Home theaters have radically morphed living rooms from a gathering place to a high-end multimedia center. Central to these entertainment centers are Audio / Visual (A/V) Receivers. These high-end systems receive all your video and audio inputs from any conceivable device or signal, and translate it into a usable A/V stream for technology like your HDTV screen, or TV speakers and surround sound system. Because they are the very core of your system, buying a high-quality receiver is fundamentally necessary for a superb viewing and listening experience.
Check out some of the top picks for AV receivers on the market today for under $600.
Yamaha RX-V667 - $500
The Yamaha RX-V667 is priced at $500, which is mid-range of receivers. With excellent sound (the most important factor to consider) this model offers great graphical user interface (GUI) and video up-conversion (this converts analog signals to digital, e.g., from a standard VCR to HDTV). This Yamaha device boasts some excellent features at a very reasonable price. It can handle anything you throw at it, even 3D, and sound good at the same time. There are some caveats, however. It does not have a mini-jack input, and is a bit more expensive than competitors.
Pioneer VSX-1020-K - $360
The Pioneer VSX-1020-K is priced around $360, and is a more budget-friendly competitor to Yamaha’s model, but with some disadvantages. Like the Yamaha, this device has stellar 7.1 surround sound quality, a GUI, plenty of HDMI ports, and enough functionality to meet anyone's needs. It boasts direct iPod connectivity, as well. However, it only has a one year warranty (compared to the two years industry standard), no support for standby pass-through.
The Marantz NR1601 - $600
The Marantz NR1601 is priced at $600, and is the most expensive of the three receivers. It comes with the same stellar sound quality, while adding the Yamaha’s video up-conversion and 3D capability, the Pioneer’s iPod connectivity, and a slim package. A couple of drawbacks are the price, only offering four HDMI ports (compared to six), and no GUI. This is a great receiver—if you are willing to pay the money, and can get by with only four HDMI—it has all the features of the other two and performs well.
Things to Remember
Video is not the most important factor to consider. Most of the time the video stream passes unchanged through the receiver, while almost all of the time the audio stream is manipulated in some way. So, when looking for a high-quality receiver, the most important factor is sound quality.
Key to the production of good sound are a few factors: the preamp, processor, surround sound, and bass management. The preamp/processor often can introduce noise to the system, so when testing systems, if you hear noise attribute it to that combo. The surround sound management is especially important for movie watchers, make sure the center channel doesn’t bleed over into the other channels. Bass management is important for any listening; nobody likes “boomy” or sloppy bass sound.