Q A salesman in a big-box store told me that a powered subwoofer can't be connected to a two-channel stereo receiver. Is he right?

A Although two-channel stereo receivers don't have an RCA subwoofer output, you can still use a powered subwoofer.

Just buy a subwoofer that has speaker-level (high-level) inputs. Run speaker wires from the receiver to the sub's speaker wire inputs, and then run another set of wires from the sub's speaker wire outputs to the speakers. Adjust the volume and crossover point on the subwoofer's control panel, and it will reproduce the low frequencies and send the midrange and treble to the speakers.

Many enthusiasts (and speaker companies) think this actually produces better sound quality than using an RCA subwoofer connection.

There are excellent and inexpensive powered subwoofers with speaker-level inputs. The 10-inch 125-watt Dayton SUB-100 has long been a favorite for $120. The new 12-inch, 150-watt subwoofer from Monoprice.com is receiving rave reviews, and its $85 price belies belief. If you're building an entire system, spending only $85 on the subwoofer frees up funds for better main speakers, a better receiver or a better television, all of which are likely to make you happier than a pricier subwoofer.

Pick: Pioneer receiver

Pioneer's VSX-1021-K is an affordable 7.1-channel home-theater receiver -- 90 watts per channel and five HDMI inputs -- that truly has it all. It's easy to set up, makes your speakers sound great and integrates with your computer and wireless devices.

The ease of setup and great sound can be credited to Pioneer's Advanced Auto MCACC system. With MCACC, you set up your speakers in the room, connect them to the receiver, then plug a microphone into the front panel and place it in the middle of the listening area. MCACC sends out a series of test tones to balance the entire system and match each speaker's response to the acoustics of the room.

Although many such systems are available, MCACC is the only system under $1,000 I have tested that has actually improved sound quality, making the room come alive with perfectly balanced sound. Other systems I've tried make the system sound worse.

AirPlay allows you to stream content wirelessly from your computer's iTunes music collection and listen to Internet radio. Just use the Ethernet port or attach the optional AS-WL300 wireless adapter and select the receiver on iTunes. The free Apple Remote app or Pioneer's free iControlAV2 app (iPad only) will convert your iPod or iPad into a remote to control it. A Bluetooth adapter allows you to stream music directly from your Bluetooth device.

At $399 street price, the VSX-1021 is impossible to beat.

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