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Stereo receivers buying guide

I remember the circa 1970 receiver my dad installed in our living room when I was a kid. It tuned in local radio stations and let my dad hook up his turntable and spin Chuck Mangione records, and that’s all it did. At the time, it was state-of-the-art.

When I started building my own living room setup, I wanted the same basic features my dad's system had. My entry-level Sony STR-DH190 lets me listen to local radio and has inputs for my Pro-Ject Debut Carbon turntable. It cranks out 90 watts per channel, which works nicely with my Klipsch bookshelf speakers. It’s the central piece my system is built around.

These days, a stereo receiver still, by definition, has an AM/FM tuner. But they’ve also evolved since the 1970s: mine has multiple analog and digital inputs, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and even built-in music streaming apps.

Let’s look at what a modern stereo receiver can do, so you can decide which features you need before you go shopping.

Cambridge Audio SR20 Transformer

The Cambridge Audio SR20 receiver is powered by a high-current toroidal transformer (lower left) that makes music with dynamic peaks sound lifelike and natural.

Essential stereo receiver features

To illustrate some of the basic features you can expect from an entry-level receiver, let’s take a look at the popular Yamaha R-N303 receiver. Our customers love this receiver for its versatility and reasonable price.

Yamaha R-N303 Stereo receiver with Wi-Fi®, Bluetooth®, and MusicCast

The Yamaha R-N303 offers plenty of analog, digital, and wireless functionality at an entry-level price point.

AM/FM tuner with presets

The radio is still one of the best places to hear new artists, along with deep cuts from old favorites, and keep up with the latest news. The Yamaha R-N303 has 40 AM/FM presets, so a listener in an urban area can find favorite channels with the press of a button.

If you live in a rural area, want to pull in stations from the next town over, or simply want the strongest signal you can get, replace the thin wire antenna that comes with your receiver with a more robust AM/FM antenna.

Analog inputs

Those good old red-and-white stereo RCA connectors have been with us a long time, for good reason. They’re so handy for connecting CD playerscassette decks and turntables.

If you plan to connect a turntable to a receiver, find out if your receiver has a built-in phono preamp. If not, you’ll need to run the output from the turntable to a separate phono preamp. Audiophiles often prefer an outboard unit, which can provide more sophisticated options than a built-in phono stage.

You’ll find balanced inputs on high-end receivers like the McIntosh MAC7200. These are compatible with XLR cables that can transfer sound signals over much longer distances without signal loss or added noise.

Digital inputs

Most stereo receivers feature a couple of standard digital inputs — optical and coaxial. I like to use these to bring in digital audio from my TV or gaming system. Sound effects, dialogue, and music really come to life when played through a receiver and a good set of speakers.

USB Type A and USB Type B

Make sure the USB port on your receiver matches the device you want to use.

There are a couple of types of USB jack that receivers use, and you’ll want to make sure you get the one you need. A Type-B USB input is good for connecting a computer, if you want to stream tunes from files stored on your hard drive. Many receivers have a Type-A USB for connecting a flash drive full of favorites.

Since we’re streaming content more and more often, many receivers will feature an Ethernet port for connecting directly to your router.

Integra DTM-7 Stereo receiver

The Integra DTM-7 is one of the rare stereo receivers that includes HDMI inputs.

Some receivers feature HDMI inputs. Look out for features like 4K and HDR compatibility to make sure your picture looks the best it can when passed through the receiver.

Receiver outputs

The most important outputs on a stereo receiver are the speaker terminals. They may be simple spring clip connectors on an entry-level receiver, but most have binding posts. The posts may even be gold-plated to improve conductivity. Banana plugs offer a convenient means for making solid speaker connections.

Some receivers like the aforementioned DTM-7, have line-level RCA outputs that let you set up a second zone with a separate stereo amplifier or a pair of powered stereo speakers in another room.

Integra DTM-7 Stereo receiver back panel inputs and outputs

This receiver has just about any connection you could ask for, including a "line out" for setting up a second zone.

You may just need one pair of speaker terminals, but many receivers have two sets, labeled A/B. This allows you to set up a second pair of speakers — perhaps on the patio or in another room — that can play music in one, either, or sometimes both rooms. The only catch? You can’t play different sources in the A and B locations.

It’s always nice to see a single RCA output labeled “SUB,” because that means you can add bass — via a powered subwoofer - to your system. Traditional systems - like the one my dad had in the living room — rarely had the option to add a sub, but these days, more listeners crave that deep, musical bass. Subwoofer cables are heavily shielded and grounded so they don’t introduce hum or noise.

