Buying a new AVR or AV-receiver might be on the top of your Christmas wish list. It is arguably the most important part of your AV set up and home theatre. Brands seem to launch updated version of their AVR’s just about every year. But deciding on what you really need as opposed to being pulled into the next fancy marketing thing, when it is time for an upgrade can do anybody’s head i
In the end, you want to make sure you have considered every aspect so that your AVR with work in perfect unison with the rest of your set up. Nobody wants to spend unnecessary money, while at the same time, we want to get the best performance for our needs.
A few weeks ago, we bumped into an excellent article on AVS forums which quick-fired 10 points to consider when shopping for AVRs. It is almost a ticking list of things to consider. We thought it was just excellent and wanted it share it with you, adding our own comments, examples and experiences.
I mean, nothing beats a comprehensive (albeit a bit lengthy) overview that is specked with insider information. Right?
10 Things to Consider When Shopping for an AV Receiver
With the holiday shopping season right around the corner, upgrade fever is sure to hit many AV enthusiasts. One of the key components in any serious system is an AV receiver, and this year’s fall harvest looks to be a good one for anyone seeking better sound quality.
Here are 10 things to consider when you begin the search for the right AVR to suit your needs.
1. Inputs and Outputs
– As of 2016, most mainstream AVRs sport HDMI 2.0 inputs with HDCP 2.2 copy protection. This allows them to pass 4K/UHD and 3D content from the source device through the AVR to the display.
– To pass HDR10 content from Ultra HD Blu-ray and online providers with a compatible Roku or Chromecast streamer, you need an AVR that supports HDMI 2.0a with HDCP 2.2.
– Try to determine if the HDMI ports operate at 10.2 or 18 Gbps; they should operate at 18 Gbps if possible.
Rapallo comment: Why 18Gbps you ask? 18Gbps is the speed required for watching 4K at top specs. Anything less and you will not be able to display all the available digital info. As it is looking more and more likely that 4K is here to stay, this is important in the context of future-proofing your gear.
– An HDMI input on the front panel is a plus if you plan to connect and disconnect a source on a regular basis—for example, a gaming console or camcorder.
– Some AVRs offer more than one HDMI output. With two HDMI outputs, you can feed a projector for night-time viewing and a flat-panel TV in the same room for daytime viewing. Alternatively, you can send the second HDMI output to a TV in another room, though this will probably require a fiber-optic or coax HDMI cable for such a long run.
Rapallo comment: To some readers the optic and coax comment is a little misleading. You can run HDMI over long distances: What you need is a HDMI extender over CAT cabling or an HDMI repeater to boost the HDMI signal. An optical cable is not required because HDMI transfers both audio and video.
– Some AVRs offer an asynchronous USB DAC, which lets you send digital-audio bitstreams from high-res audio source devices. This is important for audiophiles.
Rapallo comment: A little explanation about why this might be important to you: Typically, a high-res source (like a NAS) uses a USB cable to send the digital data that is stored to a DAC for converting the digital files to audio. Good quality AVRs include superior DACs as well as a USB connection, making this a very useful tool for audiophiles who want to ensure quality high-res playback without the need of adding an external DAC.
– If you have source devices that rely on optical or coaxial digital connections, make sure the AVR you choose has enough of these inputs to suit your needs.
2. Power Rating
– Power ratings for AVRs typically come with many caveats; for example, power ratings typically refer to only one or two channels being powered.
– The more channels you need to power at once, the lower the output of each channel. But it’s extremely rare for a movie or music to demand equal power from all channels simultaneously, so this is less of an issue than it might seem.
Rapallo comment: We recommend checking our previous amplifier blog here to help you with understanding the background of amplifier power.
– There’s not a lot of difference between 100 watts and 120 watts, or 80 watts and 110 watts. All else being equal, small increases in power ratings do not represent much of an upgrade.
Rapallo comment: We agree with this statement because to have and increase in 3db you need to double your amplifier power. Most AVRs sit between 80 to 140 watts. The difference between the higher end and the lower end of this spectrum will be minimal. Other things will influence the sound much more. Signal-to-noise ratio, damping factor, quality of power supply, supported formats, inputs & outputs are all very important considerations.
