Face Off: Budget Receivers What Do You Think?

What Do You Think?

Before we began this comparison, I had a pretty good idea which one would win. Of course, that prediction turned out to be completely wrong. When you consider their very reasonable prices, all four receivers delivered impressive results. Our job, however, was to split the differences and find our favorites. The Yamaha was a bit of a disappointment, sounding a little like the loudness button was permanently on. With a different speaker setup, though, my impressions would probably be more favorable. The Onkyo was the Yamaha’s sonic opposite. Its warm, round sound tended to work well with movie soundtracks, and it did a great job with the surround effects. However, it lacked that last bit of sparkle with the music tracks. I did like the Onkyo’s dynamics and “go for it” approach. The Sherwood surprised me, sounding smooth and confident with the musical tracks, with a finely articulated midrange. The bass was tight and tuneful, but it lacked power. The fact that the digital datastream would unlock between tracks on some music CDs is a real potential problem. Overall, the Sony turned out to be my favorite. While it wasn’t perfect, its exciting rhythmic qualities, great surround effects, clear articulate midrange, and deep powerful bass make it a winner.—Mike Trei

Maybe I missed something that my comrades heard, but my amateur ears just couldn’t fathom the appeal of the Onkyo. While I thought it did an admirable job with the Doors and Keith Richards—bringing out more tonal nuances than the other receivers did—I thought it fell short on our movie tests, which is (for me) the more-important category. Onkyo’s cinematic performance struck me as prissy and anemic: Using it to watch The Matrix is analogous to borrowing your sister’s cute little pink cassette player to listen to punk rock. Not only will you be disappointed, but your friends will laugh at you. Why tempt such a fate when you can channel sound as dynamic as that pulsing from the Sony, which delivered crisp, impressive surround effects capped with a solid bass punch? And we all know bass is important. Too much, like with the Yamaha, and a simple helicopter crash leaves you with a queasy stomach. Too little, like with the Onkyo, and you end up wondering if you’re actually at the ballet. I thought the Sherwood also did an admirable job of riding that line; however, if you’ve got a couple extra dollars to spare, the choice is clear: Sony.—Adam Winer

When you consider what you’d be getting and how little you’d be paying, there really are no losers here: Just take a look and find a feature set that matches your needs. I could have done with a bit more refinement and a bit less bass on the Yamaha, but the movie performance was, overall, impressive. The Sherwood imparted a more-natural quality to tunes and flicks, but the treble was not as snappy and the lost notes were hard to get past. Onkyo was my hands-down favorite—even before I knew its identity and its price—delivering superior audio, whether I was listening critically or simply losing myself in the entertainment. While it might not offer the power reserves of the Sony or the Sherwood, its 55 watts per channel seemed more than capable of meeting our serious home theater standards. Surprisingly musical, this was one receiver that did not disappoint on any level. And, while I’m not just saying this to fit in, the Sony would probably be my second choice from this group, combining power I could feel with some of the most flexible connectivity options. While the sound was not quite as natural and engrossing as the Onkyo’s, the total presentation was definitely rock-solid.—Chris Chiarella