They used to be a big deal. They can still be found pretty easily, but their sheen is definitely wearing off. Less stores are stocking them, less high end manufacturers are producing them and less people are buying them. But they are pretty versatile, capable pieces of equipment. What happened?
Before we get started – a stereo receiver is a two-channel amplifier that has a built-in radio tuner, so if you listen to a lot of radio, you’ve got your amplification and source in one. Some have even more built in, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Department stores and discount electronics shops sell AM/FM/cassette receivers with cheap turntables slapped on top. You can find them for under $100 – what a bargain! But seriously, they look like dog’s breakfasts and sound shocking.
In the early days, stereo receivers were influential in moving hi-fi away from being a fringe hobby. Easy to use with all components included, they superseded the old-timey, all-in-one, whole family sitting around the dinky radio type setups. As time went on, they began to accommodate other sources, such as turntables and cassettes, either with inputs or with in-built players.
The reason they were so popular then is the same reason they’re becoming redundant now – radio. It has been losing traction with modern listeners for years (outside of the humble car radio) as new sources come out with better sound quality. The growth of digital audio was a big nail in the coffin, as people have found a way to listen to music that tops the ease of tuning into a radio. Digital streaming services and Internet radio have like-for-like replaced radio for a lot of listeners.
We’ve kept ahead of this by including built-in Wolfson WM8740 DAC chips with both synchronous and asynchronous inputs in a lot of our products, including our amps. You can play all your digital music directly into your amplifier without the need for another component, including Internet radio from your computer or smartphone.
While stereo receivers might still be a great option for those radio-centric few, if you’re part of the majority that’s begun to move on, it’s an unnecessary addition that might increase the cost of your amplifier.
More importantly, it’ll reduce sound quality – as most people know, separate components are, on the whole, better sounding than integrated alternatives. Splitting up the roles needed for your system into different components not only provides more control, but it guarantees that the specific job of the component will be done with the best possible outcome. There isn't any excess circuitry to generate noise. So integrating a radio tuner into your amplifier when you don’t really plan on listening to it provides an unnecessary degradation of your sound.
Because of this, most high-end manufacturers and stores are moving away from them. If you're putting together a system, they can still be found in budget form, and if you don’t have much at all to spend and love radio, it’s not a bad choice. But be careful – the cheapest options are tacky and will sound very average. If you can afford it, have the space and still love radio, the way to go is an amplifier and a separate radio tuner.