Do you really need an A/V receiver?

The short answer is “no.”

The long answer is “hell no.”

Look, if you have a dedicated home theater space with 5 or more separate speakers, then, yeah, you’ll need something to control them.  But you already know who you are and you aren’t reading this.  If that is you and you are reading this, then stop.  You do need an A/V receiver or something like it.  This post is for people who landed here after typing “Do I really need an A/V receiver?” into a search bar.  To you, the answer is: Only if you want one.  It’s not a requirement for good sound these days.

Why wouldn’t you want an A/V Receiver?

Three reasons: Added complexity, cost, and feature redundancy.

The added complexity is evident every time you try to tell someone else how to watch TV:  Turn on the TV, then turn on the receiver, then set the TV to video input 1 and the receiver to SAT/CAB, oh, and then make sure the cable box is turned on, and remember, if you want to control the volume don’t use the TV remote!  Why does simply watching TV have to be that complicated? Sure, you can get a universal remote that might streamline the process, but they aren’t perfect.  Even a top-of-the-line smart remote can be problematic it gets out of sync with your equipment (for example, if the remote thinks a component is on when it’s really off).  The only true way to simplify the experience — and increase the reliability of universal remotes — is to reduce the number of overall components.

The cost is evident in the amount of money you’ll be missing from your pocket.

The redundancy is evident in the other features you probably don’t need.  For example, a lot of receivers now come with Apps built-in (Pandora, Netflix, etc.). Sounds great, except chances are you have those same apps also in a different component.  Do you really need Netflix on your TV, Blu-Ray player, Apple TV, smart phone and your receiver?

So why would you want one?

1. As mentioned, you want true surround sound.

2. You like listening to the radio.

3. You have more video components than your TV has inputs.

What are the alternatives?  

As TVs gets thinner and slicker, the built-in speakers gets worse and worse (or, at least, it seems like they do).  You really don’t want to rely on your TV’s built-in speakers for movie watching, which means you will want some sort of sound system, just not one that requires an A/V receiver for power.  I’m a big fan of soundbars for this very reason.

NOTE: If you are perfectly content with the sound from your TVs speakers, and you just need a device that can switch between your many components — cable box, blu-ray player, game system, etc. — you can just get an HDMI switcher.

If the idea of a soundbar intrigues you, consider doing what too few people do these days — plug all your components directly into your TV’s multitude of inputs. Then use your TV’s “digital audio out” port to send the audio from your TV to the soundbar.  And that’s it.  Every time you change inputs on your TV, the soundbar will automatically keep up.

Even better: You can get a soundbar that will automatically power up when your TV turns on, meaning you never have to worry about turning it on or off.

You can then simply program your cable or satellite box’s remote to adjust the Soundbar’s volume instead of your TV’s, eliminating the need for a universal remote (for TV watching, at least).

Note:  If your TV allows you to turn off the internal speakers completely, do it.  That way you never have to worry about accidentally hearing sound from both the TV’s speakers and the soundbar. Many newer HDTVs have that option.  If yours does, then it also probably has the option to send a “fixed” audio signal to the soundbar, meaning no matter what the TV volume is set at, the soundbar will still get the signal it needs.  Ideally, you want a set-up where the TV’s speakers are off completely and the only way to control the volume is from the soundbar.

Another option: Find a Blu-Ray player with HDMI inputs.

They’re rare, but they do exist.  Being able to use your Blu-Ray player as an HDMI switcher can streamline the number of components in your home theater, which is always a good one thing. Two more situations where you might want one:

1) If your HDTV doesn’t have “discreet” inputs.

“Discreet inputs” means that each input on the TV has it’s own separate remote code to switch to it.  That’s very handy for universal remotes.  For example, let’s say your cable box is input 1 and your Blu-Ray is input 4.  With discreet inputs, your universal remote only has to send one command to switch from “CABLE” to “BLU-RAY” and vice versa.  The chances of messing up are rare.  But if your TV doesn’t have discreet inputs, then that means you can’t switch from input 1 to input 4 without cycling through inputs 2 and 3.  And to get from 4 to 1, you have to cycle through 5, 6, etc, all the way back to 1.  In other words — the universal remote has to virtually send many button presses to accomplish one task, which is very prone to errors. If you like the idea of pressing a single button and letting the remote do all the work, you really need a TV (or other device) with discreet inputs.

2) If your HDTV is already mounted to the wall.

