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Do I Need A Preamplifier For My Home Theater System?
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Do I Need A Preamplifier for My Home Theater System?

So, you are in the beginning stages of designing your home theater system and, upon research, you keep coming across the term preamplifier. What is a preamplifier? and, more importantly, do I need one for my home theater system? This article will answer the first question and help you personally decide on the second question.

Even if this is your first ever home theater system, you are probably familiar with components such as audio/video receiver, sub woofer, center channel, and more. A preamplifier is a bit more technical than these traditional components.

When we look at the term "preamplifier" we notice the word "amplifier". The prefix "Pre" means to come before. So, combining the two, we can conclude that a preamplifier is an amplifier than comes before another amplifier. There are different types of preamplifiers however we will just focus on the preamplifier used in a home theater application.

The preamplifier used in a home theater system switches between different line level sources and uses volume control. No actual amplification is involved in this process. The preamplifier provides voltage gain (10 millivolts to 1 volt) but no actual current gain. The power amplifier that would be used in conjunction with the preamp would provide the current to power the speakers.

A home theater preamp is typically "active" rather than "passive". a passive preamplifier does not boost the signal. Instead, it is just rearranged or dissipated. An active preamplifier has a power supply to provide the energy to boost the signal to the connected power amplifier.

A preamplifier cannot be used with an existing home theater receiver. A receiver already has a preamp and amplifier built-in. Simply put, if you dissected a home theater receiver, you would find the following internal components: preamp, power amp, tuner, and processor. A receiver is an all-in-one solution and to the majority of home theater enthusiasts, this is the norm. A preamplifier is refereed to as a separate along with a power amp since these components function separately.

To summarize, separates i.e. preamplifier/power amplifier provide cleaner amplification, higher gain, and each component has its own independent power supply. On the contrary, a home theater audio/video receiver shares one power supply.

So, do you need a preamplifier for your home theater? The answer absolutely depends on a couple factors. The first of these is the amount of different sources you have to connect such as turntables, microphone, CD player, etc. The more sources you plan on connecting, the more beneficial it is to purchase separates as opposed to an audio/video receiver. The preamp would act as your control center in terms of connecting your devices, proper signal routing, and volume control. The other factor comes down to the quality of sound you wish to achieve. As good as the current audio/video receivers are, they have their limitations. Separates provide cleaner amplification, more power, and less distortion to your speakers. If you are a true audiophile, undoubtedly separates are the right choice for you. In the end, it will come down to your budget, your availability of space for separate components, and your desired level of performance you want out of your home theater system.


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