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Posted 10 April 2013 | News & Blog   

Harman Kardon AVR 1700 A/V Receiver

Price: $499 At A Glance: Switch-mode power supply • Full Apple functionality • Unique Media Manager app
If you don’t enjoy paradox, life is no more fun than a sack of dirt. Here’s a long-running paradox in the home theater sphere: Some folks are turned off by audio/video receivers because they are so complex and loaded with features. So how do the people who design AVRs make them more appealing? Add more features!

Denon AVR-2313CI A/V Receiver

Price: $900 At A Glance: Fabulous video processing • Audyssey MultEQ XT enabled • Apple AirPlay enabled
With over 100 years of history behind it, Denon Electronics has high standards for any product it releases. And in my experience, it generally delivers the goods. Its AVRs (audio/video receivers) are often among the best on the market and run the gamut from the budget category all the way up to high-end models that will set you back a few months’ worth of mortgage payments.

Yamaha RX-V473 and RX-V573 A/V Receivers

Price: $450 (RX-V473); $550 (RX-V573) At A Glance (both models): Really fantastic sound quality for the price • Apple AirPlay, DLNA, Internet radio, and app control • Lean on streaming and other features
Conventional wisdom amongst us A/V geeks who put audio performance above all else is that there’s no such thing as a good $500 A/V receiver anymore. At least not from the big, well-known manufacturers whose wares you’d find at the typical electronics store. This mythical beast did exist before the dark days, before the Features Wars, but given that even a mid-priced offering these days is expected to sport all sorts of streaming audio and video goodies, something had to give. And sound quality has traditionally been that something.

So it’s something of a novelty for me to be sitting here with not one, but two good $500-ish receivers from Yamaha. The company’s RX-V473 and RX-V573 look identical from the front and both fall within $50 of that target price point—the former fifty bucks down, the latter fifty bucks up.

Pioneer Elite SC-61 A/V Receiver

Price: $1,100 At A Glance: 125 x 7 watts D³ power • Brawny, assured bass • Network audio cornucopia
Someday I will be able to review a Class D receiver without mentioning this up-and-coming amplifier technology in the lead. That day hasn’t come yet and probably won’t in the next few years. But I can see it shimmering on the horizon.

Class D has been steadily infiltrating Pioneer’s upper-crust Elite line since 2008 and now accounts for five of the line’s seven models. With the SC-61, reviewed here, the latest version of the technology—which Pioneer calls D3—has come down in price to as little as $1,100. That’s a far cry from the $7,000 Pioneer charged for its first-ever Class D model five years ago.

Yamaha RX-A1020 A/V Receiver

Price: $1,200 At A Glance: Top-flight build quality • Clean and detailed sound • Second-zone HDMI
Sing me a song. Come on, it will cheer me up. Hey, that’s good. Can you sing while juggling? Here’s the fruit bowl, let’s see what you can do. Wow, that was great. Now do the singing and juggling while standing on one foot. That was amazing! Can you sing and juggle while hopping on one foot? Incredible, although I must say the hopping affected your vibrato a little. Now let me see you sing, juggle, and hop on one foot while rotating—hey, where are you going? You were just starting to amuse me.

Onkyo TX-NR3010 A/V Receiver

Price: $2,299 At A Glance: Audyssey’s best room correction • ISF, THX certifications • Nine amp channels
Onkyo is the quintessential feature-conscious audio/video receiver maker. The company is the champion of the mid-priced receiver, providing things like THX certification, Audyssey room correction, and other goodies at a poor man’s price point. The upper reaches of Onkyo’s line get a bit less attention in the press, however. So today we swing the spotlight onto the Onkyo TX-NR3010, second from the top of the line. At $2,299, it has a few logo-tattoos you may not have heard of before. It also has a lot more power and more ambitious build quality than its slightly less tattooed siblings.

Sony STR-DN1030 A/V Receiver

Price: $500 At A Glance: Wi-Fi • AirPlay • Bluetooth • DLNA • Windows 7 Play To • Proprietary room correction
Sony may not be the first brand you think of in connection with audio/video receivers. The company has always offered competently designed models, some of which provide good performance and value for the money, yet somehow it hasn’t basked in the limelight enjoyed by the market-leading brands. That may be about to change with the STR-DN1030. Sony needed a way to attract attention and has found one: This receiver is a wireless triple threat with Apple AirPlay, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi connectivity. And all of that is dongle free. To enable the wireless features, you needn’t spend more for accessories or plug anything into anything.

Denon AVR-1913 A/V Receiver

Price: $580 At A Glance: Incredibly intuitive Setup Assistant • Apple AirPlay • Assignable power amps • Network/Internet streaming
As much as the phrase “plug and play” has saturated the electronics world to the point of near-ubiquity, it’s not a label we’ve ever seen applied to the giant mess of inputs, outputs, and speaker connections that define the A/V receiver. That’s not to say that Denon is labeling the AVR-1913 as such, but you could make the case. Or, if not plug and play, perhaps plug and poke and plug and poke and plug and poke and play. (The comedic value would at least outweigh any drawbacks in marketability.