If your TV is already mounted to the wall, you might not not have access to the TV’s inputs or you might not want to string new cables in front of the wall.  For example, I have a TV in my house that was mounted with just a single HDMI cable built into the wall (for the best aesthetics).  The idea was to use that single, hidden HDMI cable to connect the TV to a receiver, and just use the receiver to switch between the other components.  But to make things easier for my wife, I ultimately decided not to put a receiver in this room.  So then what?

I could’ve just gotten an HDMI switcher, but then I stumbled across the Samsung BD-E6500.  It’s a Blu-Ray player with two HDMI inputs.  Perfect.  I plugged the BD player into the TV using the HDMI cable that’s strung through the wall.  Then I simply plugged the DirecTV box into the BD player.  Even better, the BD player has what’s called an “HDMI pass-through signal.”  That means whenever the BD player is turned off, the DirecTV signal automatically “passes through” it to the TV.  Switching between components is as easy as turning the BD player on and off (on when I need Blu-Ray, off when I need DirecTV).  I only have the BD player and a DirectTV box hooked up to this TV, so I didn’t even need the 2nd HDMI input. (Though I might use it in the future for an Apple TV.  At the moment, the Blu-Ray player has all the “smart functions” I need, like Netflix.)

FYI: In addition to the Samsung I mentioned, Oppo also makes high-end Blu-Ray players with multiple inputs, like this one and this one.

So there you go… Thanks to an ever-improving stable of soundbars and other devices, if you don’t want the hassle or complexity of a receiver, you really don’t need one.

UPDATE APRIL 22, 2017

Looking for a soundbar that can also supply true surround sound? This one from Vizio could fit the bill:

Note: The surround speakers require their own power supply, which could restrict their placement around the room. Also: It doesn’t have HDMI inputs, so your TV would need enough inputs to handle all your components.

If you can live without “true” surround sound, a soundbar at the top of my wish list is this one from Yamaha:

It’s simulated surround sound rivals many multi-speaker set-ups and it has 4 HDMI inputs, so you can plug a range of components directly into the soundbar (much like you would an AV receiver). It’s super-pricey though, hence it being on my “wish list” and not “in my living room.”

A more reasonably priced soundbar that can act as an HDMI switcher is this one from Harman Kardon:

It also has 4 HDMI inputs, and is marked down a great deal because it’s a slightly older model.

Are there cheaper soundbars to be found with both good sound and at least 4 HDMI inputs? I’ll keep my eye for some, and add them here…


Looking for other home theater equipment? Don’t forget to check out Amazon’s TV & Video deals.

16 thoughts on “Do you really need an A/V receiver?

  1. Pingback: How to run audio from your Smart TV back to your A/V receiver | TECH GUY ERIC

  2. Pingback: Over on the tech-only blog: | buchnotes

  3. Pingback: Don’t buy that universal remote just yet… | TECH GUY ERIC

  4. Wow, thank you for this. I always thought that I didn’t need a receiver, but every time I went to an electronics store to upgrade my TV speakers to better sound, they insist that I need one. Now I know it was all just an upsell. And yes, it does make it so much more complicated.

    Thank you!

  5. Whole article and not one use of the word “quality”, just “complexity” – seem to be missing the point of an AV receiver…
    Soundbars are a little better than TV internal speakers, but not close to real speakers…
    “You can then simply program your cable or satellite box’s remote to adjust the Soundbar’s volume instead of your TV’s” – you can do that with an AV receiver too.

    • Thanks for the post, BananaMan. I don’t disagree with you, which is why I did a separate article for how people can keep things “simple” and still use an A/V receiver for true surround sound (among the tips is the one you suggested). I’d be hesitant to encourage people to get a receiver solely for better quality, though, as “quality” is dependent on so many factors — not just the existence of a receiver, but also the brand/model/features of the receiver, the type of speakers (most important!), the necessity for a pre-amp in certain sized rooms, etc. There are A LOT of articles on the internet about getting the best sound, but, shockingly, not many about simplicity, which is something a lot of people really want.

      One thing is for sure — the old paradigm of “buy a receiver, plug every component into it, then plug the receiver into the TV” is no longer true. Thanks to TVs with more advanced input/output options and sound systems (like soundbars) that build audio processors into speakers, people just don’t need as many components as they used to.

      I will beg to differ on one thing though — even a relatively inexpensive sound bar can be WAY better than the sound put out by the built-in speakers on even a high-end TV. The more high-end the TV, the thinner it (usually) is. And the thinner the TV, the more compromised the sound tends to be. A dedicated soundbar can’t compete with a true 5.1 (or higher) set-up, but this post isn’t for people who want that. It’s for people who want “better” without the added complexity that used to come with that word.

