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Understanding Home Theater Receiver Power Ratings
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Understanding Home Theater Receiver Power Ratings

When we purchase a car, the factors we take into consideration are more than just horsepower, right? Otherwise, everyone would be driving Corvettes and super cars. Of course, we also review a car's miles per gallon, reliability, repair costs, and of course safety. Purchasing a new home theater receiver also involves much due diligence and, wattage, just like horsepower may be one of the most unimportant factors in purchasing. Understanding home theater receiver power ratings is not rocket science and it is absolutely a critical part in finding the best receiver to compliment your audio and video needs.

Wattage means nothing. This is for the most part true. A home theater receiver advertising 150 watts per channel may in fact be less powerful and less loud than a competing receiver rated at 100 watts per channel. The first mistake people make is they assume a receiver with 150 watts per chanel is twice as powerful as one that is 75 watts per channel. For a receiver to be twice as loud, it requires 10 times the wattage. It would take a 1500 watt per channel receiver to be twice as loud as the 150 watt receiver. So, if you are deciding between a 125 watts per channel receiver and a 140 watts per channel receiver, please understand the power and loudness difference is practically negligible. This is when we look deeper at the power ratings of the receivers.

How loud the receiver actually is to our ears is measured in Decibels(db). All Home Theater receivers will provide this information. Decibels are measured in a non-linear fashion. A difference of +1 db is for the most part not noticeable. However, a +3 db difference is a moderate difference and our ears will absolutely hear this difference.

Distortion is another important factor which is listed under a receiver's power ratings. This is commonly referred to as Total Harmonic Distortion or THD. A distortion rating of 10% would produce very unrealistic sounds and be very hard if not impossible to listen to. On the other hand, a THD rating of .05, would be extremely accurate across all volume levels.

This brings us to another key ingredient in choosing the best home theater receiver, Signal to Noise Ratio. The higher the S/N ratio, the better. As the volume increases, your receiver has to decipher which noises are more important and desirable to be heard. In a movie, the dialogue, and the special effects sounds i.e. explosions would be more desirable to the listener than the background noise, music dialogue.

While we declared wattage as unimportant, the RMS wattage is more meaningful to us. This tells us thow much continuous power the receiver can output at a significant length of time. A 125 WPC receiver may have the ability to produce 90 watts RMS while a 150 WPC receiver can only output 75 watts.

Lastly, the dynamic headroom of a receiver or amplifier is very important. In short, the dynamic headroom of a receiver allows a receiver to handle brief outbursts of loud sound levels. For example, an explosion during a film will require a 20% or more burst of sounds levels to produce the extreme sound effect. For this reason, the dynamic headroom is most relevant in home theater applications and movies in general.

Concluding, the purchase of a home theater receiver goes well beyond the big writing on the front of the box. Be sure to review each of the specifications listed above before making the ultimate decision. Because nobody's hearing is perfect or the same, it is also best to audition the home theater receiver is possible.


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