Differences Between Stereo Receivers & Home-Theater Systems


Many people use the terms "stereo," "stereo receiver," "surround sound" and "home-theater system" interchangeably. There are, however, differences between these terms. A stereo or stereo receiver versus a home-theater system or surround-sound system are two different things that can be used for two different reasons: listening to music or listening to other media.


  • Stereo receivers are primarily used to listen to music while home-theater systems are primarily used to listen to the sounds of television shows and films. Stereo receivers do not always come with multiple speakers (which are generally needed for surround sound), nor do they necessarily have to have surround-sound capabilities, even if they do have multiple speakers. The main purpose of stereo receivers is to play music, whether it be from a CD, MP3 or from an AM/FM radio station.

Surround Sound Capabilities

  • Both stereo receivers and home-theater systems, or home theater receivers, may have surround-sound capabilities. However, surround-sound capabilities are standard with home-theater systems but not necessarily a feature of stereo receivers. It is not sufficient that multiple speakers be installed to a sound system in order to make that sound system "surround sound." In order for a system to play surround sound, it must be able to play the correct sound out of the proper location. For example, if you are watching a movie where a car is driving from the left side of the screen towards the right, and a bomb is going off in the background, a surround-sound system will be able to move the sound from the left to the right speakers and play the bomb explosion sound from the back speakers. The purpose is to make the experience of the movie, or television show, as real as possible.


  • The amount of speakers that can be attached to, or come attached to, a stereo receiver versus a home-theater system is usually different. Although some stereo receivers have multiple plugs for multiple speakers, the simplest of stereo receivers comes with at least one speaker, already attached to its body, like a boom box, or an MP3 docking station. Home-theater systems usually come with at least three unattached speakers or more. These are the left, right and center speakers, although front left, back left, front right, back right, front center and back center speaker combinations are also possible.

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