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AV RECEIVER REVIEWS

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Michael Fremer Posted: Aug 02, 2012 9 comments

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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
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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

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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
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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

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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
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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
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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
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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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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 14, 2011 0 comments
Audio Performance
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Price: $900 At A Glance: Clean, smooth amplification • Direct USB input and app for iDevices • Bluetooth, DLNA media access

Some manufacturers of audio/video receivers offer two different lines. There’s a value-oriented line for the hardheaded consumer who wants as many features per dollar as possible. And then there’s a higher-end line for the consumer who also wants a full feature set but is willing to pay more for better build quality and higher performance. Yamaha goes a step further, dividing its 13 receivers into three lines.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 05, 2011 3 comments

Audio Performance
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Price: $900 At A Glance: Elite build quality • AirPlay, control app, iDevice USB • Great sound for under $1,000

Do you prefer wine sold in a box or in a bottle? Boxed wine does have its advantages: It’s available in a greater variety of package sizes, it’s easier to carry to a picnic, and the lighter packaging reduces manufacturing cost, shipping cost, and carbon emissions. Yet most oenophiles prefer bottled wine for quality and selection. One is more practical, the other more aspirational. In theory, boxed wine can be as good as bottled wine—and here, as the knowledgeable oenophile is aware, our metaphor is in danger of breaking down over warring factors such as oxidation and shelf life. But in reality, the best wine producers and their most discerning and passionate customers prefer the bottle.

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Kim Wilson Posted: Nov 23, 2011 7 comments

Performance
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Price: $349 At A Glance: 3D compatibility • Audyssey MultEQ auto calibration • On-screen display via HDMI • iPod/iPhone/iPad connectivity • no component video I/O

Of all the sub-$400 AVRs I've reviewed, the Denon AVR-1612 is my favorite so far. It offers just the right balance of features for my needs, and its audio performance is robust and powerful. It offers the bare minimum of operational and setup features I believe are necessary to assure a satisfying user experience. Moreover, it's audio performance is quite good considering the price.

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Fred Manteghian Posted: Nov 14, 2011 5 comments
Audio Performance
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Price: $1,600 At A Glance: Future-proof modular construction • Great ergonomics • Trades features for performance

Oh, it’s coming, all right. Are you ready for it? That’s right, Smell-O-Vision! I’m not talking about old-school scratch-n-sniff cards, but the real, electrified olfactory emitters specified in the HDMI 1.5 standard. OK, I’m clearly exaggerating the contents of the next HDMI version, but even if that travesty comes to pass, NAD’s Modular Design Construction topology means the T 757 can be upgraded by your dealer, instead of a forklift.

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Kim Wilson Posted: Nov 03, 2011 2 comments
Performance
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Price: $330 At A Glance: 3D-compatible • On-screen display, analog only • Compatible with iPod/iPhone and iPad using supplied USB cable • Bluetooth compatible; requires adapter

This entry-level A/V receiver is a small investment that gets you into the new 3D landscape. It's powerful enough for a small to moderate-sized room, it provides essential surround codecs for the latest movie soundtracks, and it offers quick setup with Pioneer's exclusive auto-calibration system. While it does offer an onscreen display, giving it some points beyond even lower-priced AVRs, it doesn't output the OSD via HDMI. Bluetooth compatibility and a USB port provides some additional functionality and accommodation for wireless headphones and portable media devices.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 24, 2011 0 comments
Audio Performance
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Ergonomics
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Price: $600 At A Glance: A/V receiver with Blu-ray player • Trove of network A/V content • Supplied iPod/iPhone dock

Whenever I want to watch a movie, I plunge a fiberoptic cable into the back of my neck. Apart from a persistent dribble of blood from my neck jack, the results are enviable. In my mind, I experience a full 360-degree 3D image—there’s not even a frame—accompanied by surround sound with height and depth channels that extend from heaven to hell. Music is just as easy. I just access the 100-zettabyte solid-state drive built into my brain. My doctors tell me that with one more firmware update, I can have lossless audio with a bit depth of 831 and a sampling rate of 90,245 kilohertz. Almost as good as vinyl.

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Kim Wilson Posted: Oct 06, 2011 6 comments
Performance
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Ergonomics
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Price: $250 At A Glance: 5.1-channel, 3D compatible • iPod/iPhone & Bluetooth compatible with optional adapters • Compressed Music Enhancer restores frequency response of MP3s

The Yamaha RX-V371 offers some excellent features for an entry-level A/V receiver. To keep the cost down, however, there are significant compromises, such as the lack of an onscreen display and auto calibration for an easier and faster setup. Also, spring-loaded speaker terminals for the center and surround channels prevent the use of higher-end cables. Once it is set up, the unit's sonic performance is good—in fact, surprisingly good for an AVR at this price point.

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