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 if 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 anything cinematic, 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.

HDMI Switchers are much cheaper than full-fledged A/V receivers.

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).

Pro Tip:  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 either HDMI switcher or a Blu-Ray player with inputs:

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, and opted for a Blu-Ray player with 2 HDMI inputs for additional components — the Samsung BD-E6500 (which Samsung, sadly, no longer makes). Oppo also has been known to make 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.

What does my receiver-less A/V set-up look like?

Great question!

I use a Sony soundbar with HDMI inputs to connect an Apple TV and Blu-Ray player to my TV — and it all works without a universal remote control. (Why no cable box? Because I currently use the Youtube TV app on my Apple TV for all my live TV needs. If I did need a cable box, though, the soundbar has a third HDMI port.)

And how did I get it all to work without a universal remote? Because of something called HDMI-CEC. It’s a standard that allows for A/V components to talk to each other over HDMI cables. Each brand has their own name for it. Sony calls theirs Bravia Sync. Sharp calls theirs Aquos Link. Samsung calls theirs Anytime+. You get the picture. By enabling this feature on all my components, the Soundbar will automatically switch to whichever device is being used (Blu-Ray player or Apple TV) and the TV will automatically turn on and off as needed. Easy-peasy!


Just took a look around the web, and there really isn’t a Blu-Ray player with multiple inputs I feel comfortable recommending anymore.  If I find one, I’ll update this post again.  In the meantime, here are some soundbars I like a lot, that can help you both simply your home media experience while still upgrading your sound.


Highly recommended if you are already in the SONOS eco-system, but not recommending otherwise. It has no HDMI inputs or pass-thru, which means it can’t do Dolby Atmos processing — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since it’d be a “simulated” Atmos experience anyway, but there are some soundbars that do a really good job simulating it.  Soundbars like…


This one is very expensive and rarely on sale, but it works as advertised.  If you’re looking for something cheaper, try…


This one is less expensive than the Sony, while actually offering “true” surround sound via dedicated rear speakers.

Note: The surround speakers require their own power supply, which could restrict their placement around the room. 

If you can live without “true” surround sound, another soundbar at the top of my wish list is…


Even less expensive, but still includes a couple HDMI inputs, and good audio reviews.

Looking for a couple more options under $500?  Here ya go…


Won’t fill a large room like a Sonos Playbar, but still very versatile if you already have other Sonos products in your house (or you’re thinking of getting some). Also: No HDMI inputs, so you’ll be using your TV as the HDMI switcher with this one, and not getting Atmos.


This one is dirt cheap for Yamaha sound (which general ranks really high among soundbars).  The trade off? Only a single HDMI input — so it’s target market is cord-cutters who rely on a single streaming box (Roku, Apple TV, etc), and not for people doing a lot of switching between devices.  But it also has a digital optical input, so you can use your TV as an HDMI switcher for multiple devices. Also: At this price level (under $200), you’re not likely to get a subwoofer included. At least, not a decent one.

In truth, just about any soundbar will be better than your TVs built-in speakers. 

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

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

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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??

  5. 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.

    1. 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…

  6. 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?

    1. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. 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,

  10. Hi,
    what should I buy when I want to stream Netflix in Sourroundsound on a cheap but good sourroundsound system (witch I have to buy) threw my Fire TV Stick?

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