try powered stereo speakers

Powered speakers

A turntable and a pair of powered speakers make a great compact stereo system.

If you’re looking for an even more compact system to liven up a dorm room, kitchen, or small apartment, consider a pair of powered stereo speakers. With the amplifier (and, in some cases, the Bluetooth receiver) built in, these speakers save a lot of space.

Wireless speakers in stereo mode

Some wireless multi-room speakers can be linked together in stereo mode. If you alread have a wireless speaker, check to see if you can pair it with another identical speaker.

For example, if you're a Sonos owner, you can add a second Play:1, Play:5, or Sonos One in the same room. Use the Sonos app to pair them. One of the speakers will play the right channels, and the other will play the left channel.

Stereo amps with wireless multi-room audio built-in

Want to enjoy the benefits of a wireless multi-room audio system, but with real stereo speakers in at least one room?

Whole-house audio

The Yamaha WXC-50 wireless streaming preamplifier adds Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and MusicCast multi-room audio features to a traditional stereo amp or receiver.

Consider mating a pair of regular (non-powered) stereo speakers with a powered zone component like the Sonos amp. It’s a very compact wireless multi-room music player with a stereo amplifier built in. Amplified zone players are also made by Yamaha, Denon, and Bluesound.

Speaker options to fit your taste and your space

Your library, home office, spare bedroom, or any other small, relatively private room can become your sonic sanctuary. Bookshelf speakers are perfect for small rooms. They can be wall-mounted or placed on speaker stands.

Floor-standing speakers are great for large rooms. They produce plenty of deep bass. They're hard to beat for big, room-filling sound.

For more speaker selection tips, see our article on choosing stereo speakers.

Don’t forget the speaker wire

Most speakers don't come with any wire. You'll need to get some to connect the speakers to your receiver or amplifier. For more info, see our article on choosing and installing speaker wire.

How many watts do you need?

If you’re buying a pre-packaged system, you don’t have to worry about the finer points of matching speakers and amps.

If you’d like to put together an a la carte system, you can get some advice from one of our expert advisors. Or you can follow these simple guidelines:

  1. Look at the recommended power range for the speakers you want to buy.
  2. Choose an amp whose RMS power output (watts) is within the acceptable range.

If you already have an amp (or you'd rather pick your amp first), make sure the speakers you choose can handle the power it puts out.

If you’re using 4-ohm speakers, make sure the amp you choose is compatible.

To get the most from a small amplifier, choose efficient speakers (as reflected in their sensitivity rating). The higher the number (in decibels or dB), the more efficient the speaker, and the louder it plays with a given amount of power.

Setup makes a huge difference

Toeing speakers for better sound

Toeing in your speakers (pointing them toward your seat) can make a dramatic improvement in their sound.

The placement of your speakers relative to your listening seat plays a large role in your system's sound.

The speakers should form an equilateral triangle with your listening position. This means your speakers are the same distance apart from each other as they are from you. For more tips on how to set up your speakers, see our article on speaker placement for stereo music listening.

Will a stereo system work with my phone?

Onkyo TX8160 stereo receiver

Stereo receivers with home networking capabilities give you access to an endless variety of music.

Think stereo systems are strictly old-school? Think again. Many of today’s stereo systems have Bluetooth® and/or Wi-Fi® built in, so you can easily connect your phone and listen to Spotify or You Tube™.

Think they’re just for well-heeled audiophiles? You might be surprised by how little you have to pay to get a decent system.

A stereo system takes up more room than a single wireless speaker. But for music lovers, that’s a worthwhile trade-off.

We can help you choose

Have questions about home stereo? Our expert Advisors know the gear inside and out.

Your Advisor can send specific Crutchfield pages to your screen, saving you a lot of browsing time. You'll get a shopping cart loaded up with everything you need. Contact us today.

Free lifetime tech support is included with your Crutchfield purchase.

For some more home stereo system design tips, read our budget audiophile playbook.

  • Mark from Philadelphia, PA

    Posted on 9/8/2021

    Hello, I'm looking to buy a combo CD, Cassette player for music... ??

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 9/9/2021

    Mark - This rack-mountable Tascam CD-A580 is the only one we've carried in the ten years I've been with Crutchfield. That said, it's a darn good one, and you can get it for a pretty good price if you snap up the one that's left.
  • Pat from Califon

    Posted on 8/9/2021

    I have two speakers with RCA connection, an Aiwa turntable, and a Sony cd player. I need an amplifier or receiver to make it all work. Any suggestions for something simple and doesn't cost an arm and a leg?

