Is There a Safe Compromise in Speaker & Receiver Mating?

I've never given a price formula for putting together a system--you know, X percent for this, Y percent for that. But I recognize that impecunious readers may be tempted to save a buck on speakers or amps, if only as a temporary measure. So where's the best place to save? Is it better to mate expensive speakers with a cheap receiver, or cheap speakers with an expensive receiver? I think the first idea is a disaster in the making. The cheap receiver won't let the speakers live up to their potential. A paltry supply of dirty power will make them sound somewhere between mediocre and awful. In addition, if the speakers have low sensitivity and present too great a load, the stressed receiver may even damage the drivers or shut itself down. On the other hand, mating an expensive receiver with cheap speakers (like the nice-sounding and nice-looking Onixes pictured here) just might work. Sure, the speakers may not be the culimination of your high-end dreams, but a good receiver will get the best out of them. Of course you'll have to be careful not to blow them out with too much volume. Upgrade the speakers later when you can afford to. Your goal, of course, is to have both great speakers and a great receiver.

Paul's picture

Oddly enough, years ago at the hi-fi store I managed, we put a pair of Boston Acoustics A-40 speakers on a pair of Jeff Rowland Model 7 mono-block amplifiers. Based on what I heard then, your proposition of inexpensive speakers on quality amplification would be the best course of action. Add to that, the fact that many pricier speakers may have difficult impedance curves and phase angles, and you have an inexpensive amplifier's nightmare in the making.

Steve in Manitoba's picture

The longevity of the technology needs to play a role as well. Sure the components of a receiver will last many years, but technological changes will make a functioning receiver obsolete far sooner than the speakers. I like a middle ground position a little better. Get the best speakers you can reasonable afford without sacrificing too much on the receiver. But if you must sacrifice do it in the receiver. With the many versions of HDMI, HD sound, disc profiles etc. changing like the weather, I expect to replace my receiver far sooner than the speakers. A good 5.1 or 7.1 set-up of good quality speakers should outlast years of future changes of the component feeding them.

Bruce's picture

I have to agree with Steve for the most part. But I'm sure you didn't mean if you have $5000 to spend $4400 on a receiver and $600 on all the speakers. One thing I was amazed by on my system was how much of a difference my receiver makes. I went from a low end model Pioneer to a flagship Yamaha and it was like my speakers produced ten times the sound and quality as before. I never knew they could sound so good. Now I can't wait to upgrade my speakers and see what my receiver is fully capable of.

Tom Thompson's picture

You gave this same advice, within a different context, some time ago. I took that advice and bought a good Denon receiver and mated it with the Hsu speakers that were well rated for "cheap" speakers. Less than one grand bought the speakers and the sub to go with them while I spent more than that for the receiver. Good advice, and a good choice for me. Excellent sound unless you wish to start breaking glass due to the volume level.

simheikk's picture

Personally, I would go for the more expensive receiver and cheaper speakers. Specifically, I would go for a loudspeaker kit option. I have heard that they provide a sound quality well beyond their price because you do all the assembly on them which saves manufacturing costs. It also gives you the chance to customize the colors etc. And although it does cost extra $, I would still go for a wireless surround sound system. because I have no feasible way to wire things up without them looking mega ugly.

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