I don’t know about you, but I sometimes feel like home stereo set-ups can be a never-ending source of confusion. There’s so much to know about so many different parts and devices. Which speakers fit best with which kinds of rooms? What are the best wires to use for each system? How much power do you need?
This time, I’ve decided to take an in-depth look at what is a pre-out on an a/v receiver and when would you use it? You might not have any need for a pre-out when you’re just starting to build a system. However, if you learn about pre-outs and receivers, you can make things easier and more versatile for yourself in the future.
What is a Pre-Out?
So, here’s the first part of the big question I’ll be answering for you. What is a pre-out? The basic answer is pretty simple. Most A/V receivers these days are receivers and amplifiers in one.
The normal course to follow is this:
- input will come from a record, disc, or tape player, radio, or digital source.
- the input signal can be equalized or otherwise modified in your receiver.
- that signal will then be amplified and sent out to your speakers to be turned into glorious, high-quality sound.
However, if your receiver has a pre-out, this means it will send the signal out BEFORE it’s amplified. I think that’s a pretty simple explanation of what a pre-out does. Now the next question to ask is, “Why would anyone in their right mind want to do that?”
When Would You Use a Pre-Out?
The function of a pre-out is to bypass the internal amplifier in you’re A/V receiver. The main reason for doing that is so that you can use a different amplifier to amplify your signal, or at least part of it. So, let’s look at what the reasons for using a supplementary amplifier are.
If you have active speakers hooked up to your system, you obviously don’t need to amplify their signals twice. Let’s look at the example of a subwoofer. For home stereo systems, subwoofers are the most likely speaker components to be active rather than passive.
“Active” speakers need their own power sources, meaning they need to be plugged into outlets or hardwired to power. They need power because they include built-in amplification and need to draw a lot of power to create big, deep bass.
So, why would you run an amplified signal into an active subwoofer?
A pre-out allows you to run the un-amplified signal into the subwoofer. The rest of your speakers can still be connected to the regular-out to make use of the built-in amp in the A/V receiver.
Another great use for a pre-out is to create a large, complex stereo sound. You may have started small with your system, but as it grows and you add more speakers for more power, you may need more amplification. Using the pre-out signal, you can run a second amplifier to power some of your bigger, hungrier speakers while the receiver’s amp does the rest.
But that’s not all…
If you have a high-quality receiver that can power different zones, a pre-out is a must. “Zones” like Zone 2, and Zone 3 can represent different rooms in your house. All of these can be serviced with the same A/V receiver.
But while the built-in amp can power the speakers in the same room as your receiver, you’ll need a separate amp in each of the other zones to get the juice you need. You’ll get the signal to these other amps through the pre-out.
Therefore, as you can see, there are some great reasons to buy an A/V receiver with a built-in Pre-Out. Now let’s take a look at the pros and cons of pre-outs on your total system.
Benefits of Having a Pre-Out on an AV Receiver
So, why would you look out for an a/v receiver that comes with a pre-out? Well, there are some clear benefits to using a pre-out on an A/V receiver that can make having them worth it. Even if you don’t need these options right away, it might be a good idea to make sure you have pre-outs on your receiver so you can make upgrades in the future.
Above all, using pre-outs means that you don’t have to amp your signal as much through your receiver’s amp. At least some of that signal (and in the case of a powered subwoofer, a whole heck of a lot of it) can be sent through the pre-out to another amp. This takes a big load off your receiver.
Why is that important?
A quality A/V receiver should last years and years. It should have enough power and connectivity to keep it relevant for ten years or more. That’s if you shell out for a good one, which I suggest you do.
The less power you have to run through your receiver, the longer it will last and the clearer its signal will stay. So, if you can use pre-outs to share the amplification burden, this can add years of solid service to your receiver’s lifespan.
