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When you listen to music, do you want mere background sound? Or do you want sound that gets you as close as possible to the thrill of a live performance?
If it’s the latter, a single wireless speaker won’t do. You’ll need a real stereo system, and that includes three ingredients:
You don’t have to spend a ton of money to get a great home stereo system. It’s more about finding well-matched components that complement your musical preferences and work well in your listening room.
Below you'll find tips on how to choose. To learn more, read our home stereo buying guides. For help with system design, contact a Crutchfield advisor.
A stereo receiver has two channels of power to drive left and right stereo speakers. It also has an AM/FM tuner. Look for a model that has enough analog and digital audio inputs to accommodate all of your components. Some models also have Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth wireless connections.
An integrated amplifier is two components in one — a power amp and a preamplifier for your music source components. The preamp lets you select your sources and control the volume. Think of it as a stereo receiver without the radio.
A stereo preamp includes connections for your source components, as well as tone, balance, and volume controls. There's a switch to select the component you want to play. Some models include a built-in network music player.
Pair a stereo preamp with a high-performance stereo amplifier. Audiophiles like “separates” because they promise better sound quality and system-building versatility.
Bookshelf speakers give you clear, detailed sound and a compact form factor. Some bookshelf speakers produce a surprising amount of bass, especially for smaller listening rooms. If you feel the need to fill out the bottom end, you can add a powered subwoofer to your system.
By the way, you don’t have to put bookshelf speakers on bookshelves. They actually sound better when you place them on stands, at ear level.
Floor-standing speakers (aka “tower” speakers) are great for large rooms. Their large enclosures help tower speakers deliver more bass than their smaller bookshelf cousins.
Powered stereo speakers are great for apartment dwellers or anyone else who wants a sound system with few component parts. Powered speakers (aka “active” speakers) have an amplifier that is usually built into one of the two speakers. The left and right speakers then connect to each other with an included wire.
Most models have inputs for components such as a CD player, turntable, or computer. Some also provide Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth wireless connections.
Will you use your turntable frequently? Do you care a lot about sound quality? If so, buy the best turntable you can afford.
Turntables have a lot of parts, and they all contribute to the record-playing experience. Higher-priced models have better cartridges and tonearms. They tend to have heavier bases and platters. And their assemblies are well-damped to reduce vibration and noise. All of these details add up to better sound and greater durability.
To learn more, read our turntable buying guide.
A CD player has two main parts. The transport is the part that holds, spins, and reads the disc. The digital-to-analog converter, or DAC for short, converts the disc's digital data to an analog audio signal.
Usually these two parts are housed in a single chassis. But separate CD transports are also available. If you buy a transport, you'll need a separate DAC for the digital decoding. Or you can connect the transport digitally to a receiver or amp with a built-in DAC.
A network music player connects to your home network, so it can play digital music from online services, computers, and networked hard drives. A model that has inputs for other components makes a great preamp for a modern stereo system. Just hook it up to a stereo amp or a pair of powered stereo speakers.
A music server is a network music player with a built-in hard drive to store your digital music files. Want to easily rip your CDs without involving a computer? Look for a model with a built-in CD drive.
A component hi-fi DAC helps you get the best possible sound from your digital music sources. As you would expect from a hi-fi component, these DACs typically include large power supplies and advanced circuitry. They offer a wide range of connection options. Some models have a built-in CD player, as well as Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi.
You'll find phono preamps built into many receivers and some turntables. Vinyl fanatics love outboard phono preamps. A widget designed to do a single task is almost always going to outperform the same sort of widget built into some other component.
Confused? Read our article on how to connect a turntable.
A turntable cartridges (also known as a phono cartridge) is the shell that contains the needle (aka stylus) and the mechanism that converts the needle's vibrations into an electrical signal.
Moving-magnet cartridges are the most common type. They’re compatible with any phono preamp.
Moving-coil cartridges track record grooves with greater accuracy. MC cartridges with low output voltage require a phono preamp that has a moving-coil setting.
To learn more, read our phono cartridge buying guide.
No cable can improve an audio signal. But poorly made cables can degrade a signal, limiting the frequencies you'll hear or obscuring low-level details.
Most speakers don’t come with wire, so be sure to pick some up when you purchase speakers. Our speaker wire guide has detailed information on choosing the right wire for your speakers.