There are a lot of factors involved in buying a stereo system and if you’re new to the terminology, shopping can become frustrating very quickly. Hopefully this guide will help you to understand these terms and to decide what stereo system is right for you. To decide what you need, you don’t need to have an idea about what receiver or speakers or CD player or iPod dock you want to buy just yet. Your needs are determined by how much the stereo is going to be used in the house and where the stereo is going to be.

First of all, do you iPod?

Many people – and the demographics are no longer nearly as youth-oriented as they used to be – use Apple’s iPod music players and earbuds for their listening. They have iTunes on a computer, keep their tunes in Apple’s version of the MP3 format, and sync with an iPod that goes anywhere they do. There are many sizes and memory-capacities available for the iPod, not to mention colors and accessories, including the Shuffle and the Nano. There are also a variety of portable MP3 players from other manufacturers, including Microsoft’s Zune. Many new cellphones include MP3 players. Many users have purchased iPod docks that allow them to listen to their playlists over regular speakers. These range from compact and portable to those offering better audio quality. Many also charge your iPod’s battery. But many music fans say the format’s sound quality is just not good enough, and prefer a real home stereo, even if they use an iPod on the go.

How do you listen to music?

How often? Are you a music fanatic or are you looking for a system that will provide you will some background tunes for easy listening while you work? The answer to this question will determine whether a pre-packaged system or selecting components is right for you. Heavy listening and usage requires separate component selection while easy listening works will with a pre-packaged system. How will the system be used in your house? Are you using it only, or are you sharing it with others? Will it be used for music only or will you be watching movies, TV, or playing video games? You will need the proper parts to enable you to do all of these things or you will need to select a pre-packaged system that is able to support these things.

Where to put your stereo?

Decide this well ahead of time because the size of the room matters when selecting a stereo. Large speakers in a small room will make your ears bleed and small speakers in a large room won’t have the necessary impact. Perhaps you even want the equipment to match whatever else you have in your room. A small room like a dorm or apartment can probably only handle a mini system or a tabletop system. What is your budget? For a tight budget you should go for a pre-packaged system for a small room, because the cheapest models are also the smallest. Stereo component systems are recommend for music lovers that have a flexible budget and a lot of room to support the sound.


Though there are a multitude of stereo systems available that are very different from each other in terms of style, all stereos have three main components in common: All stereos have at least two speakers, a receiver or an amplifier that also provides power, and components for playing music, likely a CD player or a DVD player. You have the choice to buy these components in a pre-packaged system or to buy them separately. If you choose to buy the components separately, you must be sure that the components are able to work together or the entire system will not work. That’s the benefit of a pre-packaged system – you don’t have to worry about getting the right parts. However, the benefit of choosing the components is that you can customize your stereo system to your needs.


Receivers have three parts: an amplifier, control center and an AM/FM tuner. The receiver is considered the heart of the system because it connects the speakers as well as audio and video components. The receiver works to amplify the sounds, adjust the quality of the sound, select the source depending on the activity: TV, DVD, or CD. You’ll need to decide what you want to use your receiver for and to choose one that is able to perform that function. A multichannel receiver is meant for watching movies, and can become quite elaborate for Surround Sound, but if you intend to use it purely for music, you’ll probably need to invest in a stereo receiver instead, plus a CD or DVD player with a couple of speakers.


There are four types of amplifiers to choose from. Integrated amplifiers work like a receiver but without an AM/FM tuner, which is separate. They combine a multichannel amplifier with a control amp to adjust audio and tone. A pre-amplifier with power amplifier is for the serious music aficionados. Separate components are believed to provide better music quality because each part can be customized to enhance performance. Control Amplifiers are all of the components come together and are controlled. Control amps send a small jolt of amplification to the power amp, which then powers the speakers. Power Amplifiers have the strong current needed to power the speakers. They come in multi- or dual-channel and the choice relies on the abilities of the speakers and matching the power output of the amp to the speaker. If the speakers can’t handle the power, they could blow out.

Shopping and Pricing

Basic systems have two speakers with a stereo receiver and a disc player. A Yamaha receiver, with Polk Audio speakers and a Yamaha DVD/CD player can be had for $700. They’re affordable and provide decent sound and durability. A more expensive system would feature a mid-range Denon receiver with Denon DVD/CD player and Monitor Audio speakers, coming in at $1, 100. This system is more expensive because it has more modern features such as an iPod docking station and XM satellite radio. There are many more expensive systems to satisfy both audiophiles and home-decor enthusiasts, costing tens of thousands of dollars. Another way to connect the music on your computer to your receiver and speakers is with an Apple AirPort Express, which goes for about $100, and gives you wireless access to your entire iTunes library instead of merely what’s on your iPod. Many technically adept listeners have far more elaborate home computer music setups, including dedicated servers.

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