Have you ever wondered what are those pre-out ports on the back of your AV receiver used for? What’s their purpose? Why do you need those if you already have speaker terminals? Are there any advantages or disadvantages of using pre-outs on your amplifiers/receivers? Do we all need amplifiers and receivers with pre-outs? We have all the answers prepared for you, and you can find them in the article below. Oh, and not just that. We have also made a shortlist of the best amplifiers and receivers with pre-outs.
Preamp VS Power Amp VS Integrated Amp VS AV Receiver
Preamps and power amps are two separate devices. The first one is used to receive the low-level signal coming from the audio sources. It amplifies it to the point when it’s strong enough for further processing, and then sends it to the power amplifier for further amplification and processing.
In a speaker system that includes both preamp and power amp, the preamp is responsible for input selection, volume control, and ‘pre-amplifying’. Preamps send a line-level signal to power amps. The power amp is only responsible for amplifying the audio signal and sending it to the speakers connected to it. Power amps output speaker-level signal.
A growing number of today’s amps are the so-called integrated amps. This means is that preamp and power amp are packed inside one unit. More often than not, they are also combined with a DAC that allows you to connect digital audio sources (PCs, laptops, etc.).
AV receivers can do all the things that integrated amps do, and then some more. They process the audio received from all of the audio (and video sources), amplify audio signals, and send it to the speakers. But they also process video signals received from all of your video equipment. They are responsible for separating audio and video signals. The video is sent to output devices (TVs, projectors), and the audio is sent to the amp section of the receiver (and then to the speakers).
What Does Preamp Output (or Pre-Out) Mean?
If you look at the rear panel of your amplifier or your AV receiver, you will see a bunch of inputs and outputs. If you look closely, you will notice that some ports are labeled as ‘pre-out’ or ‘preamp out’. You may also see the ports labeled as ‘subwoofer pre-out’. On the rear panel of your AV receiver, there may be a whole section of pre-outs for all the speakers in a home theater system and for external active subwoofers.
So, what does that pre-out label means? It means that these ports output line-level audio signals. It is the same kind of signal that a preamp outputs in a system made of separate units. It’s the signal that can be sent to an amp for further amplification and processing.
What Are Pre-Outs on Amplifiers and Receivers Used For?
Depending on the kind of pre-out, you will use it to achieve different things, but the basic principle is always the same. You have a line-level signal coming out, so you have to connect the pre-outs to some external amplifier before sending the sound to the speakers.
Most integrated amps and AV receivers have subwoofer pre-outs. Those pre-out ports are used to connect an external powered subwoofer to your system (or two subwoofers). Powered subwoofers already have a built-in amp, so you don’t need an external amplification. You can connect the subwoofer pre-outs on your amp/receiver directly to the LINE IN ports on your subwoofer. You will use your subwoofer to control the phase and low-pass filter.
Integrated stereo amps rarely have other pre-outs, but some higher-end units will also have two preamp outputs for R and L speakers. If your amp has those, you can use them to connect another amp to it. Why would you do that? Well, maybe you have new speakers that are too demanding for your old amp, but you don’t want to throw your old amp away. Instead, you can use your old amp only as a preamp/DAC and use a new amp to supply power to your new speakers. Or maybe your new amp is just a power amp, so you have to use your old amp as preamp/DAC.
Preamp outputs on integrated amplifiers
AV receivers have the largest number of pre-outs. Even cheaper AVRs have subwoofer pre-outs (for connecting powered subs). Many units will have pre-outs for some of the speakers in a system. Most budget units will have at least two pre-outs (besides subwoofer pre-outs) for two front speakers (FL and FR). Why do you need those?
Let’s say you have two large floorstanding speakers that you want to use as FL and FR. But those two are quite power-hungry and they simply don’t sound good enough when connected to your AVR. Well, thanks to those two FL/FR pre-outs, you can buy an additional power amp for those two floorstanders, and use the pre-outs on your AVR to send the signal to your amp. That way, you will get a much better overall performance and you won’t be pushing your AVR too hard, which means you will probably prolong its lifespan.
Budget AVRs have at least one or two subwoofer pre-outs. Better units will also have pre-outs for some of the speakers in your home theater system
More expensive units will have pre-outs for all the speakers in a system. Are you going to use them all? Probably not, but it’s good to know that you have them. It gives your more flexibility when it comes to installation and future upgrades.
Higher-end AVRs will, besides subwoofer pre-outs and speaker pre-outs, have outputs labeled as Zone 2 and maybe even Zone 3. These are also preamp outputs and you can also connect them to an external amplifier or to a pair of powered speakers, but they have a different purpose.