– Most AVR power ratings are specified with a speaker impedance of 8 ohms, which is very common among consumer speakers. If your speakers have a lower nominal impedance, they will draw more power from the amplifiers; be sure the AVRs you are considering can safely drive speakers with less than 8-ohm impedance.
Rapallo comment: Again, we totally agree with this statement. If you have lower impedance (usually implying more expensive speakers), you just need to be a bit more careful when choosing an AVR. We recommend choosing a high end AVR with better power ratings. Alternatively, opt for a hybrid system with an additional power amp or even go down the separates lane. Either way, you are going to need to spend more money.
– Many AVRs advertise power ratings into speaker impedances of 6 or even 4 ohms with very high THD (total harmonic distortion) figures; with THD, the lower, the better.
Rapallo comment: Again, check our previous amplifier power blog for more background.
– The sensitivity of your speakers will have a greater impact on how loud your system can play than the power rating of an AVR.
– The power rating of an AVR does not need to match the power-handling spec of your speakers, but they should be in roughly the same ballpark. Under most conditions, the AVR is supplying no more than one or two watts to the speakers.
Rapallo comment: For purists and audiophiles this statement could cause a debate. Our experience is that some users prefer the watts to exactly match their specific speakers. We would agree with the above statement that you need to have the same ballpark figure, rather than the exact match.
The main message should be that you should never match for instance a 50Watt AVR to a pair of speakers with a minimum power rating of 50Watt as this would almost certainly drive your speakers into distortion. What you want is the power rating of your AVR to be comfortably in the middle of the range your speaker specs advise.
Also, we are being a bit pedantic, but he last sentence of the above paragraph is also potentially incorrect. As the impedance of speakers varies with frequency, the power drawn from the AVR varies as wel (All you must do is have a look at Ohm’s laws for that). This means that one or two Watts under most conditions is absolutely not a given. We think it a bit careless to make a statement like that.
– For a hybrid high-performance solution, consider an AVR with preamp outs connected to a dedicated amplifier for the three front channels, which typically consume the most power. With some nine-channel AVRs, adding a 2-channel amp lets you take advantage of 11-channel processing.
Rapallo Comment: A good example would be the Yamaha RXV-3081, which is capable of 11 channel Atmos, but only by adding an extra 2 channel amplifier.
3. Immersive Audio
– Support for immersive audio—that is, sound from speakers placed around and above the listening position—has become nearly ubiquitous in modern AVRs.
Rapallo comment: For a home theatre that goes beyond the sound bar, Dolby Digital 5.1 is an absolute must. Our experience is that in New Zealand, 7.1 or higher is relevant to people who are really serious about their home theatre and have a room (dedicated or not) that is large enough. It’s still early days for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, as it is not clear whether Blu Ray back catalogues will be re-released in these new formats. But if you intend on future proofing and considering height channels in the future, you should take this into account.
– You can get Dolby Atmos and DTS:X capability in very affordable AVRs.
– Auro 3D is a paid add-on for upper-tier AVRs from some brands. However, there isn’t much content encoded in Auro 3D yet.
Rapallo comment: We agree, there isn’t much content offered in “Auro 3D” format yet. At this stage, it remains to be seen if it takes off. In the meantime, some companies offer a paid upgrade of “Auro 3D” to their premium AVRs if you want this compatibility currently or for the future. Yamaha and Anthem have yet to join in.
– Seriously consider a 9-channel AVR that gives you 5.1.4 channels (five main channels, one subwoofer channel, four overhead or height channels) if you want the full immersive effect. 5.1.2 is good, but 5.1.4 (and 7.1.4) systems can convey movement and ambience better.
Rapallo comment: Just to be clear you would need an 11 channel AVR for a 7.1.4 surround setup.
Although 9 and 11 channel AVRs are dearer, they are great to future proof your investment in case you would like to incorporate Dolby Atmos and DTS:X into your home theatre setup. Just make sure the AVR supports Atmos/DTS:X, and obviously, you need to pre-wire.
