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2009 $750 Receiver Comparison Guide

by July 27, 2009
~$750 Receivers

~$750 Receivers

This is the second to last article in our budget receiver comparison series for 2009. We were going to try to come up with a few more categories but after around $1000, the offerings become less universal with much more varied MSRP. Hopefully by reading these articles, what you need to look for (and more importantly, what you actually need in a receiver) is coming into focus.

As we get higher in price point, you'd expect that the receivers would become more and more similar. Feature sets, you'd expect, would be nearly the same but with different branding. Automatic room correction, for instance, would become universal but with different branding (Audyssey, YPAO, MCACC, etc.). You'd also be wrong.

In this comparison, we were able to include some offerings from lesser known receiver manufacturers and a few higher end brands. Onkyo will be left out of this and all other comparisons as they have nothing new past the $500 price point. It isn't exactly fair to compare their older offerings to some of the newest stuff off the line. Marantz is on board with a receiver that is about to be discontinued. The SR5003 should be phasing out soon (the SR5004 will come in at $849 MSRP) but still makes a good showing. If you are looking for a deal, this might be the receiver for you. We also included Sherwood Newcastle to show exactly what the off brands (they aren't exactly "off" but as you'll see by their offering, they are definitely behind the curve) provide.

We tried to keep the price point around $750 but it was hard. Manufacturers aren't exactly placing their offerings in neatly defined categories. Our prices ranged from a low of $649 for the Harman Kardon and the Yamaha up to $799 for the Denon, Marantz, and Sherwood. The Pioneer brings up the middle at $699.

Feature

Denon AVR-890

Harman Kardon AVR 254

Marantz SR5003

Pioneer Elite VSX-21TXH

Sherwood Newcastle R-772

Yamaha RX-V765

Price

$799

$649

$799

$699

$799

$649

Channels

7.1

7.1

7.1

7.1

7.1

7.2

Power (watts)

105

50

90

110

100

95

HDMI in/out

5/1

3/1

3/1

4/1

2/1

4/1

Component in/out

2/1

2/1

3/2

2/1

2/1

2/1

Digital Op/Co

3/2

3/3

4/2

3/2

2/2

2/2

Upconverting to HDMI

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Upconverting to component

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

1080p Upscaling

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Room Correction

Audyssey MultEQ (6 positions)

EzSet/EQ (1 position)

Audyssey MultEQ (6 positions)

Advanced MCACC 9 Band EQ

Snap 12 band EQ (1 position)

YPAO

Multizone

2

2

3

3

2

2

Multichannel Input

7.1

7.1

7.1

5.1

7.1

7.1

Multichannel Output

No

7.1

7.1

7.1

No

7.2

iPod support

Optional Dock

No

No

Yes

No

Optional Dock

USB

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

No

Networkable

No

No

No

No

No

No

Weight (lbs)

24.9

27.1

28.8

29

22.3

24.3

There are surprising variations even among the most notable and well established groups. While we expected Denon and Yamaha to be nearly identical, they most certainly were not. Instead we found a number of trade-offs and interesting features even among the lesser known brands. Things like HD audio support can now be taken for granted at this price point. One thing we'd like to point out is that manufacturers seem to fall in love with their peripherals. Denon and Yamaha have been touting their iPod and other docks since their entry level offerings. If Onkyo was included, they'd be doing the same. Pioneer still holds a monopoly on out of the box iPod support. While this may not be such a huge feature for some, for most it can be. As long as the "big three" continue to rely on external peripherals rather than integrating some of those features, they risk losing those customers. Sure, there will be some that don't read the fine print and don't realize that they need a peripheral, but that's not how you make a life long customer.