Higher-end AVRs have subwoofer pre-outs, home theater speaker pre-outs, and Zone 2 (or even Zone 3) line outs (which are also pre-outs)
If your AVR has Zone outputs, you can install a pair of speakers in some other room and you can use both– your home theater system and your stereo system in that other room at the same time. And you don’t even have to play the same thing on them. Your kids can watch a movie in your home theater room, and you can listen to some relaxing music in the other room.
How to Connect a Powered Subwoofer If an Amplifier/Receiver Doesn’t Have Subwoofer Pre-Outs?
It’s not a disaster if your amplifier or receiver doesn’t have subwoofer pre-outs. You can still connect a subwoofer to your amp/receiver, but you need a special kind of subwoofer. To be more specific, you need a powered subwoofer with high-level inputs. What’s so special about these subwoofers is that they can receive high-level signal, which is the signal that travels from your amp/AVR to the speakers. It’s an amplified signal, and that’s why it’s called a high-level or speaker-level signal.
Martin Logan Dynamo 1100X – subwoofer with high-level inputs
Instead of using a dedicated subwoofer pre-out, you can use FL and FR speaker terminals on your AVR/amp to connect the subwoofer. So, you’ll be having two sets of speaker wire connected to your FL and FR terminals – one that goes to your FL/FR speakers and the other that goes to your subwoofer.
How Many Pre-Outs Do I Need?
Some people don’t need any pre-outs. Most people will use only subwoofer pre-outs. When it comes to subwoofer pre-outs, you want to make sure that your AV receiver has independent dual subwoofer pre-outs. Most cheap receivers will have only one sub pre-output or maybe two paralleled/identical outputs. This means that you can’t adjust digital delay and level independently for each subwoofer. You can do that with two independent sub pre-outs.
When it comes to multichannel pre-outs, most people will only use FL/FR pre-outs and maybe height channel pre-outs. We have already explained how to use FL/FR pre-outs, so let’s now cover the height channels.
Let’s say your AVR has two sub pre-outs and 9 speaker terminals, but only 7 powered terminals. This means that your AVR can supply power to 7 speakers at the same time. The last two terminals are labeled as ‘ASIGNABLE’, and you can use them for your Atmos speakers or for Zone 2 speakers. The max home theater configuration you can achieve without adding an amplifier to your system is 7.2 or 5.2.2. But what if you want to build a 5.2.4 or 7.2.2 system. Your AVR can power only 7 speakers, which means that you need an additional amp for those two speakers. If your AVR has two pre-outs for two height channels, you can connect those pre-outs to a separate amp, and power those two additional speakers.
The same thing applies to Zone 2 speakers. If your AVR has Zone 2 line-out or pre-out ports, you can connect them to a separate power amp, and keep using 7 speakers in your home theater setup.
So, whether you need pre-outs at the moment or not, it’s good to have them. They will make your AVR future-proof and will give you more flexibility. You may not want to add height speakers or Zone 2 speakers right now, but you may decide to add them in a year or two. That’s why it’s great to have pre-outs.
Can I Use Pre-Outs and Speaker Terminals at the Same Time?
In most AVRs, speaker pre-outs are ‘hot’ (active) all the time, regardless of the speaker terminals. So, it is technically possible to use speaker terminals and pre-outs at the same time. In most cases, you won’t have to use them at the same time, but here’re some examples when using both – pre-outs and main terminals is a viable option.
We’ve seen some people using main FL and FR speaker terminals for FL and FR speakers, and FL/FR pre-outs for connecting the subwoofer. If you have a subwoofer with high-level inputs, you can also use the main FL/FR terminals to connect your sub, and then use FL/FR pre-outs to connect an additional power amp that drives your FL and FR speakers.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, here’s our selection of the best receivers with pre-outs. We have prepared three great units for you. The first one is our top choice when it comes to budget receivers. The second is more of a midrange unit. The third one is our favorite high-end AV receiver.
Best Budget Receiver with Pre-Outs – Yamaha RX-V685
RX-V685 is a very potent and versatile budget-friendly receiver. It is one of the best choices under $600. You can hardly find anything better at this price point.
The unit has 5 HDMI inputs and two HDMI outputs (one is HDMI ARC). All HDMI ports are compliant with HDCP 2.2 and support HDR10, HLG, BT2020, and Dolby Vision. Naturally, they all also support 4K UHD. The unit has multiple additional physical audio/video connections including component video input (x1), composite video in (x1), TOSLINK audio in (x2), coaxial audio inputs (x2), phono input (x1), and RCA inputs (x3). On the front, there’s an AUX input, phone output, and USB input (for music playback).
