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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.

  • Jim from Deptford, NJ

    Posted on 1/17/2023

    New Receivers seem to lack "Line Out"for CD burners or Cassettes. Old Receivers had plenty of these (usually RCA) ports. Is this function available in any current Receivers ?

    Commenter image

    Eric A. from Crutchfield

    on 1/18/2023

    Jim - you're right that it's getting harder to find on receivers. I'm seeing fixed volume line output that should work on the Yamaha R-S202, if that one suits your needs. Thanks for the thought-provoking question!
  • Richard from Marco Island FL

    Posted on 12/20/2022

    Still have my Pioneer SA9100 and they still work with NO repairs. Son sent me a Denon 760H so I traded them out. Noticeable difference in sound but the Pioneers were purchased in1974. Does someone want to buy my old PIONEER AMP AND TUNER?

    Commenter image

    Eric A. from Crutchfield

    on 12/21/2022

    Richard - That's an impressive run of service from that Pioneer. Glad you're enjoying the new Denon, however. Thanks for the comment!
  • Frank from Manchester

    Posted on 11/20/2022

    Is there any home stereo receiver that can play both the "A" and "B" speakers at the same time? It could be used to power speakers at opposite ends of a room or "stacked" speakers at one end of a room.

    Commenter image

    Eric A. from Crutchfield

    on 11/21/2022

    Frank - I believe many (if not most) of the receivers and integrated amps with A/B "switching" will also allow you to play both simultaneously. If I can figure out a way to call that information out more clearly on our web presentation, I'll do so. In the meantime, it might be a good idea to chat with an Advisor prior to purchase to make certain you're getting what you want. Thanks!
  • HARRY V FERZETTI from Bear

    Posted on 10/6/2022

    What about remote controls. I'm setting up a system with speaker that go out to my deck. I would like to select various stations from my deck, like listen to a baseball game or different music. My receiver will be in my family room with speaker and out on my deck with speakers. There will be a glass sliding door and fiberglass in the walls. The remote would be about 20 to 25 feet away from the receiver. Do they have one that comes with a remote and will work under those conditions?

    Commenter image

    Eric A. from Crutchfield

    on 10/7/2022

    Harry - I'd be hard-pressed to guarantee that a standard included remote could penetrate walls or a glass door. If you haven't gotten too far down the road planning the system, I'd highly recommend talking to one of our Advisors. They may be able to build a system from scratch that works exactly like you want it to. Thanks for the question!
  • Bruce MacDonald from Stuart, Florida

    Posted on 9/25/2022

    When I was a kid, I used to wait for the Crutchfield catalog to come in the mail like I waited for Christmas. I was 13 in'78 and the Pioneer Super Tuner and the Alpines were coming into there own . You guys had the best catalog with pictures of all the latest stuff !,and I did purchase stuff a couple of times. It would be great if you could post a photo of the old catalog at different times. Let's see those 6x9's on the rear deck !

    Commenter image

    Eric A. from Crutchfield

    on 9/26/2022

    Bruce - We have a back archive of all the catalogs, and it is always interesting to go back and see what we used to sell. Maybe some day we can get them digitized and archived on the site. I love the feeling of nostalgia as much as you do. Thanks for the comment!
  • Steve from Glen Burnie 21061

    Posted on 9/22/2022

    I have old Sony 1130 from 1973 ? A pair of Klipsch KG4 s sound great running a Techniques turntable db20? Just want to add a am/fm turner recommend?

    Commenter image

    Eric A. from Crutchfield

    on 9/23/2022

    Steve - We don't carry a lot of stand-alone tuners, but we do have a couple of nice ones. The Rotel T11 comes in black and silver, so you can match it to the rest of your components a little easier. We also carry an NAD C 427, which costs a bit more. Both are currently out of stock, but we're expecting the Rotels in October, so you can pre-order. Thanks for asking!
  • Len oberdorf from Winchester

    Posted on 9/20/2022

    I'll keep my fisher RS-1080 for my musical needs and a pioneer 110 watt pc video receiver for surround,the 1080 is from 1977 and has 170 wpc

  • Christopher Nelson from Huntsville

    Posted on 5/19/2022

    I just bought a NAD C268 power amplifier. I love the amp, but I am new to the whole world of stereo equipment. There is not a volume control for the NAD, do I need to get a stereo receiver to connect to the NAD so I can increase the level of volume? I have Klipsch 280f speakers and I really want to hear the quality and crisp sound of them. I also have an Audio Techina turntable connect to a 30 band EQ, which is then connected to the NAD. I am looking for crisp clear sound, not trying to blow out eardrums. Thanks in advance for your help and advice.

    Commenter image

    Eric A. from Crutchfield

    on 5/20/2022

    Christopher - In this case, the power amp's sole job is to provide lots of clean power for the speakers (which it will definitely do!), Tou'll need a stereo preamp to hook all of your equipment up to, and I'd recommend one of these NAD preamplifiers for a good match of sound quality and looks. Both have phono input, so you can connect your turntable and enjoy warm, detailed sound through those nice Klipsch speakers. Hope this helps!
  • Quentin Mong from Muncie

    Posted on 3/17/2022

    Just read Eric A's comments on Receivers. Impressed. I'm one that has messed with components since the 60s. And the combinations I have now are from back a few decades. So just ran across Eric's comments and that was interesting reading. No nonsense. Just common sense. I might be needing a new Receiver yet. Hearing not as good now but I know it will be some compromises if I indeed do purchase. I'll keep this spot in mind. Thank You Eric...qm

  • 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?

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