AV RECEIVER REVIEWS

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Mark Fleischmann  |  Oct 26, 2017  |  10 comments

Audio Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $3,800

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Muscular Class A/B amp
PC-USB and phono inputs
Dolby Atmos and DTS:X 7.1.4 decoding
Minus
No auto setup
Limited access to seven-channel amp for Atmos/DTS:X

THE VERDICT
Rotel returns to analog amplification for their latest top-of-the-line home theater machine—and the results are golden.

Is the Rotel RAP-1580 the surround receiver that dares not speak its name? In keeping with the two-channel distinction between stereo receivers and integrated amplifiers, Rotel calls it a surround amplified processor because it doesn’t include an AM/FM tuner. But to my mind, the defining trait of a surround receiver is that it combines a surround preamp/processor and a multichannel amp in one box. So I prefer to call this an audiophile receiver. You say tomato... [Editor’s Note: I’d call it a surround amplifier, and I don’t think it’s the last of this type we’ll be seeing...but, whatever.—RS]

Daniel Kumin  |  Oct 24, 2017  |  1 comments

Audio Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE$479

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Satisfying power for both two-channel and multi-channel modes
3.1.2-channel Dolby Atmos/DTS:X setup option with phantom surrounds
Surprisingly responsive home-network streaming
Basic auto-setup/EQ on board
Minus
Five-channel power requires choice between height or rear channels
No analog multiroom capability
No audio outputs other than HDMI

THE VERDICT
Good five-channel power, 4K/HDR readiness, excellent streaming responsiveness, and phantom-rear-channel Atmos give this affordable AVR its distinct attractions.

Everybody knows what to expect from a flagship or cruiser-class A/V receiver: top-bracket power of 120 watts per channel or more, with nine, 11, or even 13 channels ready for latest-generation surround technologies like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, as well as hightech auto-setup routines and DSP on board. And then there are the deluxe extras, such as extensive multiroom capabilities, 4K/HDR passthrough and 4K scaling, and plenty of internet- and computer-audio streaming options. But what can you expect from the other end of a brand’s AVR fleet? Not so much, right?

Mark Fleischmann  |  Oct 10, 2017  |  0 comments

Audio Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $799

AT A GLANCE
Plus
110 watts x 2
PC-USB and phono inputs
Bass, treble, balance controls
Minus
No HDMI or other video switching
Ethernet but no Wi-Fi or Bluetooth

THE VERDICT
Although not an AVR, Outlaw’s second-generation stereo receiver has an intelligently chosen feature set, bodacious industrial design, and lots of clean power for music lovers on a budget.

One might argue that no single product category has brought vastly improved sound to so many, so fast, as the now-retro stereo receiver. Models poured in during the (mostly) Japanese mass-market audio explosion of the 1970s, when Classic Rock was just rock. My first receiver was a 15-watt-per-channel Pioneer SX-434, but it just as easily could have been a Marantz, Sansui, Kenwood, Luxman, or any of several other storied brands. Today, top-line stereo receivers from the ’70s—their shiny silver faceplates bristling with knobs, buttons, and toggles—command eyebrow-raising prices on eBay and are lovingly restored by vintage hi-fi buffs.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Sep 19, 2017  |  1 comments

Audio Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $999

AT A GLANCE
Plus
App-driven HEOS eco-system
Up to 5.1 channels
Wireless HEOS surround and sub options
Minus
Nearly no front-panel controls
No low-volume mode
No Dolby Atmos or DTS:X

THE VERDICT
The Denon HEOS AVR reimagines the black-box receiver as a sleek, shapely, app-driven beauty that leverages the home network to provide wireless sub and surrounds.

Having successfully developed their own wireless ecosystem under the HEOS brand, Denon is using it to reinvent the audio/video receiver. What the company calls the HEOS AVR departs from the black-box norm by offering suave dove-gray aluminum as an optional alternative to the usual black. It isn’t a box, either, or at least not a pure rectangular solid, thanks to a diagonally split, convex front panel. Whereas other A/V receivers wear lots of buttons or conceal them behind a flip-down door, the HEOS AVR has a front panel that’s pointedly devoid of any controls except a large metal volume dial. And in lieu of a front-panel display, it has only a large horizontal LED stripe in the HEOS style for volume and status. This isn’t just another receiver. It’s a deliberate provocation.

Daniel Kumin  |  Jul 20, 2017  |  1 comments

Audio Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $600

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Fine amplifier sonics and power
Excellent, quick-responding home-network streaming plays most formats, including HRA and DSD
Speaker Relocation & Phantom Surround feature
Minus
Scales only 1080p/24 video to 4K

THE VERDICT
Excellent audio performance and a unique feature set counterbalance a somewhat quirky and (in a few cases) slow user interface.