RX-V685 also supports Bluetooth (BT 4.2). It features dual-band wi-fi (2.4/5GHz). Additionally, it supports Apple Airplay 2 and Yamaha MusicCast. Thanks to MusicCast support, you can use Yamaha MusicCast wireless speakers as your surround channels or you can make RX-V685 a part of your MusicCast multiroom speaker system. The unit works with Alexa, too (but doesn’t have Alexa built-in). Finally, RX-V685 has built-in AM and FM tuners, so you can even use it to listen to your favorite radio stations.
The unit has 9 speaker terminals, but only seven are powered at the same time. The max supported layout is 7.2 (7 speakers and two subwoofers) or 5.2.2 (two height channels). Four speaker terminals are assignable and can be used as rear surround, front presence (front height/overhead/Dolby-enabled speakers), or Zone 2 speakers. One of those two terminals can also be used for bi-amping.
The unit has two subwoofer pre-outs, two pre-outs for FL/FR speakers, and two Zone2 line outputs.
RX-V685 supports a wide variety of surround sound formats including object-based formats like DTS:X and Dolby Atmos.
The power output is rated at 90W per channel. It’s measured with two 8Ω channels driven across the audible audio spectrum with 0.06% THD.
Best AV Receiver with Pre-Outs Under $2000 – Denon AVR-X4700H
AVR-X4700H is one of the latest AV receivers from Denon. It was introduced in 2020, and it’s a part of the X series. Compared to the previously reviewed Yamaha RX-V685, AVR-X4700H is much more expensive, but it’s also more versatile, more powerful, and allows you to make a bigger home theater setup.
This amazing unit features 8 HDMI inputs (7 on the back and one on the front). This number is pretty much standard for higher-end units. Seven of those 8 HDMI inputs support 4K pass-through and are HDCP 2.3 compliant. One HDMI input is HDMI 2.1 and supports 8K/60Hz and 4K/120Hz pass-through. The unit also has three HDMI output ports. Of those three, one is HDMI eARC with 8K support. The other two are HDMI 2.0 with 4K support. All HDMI ports support Dolby Vision, HDR10+, BT2020, Auro-3D, IMAX Enhanced. HDMI 2.1 ports also support VRR, ALLM, and QFT.
Besides HDMI connections, you have a bunch of other options to connect your audio and video equipment. There are two component video inputs and one output, as well as three composite video inputs and two outputs. There are even more audio connections. You have two digital and two coaxial inputs, one phono input, and five RCA analog inputs. Finally, the unit has AM and FM tuners built inside.
Like numerous units in this price range, AVR-X4700H supports Bluetooth and wi-fi connectivity (dual band). It also features Airplay 2, and it supports HEOS, which is Denon’s multiroom technology. Thanks to HEOS support, you can integrate AVR-X4700H into a multiroom speaker system made of HEOS wireless speakers.
The receiver has 13 speaker terminals, but only 9 of those 13 can be powered simultaneously. 8 speaker terminals are assignable – you can use them for bi-amping, for height speakers, or for Zone 2 and Zone 3 speakers. The max speaker layout without adding additional power amps is 9.2 or 7.2.2 or 5.2.4.
The unit has two subwoofer pre-outs. There’s a pre-out for each speaker in a home theater setup, including 4 height speakers (11 in total). Finally, you have four pre-outs for Zone 2 and Zone 3 speakers.
AVR-X4700H supports all the most popular surround sound audio formats including object-based (Atmos and DTS:X).
The power output is rated at 125W (RMS) per channel. It’s measured with two 8Ω channels driven across the entire audio spectrum (20 Hz – 20 kHz), and the distortion (THD) is rated at 0.05%.
Best High-End AV Receiver with Pre-Outs – Marantz SR8015
Marantz SR8015 is one of the latest, most advanced, and most expensive AV receivers from Marantz. It’s incredibly versatile and powerful. In a way, SR8015 is an upgraded version of the previously reviewed AVR-X4700H, even though they are not made by the same manufacturer. At least technically. But they are both parts of the same company called Sound United. That’s why they share some of the technologies (like HEOS).
Like the previous AVR-X4700H, SR8015 has 8 HDMI inputs and three outputs. One IN and one OUT port support 8K/60Hz pass-through (HDMI 2.1 ports). The HDMI OUT port with 8K support also supports eARC. The rest of the ports are HDMI 2.0 with 4K/60Hz pass-through. All HDMI ports are compliant with HDCP 2.3.All HDMI ports support Dolby Vision, HDR10+, BT2020, Auro-3D, IMAX Enhanced. 8K HDMI ports also support VRR, ALLM, and QFT.
