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2010 $500 A/V Receiver Comparison Guide

by November 17, 2010
Contributors: Gene DellaSala
This years lineup is pretty diverse

This year's lineup is pretty diverse

We love a good comparison so you'll forgive us if we got a little exuberant with this one. The ~$500 price point is a popular one and just about every manufacturer has a receiver around that price. Instead of leaving out manufacturers that had a receiver a little under or over the price point, we just included everyone's offerings. This means you'll have to make some allowances for some of the lower and higher priced models. Also realize that many of these are have a street price that is lower than the MRSP. Since street price can change day to day, we have to list them in these comparisons by their MSRP. While some manufacturers will line up their price with their features, others will inflate the MSRP just so they can offer their receivers at a heavy discount in an effort to "trick" consumers into thinking they're getting a great deal. You'll find that those receivers tend to be feature light and marketing speak heavy. So, without further ado, let's begin.

 

Denon

Marantz

Yamaha

Onkyo

Pioneer

Sherwood

Sony

Harman Kardon

Model#

AVR-791

NR1601

RX-V667

HT-RC260

VSX-30

RD-8504

STR-DN1010

AVR 1600

MSRP

$499

$599

$599

$499

$549

$479

$499

$499

Power

90W x 7

50W x 7

90W x 7

100W x 7

80W x 7

100W x 7
(6 ohms)

100 x 7

50 x 7

Measurement

20-20kHz

20-20kHz

20-20kHz

20-20kHz

20-20kHz

40 Hz-20 kHz

20-20kHz

20-20kHz

Discrete amps

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

?

Yes

HDMI Ver

1.4a

1.4a

1.4a

1.4a

1.4a

1.4

1.4a

1.3a

3D Support

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

N/A

ARC

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

Yes

N/A

HDMI STAND-BY Pass-thru

 No

Yes

 Yes

No

No

 No

 Yes

 No

Dolby PLIIz/Audyssey DSX

PLIIz only

PLIIz only

No

Both

PLIIz only

No

PLIIz only

No

Auto Setup/Room EQ

Audyssey MultEQ

Audyssey MultEQ

YPAO

Audyssey 2EQ

MCACC

SNAP Room EQ

DCAC

EzSet/EQ

HDMI I/O

4/1

4/1

6/1 (one front)

6/1 (one front)

4/1

3/1

4/1

3/1

Component Video I/O

1/0

3/1

2/1

2/1

2/1

2/1

3/1

2/1

S-Video I/O

1/0

0/0

0/0

0/0

0/0

3/1

0/0

0/0

Composite I/O

3/1

3/1

5/1

5/1

5/1

3/2 (video out Zone 2)

4/1

4/1

Digital Audio (coaxial/optical)

1/1

1/2

2/2

2/2

1/2

2/2

1/3

2/2

Pre-ins

None

None

7.1

None

None

7.1

None

7.1

Preouts

Sub (1)

Sub (1)

Full 7.2 plus Zone 2 (stereo)

Sub (2) Zone 2 (stereo)

Sub (1) Zone 2 (stereo)

Sub (1) Zone 2 (stereo)

Sub (1)

Sub (1)

Video Up Conversion

1080p to HDMI

Analogue to HDMI

1080p to HDMI

1080p by Faroudja DCDi cinema

1080p Anchor Bay

1080p Anchor Bay

1080p to HDMI

Component to HDMI only

HDMI OSD Overlay

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

Yes

No

Multi Zone

Yes powered Zone 2 only

No

Yes pre and powered

Zone 2 pre and powered

Zone 2 pre and powered

Zone 2 pre and powered

Zone 2 wireless with additional purchase

No

Extra Speaker Connections
No
Yes (5-way)
Yes (spring)
Yes (spring)
Yes (spring) Yes (5-way)
No No

Networking

With optional dock

No

No

No

Yes

No

No

No

iPod Interface

USB port

USB port

With optional dock

With optional dock

Yes (included cable)

No

With optional dock

No

XM/Sirius

No

No

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

No

No

Dimensions

(WxHxD)

17.1” x 6.7” x 15”

17-3/8" x 4-3/16" x 14-1/2"

17-1/8" x 6" x 14-3/8"

17-1/8" x 6-15/16" x 13"

16.54" x 6.22" x 14.92"

17-1/8" x 6-11/16" x 15"

17" x 6-1/4" x 12-7/8"

6 1/2" x 17-5/16" x 15"

Weight

22.5lbs

19.8lbs

23.1lbs

25.4lbs

22.25lbs

20.9lbs

19lb

20.5lbs

Warranty

 2 Years

3 Years

 2 Year

2 Years

2 Years

 1 Year

 2 Years

 2 Years

This year's models range in price from a low of $479 with the Sherwood RD-8504 to a high of $599 with the Marantz NR1601. While that's only a $120 variance, it's an over 20% difference. If you'd paid 20% more for your car, you'd expect a serious improvement (if you paid $30,000, that'd be a $6,000 option package for the math impaired). At this price point we're looking for some serious improvements over the entry level models including seven channels of amplification (all have this) and HDMI 1.4 connections with a minimum of 3D support. You'd expect some sort of onscreen menu and automatic room correction. More robust amps should be on board as well as some convenience features that were missing on the entry level receivers. Hitting the ~$500 price point means that the convenience features are going to be key since manufacturers will have to pick and choose what is most important to them. Keeping that in mind, let's address each receiver individually from low to high price.