4. Number of Amplifier Channels
– As a general rule, more amplifier channels will cost you more money. Therefore, it is important to decide how many speakers you need to power ahead of time.
– 5-channel AVRs are the most basic and typically the most affordable.
– 7-channel AVRs can handle Dolby Atmos and DTS:X in a 5.1.2 speaker configuration as well as traditional 7.1 speaker systems.
– 9-channel AVRs can handle 5.1.4 Atmos and DTS:X, which offers a superior immersive experience to systems with only two elevation channels.
– Some 9-channel AVRs also offer 11-channel processing, but you’ll need an external 2-channel amp to take advantage of that.
– This year there are several 11-channel AVRs to choose from; these models can handle 7.1.4 Atmos/DTS:X or amplify multiple zones.
Rapallo comment: In New Zealand one of the very few 11 channel amplifier that does not require an extra stereo amplifier for full 7.1.4 Atmos/DTS:X is currently the Anthem MRX1120. Most 11-channel amplifiers will require extra amplification, so make sure to check thoroughly.
5. Room Correction
– Room correction—compensating for acoustical irregularities in a given room—is one of the most important features to consider when deciding between different brands of AVRs.
– There is a lot of variation in terms of capability between different room-correction systems.
– Audyssey MultEQ XT32 and Dirac Live both have a reputation for being reasonably effective.
– Some speaker and room combinations benefit from room correction more than others.
Rapallo comment: We have a few things to say about this:
First of all, we would like to clarify that Audyssey has several levels of room correction; some of which are rather poor while the more advanced versions like the Audyssey MultiEQ32 that is mentioned above do a pretty decent job. You really want to check which version you are dealing with.
Also, we are puzzled: Where’s the love for Anthem? Anthem have an excellent –some say the best around- proprietary room calibration software called ARC (Anthem Room Correction). They are renowned for it. To not even mention it, really?
Furthermore, there is life beyond the calibration that comes with your AVR. You can also calibrate your room to a world-class standard, using an intuitive Windows PC based software, and a calibrated USB microphone that comes out of the box.
And finally, calibration systems, especially the good ones, can be a big help in setting up your system. But in the end, nothing beats a pair of ears.
– Whether you need it or not, a 2016-model AVR is likely to have some sort of network connectivity.
– An Ethernet port is useful if you plan to locate the AVR far from a wireless router or use IP control in conjunction with a home-automation system. Also, a wired Ethernet connection assures the best possible performance for audio streamed from other devices on the network.
Rapallo comment: We would totally agree with that. Wifi networks can be unreliable in speed as they share their total bandwidth amongst all connected devices, Including computers, phones, printers, smart TVs, sky TVs, alarms etc.
– Many AVRs use Wi-Fi to offer compatibility with Apple AirPlay, DTS Play-Fi, and other wireless AV systems.
– Another useful networking feature is playback from a DLNA server connected to your home network.
Rapallo comment: Keeping your AVR up to date with the latest firmware is a priority so that everything runs smoothly. More often than not, when customers ring us with AVR hick-ups this is the problem.
WiFi and Network capabilities are great for accessing all your music stored on your computer or NAS.
7. Wireless and Multi-Room Audio Features
– For many years, some AVRs have offered the ability to send audio and video to two or more separate rooms or “zones” in a home using dedicated hard-wired connections such as interconnect and speaker cables as well as analog video and even HDMI.
– These days, many AVRs come with some sort of networked-audio capabilities. Some brands only offer their own proprietary system such as Denon HEOS or Yamaha MusicCast, which work only with other compatible products from the same manufacturer. Other brands, like Pioneer and Onkyo, have adopted third-party platforms such as Google Cast and DTS Play-Fi.
Rapallo comment: As we have stated in previous blogs, we are big fans of DTS Play-Fi because of the flexibility and options across brands. These days, many other brands like Anthem, Klipsch, Definitive Technology etc. are part of the DTS Play-Fi family. Always check individual products.
New brands sign up on a regular basis. SVS has committed recently as well, although no products are available yet.
– If you like to mix and match brands, the DTS Play-Fi ecosystem includes products from the most manufacturers.