Besides HDMI connections, you have 8 additional video inputs (3 component and 5 composite) and three video outputs (2 composite and one component). Then, you have a bunch of audio inputs– one phono input, 6 RCA audio inputs, two optical inputs, and two coax inputs.
Like any other unit in this price range, SR8015 features Bluetooth and wi-fi connectivity. It also supports Airplay2 and HEOS. HEOS allows you to make this receiver a part of a HEOS multiroom system.
The unit has 13 speaker terminals. 11 of those 13 are powered at the same time. 8 of those 13 terminals are assignable and can be used for bi-amping, or as rear surround channels, height channels, or Zone 2 and Zone 3 channels.
When it comes to pre-outs, you have two subwoofer pre-outs, as well as pre-outs for all 13 home theater channels. And you have 4 pre-outs for Zone 2 and Zone 3.
All the most popular surround sound audio formats are supported. That includes object-based formats.
The power output is rated at 140W. It’s measured with two 8Ω channels driven across the entire spectrum, and the distortion is rated at 0.08%.
This concludes our selection of best receivers with pre-outs. We hope our article helped you understand the purpose and importance of pre-outs on amplifiers and receivers. For additional info about pre-outs, read the FAQs. If you have any questions or impressions that you want to share, leave us a comment below.
Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of using Pre-Outs?
A: We have pretty much covered most of the advantages of using pre-outs in the introduction. Here’s a short recap.
- Pre-outs allow you to expand your home theater system or add Zone2/Zone3 speakers in the future.
- Pre-outs will allow you to unburden your amplifier/receiver and, as a result, they will prolong the life of your equipment
- Pre-outs can improve the overall performance of your home theater system. If your AVR is not powerful enough to drive your main speakers, then you can use pre-outs to connect a more powerful amp and use that amp to drive those demanding speakers.
Even though we think that having pre-outs is a good thing, there’re also some disadvantages we have to warn you about.
- AVRs with a full set of multichannel pre-outs are not exactly budget units. If you’re looking for something cheap, don’t expect to get pre-outs for all the channels. You may get two subwoofer pre-outs and two pre-outs for FR/FL channels, and that it’s.
- Adding a power amplifier to your system will, inevitably, increase the power consumption and that could cause some issues, especially if you’re using the same power line to supply power to all of your audio and video equipment. That’s something to think about when building and upgrading your system.
Q: Do all amps and receivers have pre-outs?
A: Most amps, even the cheapest ones, have at least one subwoofer pre-out. They often have two. Budget amps will rarely have speaker pre-outs, but it’s not impossible to see two speaker pre-outs on them. Almost every AVR priced over $1000 has a full set of pre-outs for all the channels. Higher-end receivers will also have Zone 2 (and maybe even Zone 3) pre-outs.
Q: What to look for when buying an amplifier/receiver with preamp outputs?
A: Buying an amplifieror receiver with pre-outs is pretty much the same as buying any amp/receiver. You will just have to pay additional attention to the number and type of preamp outputs (subwoofer pre-outputs, multichannel pre-outs, Zone 2/Zone 3 pre-outs).
Q: What is the difference between line out and pre-out?
A: Both line out and pre-out ports output the same kind of signal (line-level or low-level signal). The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but there’s a difference between them.
Line out ports output fixed level signal, while pre-outs have variable output. This basically means that line-out ports output the signal at full blast all the time and you can’t control their volume with a volume dial on the main unit (your AVR). That’s why you can only connect them to an amp with volume control (integrated amp) or to a pair of powered speakers. You shouldn’t be connecting them to old-school power amps without volume control.
Pre-outs, on the other hand, output variable level signal. In other words, you can control their volume with a volume knob on the main unit. Pre-outs can be used to connect an old-school amp without volume controls.
Q: Can I use an integrated amp or receiver as a preamp?
A: Yes, you can. By using preamp outputs on your amp/receiver, you can override the entire amplifier section of that amp/receiver, and use it just as a preamp (or preamp/DAC).
Q: Can you split preamp outputs?
A: You can use a simple Y-splitter to split a preamp output in two.
Q: Can I split my subwoofer output?
A: If we are talking about powered subwoofers and subwoofer pre-outs, then yes. You can use a simple Y-splitter and feed the signal from one subwoofer pre-out to two powered subwoofers.
Q: What are loop outputs on an amp?
A: Loop outputs on amps are the same thing as line-outs. They deliver the same kind of signal as pre-outs, but you can’t control the volume of those loop-outs with your main unit (your amp) – they are always at full blast. You can use them to connect an external powered subwoofer or a pair of powered speakers, and you have to use the volume controls on that subwoofer/powered speakers to adjust the volume.