So you are a movie and music buff, and you spent a big chunk of your savings on your own dream theatre; a super-big screen, a 4K, 3D, Blu-ray player, dedicated CD changer, mumbo jumbo set of speakers that could rock the entire locality at just half the decibels — and you think you are all set for the entertainment bliss?
Hold on. Before you even lie down on that couch with soda and pops, you are missing on one thing, more important than all the others — the one thing that could make or break all that you put up together out there: the A /V receiver.
To get the most out of that supped up set up that you installed, you have to invest in a matching receiver too (ya, ya lose some more of the wallet weight). All that action banging in your ears and giving you goosebumps — raging cars whirring past one another; a bullet flying by just near the ear; or a bomb that explodes while the action hero walks unflinchingly; all the magic is wafted by the receiver.
The receiver is the hub of any home theatre system, acting as a bridge between the various input and output components. Simply put, the receiver is the nerve centre that connects and syncs all the devices (TV, speakers, set-top box, CD changer, Blu-ray player, satellite box, gaming console, router, and so on), and performs all the necessary tasks – powering speakers, tuning radio stations, switching between audio and video components and decoding signals for surround sound; to deliver the most immersive audio-visual experience.
A receiver basically is a 3 in 1 component combo — a preamplifier (or preamp), a tuner, and an amplifier. The preamp lets you select which source you’d like to listen to or watch. Modern receivers offer connectivity with almost any and every device; from the set-top box or CD player, to satellite radio, to the smartphone on your palm.
The preamp also processes incoming audio and video signals from the different input sources. What once used to mean controls for bass, treble, balance, and loudness has evolved to decoding of numerous digital surround sound formats with the advance receivers featuring an array of sophisticated digital processing circuits (DAC) for vastly improved sound and picture quality.
The tuner in the receiver not only lets you enjoy over-the-air AM or FM broadcasts, but also the modern music sources such as HD Radio, satellite radio, and Internet radio. The latest receivers also allow access to the online music services like Pandora, Rhapsody, and Spotify. Wireless technologies like Apple AirPlay and Bluetooth allowing you wireless streaming of music from compatible smartphones and other devices.
The amplifier – the soul of the receiver; as the name suggests, amplifies or boosts the signals from the input devices to create a most ingrained and engaging sound, enhancing the audio-visual experience.
Delivering detailed surround sound, the modern receivers feature multiple advanced sound processing formats like Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. The top and mid range receivers are also compatible with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks, which use overhead speakers to produce richer sound effects.
For high-quality music sources, premium grade receivers feature modes to protect audio signal integrity, like the ‘Audio-only’ mode that shuts off video circuits, minimising potential sources of noise, and delivering a much richer sound. Some receivers also feature audio processing designed to improve the sound quality of MP3s and other compressed digital music.
The receivers also feature sophisticated video processing to improve the image quality from the input devices, whether standard- or high-definition, up-scaling analogue content to 1080p or even 4K and minimising graininess and noise from compressed videos. A whole lot of options are available in the receiver market, and you need to choose the one that serves your purpose the best. Here a few things to consider while going hunting for one:
Measured in watts, power doesn’t just mean the volume. It also defines a receiver’s capacity to deliver detailed and dynamic sound. A high-wattage receiver provides better sound quality than one with less power, through the entire volume range. It’s important that the receiver be powerful enough to efficiently supply to the speaker set-up. An underpowered receiver could result in distorted sound, and also damages the speakers over time, while overheating itself as well.
Check your speaker system’s full-bandwidth power ratings measured over the entire range of audible frequencies (20 to 20,000Hz), and the sensitivity rating, and buy a matching receiver accordingly.
Lower sensitivity ratings means more power is required from the amplifier. A speaker with lower ratings will require more juice from the receiver to produce the same volume that speakers with higher sensitivity ratings produced on much lesser power. The size of the place also plays a crucial part: larger the room, more the power needed.
For the amateur audio-video buffs, that most of us are, setting up a home theatre could prove quite an uphill task; sound adjustment being the toughest part, with all the elements of the space coming into play (mind you, a chair near the sub or the front speaker might end up eating much of the low-end frequencies, also known as bass).
Many receivers make this job easy by offering automatic speaker calibration. Using a microphone sensor, the receiver analyses and automatically adjusts the sound of connected speakers. Emitting test tones to the speakers and subwoofer, the microphone monitors the sound, enabling the receiver to determine speaker size, measure the distance of each speaker from the listener, while also checking that the components are properly connected.
The modern receivers accommodate almost all of the input devices out there today. However, you need to be careful in making your selection if you have some dear old device from your grandpa’s time that you wish to connect, because that might need special input/output connection, rendered obsolete and absent in most receivers (most modern devices connect through HDMI or digital cables, while connecting a really old device might require analogue connection). Also, keep a tab on the number of components you look to connect to the receiver, and go for one having as many inputs and outputs (better a few extra in case you want to expand later). Also, choose the proper receiver according to your speaker configuration (5.1, 7.1 or 9.1).
The more devices the receiver can sync; the better. AirPlay compatibility is the latest connectivity feature that allows wireless music streaming music from iOS devices (iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch), and as well as from digital apps like Pandora, and Spotify.
How much is too much?
Bigger the picture, bigger the sound: if your set-up is big, with a 55” plus screen in that big basement of yours (onwards of 15 x 15 approx), you’d definitely want equally complementing audio experience for your ears, as the visuals for the eyes. Go for larger speakers, and a more powerful receiver, if big is your call. However, if your living room doubles up as your entertainment hub with a wall complementing 45” or less screen, then a decent small speaker set-up (Bose be the best in here) hitched to a middle range receiver would make the job just perfect.
Looking for extra crisp punch? Go for high-current power
The dynamic peaks that help make movie soundtracks and music so exciting can impose intense short-term demands on a receiver. The sudden high-volume special effects like explosions or loud revving engines are known as dynamic peaks, and while making the audio-visual experience so very wholesome and exciting; they also gobble up the receiver’s power reserves very quickly, resulting in a dull, flat sound.
The high-current power amps are braced to handle these challenges, reproducing the dramatic surging sound effects with more punch and higher fidelity than the non-high current power receivers with similar wattage ratings.
Major A/V receiver brands available in Muscat
Denon, Onkyo, Yamaha, Harman Kardon
Start at OMR200
Where to Check
Extra (for the Onkyo receivers, you could also visit any Bose outlet as Onkyo is the official partner for Bose sound systems).