AV RECEIVER REVIEWS

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Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 20, 2016 2 comments

Audio Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $2,800

AT A GLANCE
Plus
CI focus, including eight-port Ethernet hub
9.1 channels for 5.1.4/7.1.2 surround
Redesigned setup mic
Minus
No Bluetooth, AirPlay, Wi-Fi, or DLNA

THE VERDICT
The Sony STR-ZA5000ES combines a hard-kicking amp with custom-install-friendly features.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story “Silver Blaze,” from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, the great detective has this conversation with a police inspector, who speaks first:

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

Just as the dog that didn’t bark enabled Holmes to identify a killer, the features that the Sony STR-ZA5000ES doesn’t have are clues to its identity. This $2,800 receiver doesn’t have Bluetooth, AirPlay, Wi-Fi, or any other wireless connectivity or network audio option—not even DLNA to work with its Ethernet jacks.

Filed under
Daniel Kumin Posted: Jun 30, 2016 13 comments

Audio Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,600

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Latest-gen audio and video processing
Fine-performing nine-channel Class D power
Cooler-than-ever free phone/tablet apps
Extensive proprietary auto-setup/EQ
Minus
Uninspired supplied remote
Occasional streaming audio glitches

THE VERDICT
All the good stuff—including Dolby Atmos/DTS:X, 4K/HDR with upscaling, and HD-remote-room ability—in a nicely usable, fine-sounding, fairly priced package.

It has been more than two years since Onkyo bought—or merged with, depending on your financial-accounting philosophy—Pioneer’s home-audio unit, but so far there has been no sign of their brands melding into a single entity. (Piokyo? Onkioneer?) And in all seriousness, we’ve no such expectation. For its part, Pioneer still retains two more or less discrete A/V receiver lines, the more quotidian VSX range and the higher-end SC models. More or less: All of the SCs reside in the brand’s specialist-oriented Elite series, while most of the VSXs remain in the “regular” Pioneer lineup. Yet a few sub-$1,000 VSXs, including two new ones, nestle in among the SCs on the Elite side of the ledger.

Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 19, 2016 17 comments

Audio Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $2,999

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Gobs of power for almost any situation
Audyssey MultEQ XT32
Atmos, DTS:X, and Auro 3D
ISF certified
Minus
Daunting price

THE VERDICT
The Denon AVR-X7200W is pricey, but this flagship is loaded with power, features, and performance.

Ticking off all the feature checkboxes does not automatically confer popularity on a flagship audio/video receiver. Some prospective buyers will look at the four-figure price tag of the Denon AVR-X7200W and just say, no, sorry, not for me—despite the fact that many other high-end audio products, and luxury products in general, sell for far more. The AVR category is the spiritual home of those who love to get more for less. Why, asks the hardheaded audio buff, do I need to pay three grand for all those features, all those jacks—all that stuff I’ll never need? The answer is that the features you do need may be worth the price. If your speakers are a little more demanding than the home theater norm or you have a large room, you’ll want as much power as possible, and this receiver is Denon’s best shot.

Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 20, 2016 1 comments

Audio Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,600

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Dolby Atmos and DTS:X
Aventage step-up build quality
Multiroom MusicCast
Minus
So-so room correction

THE VERDICT
The Yamaha RX-A2050 gives Dolby Atmos and DTS:X the step-up Aventage advantage with nine amplifier channels supporting 5.1.4, and it adds the sweetener of way-cool multiroom MusicCast.

Is nine the new seven? I’m talking about amp channels. Not long ago, nine-channel receivers were rare and supported relatively exotic surround modes that few people used. But Dolby Atmos bids to change the status quo by adding two to four height channels. A seven-channel receiver can support two height channels. A nine-channel receiver can support four height channels, which opens up possibilities for elevated panning in the top of the surround bubble, front to back and diagonally as well as side to side. In addition to that distinction between 5.1.2 and 5.1.4, there are other variations, such as two front-heights with two back-surrounds (7.1.2).

Filed under
Daniel Kumin Posted: Mar 17, 2016 43 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,599

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Equipped with Dolby Atmos, primed for DTS:X
Abundant clean, dynamic power
AirPlay, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi all on board
Versatile, usable, hi-res-ready streaming options
Minus
Only two height channels, whether powered or line
Failed to stream DSD recordings

THE VERDICT
Plenty of performance and features, and solid human factors, with an emphasis on core audio quality, at fair “flagship” pricing.

Producing a test report on a “flagship” A/V receiver is always a bit of a high-wire act. On one hand, the receiver represents the top of the line: Maximum power, maximum features, and maximum performance are all expected—and generally delivered. On the other hand, cruiser-class designs rarely offer much of real importance that a model two or three jumps down any given maker’s line doesn’t also do quite competently—and for roughly half the price, which means it’s the model that most folks eventually buy. This leaves the hapless reviewer with the unenviable choice of either damning with faint praise or condemning excellence for its expense.

Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 03, 2016 16 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $2,199

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Nine amp channels
Atmos-ready, upgradable for DTS:X, Auro-3D
Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room correction
Minus
USB jack not PC compatible

THE VERDICT
The Marantz SR7010 has nine amp channels, Dolby Atmos decoding, DTS:X upgradability, and even Auro-3D upgradability, making it as future-proof as a receiver can currently be.

The Marantz SR7010 is the fifth Dolby Atmos receiver I’ve reviewed. However, to be frank, it’s only the second one that matters to me. Most of the Atmos receivers occupying my rack’s guest berth have been seven-channel models limited to 5.1.2-channel Atmos, with just a single pair of height channels in the front. Only the nine-channel Pioneer Elite SC-89 and this Marantz have provided what I deem the minimum acceptable Atmos experience utilizing 5.1.4 channels, with height channels in both front and back.

Filed under
David Vaughn Posted: Dec 30, 2015 6 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $3,000

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Audiophile sound quality
Best-in-class control for iOS and Android
Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support
Built-in MusicCast multiroom audio
Minus
Slow to lock onto HDMI signals
YPAO doesn’t equalize below 31 Hz

THE VERDICT
Yamaha’s Aventage CX-A5100 is an incredible value in the sub-$5,000 pre/pro market, with stellar audio and a suite of usable features to keep an A/V enthusiast happy until the next upgrade cycle comes around.

Amazingly, you can buy a pretty damn good AVR these days that’s Dolby Atmos–enabled for under $500, so why spend more if you don’t have to? Well, there are many reasons: better-quality DAC chips, enhanced features (such as multiple zones for both audio and video), and more channels of audio and associated amplification. You can also usually count on these upgrades when you move into the realm of the preamp/processor (also known as a surround processor), though with pre/pros, you’re left on your own for the amplification. It’s kind of like an impromptu college party that advertises BYOB—except, it’s BYOA: Bring Your Own Amp(s)!

Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 20, 2015 2 comments

Performance
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $599

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Dolby Atmos and DTS:X on board
HDMI 2.0a with HDR video
Audyssey MultEQ XT room correction
Minus
Like other seven-channel AVRs, just two Atmos height channels
Remote volume keys undernourished

THE VERDICT
Triple wireless connectivity and excellent room correction may lure more listeners to this top-performing budget receiver than its limited 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos and DTS:X capabilities will.

The Denon AVR-X1200W is among a growing trickle of receivers that name-check DTS:X surround sound. By the time you read this, it might even be operational.

For every one of Dolby’s home surround standards, there has been a DTS equivalent. The competition began in the mid 1990s, when Dolby Digital and DTS first went head to head on laserdisc, with DVD following soon after. Dolby then added back-surround channels for Dolby Digital EX; DTS responded with DTS-ES. Dolby upgraded to lossless encoding with Dolby TrueHD; DTS shot back with DTS-HD Master Audio. Object-oriented surround—which uses metadata to map objects in a dome-shaped soundfield—is no different. In response to Dolby Atmos, which has just begun infiltrating surround receivers, DTS offers DTS:X. This is a transitional time, and you’ll find some models supporting Atmos without supporting DTS’s answer. Others are “DTS:X ready,” but not yet functional as they await the release of new firmware.

Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 07, 2015 19 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $2,399

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Nuanced, open, uncolored sonics
Stream Magic module
Auto setup imposes no room correction
Minus
Bluetooth requires adapter
A $2,400 AVR with no Dolby Atmos or DTS:X
Auto setup imposes no room correction

THE VERDICT
This receiver makes idiosyncratic audiophile choices—omitting Atmos, Bluetooth, and other features—but the revamped look and feel are great, and the sound is reliably musical.

At first glance, the cosmetic difference between Cambridge Audio’s new CXR receivers and the company’s previous Azur line is almost shocking. The older receivers were stellar performers, but their look was strictly utilitarian, even a bit dowdy. They were the consumer electronics equivalent of Queen Elizabeth II. Whatever her traditional virtues may be, she hasn’t won many beauty contests lately. What a difference a new look makes! The CXR receivers have a cleaner, sleeker front panel, with fewer controls and a generously oversized display. They’re less QEII, more Kate Middleton—who, coincidentally, is also known as the Duchess of Cambridge.

Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 03, 2015 10 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $600

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Wi-Fi, AirPlay, Bluetooth
MHL on front and rear
Google Cast, Spotify Connect
Minus
Confusing A.F.D., HD-D.C.S. terminology

THE VERDICT
If you can do without Dolby Atmos in this seven-channel AVR, Sony’s well-thought-out wireless functionality and sweet, golden sound are an unbeatable combination.

Let me say this up front: The Sony STR-DN1060 doesn’t do Dolby Atmos. Whether this is a serious omission in a seven-channel receiver today is debatable—but I’d say not. Most of the first-generation Atmos receivers have shortcomings of their own. For one thing, they lack the forthcoming DTS:X, the other flavor of object-oriented, height-enabled surround sound. More critically, seven-channel models can offer only Atmos 5.1.2, with two height channels in front or directly above the listener but none in back. That is at best a limited version of the Atmos experience because it doesn’t create the full dome-shaped soundfield of 5.1.4.

Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 27, 2015 5 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $599

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Dolby Atmos
Wi-Fi, AirPlay, Bluetooth
HDR support
Minus
No Ultra HD scaling

THE VERDICT
The Onkyo TX-NR545 is a wireless-triple-threat receiver with an intrinsically good-sounding amp.

Most A/V receivers have seven audio channels for reasons that date back to 1999 and are all but forgotten. The original rationale for adding two channels to surround sound’s basic 5.1 footprint was to accommodate back-surround speakers for THX Surround EX (later renamed Dolby Digital EX) and DTS-ES. While I mean no disrespect to the many readers who enjoy the back surrounds in their 7.1 systems, I’ve been against back surrounds from the beginning. My argument in one sentence is: Three channels in front, four in back—what’s wrong with this picture? I’ve always considered 5.1 the bedrock standard of surround sound, and I still do, even today.

Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 13, 2015 1 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $600

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Dolby Atmos 5.2.2
Wi-Fi, AirPlay, Bluetooth on board
HDCP 2.2 rights management
Minus
Tight, crowded remote control

THE VERDICT
With Atmos added and both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth newly baked in, this receiver is a better value than its immediate $600 predecessor.

Less than a year has passed since I called the Pioneer VSX-1124 both “a top-performing receiver at a competitive price point” and, just in case that seemed too dispassionate, “a miracle.” So much has happened since then. For starters, Dolby Atmos happened, adding object-oriented surround with dedicated height channels to the basic surround footprint. Yet it’s almost a shock to see Atmos in a $600 receiver, the new VSX-1130. If you’re still on the fence about Atmos, Pioneer hasn’t stopped there. Bluetooth, formerly a $99 accessory, is now baked in.

Filed under
Fred Manteghian Posted: Jul 31, 2015 4 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,700

AT A GLANCE
Plus
4K video, including scaling and HDCP 2.2
Excellent audio quality
Simpler to use than Hodor
Minus
Missing some popular features like AirPlay and Internet Radio
No Atmos or DTS:X

THE VERDICT
Plenty of power on tap and easy to use. A few quirks that don’t amount to a hill of beans. Best of all, it sounds great!

Sony posted a video blog on their Website introducing the STR-ZA3000ES and touting how easy it is for a professional installer to set up this AVR. Guess who else would find it simple? That’s right, an 8-year-old! Not since my Sherwood stereo model (circa 1982) has a receiver gone into my oft-refreshed setup with as little fuss. That doesn’t mean this AVR isn’t capable of feats of bravery and bravado; it is. A dealer installing it can easily program it to drop a projection screen when you select the Blu-ray player’s input, or hook up a second HDTV in the bedroom to show a source that’s different from the one playing in your home theater.

Filed under
Michael Trei Posted: Apr 24, 2015 8 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,700

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Rich, powerful sound with gobs of detail
Dolby Atmos capable
UHD-ready with 4K scaling and HDMI 2.0
Minus
No HDCP 2.2 DRM to handle future UHD content
Basic remote isn’t backlit

THE VERDICT
Yamaha’s one-step-down AVR delivers top-notch performance and features at a somewhat less than flagship price.

Choosing the perfect A/V receiver for your home theater can be as tough as it was for Goldilocks to find the perfect bowl of porridge. Of course, we all want lots of features and plenty of power, but not if that means wasting money on bells and whistles we’ll never use or power we don’t really need. I find that in a single brand’s receiver lineup, it’s often the model just below the flagship that represents the best balance between price and performance. At that level, you still get just about every feature and most of the power available from the top model but with a substantial cost savings to sweeten the deal. Yamaha’s Aventage RX-A2040 appears to fall right into that type of sweet spot. At $1,700, it’s $500 less than the RX-A3040 flagship, but it still comes with most of that model’s features and can deliver more than 93 percent of its claimed two-channel power spec.

Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 12, 2015 5 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $3,000

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Dolby Atmos-capable
New Dolby Surround upmixer
D3 amplification
Minus
Confusing back-panel nomenclature
No HDCP 2.2 digital rights management

THE VERDICT
This Class D receiver is just the kind of nine-channel powerhouse needed for Dolby Atmos 5.2.4—and the built-in USB DAC is a cool bonus.

You probably know by now that Dolby Atmos is the next generation of surround sound in both theaters and home theaters. This object-oriented technology lets movie mixers place any sound, almost anywhere they want, in an immersive dome-like soundfield, with height effects that transcend the flat horizontal plane of 5.1- or 7.1-channel surround. With the first generation of Atmos gear now arriving, the technology has been covered in print evaluations of Denon and Definitive Technology products (by ace reviewer Daniel Kumin), on the Web (by editor-in-chief Rob Sabin, video editor Tom Norton, and columnists Ken Pohlmann and John Sciacca), and in my own Test Report in this issue on the Pioneer Elite SP-EBS73-LR Atmos-enabled speaker system.

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