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 8/10/2021

    Pat - I'm assuming these speakers with RCA connection are self-powered, so I'm not even sure you need an amplifier if that's the case. Without knowing more about them, it's hard for me to make a solid recommendation. If they are self-powered, and have a phono input and a digital input, you can plug your components directly into the back and skip the receiver/amp altogether. It might behoove you to contact an Advisor who can glean the details of your existing equipment and make a truly informed recommendation. Thanks for asking!
  • Fresner from BRONX ,NY

    Posted on 6/1/2021

    i have a problem with my YAMAHA NATURAL SOUND AV RECEIVER RX-V 575, I move it to an other place, when i plug it, it say: DECODER OFF. WHAT CAN I DO, Please help.

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 6/2/2021

    Fresner - I've looked at the manual for that receiver, and it sounds like the decoder is something you have to select to set up your surround sound preferences. If you're using the Yamaha in stereo mode for music listening, I think the default "off" is what you want. If you're watching movies and you want to use a specific type of digital signal processing like DTS, you can use the "program" button to cycle through the menu options until you find the type of processing you want to apply. Hope this helps!
  • John from Redlands

    Posted on 4/30/2021

    Hello, I have a Sony Component System (SEN-421CD) from the 90's. I no longer can play my cassettes because one of the belts keeps falling off and I am having trouble locating anyone who sells the belts for this system. My question is whether I can buy a new cassette player and add it to this system?

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 5/3/2021

    John - I'm having trouble tracking down solid information on how that system works, so I'll say if it has RCA inputs on the back anywhere that allow you to add components, you should be able to find a cassette deck that will work with it. If not, I don't know how you would connect anything external. Hope that helps!
  • Ernie Kallay from Kalida, Ohio

    Posted on 4/24/2021

    Use my line level output which I connect to a YAS 203 Sound bar with RCA cables. I set receiver's volume to minimum volume and adjust volume on sound bar. Sounds great to me, saves space and hopefully isn't damaging my receiver. Would appreciate your comments.

  • Ernie Kallay from Kalida, Ohio

    Posted on 4/24/2021

    Use my line level output which I connect to a YAS 203 Sound bar with RCA cables. I set receiver's volume to minimum volume and adjust volume on sound bar. Sounds great to me, saves space and hopefully isn't damaging my receiver. Would appreciate your comments.

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 4/26/2021

    Ernie - I personally prefer the higher volume "floor" of setting the receiver volume to about the midway point, but if you're happy with the volume levels you're getting as-is, I can't think of any reason to change. Enjoy!
  • Octavio

    Posted on 4/8/2021

    Hello! I would like to set up a stereo system with a turntable and a CD player with two speakers in a medium size room. Should I go with a Stereo Receiver or an Amplifier? Thank you!

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 4/9/2021

    Octavio - If you want to also listen to local radio stations, you want a receiver. It sounds like you might be more in the market for an integrated amplifier with phono input, which will let you plug in your sources, and can power your speakers. Hope this helps!
  • Andrew from Ulm

    Posted on 4/4/2021

    Eric, thanks for answering questions. I am ready to get my first "real" setup and want full sound, for my nice apartment, to play CDs primarily, and price range of $1-3k (but I don't want to limit myself too much on price). Second question, I am currently in Germany where the power is 240V, but I want the system to still work when I move home to the US. Are there "dual voltage" systems? If not, is a transformer safe to use? Please disregard the international shipping limitation - I have the ability to ship here.

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 4/5/2021

    Andrew - There are definitely receivers and integrated amplifiers that can work in Europe or the U.S., and they're usually made by European companies. A good example is this Cambridge Audio AXA35; if you look at the back photo, you'll see a red switch that lets you adapt to the change in voltage. Unfortunately, I don't have that information in our database in a way where I can sift out *only* the ones that have it, so that's a project I'll need to explore. But if you look for that switch during your search, you may find exactly what you need (and I can happily recommend Cambridge as an excellent place to start in general).
  • Paul M from US

    Posted on 2/17/2021

    What are the pluses and minuses of adding a subwoofer to a stereo system?

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 2/18/2021

    Paul - It's purely a matter of choice, based on your preferences. For instance, I'm using bookshelf speakers in my apartment, and sometimes they just don't play low enough - the music ends up feeling "thin." So I have a sub I can employ for those times. Many audiophiles prefer a good pair of tower speakers with no subwoofer. I guess if you're listening, and you don't feel like anything is missing? You probably don't need one.
  • Marco Batalla from Albuquerque

    Posted on 2/9/2021

    Does the music source have an effect on sound quality? Like changing cd player( brand A) for cd player (brand B) shouldn't have an effect on sound quality, right?

