The most reliable guide to power ratings isn't the specs provided by the manufacturers but the measurements made by our technical editor. He follows the mandates of the Federal Trade Commission in measuring power output and distortion with all channels continuously driven (along with a less-demanding two-channel spec). When objective third-party measurements aren't available, here's a quick-and-dirty means of sorting high-power receivers from the junk: Just feel the weight. Aside from the nefarious inclusion of useless lead weights, more pounds indicate either the presence of a heavier power supply or a heavier, more-sturdy chassis—ideally, both. All things being equal, with conventional amplifiers, you don't need expensive test gear to figure out that a 50-pound model is likely to play louder and cleaner than a 15-pound lightweight, even if both are rated at 100 watts per channel.
This receiver's front panel is black but sets itself apart with a high-gloss finish and Pioneer's traditional (and rather attractive) amber display. It doesn't depend excessively on the jog dial. To the left, above the jog dial, are buttons labeled "music" and "movies," which make it easy to switch between Dolby Pro Logic II's music and movie modes (there's no IIx). To the right are buttons that choose the external line inputs for a universal player, select modes for the room EQ (including off), and bypass the tone controls for direct stereo playback. Touching any button on the remote activates red-orange backlighting.
If you're shopping for a deal, you might find one on this stylish two-tone receiver. Its list price is not the lowest in this group. Search the Internet, though, and you'll find good deals on the AVR 630 from authorized dealers. (To make sure you buy from an authorized dealer, with a valid warranty, check the "where to buy" page at www.harmankardon.com.) The street-price differential between the AVR 630 and the others in this roundup is many hundreds of dollars. For some, that may prove to be the deciding factor.
This feature-laden receiver conceals its gifts behind a basic black exterior. There's nothing unusual about the plain white fluorescent display, volume and jog dials, or flip-down panel that conceals most of the buttons. Denon's one original touch is a set of navigation controls behind the hinged panel that follow the same layout as those on the remote (up/down/left/right, with the enter button in the center).
With Omnifi, your MP3s are everywhere you want to be.
Liberating gear such as that manufactured by Omnifi, a division of Rockford Fosgate, compels me to look at where I spend the bulk of my waking hours: at the office, in the home theater, or in the car. As with all great action heroes, my daily adventures are set to music—not a problem when I'm chained to my desk with my entire music library at my disposal on my hard drive. A portable player is one way to transcend the confines of the workspace, and some even arrive bundled with cables to plug into a hi-fi system for all to enjoy, but this is hardly an elegant approach.
Throw Niro Nakamichi's name at the iPod generation, and you'll stump the panel. To an older generation, however, Nakamichi's three-head cassette deck, the Nakamichi 1000, elevated the lowly cassette to the world of the best recording medium of the day, the cumbersome reel-to-reel tape deck. In a way, the Nakamichi 1000 was an iPod forebear in the miniaturization and portability of recorded sound. After the Nakamichi family sold the company name in 1998, Niro Nakamichi started Mechanical Research to develop big-ticket electronics like the awe-inspiring $22,000 Niro 1000 Power Engine monoblock amplifier.
This home theater system only seems like the new kid on the block.
In 1984, Ole Witthoft found the state of the speaker art wanting. To his ears, most speakers suffered in two fundamentally intertwined ways: One, they didn't present the details of sound in a way that, two, led you to sense the music's feeling and passion. So, like so many entrepreneurs who try to fill the void in a marketplace based on their own perceptions, Witthoft launched System Audio, using these composite criteria as his mission statement.
The 60-inch-plus plasma is the big kahuna of flat-screen designs. If you want to go really big and really flat (under 5 inches), plasma is the only technology that will get you there. Mitsubishi has adopted the two-box approach for their new plasmas. On its own, the PD-6130 is a 61-inch HD monitor. Add the HD-5000A controller, and it functionally becomes an integrated HDTV.
A short stack of Jacksons: four hundred dollars, more or less. Used to be a lot of money. Today, it'll buy one piece of chrome for your Hog, a box of average Cubans, or a decadent dinner for two in New York City. On the other hand, you might use a similar sum to buy an impressively powerful and flexible A/V receiver, setting the foundations for a serious home theater.
Flat-panel TV is the 900-pound gorilla currently ruling the home theater roost. More and more people are deciding that, yeah, a steep price, grayish blacks, and the occasional digital video glitch really are worth it for a hang-on-the-wall TV that's big, bright, and bodacious - décor-wise.