What Is An AV Receiver?
An AV Receiver is the heart of your home cinema system. If you’re just getting started into the world of home cinema, it can be confusing. We’re going to try and help with this and provide an overview of what AV Receivers do.
Connects everything together
The AV Receiver (or AVR) will act as a switch for all your sources. Typically speaking, you would plug all of your sources into the AVR, which then outputs to your TV or Projector. You will plug an HDMI cable into the HDMI output from things such as your Blu-ray Player, Sky Box or Playstation and then into the inputs on the rear of the AVR. Typically, you can then go into the menu and label the inputs, so instead of HDMI 1, HDMI 2 etc, you can call them what you like, so Blu-ray player, Sky, or on some models they come pre-named with popular sources. The AVR will output the video to your TV or Projector, once again using a HDMI cable.
You can also connect audio products to your AVR, you normally get both digital and analogue audio connections, so if you have a wireless music streamer such as a Sonos CONNECT or Bluesound NODE 2i, you can plug these into your AVR. Some models also include a dedicated phono input for turntables.
Drives your speakers
The AVR will also drive/power your passive speakers using the amplifier(s) that are built-in. You connect the speakers to the AVR using speaker cable, which connects to the red/black or red/white connections/terminals on the rear. The different audio channels are taken from your inputs, split up, amplified and then sent to the corresponding speaker terminal, which then drives your speakers.
Surround-sound format decoding
Video comes with a soundtrack and that soundtrack can be in a variety of formats. Formats include Dolby Digital, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. These formats need decoding in order for the AVR to know which speakers to send the audio to.
For a surround sound set up, as a minimum you require a 5.1 speaker configuration. The “5” in 5.1 relates to the speakers around the room, so front left & right, a centre speaker, and a rear left & right. The “1” relates to the subwoofer, required for low end frequencies, normally a subwoofer will have a built in amplifier, so you connect this to the subwoofer output on using a subwoofer phono cable.
You can change the speaker configuration by adding more speakers, for example another popular configuration is a 7.1, so you’ve got your front left & right, centre speaker, surround left & right and surround back left & right. You can always go bigger and have more speakers (providing your AVR has enough channels).
If you have a large room, or just want more “oomph” you can also add an additional subwoofer, so creating a 5.2 or a 7.2.
To take advantage of the Dolby Atmos sound format, as a minimum you add two more channels to the configuration, which for best results are installed in the ceiling of the room or you can use up-firing speakers. For example, a 5.1.2 configuration has the front left & right, centre, rear left & right, subwoofer and top middle left & right (in-ceiling or up-firing).
The majority of AVRs now come with some music streaming ability built in and most come with Wi-Fi or Ethernet to connect it to your home network.
Bluetooth is very common, allowing you to connect your smart phone or tablet and play the audio through the system. Spotify Connect is great for Spotify Users, you tap the little speaker icon in the Spotify app and you will see the AVR, select it and you’re ready to start enjoying music. For iPhone users, some models have Apple Airplay. These are quite basic music streaming features but they are very useful and a handy feature to look out for.
Some AVRs have more advanced music streaming built-in, and become part of quite advanced multi-room audio systems. Denon’s range of AVRs have their HEOS wirless multi-room system on board, and NAD AVRs have Bluesound’s BluOS system.
AV Receiver vs AV Amplifier: The only difference between these two is the that an AV Receiver has a FM radio tuner built-in.
Passive Speakers: Passive speakers are speakers that require amplification to work. Active speakers have amplifiers built in.
Channel: Each speaker is a channel, so if you had just a front left and right speaker, you have two channels.
Up-firing speaker: These are speakers that sit on top of your front left & right speakers, and fire sound at the ceiling which then reflects off the ceiling and is directed at the listener. These are used for Dolby Atmos configurations when in-ceiling speakers cannot be used
Bluetooth: Bluetooth is a method of streaming data from one device to another, most commonly used to stream audio from smart phones to wireless speakers, soundbars, headphones, amplifiers, or AV Receivers.
HDMI: HDMI has replaced things like SCART or component video, it carries video and audio signals.
Digital audio input: Some of your sources may output a digital audio signal. These will can be plugged into a digital audio signal, most AVRs with come with a Optical input or Coaxial input.
Analogue audio input: Some of your sources may output an analogue audio signal, these can be plugged in to the analogue audio inputs on the AVR. Most analogue audio connections are made using L+R analogue phono interconnects, which are colour coded.
Dolby Atmos: Dolby Atmos is a revolutionary sound format, with speakers above your head, you experience a really immersive sound, with the sound not only coming from the speakers around you, but also from above.