AV RECEIVER REVIEWS

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Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 03, 2016 7 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 1 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 9 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 4 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.

Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 21, 2015 7 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $899

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Wi-Fi, AirPlay, Bluetooth built in Analog multichannel ins and outs
Minus
No HDCP 2.2

THE VERDICT
Though it lacks the latest UHD video future-proofing, this mid-line Marantz delivered great sound and solid value.

D+M has a leading role in the audio/video receiver market. It’s actually an amalgamation of two former companies with markedly different (though both distinguished) histories. Denon, born in 1910 and known for a time as Nippon Columbia, was originally a manufacturer of gramophones and discs in Japan. Marantz, in contrast, was born in the U.S.A. in the early 1950s when Saul Marantz of Kew Gardens, New York, started building preamps in his home.

After numerous corporate permutations (which included a three-decade relationship between Marantz and Philips), Marantz and Denon merged in 2002 into what is now called the D+M Group. In 2014, the pro divisions of both brands were acquired by inMusic Brands, a maker of DJ equipment. However, the consumer divisions continue to market A/V receivers and other audio products under the D+M umbrella.

Filed under
Daniel Kumin Posted: Nov 19, 2014 6 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,999

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Dolby Atmos surround
4K-ready/upscaling with HDMI 2.0
Nine channels of flexible power
Top-tier Audyssey room/speaker correction
Minus
No HDCP 2.2 for future UHD content
Fairly basic supplied remote
Some mode-selection options a bit cumbersome

THE VERDICT
Outstanding audio capabilities and thoughtful ergonomics underpin our first Dolby Atmos–capable A/V receiver.

It’s been several years since I’ve had the opportunity to “do” a big Denon A/V receiver. So when a sample arrived of the company’s behemoth AVR-X5200W, one of the very first receivers ready to decode and distribute Dolby Atmos in a home theater setting, I was ready to begin. Atmos is the San Franciscans’ latest, “object-based,” scalable-multichannel surround format.

Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 08, 2014 8 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $600

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Outstanding sonics for the price
HDMI 2.0 interface
Roku Ready via MHL
Minus
HDCP 2.2 DRM not included
Bluetooth, Wi-Fi cost extra

THE VERDICT
The Pioneer VSX-1124 delivers sterling sound, though with a slightly reduced feature set, at a highly competitive price point.

The phrase “believe in miracles” is a powerful one in pop music. It turns up in songs by the Bee Gees, Jefferson Starship, Pearl Jam, Slade, and others. It appears prominently in the Hot Chocolate hit “You Sexy Thing,” covered by everyone from David Bowie to Barry White. Perhaps the most poignant use of the phrase is in “I Believe in Miracles” by the Ramones: “I used to be on an endless run/Believe in miracles ’cause I’m one.” One of the ongoing miracles in my life, besides the fact that I’m still walking around, is the audio/video receiver.

Let me remind you that the AV receiver—especially at the $600 price point—is one of the great miracles of consumer electronics...

Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 19, 2014 4 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $650

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Wi-Fi, AirPlay, Bluetooth
HDMI 2.0
Cool cardboard mike stand included
Minus
Slow DLNA media access
No MHL for phone streaming

THE VERDICT
The Denon AVR-S900W offers high value at a crowded price point, with superb performance, a competitive feature set, and a supplied stand for the room-correction mike.

You can’t set up room correction without a microphone, and you can’t use the mike without bringing it to ear-level elevation. But few A/V receiver makers include a mike stand. Along with Anthem, Denon is now one of the happy exceptions. No, the stand packed with the AVR-S900W isn’t a metal photography tripod with all the mechanical trimmings. But it is an effective platform for the mike used to set up Audyssey room correction. Constructed entirely of black card stock, it consists of a four-finned base, two plain column pieces, and a third column piece with sawtooth holes for height adjustment. Piece it all together, top it off with the customary Hershey’s Kiss–shaped mike, and you have something that looks like a rocket. Run Audyssey’s auto setup and room correction program—in this case, the MultEQ version, which measures from six seating positions—and your home theater system is ready for liftoff.

Filed under
Daniel Kumin Posted: Aug 14, 2014 13 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,199

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Ready for UHD with HDMI 2.0
Refined amplifiers headline strong sonics
Outstanding multiroom abilities, including dual HD-on-HDMI programs
Dolby Atmos capability
Minus
Proprietary auto-EQ had much subtler effect than previous-gen’s Audyssey

THE VERDICT
Onkyo’s usual benchmark audio and video get incremental upgrades, plus new features that include future-proofing HDMI 2.0 and Dolby Atmos.

Onkyo may or may not be the actual market leader in audio/video receivers, measured by unit sales, dollars, or any other B-school metric you care to name. But I’m fairly certain that, year in, year out, they produce more new AVR models combining performance, value, and innovation than anyone else. The TX-NR838 is a suitable example. On the face of things, the receiver seems identical to last year’s TX-NR828, which it replaces: unchanged power ratings, same basic specs, nearly identical quantities of inputs and outputs (this year’s version drops the composite count by one and kicks S-video to the curb altogether), and largely untouched cosmetics and user interface. But look a bit closer, and distinctions begin to come to light.

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