As cool as multi-channel and dimensional surround sound is, there’s something to be said for a simple and classic 2 channel stereo setup – it is still the best way, in our opinion, to really invest in and maximize the speakers themselves and experience great musical fidelity.
There are now more affordable receiver options than ever, and while the vast selection is great for the consumer, it can also be a little overwhelming to the non-experienced. This article will break down what to look for in an inexpensive receiver that’s still great, and we’ll make some specific recommendations as well.
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What’s the Difference Between a Stereo and AV Receiver?
A stereo receiver is mainly designed for playing only music over two channels, whereas an AV (audio video) receiver, which could be two or often more channels, is designed for home theater and will have an HDMI input to connect a TV to among other additional features.
Integrated Stereo Amplifiers Are Also Another Option
If all you’re really looking to do is power some passive speakers, and you want something smaller and don’t think you need the features that stereo receivers typically have, a simple 2 channel amplifier can do the job just as well and can be significantly less expensive.
What to Look For in a Cheap Stereo Receiver (That’s Still Good)
Enough Power or Watts Per Channel
Most budget amps and receivers give at least 50-100 watts per channel, and this is going to be far more power than most people will ever actually need for a pair of speakers. But, it’s still good to be absolutely sure you’ll have enough power, especially because people tend to invest in higher end and more demanding speakers with 2 channel stereo setups. Pay particular attention to power requirements if your speakers have particularly high power handling or lower sensitivity, or you’re using lower impedance 4-6 ohm speakers.
Adequate Selection of and High Quality Inputs
Having nice binding posts for the speaker terminals is better than tiny spring clips. If you want to add a subwoofer per a 2.1 setup, make sure the unit has a dedicated sub-out connection, which a lot of stereo receivers and amplifiers don’t have. Beyond that, just make sure you have inputs for any components you’d like to add, like a phono input if you want to use a turntable.
Good Build Quality
Heat is the performance and longevity killer of electronics, and receivers and amplifiers happen to produce a lot of heat. So, while big and bulky units might not look the coolest, it’s nonetheless important that the components have enough space to breathe and the ability to disperse heat efficiently.
The Important Truth About Buying Audio Equipment
We always say the same thing in each of our roundup articles:
Product prices can fluctuate significantly in the audio market, and often times for no apparent reason.
Therefore, the “best” product choice often comes down to whatever the best available deal is at the time among the top/popular contenders. It’s definitely worthwhile to shop around. One tool that’s useful for doing this is Amazon best-sellers lists – they update hourly and these good deals often rise to the top. The table below is populated in real time with data from these best-sellers lists. You’ll usually see our picks among them.
Our Current Product Recommendations
The Best Budget Stereo Receiver – The Pioneer SX-10AE
Pioneer is currently the company that makes high quality receivers across the board at unbeaten prices, and the SX-10AE has been our pick here for a few years now and remains so despite being a somewhat older product. Why? It still offers the best of the essentials discussed above for the price, including binding posts and a dedicated sub-out input, which are both things that a lot of the popular competitors don’t have.
Get the SX-10AE receiver on Amazon (affiliate link)
Honorable Mention – The Sony STRDH190
The STRDH190 has been one of the most popular receivers for years, and it’s a good product at a very competitive price, but spec and feature wise it still falls a little short of the SX-10AE. The STRDH190 does however have one significant feature that the SX-10AE does not: a dedicated phono input for connecting a turntable, and for that reason it still deserves mention in this article.
To be perfectly honest, the best choice between the two for most people will probably just be whatever the best deal is at the time, and we have seen both of these products dip well below $200.
Get the STRDH190 receiver on Amazon (affiliate link)
The Best Budget AV Receiver – Yamaha RX-V385
The RX-V385 also checks all of the important boxes and has unmatched specs, features, and build quality for the price, and for that reason is also our top choice for the best budget 5 channel receiver. The RX-V385 is a great entry level product to get started with home theater surround sound at minimal cost.
Get the RX-V385 receiver on Amazon (affiliate link)
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you connect a tv to stereo receiver?
Stereo receivers are designed to play music only and usually don’t have inputs to connect a modern TV. While it’s still possible to connect a TV to some stereo receivers, you’re probably better off getting an AV receiver with HDMI inputs instead.
What’s the difference between a stereo receiver vs amplifier?
A stereo receiver has an amplifier built into and is typically larger with added features, mainly a radio antenna and tuner as well as multiple inputs and a source selector. A plain amplifier is typically smaller, more minimalist, and budget friendly way to power speakers if that’s all you need to do.
Can you add Bluetooth to a stereo receiver that doesn’t have it?
Most receivers and many amps even now come with Bluetooth compatibility, but if something you have or are looking at doesn’t, you can easily and cheaply add Bluetooth with a variety of simple adapters.