Pre-outs also let you use your receiver for more applications
As I mentioned earlier, some receivers have Zone 2 and Zone 3 outputs designed to let you send signals to multiple rooms in your house our business. These pre-out channels let you make use of your receiver to service multiple rooms. Each room will need its own amp for power, but this allows you to share the capabilities of your receiver.
Pre-outs also add flexibility to a system. They give you the possibility of adding more speakers and more power to your whole system. A receiver with lots of pre-out channels might cost more right now. At the same time, it can save you tons of connection headaches when you decide to add a second sub or create a 7.2-channel surround sound system in the future.
Downside of Pre-Outs
So, we have learned what is a pre-out on an A/V Receiver and when would you use it. And everything has been sounding peachy so far. But, of course, for every choice you make on your system, there are going to be some drawbacks. You just have to consider whether the cons are outweighed by the pros.
For pre-outs, the major downsides are more cost, more cables, and more power usage
As I mentioned before, if you want to pick up an a/v receiver with lots of pre-out channels, they can get quite expensive. Cheaper receivers may have one or none at all. A mid-range receiver like the Denon AVR-X1600H Receiver can set you back over $600 and only supplies you with two pre-out channels.
Compare this with the Marantz 8K SR5051 Receiver, which is more or less double the price. This receiver gives you ten pre-out channels to use for subwoofers, surround sound, and more. In general, the pricier a receiver is, the more pre-outs it should offer.
Putting more amps into your system can mean more wires and potentially more noise. Any time you add more, you have to be ready to either pay for high-quality cables or risk noise or other interference in your overall sound. Adding in more amps along the way certainly can increase this risk.
If you do add in more amps, your system is naturally going to use more power. Even at the same volume, using your receiver’s amp and another amp versus just the receiver will draw more power.
And if your whole reason for adding more amps is to get a bigger, fuller sound, the power cost will go up. This isn’t specific to pre-outs, though – it’s just stereo math.
Pre-Outs on Receivers
These days, it’s safe to assume that just about every A/V receiver will have at least one pre-out. This is normally going to be a dedicated sub-woofer channel, and if it’s the only pre-out, it will be labeled as such. This can be a single RCA jack or possibly a ¼-inch jack on some models.
From there, you’re going to find that cheaper receivers will have maybe just one more pre-out for you to use. Not very handy. When you start to hit machines over $800, you’ll see more versatility and more channels coming into play. These channels are almost always RCA ports or sometimes ¼” jacks.
The ultra-high-end Marantz AV8805 Home Theatre Pre-Amp, for example, provides 21 pre-out ports for connecting multiple zones, surround speakers, and subs for a superior home theatre experience. The bottom line is if you can get lots of pre-outs, then do it so you will have more flexibility in the future.
Need a Great A/V Receiver?
Also, take a look at our in-depth Sony STRDH590 5.2-ch Surround Sound Home Theater Receiver Review, our Sony STR-DN1080 7.2-Channel AV Receiver Review, and our Denon AVR-X4400H AV Receiver Review for more awesome recievers currently on the market.
And don’t miss our handy guides on Denon vs. Yamaha Receivers, Receivers vs Amplifiers, or How to Connect a Power Amp to an AV Receiver, and How to Add Bluetooth to an A/V or Stereo Receiver for more useful information on setting up your sound system.
What is a Pre-Out on an A/V Receiver and When Would You Use It? – Final Thoughts
To finish up, let’s quickly recap… A pre-out is an output that lets you bypass your receiver’s amplifier. You’d use it to send an un-amplified signal to an active speaker or another amplifier. This can give you more juice in your system. It can also be a great way to take the strain off of your receiver, so it lasts for decades.
For my money, it’s worth paying a bit more for an a/v receiver that offers at least a handful of pre-outs. That way, you can upgrade your system in the future, adding more speakers or more power as you need it. Because, as we all know, the more you get into your sound system, the more you will want to do with it to get the highest possible sound quality, which is no bad thing!
Until next time, happy listening.