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 2/9/2021

    Marco - It can definitely have an effect. Each CD player has a DAC (digital-to-analog converter) inside, and they can definitely vary in performance level. I still think the speakers make the most difference in what you hear, but those other things do matter. Thanks for the question!
  • Angelo from Hartford

    Posted on 12/12/2020

    Just bought the Klipsch RP-5000F floorstanding speakers. They sound muffled with my old Yamaha RP 396 receiver ( circa 1994, 50 wpc). I'm pretty sure it's the age of the receiver and not enough watts per channel. Does that make sense? And would the Sony 190 at 90 wpc be a decent fir for them?

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 12/14/2020

    Angelo - I'd say your diagnosis is probably correct - the connections on the older receiver may be degraded, or something like that. And more power should definitely improve the accuracy of the start/stop motion on the speaker drivers. I'd say a receiver upgrade is a good idea. Thanks for the question!
  • Paula Butler from Cohasset

    Posted on 11/13/2020

    Hi there, I miss my very old school Kenwood system and am looking to replace. Interested in a turntable, receiver and speakers (like the Klipher) sp? As they are wireless. Would like to spend $1000-750. Your recommendations are welcome. Thank you

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 11/16/2020

    Paula - In that price range, you may be able to get more bang for your buck if you skip the receiver and choose powered stereo speakers that have the amplifier and connections built into the speakers. For instance, the Klipsch The Fives have a built-in phono preamp, and they look pretty cool, in my opinion. Then you can choose a turntable like the Pro-ject T1 and you're good to go with a space-saving system. Give us a call if you'd like to dial in those recommendations a bit more!
  • Paula Butler from Cohasset

    Posted on 11/13/2020

    Hi there, I miss my very old school Kenwood system and am looking to replace. Interested in a turntable, receiver and speakers (like the Klipher) sp? As they are wireless. Would like to spend $1000-750. Your recommendations are welcome. Thank you

  • dave from Ventura

    Posted on 11/13/2020

    I just bought a Sony str-dh190 receiver and looking for a good set of speakers to go with it. any suggestions .

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 11/16/2020

    Dave - These Klipsch Reference R-51M bookshelf speakers are best-sellers for a reason. They look and sound great, and won't empty your wallet. Thanks for the question!
  • David Hulsey from Tuscumbia, Alabama

    Posted on 11/12/2020

    I like the simple and basic wording that you use. Some "help desk" sites speak in jargon that leaves the prospective buyer totally confused.

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 11/13/2020

    Glad we could help, David. Speaking in plain terms is definitely our goal, and our Advisors and Tech Support reps are great at it.
  • Carl from Oak Harbor

    Posted on 11/2/2020

    I bought a set of Klipsch R51M bookshelf speakers which I really like but I want a bit more base. I bought an entry-level Sony receiver and I use this to play from my computer or my phone's Bluetooth. Is there an easy way to get a bit more base? I am not averse to changing receivers. Room dimensions are about 14 X 20

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 11/3/2020

    Carl - The best way to get more bass is to add a powered subwoofer. Does the Sony have an output for that? If so, you will notice a dramatic improvement.
  • Lucas from Dublin, Ireland

    Posted on 10/17/2020

    What are the speakers in the image in the post header? Love the looks. Thanks for this article!

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 10/19/2020

    Lucas - Good eye. Those look like Jamo DS4 speakers, which we don't carry right now. They're a Danish company, and their speakers always have amazing style. Thanks for the question!
  • Deborah Kirk from Australia. Victoria

    Posted on 4/4/2020

    Hi, I'm old school love my music have just brought LG tv need knowledge on just about everything wanting to set up DVD player with speakers for medium size room I'm interested in music in all parts of my small house have internet can you help regards Deborah.

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 4/6/2020

    Deborah - We'd love to help, but I see you're in Australia, and we can only ship within the U.S. and Canada. Sorry!
  • Tommy from Birmingham

    Posted on 3/14/2020

    I just purchased the Yamaha RN303 receiver and the Elac Debut 6.2 speakers. Can't wait to get it set up.

  • John from Chicago

    Posted on 7/16/2019

    Thanks for the very clear, concise, and useful information.

  • angela g

    Posted on 5/27/2019

    Too bad you don't date your posts . . . Technology changes. So it's nice to know how current the info is.

  • Vansis tan

    Posted on 5/27/2019

    Hi,I currently using Pioneer SC-LX58 receiver for my surround movies. I looking for stereo amp with Bluetooth function to pair with my Q3050i speakers. Can bypass volume with my Pioneer avr when connected together. Which is the recommended amp? Thank you.