And let’s not ignore the humble headphone jack!

Cambridge Audio SR20 with headphones

For late-night TV binges, or rocking out when others need quiet, nothing beats a great pair of headphones.

Streaming music with a stereo receiver

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are now commonly found in many stereo receivers. You can use a mobile device to wirelessly stream music to the receiver, and take advantage of built-in support for popular streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, Deezer, TuneIn, and more.

You can also stream music from the receiver to wireless speakers and create a multi-room audio system.

Yamaha equips their Wi-Fi enabled receivers with a proprietary technology called MusicCast. You can download the MusicCast app to your phone to build playlists and stream music to the receiver, which beams it out to other MusicCast-capable devices.

Then it can stream out any source, wired or wireless, to just about any bluetooth speaker or a pair of headphones, making it great for private, late-night listening.

Apple AirPlay 2 supports wireless multi-room streaming from Apple phones and tablets. DTS Play-Fi is a wireless multi-room audio system that doesn’t care what brand you like, as long as it’s Play-Fi enabled. Chromecast built-in lets you stream audio and video from a mobile device to your receiver and TV.

If one of those systems appeals to you, you can find a receiver that has it built in.

Stereo receivers and voice control

Ever get a sudden whim to hear a specific song? Stereo receiver manufacturers are starting to add voice control compatibility into their products. If you want to control your system with Alexa or Google Home, you should be able to find one that suits your needs.

What if I need more channels?

You certainly can use your stereo receiver to enhance dialogue and sound effects from TV and movies. If you want a more immersive experience, check out our buying guide for home theater receivers, which offer up to 13 channels for adding surround sound speakers.

Have questions?

Need help choosing home stereo gear? Contact us today. Our friendly, knowledgeable advisors can help you zero in on the perfect stereo receiver, compatible speakers, and other components. For some tips on how to put together an affordable hi-fi system, read our budget audiophile playbook.

  • Bob from Magnolia

    Posted on 1/10/2022

    Is there a receiver that puts out around 100 wats/channel, handles 4 speakers and has sirius built in?

  • John from Portland

    Posted on 8/19/2021

    Hi, thanks for so much great info! For under $2000 I'm thinking about Elac uni-fi reference speakers, Cambridge AXR100 and Audioengine to steam WiFi from my Mac ( not sure how much longer my Airport Express will hold out ). Do you have a better set-up for me for the same, or less money? Maybe a different receiver with built-in WiFi? Mostly jazz and classical. Just need 2 channels - maybe add a sub someday - or not. Big thanks! John

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    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 8/20/2021

    Thanks for the question, John. Going point-by-point, I'll first say that I *love* ELAC speakers, and those will have the most effect on what you hear, so that's a great start. As for the receiver, I kind of like the versatility of the Denon CEOL RCD-N10, which has Wi-Fi built in, a CD player, and that large display screen. And finally, you didn't really ask my opinion on the sub, but I'm a big jazz listener and I have yet to get comfortable with how a sub sounds - it almost throws acoustic bass out of whack for me. But that may just be me. Anyway, I hope you enjoy your system!
  • Amelia from Atlanta

    Posted on 5/16/2021

    Thanks for the information I need a stereo receiver just for music , I have build in speakers in my home and 2 outdoor in my patio area all wired a total of 7. Indoor and two outdoor What is your recommendation Something moderate price and that is currently available

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 5/17/2021

    Amelia - I can't think of a stereo receiver we carry that will drive 7 speakers - they usually max out at 4 with an A/B switch. We do have some 7-channel power amplifiers, but they're kind of pricey. If you're fortunate enough to already have an amp, and just need something to plug your sources into, try the Cambridge Audio AXA35, which has a pre-amp output that can feed signal to your existing power amp. Hope this helps!
  • James M Floyd from Carlisle

    Posted on 4/13/2021

    Eric, I want to build a new system. I 'm clueless as to the technical aspects of components, totally lost. I already have my old Technics cd player that holds over 50 cds at once, unfortunately my old Nakamichi Stasis receiver has died, bought it in 78. I want a new receiver, turntable, possibly new speakers, have a set of powered Infinity's presently. My budget for this is around$1500. What càn you suggest?

