After focusing on speakers in last month’s column, this month we turn our attention to the components that deliver power and audio to those speakers.
Let’s begin by thinking of these components as a chain, and that chain starts with a source.
Sources vary, with one of the more common being a CD player. Other sources include Blu-ray players, cable or satellite TV receivers, smartphones or MP3 players, and others.
A source provides the original signal that will eventually reach your speakers.
A source connects to a preamp (preamplifier), where multiple functions are performed. Preamps provide volume control, the ability to switch between sources, and equalization, or the manipulation of bass and treble.
Many preamps include a digital-to-analog converter (or DAC) that processes the digital signal from your source into an analog signal. Or, more simply, it converts digital gibberish into audible sound in the form of music and dialog.
Before purchasing a preamp, an important consideration is the number of sources that will eventually go through the device.
This will determine the number of inputs your preamp will require, with one input for every source.
A preamp connects to an amplifier. Amplifiers take the low-level signals coming from preamps and boost these signals so that they have sufficient power to drive audio through speakers. Amps, like preamps, might include an integrated DAC.
While inputs play a major factor when selecting a preamp, outputs can be viewed as the comparable consideration when choosing an amplifier.
Regarding the number of outputs needed, you will have to account for the number of speakers the amplifier will be powering.
Will it be for a two-channel stereo system, for surround sound, or for distributed audio to multiple rooms?
The answer to this question will determine how many outputs your amplifier requires.
As already mentioned, many amplifiers and preamps come with integrated DACs, but there are also amplifiers and preamps that don’t have a digital-to-analog converter.
Because this is an indispensable part of any 21st century audio system, it must be added to a configuration if one is not already integrated into the components.
An item that has all these devices in one is an audio receiver. In addition to preamp, amplifier and DAC, receivers will also include a radio tuner.
While an “all-in-one” receiver might sound appealing, it is not always the best solution. User needs differ greatly, and solutions are just as variable.
In addition, one receiver, amplifier, preamp or DAC is not exactly like another, with ranges of wattages and varying levels of noise reduction being just two examples of factors to be considered.
How do you determine what components will best serve your needs? Simple. Drop in at your local audio-visual integrator’s showroom and talk to the experts about what your expectations are from the audio system that will provide you with endless hours of enjoyment.
Carlos Ramos is the sales and marketing manager with Custom Audio Video in Bluffton.