Surround Receivers

Do I Need an AV Receiver with Pre-Outs?


When shopping for AV receivers, there are a lot of things to consider. Features, power, connections…it all can get a little overwhelming. But one phrase keeps popping up when looking over features or why some people recommend one AV receiver over another – pre-outs. What are pre-outs, why might you want them, and what do they do? Let’s discuss.

Behold! Pre-outs!

What Are Pre-Outs?

You may have heard or read about something called a Pre/Pro. Pre/Pro is short for Preamplifier/Processor. These devices do all (or at least most of) the same things as your AV receiver except that they don’t have amplifier channels for your speakers. You need to add external amplifiers to them.

The pre-outs on your AV receiver essentially turn your AV receiver into a Pre/Pro. They are RCA (usually) outputs that allow you to bypass the internal amplifiers in your AV receiver and use external amplification.

The most common type of pre-out is the subwoofer pre-out. This is included on nearly every AV receiver. It connects to the amplifier inside your subwoofer. Subwoofers take a ton of power to create that deep bass so it makes sense that you’d want a standalone amplifier for your sub. Your speakers? Not so much.

Why Might You Want Pre-Outs?

Clearly, you want a pre-out for your subwoofer. But there are other times when pre-outs are absolutely necessary. Some AV receivers can process more channels than they can power. So the AV receiver might have nine channels of amplification but it can process up to eleven channels. If you want all eleven speakers in your system (seven floor-level speakers and four overhead), you’ll need pre-outs connected to an external amp.

Often, you’ll see pre-outs for other zones of audio. If you don’t see pre-outs for your Zone 2/3/4, it means you’ll have to give up amplifier channels in your main theater to power those speakers. If you have a complex audio setup with multiple zones, making sure you have pre-outs for your other zones could be important.

Are Pre-Outs on an AV Receiver Useful?

While there are real uses for pre-outs on an AV receiver, the most common reason given for wanting them is the ability to add an external amplifier later. The logic is that by offloading some of the speakers (usually the front three) to an external amplifier, you’ll have clearer/cleaner/better sound quality and more power for the rest of your speakers. It just doesn’t work that way. As we’ve explained.

Our Take

Buying an AV receiver is complex business. You have to think about what you’ll actually use and need versus all the bells and whistles the marketing is trying to convince you that you want. Many times, once you determine the number of channels you’ll actually use, the level or room correction you want, and the features you’ll need, pre-outs are a forgone conclusion. They’ll either be included or not. Our one suggestion is that you not pay extra for pre-outs on your AV receiver just because the Internet tells you that you might want to add an amp later. Most of the time the external amp won’t make your speakers sound any better.


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