AV RECEIVER REVIEWS

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 28, 2012 3 comments

Audio Performance
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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.

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Dennis Burger Posted: Nov 01, 2012 0 comments
Audio Performance
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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.)

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 05, 2012 42 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
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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.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 07, 2012 9 comments

Audio Performance
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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.

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David Vaughn Posted: Aug 24, 2012 0 comments
Audio Performance
Video Performance
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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.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 16, 2012 6 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
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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.

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Chris Chiarella Posted: Aug 02, 2012 1 comments
Audio Performance
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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.

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Michael Fremer Posted: Aug 02, 2012 9 comments

Audio Performance
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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.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 08, 2012 6 comments
Audio Performance
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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.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 25, 2012 4 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
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Price: $1,200 At A Glance: AirPlay and Bluetooth connectivity • Porthole design • Marantz audiophile tradition continues

Few brands offer as many entry points into audiophilia as Marantz. The vintage angle alone is priceless. Cruise eBay and Audiogon for everything from pricey restorations of vintage tube components to affordable, classic stereo receivers from the 1970s. The present-day Marantz, an honored member of the D&M Holdings family, is the brand to look to for answers to questions like, “Does anyone still make a decent-sounding, standalone CD player?” In some future lifetime, I may explore the potential of such bleeding-edge Reference Series components as the SC-7S2 stereo preamp ($6,500) or the TT-15S1 turntable ($1,500) with the acrylic chassis and platter. But Marantz’s lines of A/V receivers and surround separates have plenty of meat on the bone for both high-end and real-world home theater buffs. In fact, many of Marantz’s multichannel products are adorned with the same distinctive porthole display as the highest-performing members of the brand’s two-channel lines. Putting a round display on a product doesn’t necessarily guarantee quality, but the migration of this cosmetic signature does suggest that Marantz holds surround audiophiles and stereophiles in equally high regard.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 01, 2012 12 comments
Audio Performance
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Price: $1,100 At A Glance: Discrete amplifier circuitry, 125-watt channels • CI customintegrator features • Full Apple and Audyssey suites

Denon has long been among the most nimble of the major manufacturers of audio/video receivers. If a feature of any significance raises its head above the parapet, Denon nails it faster than just about anyone—and often spreads it among many models. You might quibble over the value of, say, the company’s quick and near-universal inclusion of multiple height-channel surround enhancements. But as one of Denon’s CI-series models, the AVR-3312CI also has a substantial array of features designed to make life easier for custom integrators and their clients. It sure doesn’t hurt that the receiver is Apple-hip.

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David Vaughn Posted: Apr 18, 2012 6 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
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Ergonomics
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Price: $1,100 At A Glance: Audiophile-quality sound • Great build quality • Outstanding iDevice app

In George Orwell’s futuristic novel 1984, Big Brother takes away the citizens’ free choice. This is one man’s vision of our future—and it’s turned out to be just the opposite. In fact, one could argue we have too many choices. For example, say you’re looking for a new car and have narrowed down your choice to a Ford Mustang. Your decision doesn’t stop there. You must now choose among 11 different models that range from $21k for the base to a jaw-dropping $54k for a Shelby GT500 Convertible. If money is no object, then grab some sunscreen and cruise in style. But for anyone on a budget, some difficult decisions need to be made before your purchase.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 14, 2012 2 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
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Price: $1,799 At A Glance: Strong texture, imaging, dynamics • Dolby Volume for low-volume listening • Relatively affordable price • Subpar video processing

The Good Ship Arcam steers a different course than most manufacturers of audio/video receivers. That means the prospective buyer has to read spec sheets in a different way. At 75 watts per channel, this $1,799 receiver shares a power spec with much, much cheaper competitors. But that doesn’t mean it performs the same. For one thing, Arcam specifies power output with five channels driven (1 kilohertz )—a hurdle most manufacturers don’t even try to clear. The figure rises to 80 watts (20 hertz-20 kHz) or 90 watts (1 kHz) with two channels driven. This leads to what might be called the Arcam Paradox: If you’re willing to step down in the specified number of watts per channel, you can optimize a product, especially its power supply, so that it will drive five reasonably efficient speakers to high levels without hardening the top end or collapsing the soundfield.

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David Vaughn Posted: Jan 27, 2012 0 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $1,399 At A Glance: Fabulous video processing • Outstanding audio performance • Nine channels of amplification

When one looks to upgrade an AVR, one must take much into consideration: features, number of inputs and outputs, multizone capability, channels of amplification, power rating, and, of course, cost. The sub-$1,000 market is loaded with AVRs that offer a terrific value but lack many of the bells and whistles that are found once you cross the $1,000 barrier, such as multizone, nine channels of amplification, and more HDMI inputs than the average person will ever need.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 29, 2011 1 comments
Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $999 At A Glance: High-quality amplification • Logic 7, Dolby Volume listening modes • Distinctive gray and black look

The home theater system’s beating heart is the audio/video receiver. It supports a heroic workload: routing video and audio signals from source components to display and speakers, gussying up the video, decoding audio formats, massaging audio signals with listening modes, cabalistically correcting room acoustics—and last but not least, performing the heavy lifting necessary to drive loudspeakers. The final item on that list is among the AVR’s most significant attributes. But in the race to jam in as many features as possible, amplification is in danger of becoming an afterthought. In Harman Kardon’s AVR 3650, the top model in its new receiver line, the manufacturer took the road less often traveled and acts more like a high-end boutique manufacturer than a mass marketer. It went the extra mile to make this AVR sound great and rigorously stripped it of back-panel clutter. The result offers comfort to the music lover who cares about the fundamentals of performance.

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