Pioneer Elite SC-68 A/V Receiver

Price: $2,500 At A Glance: 32-bit asynchronous USB DAC • D3 Class D amplification • All the Apple trimmings
Like a parent who charts a child’s growth with colored pencil marks on the wall, I’ve been observing the growth of audio/video receivers since the beginning of the product category. The wall is covered with ascending marks: Here’s the first A/V receiver, with composite video switching and no surround processing. Here’s the first Dolby Surround model, the first Dolby Pro Logic model, the first Dolby Digital model—and the first with DTS, THX, lossless surround, room correction, satellite radio, HDMI, network audio, Apple everything.

Marantz SR7007 A/V Receiver

Price: $1,800 At A Glance: Proprietary HDAM topology • 4K video processing • Audyssey, the works
Marantz has come a long way since Saul Marantz started building audio products in his Kew Gardens, New York, basement. The latest twist in the story is the reinvention of D&M Holdings—that’s D for Denon and M for Marantz—into D+M Group. In addition to trading its ampersand for a plus sign, the company has radically expanded its product lines to include more new products and even new product categories. While Denon has gotten a lot of attention for the latter, including four jam-packed headphone lines, Marantz is also experimenting with new kinds of fun. Its first self-contained iDevice docking system is the Consolette, with a retractable dock, AirPlay, DLNA, Internet radio, two-way internal speakers, and cosmetic echoes of the Saul Marantz–designed preamp that got the party started. But Marantz has not neglected its longtime status as a maker of great home theater products. An overhaul of its audio/video receiver line’s upper end has brought three new models. The top model soon found its way into the guest-receiver berth on my rack.

Onkyo TX-NR414 A/V Receiver

Price: $499 At A Glance: Internet radio with a plethora of cloud streaming services • PiP source input preview • iDevice and Android Onkyo Remote app
Last year I had the pleasure of reviewing the Onkyo TX-NR609 AVR (Home Theater, August 2011), which offered a boatload of features, including seven channels of amplification, firstrate video processing, THX-Select certification, and many of the goodies found on the flagship products for the attractive price of $599. When I was done with my audition, I gladly gave the product Top Pick status and recommended it for anyone looking for near-flagship performance on a tight budget.

Cambridge Audio Azur 551R A/V Receiver

Price: $1,299 At A Glance: Advanced cooling allows for small chassis • Auto setup but no room correction • A true music lover’s receiver
Some of the best-sounding audio/video receivers come from companies that have earned a “low end of the high end” reputation in the two-channel sphere. And, yes, in case you were wondering, that’s a good thing. These receiver brands offer audiophile performance at what I would call moderate prices—although the owner of doghouse monoblocks would consider them cheap, while penny pinchers at the other end of the spectrum would consider them sky high. Among others, I’m referring to Arcam, Rotel, NAD—and Cambridge Audio, which just revamped its AVR line to include three new models.

NAD T 787 A/V Receiver

Price: $4,000 At A Glance: Seven powerful amplifiers • Complexity simplified • Future-proof modular design
For good reason, grizzled veterans of the audio/video hardware wars eagerly anticipate reviewing NAD gear. The company’s distinguished history began in the 1970s with the invention of the business model that was adopted years later by Apple, among others. Rather than building a factory to produce its products, NAD contracted with existing manufacturing facilities, thus avoiding high capitalization costs.

Pioneer Elite VSX-42 A/V Receiver

Price: $450 At A Glance: Good streaming features • Ample power for a budget receiver • Free iOS/Android control app
Pioneer Electronics has long offered consumers an evolving array of attractive audio/video receivers, from simple, high-value choices to high-end alternatives that serve up the most desirable new features. In the company’s step-up Elite line, the extremely affordable VSX-42 is the entry-level model and still relatively new, having debuted just this spring. Pioneer offers non-Elite models that are significantly less expensive, and some much pricier, but the VSX-42 offers a surprising complement of features at a price under $500.

Rotel RSX-1562 A/V Receiver

Price: $2,599 At A Glance: ICEpower Class-D amplification • Bluetooth- and iOS-compatible USB • No room correction or low-volume mode
How would you like your audio/video receiver if it had a coal chute and chimney atop the chassis? Would you enjoy shoveling coal into the chute as the chimney belched black smoke and particulates into your home?

Or would you find this entire arrangement so unhealthy, so 19th century, as to be unbearable? Most people probably would prefer to avoid burning coal when sitting down for movie night or putting on some music. And of course, there are no A/V receivers that run directly on coal. But don’t fool yourself. Coal is the single-largest feedstock for electricity generation—not only in developing economies like China, but in the United States as well—far outpacing natural gas, nuclear energy, and other sources.

written and reviewed by Home Theater Magazine.

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