It’s been several years since I’ve had a Sony AV receiver in my rack, so when the STR-DN1080 arrived on my porch, I was eager to see what the foundational brand’s 7.1-channel Dolby Atmos/DTS:X model had to offer. Sony has been synonymous with consumer electronics for so long that today—in the more specialized corners of the field, such as home theater—it’s easy to overlook the company that was such an early player in the game. But Sony still has an enviable market position, as well as design and engineering firepower aplenty to compete in any sphere they choose.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Apr 28, 2017  |  3 comments

Audio Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $2,199

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Nine amp channels
HEOS multiroom compatibility
Audyssey, ISF, Control4, Crestron
Minus
No PC-friendly USB jack

THE VERDICT
The Marantz SR7011 is a state-of-the-art receiver with excellent room correction, fine overall sound, and the potential for HEOS multiroom extension.

The D+M Group was formed in 2002 with the merger of Denon and Marantz, each a powerhouse in A/V receivers and other audio categories. Through several changes of ownership, the two brands have remained distinct, with different cosmetic looks, slightly different feature sets, and slightly different voicings; each team has its own sound-tuning engineers and expert listeners. But as a reader once pointed out, popping the lid on comparably priced models from the two brands may reveal a close kinship in circuit layouts, suggesting certain economies of scale. And the new top-of-the-line AVR from Marantz further mimics its sister brand by adopting HEOS multiroom connectivity, a feature previously associated with Denon. Our review sample of the receiver arrived with Denon’s HEOS 7 and HEOS 1 speakers, and we put them through their paces together.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jan 03, 2017  |  10 comments

Audio Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $2,200

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Nine amp channels, 11.2 (7.2.4) pre-outs
Automated angle and height calibration
Minus
No Auro-3D

THE VERDICT
Yamaha’s new flagship receiver packs nine amp channels into a well-built package.

Buying an A/V receiver has always been a challenge, even to the well informed. Incoming technologies add still more complexity. Sometimes, however, they also generate new priorities and narrow your choices. Sure, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X require you to add more speakers and make your system more elaborate. But if you want to run those formats in their most effectively enveloping configurations, your shopping expedition for a receiver has suddenly become a lot simpler.

David Vaughn  |  Oct 27, 2016  |  0 comments

Audio Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $3,499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support
Anthem Room Correction (ARC)
11 amp channels in one box
Minus
ARC doesn’t calibrate dual subwoofers individually
Pricey

THE VERDICT
One of the finest-sounding AVRs I’ve had the pleasure to audition, though it’ll cost ya.

Much like a luxury sports car, the flagship AVR is expected to have every bell and whistle under the hood in order to appeal to the well-heeled crowd that’s willing to drop a few thousand dollars on a piece of electronics. The real bummer is that even if you spend the extra cash on a flagship, there’s no such thing as totally future-proofing your investment, due to the rapidly changing landscape of the home theater business.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Oct 20, 2016  |  0 comments

Audio Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $799

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Crisp, clear top end
FireConnect wireless capability
Attractive, simplified remote
Minus
Atmos limited to 5.1.2
Single-position room correction

THE VERDICT
The Onkyo TX-RZ610 is an excellent-sounding receiver with sensible ergonomics and unusual FireConnect wireless capability in addition to the usual Wi-Fi, AirPlay, and Bluetooth.

Onkyo has long been an industry leader when it comes to packing the latest and greatest features into their under-$1,000 A/V receivers. The Onkyo story has been just as interesting behind the scenes. A few years ago, Gibson Brands—yes, the guitar people—acquired a majority stake in Onkyo USA, while also investing directly in Onkyo Corp. (Onkyo Corp. also invested in Gibson, Onkyo reminded me; each CEO now sits on the other’s board.) More recently, in the spring of 2015, Onkyo Corp. acquired Pioneer’s Home A/V division. Together, Gibson, who is in essence partnered with Onkyo, and Onkyo, under the aegis of its corporate parent, now market three prominent AVR brands, including Onkyo, Integra (aimed at the custom installation market), and Pioneer (it’s actually four brands if you count separately Pioneer’s offshoot premium Elite brand). In the small world of AVR manufacturers, that makes this American/Japanese duo something of an empire.

Daniel Kumin  |  Oct 13, 2016  |  2 comments
Audio Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $6,000

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Outstanding seven-channel power from uncommon amp topology
Dirac Live auto setup and room correction
Winning remote handset
Minus
Lacks wireless
connectivity
Premium pricing

THE VERDICT
Reference-grade seven-channel power, an unusual (and unusually effective) auto-EQ system, and refreshing simplicity and straightforward ergonomics in a pricey, albeit very attractive and well-executed package.

Arcam’s new flagship A/V receiver, the AVR850, is about the most expensive receiver you can buy today: $6,000 here in the Land of the Free(-ish) (not counting a slightly more expensive, similarly spec’d model sourced by Arcam for AudioControl). That’s a lot of simoleons for a box that, on the surface anyway, doesn’t do quite as much stuff as the big-brand models, doesn’t have as much claimed-on-paper power or as many colored lights or flashing displays, and which exudes a substantially simpler design aesthetic. So what do you get for your extra couple of kilo-clams?

