Home theater makeover, start with a power amplifier

Upgrade your home theater receiver's sound with a new power amplifier from Emotiva.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read

Today's receivers may be jam-packed with the latest technology, but they lack the muscle of high-end power amplifiers. If your home theater is above average in size, say 300 or more square feet, and you like to listen nice and loud, there's a good chance your receiver's power amp is the weak link in your system.

The Emotiva UPA-7 power amplifier Emotiva

People ask me about this stuff all the time: "Denon, Onkyo, Pioneer, Sony, and Yamaha receivers all boast up to the nanosecond surround processing modes, connectivity options up the whazoo, and fancy remotes--so what exactly would a brawny amplifier get me?" My answer to these queries is always the same: "Just two things: the power and the glory."

Most receivers, even big-ticket models, can't spare enough internal real estate to house humongous transformers and hefty power supply capacitors that powerhouse amps need. Separate power amplifiers have room for all of that good stuff.

Emotiva has a closeout sale right now on its UPA-7 seven-channel power amp; it's $599. It delivers 125 watts into 8 ohm speakers, and 185 watts into 4 ohm speakers. If that doesn't seem like a lot more power than you have right now, or that it would sound better than any 100-watt receiver, you've never heard what a bona-fide power amp can deliver. The UPA-7 will sound more powerful and play louder than your receiver. Clarity and definition will score significant gains.

Want more power? Go for Emotiva's XPA-5 ($899). This bad boy pumps 200 watts into 8 ohm speakers, and 300 watts into 4 ohm speakers. It's a five-channel design, and weighs a hefty 66 pounds.

There's one catch to the makeover plan: your receiver has to have a set of "pre-out" jacks (see image below); if it doesn't you can't hook up a separate power amplifier. Most but not all receivers have the jacks, but definitely check before you buy the Emotiva or any amplifier.

After the Emotiva amp is hooked up, your receiver's internal amplifiers will still be on, but since they're no longer connected to your speakers they don't contribute to the sound you hear. Of course, there are many other great-sounding separate power amplifiers on the market, but most are far more expensive than Emotiva's models.

Check and see if your receiver has pre-out jacks before you buy the Emotiva amp. Steve Guttenberg