    Commenter image

    Jim Richardson from Crutchfield

    on 5/28/2019

    Thanks for your inquiry. I forwarded your message to our advisor group. Someone will contact you soon to speak with you about a recommendation.
  • Sean Thomas from Newport

    Posted on 5/9/2019

    I need a receiver/amp that will handle 3 pair of speakers. 2 Sony (SSCS5) 100W, 6ohm, 2 Vintage Technics (SBA32) 260W, 8ohms and 2 Yamaha (AW390) 130W, 6ohm. The Yamahas' are outdoor deck speakers. Need to be able to switch between the indoor and outdoor setup. I also input an Audio-Technica turntable and bluetooth from music services. Receiver suggestions?

    Commenter image

    Jim Richardson from Crutchfield

    on 5/10/2019

    Thanks for your inquiry. I forwarded your message to our advisor group. Someone will contact you soon to offer some suggestions.
  • Shaun from Mesa

    Posted on 3/19/2019

    I'm reviewing all kinds of products to try and build a stereo system. I've noticed many upscale speakers come with spiked feet. What's the purpose of spiked feet - or any feet, for loudspeakers?

    Commenter image

    Jim Richardson from Crutchfield

    on 3/20/2019

    Thanks for the good question. The purpose of spikes or feet is to isolate a speaker from the floor. They work like shock absorbers, decoupling your speakers from their supporting surface. This means they won't "excite" other things in your room. Or at least not as much as they would without the spikes. And fewer vibrations mean cleaner sound. That's the theory.
  • Cathy from Rockford

    Posted on 12/22/2018

    What receiver would work well with a DVD player and a turntable with built in preamp. I prefer Sony but would consider other brands.

    Commenter image

    Jim Richardson from Crutchfield

    on 12/31/2018

    Thanks for the inquiry. Pretty much any home theater receiver will work. We would need more information to make a good recommendation, and this isn't the best place for that kind of dialog. I took the liberty of forwarding your message to our advisor group. Someone will contact you soon. Good luck!
  • Ed from Louisville

    Posted on 11/19/2018

    The cheep combo systems I have been using seem to loose their ability to power 4 speakers. Typically all 4 work at first then only 2. I was thinking of a separate receiver with an add on cd player. I have limited space.

    Commenter image

    Jim Richardson from Crutchfield

    on 11/20/2018

    Ed, Thanks for your comment. Please contact one of our advisors for a recommendation.
  • Brenda Epperson from Bloomington Springs

    Posted on 11/17/2018

    Right now I only have a Sony Blu-ray player that is hooked up to tv. I would like to play my CD's with good sound system and also use with TV and movies. Will be getting new tv in near future. Also, later would like to add a turn table. Do i need a receiver plus a CD player/changer? What are my best options and of course doesn't break the bank. Can this be done in steps or does it have to be done all at the same time? Appreciate your help,

    Commenter image

    Jim Richardson from Crutchfield

    on 11/19/2018

    Hi Brenda. Thanks for the good questions. You can play CDs on your Blu-ray player. Consider getting an A/V receiver and a pair of bookshelf speakers now. There are plenty of good low-cost options. Connect the TV and Blu-ray player to the receiver, and you'll be set for music and movies. You can add other things later on, like a turntable, subwoofer, surround speakers, etc. Please contact one of our advisors to learn more.
  • Matt from Augusta

    Posted on 10/31/2018

    If you could only pick one music source what would it be? Phonograph, CD, MP3 or other wireless devices. Thanks

    Commenter image

    Jim Richardson from Crutchfield

    on 11/2/2018

    Thanks for asking. It would be hard for me to give up my Spotify subscription, even though it doesn't sound quite as good as records and CDs. I've been spoiled by the vast selection of music for just a few bucks a month.
  • owen

    Posted on 10/8/2017

    No mention of an antenna. What do I needfor an antenna?

  • Kathryn S Elich from Portland

    Posted on 6/30/2017

    Do I need just a receiver turntable and speakers? Do the receivers have the blue tooth or wifi and what is that? Been over 35 yrs. Fry's has those. $$ matter - so does cd play-ability .

  • Faith from Roxie

    Posted on 6/22/2017

    I am looking for a way to play and listen to my CDs. Simple with good sound. I want a package deal. All components included. I would like the option to add wireless speakers to the other rooms of my home in the future and blue tooth.. I am looking to spend as little as possible but yet I want great sound. Please give me some suggestions. Thanks

  • Rainey

    Posted on 2/11/2016

    This is a great service you offer. Wolf was great.

  • Jeff from Gainesville

    Posted on 11/2/2015

    Thanks, a nice reintroduction to the old world of vinyl