Denon.jpgDenon AVR-890 - The Denon AVR-890 ties for the most expensive in the comparison at $799. For that money you get many of the same things you've gotten in their cheaper offerings including Audyssey MultEQ, 1080p upconversion via HDMI, Sirius ready, and 7.1 channel analogue inputs. Of course, you are getting more power (105 watts versus 90) and an additional HDMI input (five - the most of any receiver in the comparison). Video upconversion includes component this time around, making integration of legacy equipment easier. Plus, they've included a Phono input showing vinyl aficionados a little love. Also, while Anchor Bay was specified in the $500 offering, this time they specify the ABT-2010 chipset which we know has top tier performance in video upconversion. Disappointingly, there are a few deficiencies. Most notably is the lack of a multi-channel output. If you aren't looking to upgrade to external amplification this may not be important to you. It does, however, seem to be a pretty glaring omission at this price point.

HarmonHarman Kardon AVR 254 - The AVR 254 is one of the least expensive receivers in this comparison at $649. Harman is famous for rating their receiver's power differently from everyone else so there is no way (other than a test bench) of knowing how the AVR 254's 50 watts compares with everyone else's ~100 watts. The AVR 254 has much of what you'd expect at this price point including HDMI and component video upconversion (including 1080p upconversion via HDMI), dual zones, mini jack for iPod/MP3 players, and an automatic room correction system. The Auto EQ is dubbed EzSet/EQ and seems to be limited to one position. The AVR 254 has 7.1 analogue inputs and preamp outputs plus a host of other connection types. With only three HDMI inputs, it ties for the second lowest number in the comparison. This is something to consider if you have (or think you might have) a lot of video sources. The video upconversion is handled by Faroudja DCDi which has adequate if not stellar performance. There is an RS-232 port, but it seems to be limited to firmware upgrades and not meant for home integration control.

Marantz.jpgMarantz SR5003 - The Marantz SR5003 is actually due to be replaced soon by the SR5004. It is still a fairly new receiver and so we decided to keep it in the comparison. It still competes well with 1080p video upscaling via HDMI, HDMI and component video upconversion performed by an i-Chips Technology chipset, and 7.1 analogue inputs and preamp outputs. The look and build quality of the Marantz is a bit higher class with an all aluminum and slightly convex faceplate. Like the HK, it only sports 3 HDMI inputs which may be a bit limiting. If you want to wait for the next model to come out, it may have more (unknown at this time). The SR5003 retails for $799 tying it for the most expensive in the comparison. It is XM and Sirius ready and is one of the two to support a third Zone. While you can use the internal amps or analogue pre-outs for Zone 2, Zone 3 is only supported via a digital optical output requiring a separate receiver or other DAC capable device.

PioneerPioneer Elite VSX-21TXH - The Pioneer Elite VSX-21TXH is the entry level in the Elite line. It retails for $699. You'll recognize many of the features including the Made for iPhone certification providing the only out-of-the-box iPod/iPhone support of any receiver in the comparison. This feature continues to give the Pioneer lineup a distinct edge. Even if you aren't an iPod user, the USB port supports all the major video/music formats so you may not want to dismiss it out of hand. The 21TXH has 4 HDMI inputs, HDMI upscaling to 1080p, HDMI and component video upconversion, and is the only receiver that truly supports three zones ALONG WITH composite video (no one else is even contemplating this at this price point). This is the first receiver to introduce Pioneer's new PQLS (precision quartz lock system) which slaves the clock on the Pioneer Blu-ray player and the receiver to reduce jitter. This offering is only two channel though you'll see better systems on the more expensive offerings. The VSX-21TXH is also the only receiver in the comparison that is THX certified, bearing the THX Select 2 level. The MCACC room calibration is still only three positions which doesn't really compare with the MultEQ of the Denon and Marantz. Most disappointingly, the VSX-21TXH only supports 5.1 analogue inputs (though it has 7.1 analogue outputs). While you can make an argument that with HDMI you'd never need more than 5.1, we'd disagree and can think of a number of pieces of legacy gear that would use it. Lastly, it seems that Pioneer is continuing to focus on the audio side with Burr Brown and Wolfson DACs and ADCs.

