Value-Packed Receivers

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.

This is a hot bracket these days, and receiver makers are leaving no stones unturned in their quest to offer you the best bang for the buck. There are big ones, little ones, slim ones, and tall ones, but all have a few things in common: 1) plenty of power for a surround sound system with six or seven main speakers - plus a powered subwoofer; 2) decoding for state-of-the-art Dolby Digital EX and DTS-ES movie soundtracks; 3) surround-processing options like Dolby Pro Logic II (DPL II), DPL IIx, and DTS Neo:6 for 5.1- to 7.1-channel playback of stereo music and of movie soundtracks or TV broadcasts using the older Dolby Surround system; and 4) a remote control that can operate all of your A/V components. Of course, to stand out from the pack each receiver also offers one or two cool features as well.

To find out just what you can get for around 400 real-world dollars in today's A/V receiver lineups, I used and bench-tested three of the latest models - JVC's RX-8040 ($450), Sony's STR-DE897 ($400), and Yamaha's RX-V750 ($650). Those are the list prices, which means they can be had for substantially less at most A/V dealers or online.