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Amplifiers vs. Preamplifers: What's The Difference?

Jan 24, 2008
There are many lesser-known components available that are vital to creating a high-end home theater environment. Some of these components include sound equipment like a home theater amplifier or a surround sound preamplifier. If you aren't familiar with these custom home theater components, don't be overwhelmed. Below you'll find descriptions of both as well as how you can find a home theater preamplifier and amplifier that's right for your entertainment system.

The surround sound preamplifier and the home theater amplifier, though similar, are two separate components for a reason. The following is information on these custom home theater components that will help you get a better understanding of what each does and how they work in unison.

Surround Sound Preamplifier

The home theater preamplifier was originally a simple component contained in the audio-visual receiver that serves as the core of a home theater system. To allow for better control over a home theatre's audio quality, however, many manufacturers have begun offering preamplifiers as a separate component that can be more directly controlled. This doesn't mean that it's been completely removed from the A/V receiver and its functions. Several preamplifier models such as the NAD T175 from NAD still feature decoding technology as well as control functions which allow for greater customization of the audio experience.

As the name implies, the surround sound preamplifier's job is to act as an initial amplifier for audio signals that come in to the A/V receiver. This allows the home theater amplifier, or power amplifier (as it is also known), to have much less work to do in order to get the audio level to the point that you want it at. By using a preamplifier in your custom home theater system, you will also gain an additional control point for making small adjustments to the quality of your audio so that you can make everything sound exactly like you want it to.

Home Theater Amplifier

The home theater amplifier was also originally just a component of the A/V receiver. As the use of custom home theater components began to rise in popularity, though, the amplifier was one of the first pieces to be separated from the receiver. A separate amplifier allows for a much greater level of control when it comes to the volume and clarity of your audio, and when combined with a preamplifier, will allow you to customize your audio experience to the layout of the room or rooms that your surround sound system covers.

As previously mentioned, the home theater amplifier is sometimes referred to as the power amplifier because it is independently powered, as opposed to having to share its power with the other components of the A/V receiver. When audio information is sent to the amplifier from an A/V receiver or other decoder, it is sent as separate audio channels which are then independently amplified. The specific levels of amplification can be altered at the amplifier itself, allowing you to "shape" the end result to accentuate the specific qualities of your audio that you prefer and that work best with the acoustics of your home layout. Audio components manufacturers such as PSB strive to include as many options for audio customization as possible, ranging from basic graphics equalizers and volume controls to virtual audio effects, bass boosting technology, and the ability to emulate a wider range of sounds from individual speakers to better control the way that your home theater system plays audio.

If you are designing a very large home theater room or if you plan to have a complicated theatre layout, consider components like an amplifier or surround sound preamplifier. When the two pieces are installed and are working together, you will have greater control over volume, better sound quality and clarity, and an optimum system for making additional customization changes to. A home theater custom installer can give you specific information about your amplifier needs if you are unclear about whether these items are right for your theater.

~Ben Anton, 2008
About the Author
Ben Anton invites you to find out more about surround sound preamplifiers and other home audio components at the new Ronnys stereo store.
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