– If you use Bluetooth, look for aptX technology, which ensures high-quality audio transmission.
Rapallo comment: aptX is a family of proprietary audio codec compression algorithms. It is widely acclaimed by audio enthusiasts as a technology that purportedly improves the sound of wireless speakers and headphones.
– Some AVRs offer the option of streaming audio from cloud-based services.
Rapallo comment: If you are considering getting an amp that can support multiple zones in a hard-wired fashion, always be careful about how many channels it has because specs usually indicated TOTAL number of channels. For instance, if you use 2 channels in a different zone, this means you sacrifice 2 channels of the surround setup in the main zone.
Rapallo comment: At Rapallo, we have good experience with the Yamaha’s MusicCast platform for streaming music across your home. The downside is that you will need to stay consistent with Yamaha MusicCast products. If given the option, we still recommend going wired for the best result, although we expect that this will improve drastically in the future.
8. Analog Inputs and 2-Channel Audio
– Unless you have a legacy video source, such as a LaserDisc player or VCR, analog video inputs, such as component or composite video, are completely unnecessary.
– If you have a collection of analog-audio sources, make sure there are enough analog-audio inputs to accommodate them on the AVRs you are considering.
– If you plan on listening to vinyl records, look for an AVR that offers a phono input; not all of them do.
Rapallo comment: In addition to the above situations, you may have a component that has a better DAC than your AVR, in which case you will want to use an analogue input of the AVR to connect.
9. Remote and App-Based Control
– Since AVRs are complex devices, they often come with remote controls that are stuffed with buttons.
– Many AVRs have included an RS-232 serial port for connection to home-automation systems from companies like Crestron, but this is being supplanted by IP control over your home’s network.
– Control apps for phones and tablets are available from many AVR makers, but their functionality varies widely. If you like to control things with a mobile device, you might want to consider how capable the app is.
– Look for an IR input if you plan to use a standard remote and house the AVR in a cabinet or closet.
Rapallo comment: We find it frustrating that in the 21st century most AVRs’ remote controls are only 100% reliable on old-fashioned communication hardware such as RS-232. IP-based control is often flaky and difficult to integrate with apps such as SimpleControl on iOS. Crestron and Control4 may work well but are quite expensive.
10. Budget and Recommendations
– The key to shopping for an AVR is to set your budget first, determine how many speakers you plan to power, factor in what sources you intend to connect, and consider the kind of content you intend to consume—some folks are music-first and others use AVRs primarily for home cinema.
Rapallo comment: In this section, we have kept the wording of the original article, but we have changed the name of a product that in New Zealand might be sold under a different name (this happens quite regularly), or if the model has been updated since the time of publishing. We have also removed the product suggestion in case the product is not available to us.
In 2016, even affordable entry-level AVRs like Yamaha’s RX-V481 and Pioneer’s VSX-831 offer full UHD/4K HDMI pass-through, room correction, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and multi-room audio. The Yamaha RX-V581 even adds 5.1.2 Atmos and DTS:X to the mix. Sony’s STR-DN860 is a 7-channel model that sports a modern graphic user interface and streams from Spotify Connect.
You’ll find a lot of features crammed into 7-channel AVRs from various mainstream manufacturers. Denon’s AVR-X2300 offers Dolby Atmos 5.1.2, eight HDMI inputs and two HDMI outputs, Audyssey MultEQ, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and much more.
If your budget is $3,000 or more, you can expect to find AVRs with top-tier room correction, nine or more channels of amplification, multiple zones, more power, and overall better specs. Pioneer’s SC-LX89 offers 9 channel amplification and claims that its class-D amps can output twice as much peak power (all channels driven) as many competing AVRs.
You’ll also find an 11-channel option from Anthem in its MRX1120 model, which uses the highly effective Anthem Room Correction (ARC) system. Not to be outdone, Onkyo also has an 11-amp model, the TX-RZ3100.
Tell us your opinion on this topic. What are your most important considerations when shopping for an AVR? What models do you recommend at different price points?
Source: AVS forum by Mark Henninger with comments from Rapallo.