  6. The complexity as you described it isn’t really the issue anymore. Setting it up yes, but so is the use use of Apple TV, XBox, Playstation etc to watch some media content. Once setup there is no big difference.

    It really all comes down to your room size and whether you enjoy good sound, listen to CDs, Records or watch movies with a true surround.

    If your main concern is watching TV and your space is limited to setup decent speakers an AV Receiver is not needed. But AV Receivers are mostly about Sound. Once setup, one remote control is all you need.

    For me the real question is…. why do I need an expensive Smart TV. The ideal solution for AV Receivers would be to have a dumb TV, one without speakers or built in TV Tuner which nobody with cable and set top boxes needs anyway. So for me quality really comes with a good AV Receiver (I currently own a Marantz SR6006) and a good display, rather than a Smart TV with a soundbar. For BluRay players, Oppo are the way to go.

  7. I have a Sony blu ray home theatre BDV-E3100. Recently I bought Terminator Genesys which has Dolby Atmos sound effect coded to play only with Dolby Capable receivers. Now I am thinking of buying a Dolby Atmos capable AV receiver. The question here is – How can I connect my Home theatre speakers with AV Receiver as the Home theatre have a connector to plug it in whereas in AV receiver wires needs to be connected??

  8. Thank you for writing this article, Eric! it is very clear and informative.

    I was wondering: does your advice hold if a projector is used instead of a smart TV? Or, more generally, a dumb device that can only reproduce video?

    I might be mistaken, but I cannot see how to route audio + different video signals to a projector without using a receiver.

    • That’s a good q. Yeah, if your display/projector doesn’t process sound in any way, then that’s one of those cases where a sound system is needed, and a receiver could be helpful — if not desired — to help fill the space (and provide a quality of sound to match the scope of the picture).

      There are many soundbars now, though, that offer HDMI pass thru. So if you want to set-up a projector to play Blu-Rays, you can plug the Blu-Ray player into the soundbar (via HDMI) and then plug the projector into the soundbar (via a 2nd HDMI cable).

      Blu-Ray –> Soundbar –> Projector.

      With the soundbar offering both audio processing and built-in speakers, that’s probably the simplest solution for getting sound to an audio-less projector…

  9. I’m more interested in just audio solution. My TV sounds fine and is in the basement. What I’d like to do in my living room is have wall mounted speakers and a 3.5mm female connector sticking out of a wall plate so I can plug in my phone, my computer, a chromecast audio, etc. Do I need a stereo/receiver to power the speakers?

    • I have repurposed my old Klipsch ProMedia 5.1 system just for that purpose. The control pod has a convenient 3.5 mm jack that I sue to connect my smartphone, laptop, iPod, or tablet. It still sounds great now that I had the amp restored.

  10. eric i have my surround sound speakers all mounted from years ago, all i want is to add surround sound from my tv to this speakers and i do not want a av reciever,no room for it, i want something with plain ole surround sound amp and comes on with tv just want the tv to it

  11. eric-
    Can you help me figure out a sound issue? My dad is hearing impaired, so he wears wireless headphones when watching tv. Recently he upgraded his old tv to a Magnavox #40ME325V/F7A and now if his earphones (sennheiser rs120) are in use, there is no sound for others to hear. Is there some kind of adapter, amplifier, etc that can be used to get around this issue??? He does not have cable or satellite. thanks! L.

  12. Hi Eric,
    I have a Samsung TV, Model UE40H4203AWXXXC. I installed a Samsung soundbar, model HW-J355. I didn’t think that the sound was any better, more importantly, neither did the wife…..!
    I have a couple of mains powered Labtec speakers, model LCS-1060, that I use with my PC. I thought that I would give them a go with the TV. The speaker lead has a 2 x RCA Phono Stereo Audio cable. I have this plugged into a 2 x Female cable, which has a 3.5 Audio Jack on the other end, which then plugs into my PC. The TV doesn`t have a connection for the Audio Jack. The only connections that the TV has are; HDMI, USB, Digital Audio Out (Optical) and Scart. Is there an adaptor that I can install between any of these cables; to either the RCA cable, or the 3.5 Audio Jack on the speakers?
    Sorry, but this is the best that I can explain my query as I am a virtual tech. “virgin”.

    Thank you in anticipation,
    Billy.

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