Daniel Kumin  |  Sep 29, 2016  |  6 comments

Audio Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Very solid amplifier performance
DTS:X, Dolby Atmos on board with seven-channel power and nine-channel processing
Good streaming-audio client performance and ergonomics
Minus
Ho-hum remote
Firmware/feature upgrade process is clumsy

THE VERDICT
Denon’s latest-generation upper-echelon AVR does all of the most current modes, sources, and processings very competently indeed, with ample audio power and fully up-to-date video abilities.

Full disclosure: Denon holds a special place in my hi-fi heart, because the brand’s former parent company, Nippon Columbia, brought me to Japan for my first time, on a sort of mini–press junket cooked up by the firm’s U.S. marketing guru. When I say mini, I mean it: It was just myself; Ken, the marketing guy; colleague Ken Pohlmann; and the late consumer electronics editor Bill Wolfe, whom I already knew well through long associations at titles like Video, Car Stereo Review, and (Plain Ol’) Stereo Review (S&V’s precursor).

Mark Fleischmann  |  Sep 20, 2016  |  2 comments

Audio Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $2,800

AT A GLANCE
Plus
CI focus, including eight-port Ethernet hub
9.1 channels for 5.1.4/7.1.2 surround
Redesigned setup mic
Minus
No Bluetooth, AirPlay, Wi-Fi, or DLNA

THE VERDICT
The Sony STR-ZA5000ES combines a hard-kicking amp with custom-install-friendly features.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story “Silver Blaze,” from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, the great detective has this conversation with a police inspector, who speaks first:

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

Just as the dog that didn’t bark enabled Holmes to identify a killer, the features that the Sony STR-ZA5000ES doesn’t have are clues to its identity. This $2,800 receiver doesn’t have Bluetooth, AirPlay, Wi-Fi, or any other wireless connectivity or network audio option—not even DLNA to work with its Ethernet jacks.

Daniel Kumin  |  Jun 30, 2016  |  10 comments

Audio Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,600

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Latest-gen audio and video processing
Fine-performing nine-channel Class D power
Cooler-than-ever free phone/tablet apps
Extensive proprietary auto-setup/EQ
Minus
Uninspired supplied remote
Occasional streaming audio glitches

THE VERDICT
All the good stuff—including Dolby Atmos/DTS:X, 4K/HDR with upscaling, and HD-remote-room ability—in a nicely usable, fine-sounding, fairly priced package.

It has been more than two years since Onkyo bought—or merged with, depending on your financial-accounting philosophy—Pioneer’s home-audio unit, but so far there has been no sign of their brands melding into a single entity. (Piokyo? Onkioneer?) And in all seriousness, we’ve no such expectation. For its part, Pioneer still retains two more or less discrete A/V receiver lines, the more quotidian VSX range and the higher-end SC models. More or less: All of the SCs reside in the brand’s specialist-oriented Elite series, while most of the VSXs remain in the “regular” Pioneer lineup. Yet a few sub-$1,000 VSXs, including two new ones, nestle in among the SCs on the Elite side of the ledger.

Mark Fleischmann  |  May 19, 2016  |  14 comments

Audio Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $2,999

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Gobs of power for almost any situation
Audyssey MultEQ XT32
Atmos, DTS:X, and Auro 3D
ISF certified
Minus
Daunting price

THE VERDICT
The Denon AVR-X7200W is pricey, but this flagship is loaded with power, features, and performance.

Ticking off all the feature checkboxes does not automatically confer popularity on a flagship audio/video receiver. Some prospective buyers will look at the four-figure price tag of the Denon AVR-X7200W and just say, no, sorry, not for me—despite the fact that many other high-end audio products, and luxury products in general, sell for far more. The AVR category is the spiritual home of those who love to get more for less. Why, asks the hardheaded audio buff, do I need to pay three grand for all those features, all those jacks—all that stuff I’ll never need? The answer is that the features you do need may be worth the price. If your speakers are a little more demanding than the home theater norm or you have a large room, you’ll want as much power as possible, and this receiver is Denon’s best shot.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Apr 20, 2016  |  1 comments

Audio Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,600

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Dolby Atmos and DTS:X
Aventage step-up build quality
Multiroom MusicCast
Minus
So-so room correction

THE VERDICT
The Yamaha RX-A2050 gives Dolby Atmos and DTS:X the step-up Aventage advantage with nine amplifier channels supporting 5.1.4, and it adds the sweetener of way-cool multiroom MusicCast.

Is nine the new seven? I’m talking about amp channels. Not long ago, nine-channel receivers were rare and supported relatively exotic surround modes that few people used. But Dolby Atmos bids to change the status quo by adding two to four height channels. A seven-channel receiver can support two height channels. A nine-channel receiver can support four height channels, which opens up possibilities for elevated panning in the top of the surround bubble, front to back and diagonally as well as side to side. In addition to that distinction between 5.1.2 and 5.1.4, there are other variations, such as two front-heights with two back-surrounds (7.1.2).

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