Receiver Buying Guide 2014
It is that time of year where we get to spend your money again! This week we concentrate on receivers. Our goal with these guides is not necessarily about getting the latest product. Its about getting a good product at a great price so you may see some of last year’s gear on the list. All these receivers are readily available online or at a big box store. Just like the HDTV Buying Guide, we’re going to skip the budget categories jump right to our top picks. We each pick three receivers and one ‘money is no object’ / ‘dare to dream’ receiver for you to consider.
Here are few of the receivers from last year that are still available along with their prices:
The entry and mid-tier receivers of last year are no longer available. The higher end receivers are still available at a reduced price.
Onkyo is our go-to brand for entry-level, bang for the buck receivers. If you want to get a bunch of features packed into a small price point, and a receiver that works well and sounds good, this unit from Onkyo is worth a look. Five of the receiver’s seven HDMI inputs support 4K video at 60 frames per second with support for HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2. The Onkyo TX-NR636 doubles the power with two 32-bit processing engines to decode and scale Dolby Atmos to to your home theater layout and to decode a huge variety of HD audio files. With 7 channels of high-current amplification, you can unlock the full experience with in-ceiling height channels or Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers to augment a standard surround sound home theater setup for stunningly detailed sound that comes alive from all directions, including overhead. It has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and the remote app streams any music stored on your phone or tablet. And it can even locate and stream HD audio from network-attached devices. Qdeo upscaling technology also converts low-res DVDs and games into full 1080p HD or all the way up to 4K if you have an Ultra HD display.
This is a prior year’s model, and has been discontinued by the manufacturer, but they are still available in limited quantities for a killer deal. The original list price was $2500, they’re now selling for less than half of that at $1150. Sure you don’t get Dolby Atmos or HDCP 2.2, but even the current model year Denon receivers don’t have HDCP 2.2. This receiver is beast. Fully discrete, mono AMP construction and high current power supply for all 9 channels (150 W x 9 ch, 8ohm). Powerful, dynamic yet silky smooth like you’ve come to expect from Denon. If you need HDCP 2.2, your options are limited right now. If you want pure power with a few Tim Allen grunts to go along with it, grab one of these Denon units while you still can. It isn’t just brawn, it also has 3D and 4K pass-through technology, 4K upconversion, Audyssey MultEQ, Airplay, network capabilities for Pandora and Spotify, and the list goes on.
Pioneer Elite receivers offer a very high end experience at an affordable price – or somewhat affordable depending on your budget. This unit is by no means inexpensive, but it is incredibly capable and will rock just about any home theater. It doesn’t have Dolby Atmos, but it is Dolby Atmos Upgradeable. It has class D3 amplification that pumps out 135 Watts x 9 channels (8 Ohms) and delivers a total of 760 Watts multi-channel simultaneous drive. While lesser amplifiers’ output diminishes as channels are added, the SC-85’s Class D3 amps have the power to drive multiple channels simultaneously with no significant drop in per-channel output. It has HDMI 2.0, but not HDCP2.2. Every Elite AV receiver can pass through 4K video signals to any compatible display and the Qdeo video processing technology by Marvell and built-in 4K Scaler allow you to upscale any video source to 4k. Spotify Connect, Airplay, Roku Ready, Internet radio, control apps for your smartphone – you name it, it’s in there.
My entry receiver this year is more of a mid-tier instead. Last Summer I came to the conclusion that if you buy an entry receiver from Yamaha, Pioneer, Denon, or Sony you will essentially have the same thing. Sure the sound may be slightly different but for the most part they are all on par as far as features go. But for a little more money you can have a very nice receiver that will last you for years. Take this Yamaha, its a 7.2 system from the Aventage line. They use higher quality components and design elements to produce purer sound. One example is the right and left channels have been laid out so as to minimize any crosstalk. If you have a 4K TV this unit will upscale your 1080p sources and pass through native 4K material. The 1030 also has a better auto calibration function than the regular Yamaha line. There are a ton of features for the audiophile and for $800 this should be the minimum standard for your home theater.
My next receiver is almost twice the cost of the first. but it has a couple of notable features that the previous one doesn’t. Mainly it supports Dolby Atmos. This feature adds speakers overhead to give you more of an audio bubble where sound can come from anywhere. The unit is 4K ready but it does not support HDCP 2.2 so there may be some issues connecting to future Blu-ray players. Note: if you want to use 4 ceiling speakers you will need an external amp for two of them. But what I really like about this receiver is the Audyssey Room Calibration. To date it is the best one we have used. Throw in Audyseey’s Dynamic Volume to help keep the audio level and you have a great unit for anyone with neighbors in close proximity. The receiver supports IP control so it can be integrated into your Roomie or iRule remotes and provide two way feedback. Like all the receivers on the list there are way more features than we can cover here.
I tap the Sony ES line for my third unit. It does not support Dolby Atmos but it does support HDCP 2.2 which may be more important for some. One of the neat features of the 3000 is that it is also an eight port Gigabit Ethernet switch with PoE, Power over Ethernet functionality. With all the connected gear in our home theaters this feature is really a nice touch. It has a web based interface to setup and is fully IP controllable.
All three of the above units plenty of power to fill your rooms with amazing sound. The Yamaha and Denon have connected features that makes streaming audio from all over the world as easy as pressing a button on your remote. Two have 8 HDMI inputs for those special times when you have to connect three Blu-ray players, two cable boxes, a Roku and an AppleTV but you still feel like you need an extra HDMI input just in case!
This is actually a first for us. Putting an Onkyo into the Ultimate category. Best bang for the buck, sure. Great budget receiver, absolutely. But Ultimate? When you take a look at the features this receiver has you’ll immediately see why this is in the Ultimate category. First off, this is one of the rare receivers that supports HDMI 2.0, HDCP 2.2 and is Atmos ready. Its THX Select 2 Plus certified so you know it can produce reference level audio. It has three HDMI outputs so it can serve as a video hub. There are a number of features that on other receivers would bump the price up to the $3,000+ price range.
We’re sure you have head about issues Onkyo’s have had in the past, overheating and HDMI circuit board failures come to mind. So keep that in mind if you go this route. The HDMI issue has a recall on older receivers and shouldn’t be an issue on this one. Heat, well that’s all relative. The more amps you put into a receiver can potentially cause things to get hot. We have not heard of any recent heating issues with Onkyo’s but if possible, install the receiver in a well ventilated place and you should be good to go for years to come.
Posted by The HT Guys, December 5, 2014 2:04 AM
About The HT GuysThe HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.
Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.
ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.
Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.