If stereo were a car, your amp would be your engine, the audio source its fuel source, and the speakers your suspension and handling. So, let's take a little road trip along the details of each component, from music in (source), to music through (amplifier), and music out (speakers).
Your basic stereo system consists of three core components:
- 1 x audio source
- 1 x amplifier
- 2 x speakers
IT ALL BEGINS AT THE SOURCE
Music comes from a variety of sources these days: Records, CDs, BluRay, DSD, MP3, streaming platforms and more. And each source has its corresponding component: turntables, CD players, BluRay players, smart devices, hard drives, and network streamers.
But with so much music played these days through our smart devices, we often forget that our phones and tablets are in fact source components the same as turntables and CD players. And without a source, your amplifier and speakers are just silent, pretty furniture pieces.
Amplifiers are a must in any stereo systems. They take the music signal from the source component and… well, amplify it. But there’s so much more to it than that. For starters:
- power amplifiers
- pre amplifiers
- integrated amplifiers.
- tube amplifiers
- transistor amplifiers
- digital amplifiers
Not to mention:
- headphone amplifiers
- and amplified speakers
And they’re not just responsible for volume attenuation. They’re also the engine driving your speakers – no amplifier, no speaker cone movement; and no speaker cone movement, no sound. And bigger speakers with bigger speaker cones sometimes demand bigger engines.
Some amplifiers also include input selections catering to the different signals from the all those music sources. Records have different requirements to CDs and MP3s. And smart devices without headphone jacks demand Bluetooth or digital inputs for network streamers.
So, there’s a wealth of options available to you, requiring more blogs than this one to do them justice. But for now, if you’re just after a “basic” stereo system amplifier, then you need an integrated amplifier – something that combines the engine parts of a power amplifier with the input controls of a pre amplifier
Two speakers are required to generate stereo. And while clock radios containing two speakers are “technically” stereo units, their speaker separation isn’t wide enough to generate soundstage and imaging, depth and dynamics. So, don’t be fooled. True stereo only comes from two separate speakers in their own individual speaker housings.
Stereo-producing loudspeakers come in a few different varieties (bookshelf, floorstanding, standmount, active, etc.) but the one commonality is that there are always two. Two separate speakers and you’ve got stereo sound. And with stereo sound, you get three-dimensional imaging, soundstage, and the kind of detail that reveals elements within a song you simply won’t hear any other way.
SO, IN CONCLUSION
If you’ve got a source component, an integrated amplifier, and a pair of speakers, you’ve got a full stereo system and you've got music. And, truthfully, if you haven’t heard your favourite album on a quality stereo system, you haven’t really heard your favourite album.