Sherwood.jpgSherwood Newcastle R-772 - The Sherwood Newcastle R-772 was included to show what some of the lesser known brands are offering - and that is not much. While you can make the argument that the lack of features somehow suggests less processing of the signal, you could just buy an older receiver of the other brands (or engage the ubiquitous Direct or Pure Direct modes) for the same effect. The R-772 will decode all the HD audio formats but only includes 2 HDMI inputs, no video upscaling of HDMI upconversion, and no multichannel pre-outs. The R-772 does have 7.1 analogue inputs and one position automatic room correction however. But that's not to say that it doesn't have anything to offer that is new. The remote is IR and RF, which may be useful for hiding your gear. There is an RS-232 port for home integration installation and a USB port for firmware upgrades. Probably most unexpectedly, the R-722 allows you to switch your amps on the fly so you can connect both your Surround Backs and Zone 2 speakers. This could be a huge bonus for those that want to run a full 7.1 system and a Zone 2 but don't want to buy the extra amps or switch wires manually.

YammyYamaha RX-V765 - The Yamaha RX-V765 is the only receiver in the bunch with dual mono subwoofer outputs (something we hope to see others adopt in the future) and ties for the least expensive at $649. It has 1080p upscaling but still lacks analogue video upconversion to component or S-video (you can only upconvert analogue sources to HDMI). There is a mini jack on the front for portable integration like an MP3 player but no iPod support without an optional dock. The RX-V765 is also compatible with the Bluetooth dock offered by Yamaha. What Yamaha really has going for it here is its price. At the lowest in this bracket, you get the bare bones of what you need plus some stuff that you might not. You may not get iPod support or Audyssey MultEQ, but you do get 7.2 analogue pre-outs and a ton of DSP (Digital Signal Processing) programs.

Conclusion

While it is easy to discount the Sherwood out of hand, in very specific (i.e. professional installer) situations, it could be the best choice. All you need is an HDMI switch (or video scaler with multiple inputs) and you are set. Really, Denon seems to be doing well except for its stunning lack of multi-channel analogue outputs. The Yamaha impresses with its price to feature ratio and we appreciate the Pioneer's commitment to audio and iPod connectivity. The Harman again is in the running with component video upconversion and internal scaling though its average three HDMI inputs might put it out of the running for some. The Marantz shares a lot of the features of the Denon (as it should since they are both owned by D&M Holdings) but the scaling is an unknown. The looks are a bit different from the rest and that alone should attract a few. Since they are probably being blown out right now to clear inventory for the new model, we're guessing you could find them on sale and who knows what the next model holds in store. The key, again, is to know what you want and what you need and match them with the receiver that best fits the bill for your wallet.

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About the author:

As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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Recent Forum Posts:

Lordoftherings posts on August 06, 2009 16:48
bandphan, post: 606249
Not with current models. These units are all designed to have transparent sound. Its your speakers that make the biggest impact on sound. When someone tells you that one has better sound than the other, they are just full of it usually.

+1 I agree with that too.

termin8ted314, post: 606276
OK thanks. So basically just narrow it down to the features i want and then decide?

Exactly.
theaterguy posts on August 06, 2009 03:38
Great Info.
lsiberian posts on August 05, 2009 15:30
termin8ted314, post: 606276
OK thanks. So basically just narrow it down to the features i want and then decide?

Yes. That's the way to do it.
termin8ted314 posts on August 05, 2009 15:06
bandphan, post: 606249
Not with current models. These units are all designed to have transparent sound. Its your speakers that make the biggest impact on sound. When someone tells you that one has better sound than the other, they are just full of it usually.

OK thanks. So basically just narrow it down to the features i want and then decide?
bandphan posts on August 05, 2009 14:18
termin8ted314, post: 606246
Would the Marantz be more of an audio centered receiver vs say a denon or pioneer elite?

Thanks

Not with current models. These units are all designed to have transparent sound. Its your speakers that make the biggest impact on sound. When someone tells you that one has better sound than the other, they are just full of it usually.
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