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 4/14/2021

    James - Thanks for checking in. If you want a receiver (with the ability to tune in radio stations), this Marantz NR1200 offers just about everything you could want, including a phono input. If radio doesn't matter, maybe look at an integrated amplifier instead. For a turntable, the Pro-Ject T1 is good-looking and gets strong reviews from our customers. There are so many variables for speakers, I'd be hard-pressed to make a reliable recommendation without knowing more about what you want to do, but I'll suggest the MartinLogan Motion 15i bookshelf speakers because I have a strong preference for the Folded Motion tweeter when listening to vinyl. Hope this helps, or at least provides a good starting point.
  • Jeff from Wash DC

    Posted on 4/4/2021

    Hi Eric -- My 1973 HK 730 stereo receiver needs to be serviced every two or three years. A $100 proposition.. The left channel just went out -- meaning it needs a cleaning. Bought it at age 14 with the proceeds of my paper route in Dayton OH It's driving pair of two-way big bookcase ADS speakers. The stereo has class AB power estimated at around 100 WPS (per bench tests posted on the web). I'm pretty happy with the setup. But I like the idea of powering my old passive speakers and a pair of powered speakers. Thoughts? - Jeff

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 4/5/2021

    Hi, Jeff. I love the story of how, when, and where you acquired your receiver - it's done some real service over the years. Since I can't really ask you the usual questions about what you want to plug in, etc. I'll suggest one that kind of "does it all" and gives you some modern options: the Denon CEOL RCD-N10. And just for kicks, I wanted to show you the Technics SU-G700, which doesn't have a receiver in it, but does have those wonderful old-fashioned VU-meters in it that I love. I hope this helps!
  • Michael White from NYC

    Posted on 3/11/2021

    The best system I've ever known is the RCA Lyra. It broadcast (not using the internet) from my computer to stereo receivers multiroom around the house. Now you need a machine still running window xp to use the equipment that's otherwise been orphaned (drivers aren't available in later Windows OSs). Lyra is what I'd like to duplicate. Very important: There was no sound lag as you wanted from room to room (unlike Bluetooth). Also, unlike Bluetooth there was no limit to the number of receivers.

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 3/12/2021

    Michael - Fortunately, multi-room wireless audio is a real focus for the industry these days. The main three ecosystems are DTS Play-Fi, HEOS, and MusicCast. Each of those links I provided should show you the compatible receivers, amps, and speakers that work within the system. I hope this helps!
  • Kenneth Birdcreek from Henryetta

    Posted on 1/1/2021

    Looking for a Samsung giga stereo receiver that has a CD player..Bluetooth..built-in karaoke that will make the speaker lights flash when the music plays and play off the TV

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 1/4/2021

    I'm afraid we don't have anything that works as a receiver, but I've seen these JBL PartyBox speakers in action, and they're a nice alternative. Thanks for the question!
  • Rob Gongora from San Francisco

    Posted on 12/6/2020

    Hello. Great article by the way. I do have a question. Do that make receivers that you can use your bluetooth earphones/soundbar? Thanks.

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 12/7/2020

    Rob - There are receivers and sound bars that have Bluetooth built in, and can typically be used with compatible earphones. One of our advisors can help you zero in on ones that work together if you give us a call, chat, or email. Thanks!
  • Mike from Downingtown

    Posted on 10/7/2020

    I have 2 & 4 channel tapes. Previous set up was a pioneer 949. I connected a record player, 4 Bose speakers, pioneer cassette player and an AKAI 2/4 channel reel to reel. Suggestions for new amplifier? Thanks

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 10/8/2020

    Mike - I filtered this list of receivers so it only shows those with two pairs of binding posts to accommodate your four speakers (I'm assuming they connect via bare wire and don't have proprietary Bose plugs since you used them with your Pioneer). I tend to favor the Yamaha options for power, reliability and versatility, but there's not a bad choice here.
  • Erik from Green Bay

    Posted on 8/18/2020

    Hi Eric - I'm looking for a receiver to provide music to an existing home wired speaker setup. I haven't moved in yet, so unfortunately I don't know the speaker specs. I do know there are 8 zones running through a SpeakerCraft 8 zone speaker selector capable of 125watts per channel. I may replace this outdated wired setup at some point, but for now I'm looking for advice on a receiver to connect to the speaker selector. Ideally something to increase the usability (wifi & bluetooth). Thanks!

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 8/19/2020

    Erik - I hate to deflect, but this sounds like a question that could be best answered by one of our whole-house designers who knows more about the SpeakerCraft product line. You can get in touch with an expert Advisor using the call, chat, or email options found in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. Sounds like a heck of a system, I'm sure we can help!