Sherwood RD-8504

RD-8504The Sherwood RD-8504 is the lowest priced of our receivers in this comparison. At $479, you're looking at a receiver that is at least $20 cheaper than most of the rest of the offerings on the shelf. If $20 makes or breaks your budget this could be a deciding factor. We tend to think it won't be. Sherwood starts off with tweaking their specs to make the receiver look better. While everyone else is rating their amp sections into 8 ohms, Sherwood uses a 6 ohm measurement. This inflates the number of watts per channel to look higher than they should be. Into an 8 ohm load we'd expect something closer to a 75 watt output rather than the 100 watts listed on the spec sheet. While 75 watts is certainly respectable (and wouldn't be close to the bottom of the power on the list), some manufacturers (and consumers for that matter) are in love with the 100 watt figure. On top of that they measured the amp section 40Hz to 20 kHz instead of 20Hz to 20kHz which is again a tactic used to inflate power ratings since this receiver obviously can't hit those wattage claims at low frequencies. We're spit-balling here as we won't know without measuring the receiver ourselves.

The RD-8504 has many of the things you'd like to see at this price point with HMDI 1.4 connection supporting 3D but not Audio Return Channel (ARC). There is a proprietary room correction system called SNAP Room EQ which both configures the speakers and performs adjustments based on the measurements in the room. There are quite a few things to like in the Sherwood offering. It uses the well respected Anchor Bay ABT -2010 chipset for upconverting analogue sources to 1080p over HDMI, it is the only offering in this comparison that supports video out to Zone 2 (composite), and one of the only ones that has 7.1 channel analogue inputs for integrating legacy gear. It is tied for last in the number of HDMI inputs (only 3) but it is the only one that sports s-video inputs (for those that just can't let go of their VCRs). There is no networking or iPod support but it does support Sirius/XM satellite radio. Advanced height/width channels are not supported but Zone 2 can either be powered or through pre-outs. 

Sony STR-DN1010

STR-DN1010The Sony STR-DN1010 is one of those receivers that looks to have an inflated price simply so they can sell it "on sale." While it is listed at $499, the Sony website has it discounted down to $399. This receiver is pretty barebones. It has 7x100 watts of amplification rated at 20Hz to 20kHz (they even list the 1kHz measurement which is 10 watts higher). It has four HDMI 1.4a inputs and one output supporting 3D and ARC. It supports the height channels of Dolby ProLogic IIz but not Audyssey DSX. Video is upconvered to 1080p via a proprietary chipset over HDMI and at 19lbs, it is the lightweight of the group. Other than that, the main claim to fame is the class leading three component inputs (tied with the Marantz). iPod support is tied to an optional dock, multizone support is tied to a wireless system that requires additional purchases, and room calibration and speaker setup is handled by the proprietary DCAC system. The upside is if you are interested in wireless speakers, the STR-DN1010 is ready out of the box. Of course, you have to use Sony's amps to get it to work but it can do it. If you have Sony components or you are interested in the integrated wireless multizone/surround solution that the Sony STR-DN1010 employs, it might be worth it. 

Harman Kardon AVR 1600

AVR 1600The HK AVR 1600 has that distinctive gray/black combination you either love or hate. As is always the case with HK ratings, the amp specs are lower than most of the competition at 50 watts per channel rated 20Hz to 20kHz. The HK specifies (like the Sherwood) discrete amplifiers which indicates more robust power. Despite the lowish power rating of the HK, it weighs in at a hefty 20.5lbs, roughly equivalent to the higher power rated Sony and Sherwood receivers. The weight of an A/V receiver, especially at this price point, is usually a good indication of how big the power supply is which is necessary for providing real power to the amplifier section to drive the loudspeakers. The AVR 1600 is the only receiver other than the Sherwood and the Yamaha which provides 7.1 channel analogue inputs for integrating legacy gear.

Unfortunately, after that, the HK AVR 1600 falls flat. It's the only receiver in the lineup without HDMI 1.4 connections. It has a disappointing three HDMI 1.3a inputs and one output. It supports all the latest HD audio decoding (DTS HD/Dolby TrueHD) but can't support 3D or ARC. It also doesn't support the newer Dobly ProLogic IIz height channels or Audyssey DSX DSPs. Networking, multizone, iPod, and Sirius/XM support are all absent as is an HDMI overlay of the menu. The EzSet/EQ proprietary room setup/correction system handles calibration of speakers and tuning of the room but upconversion to HDMI is limited to component video inputs (there are only two). While Harman's marketing on their website makes you think they support iPods, it is through a 3.5mm jack which means you'll still be controlling it from the device and not through the remote (which is what we mean by iPod support). There is a USB port though it is only for firmware updates which seems like a missed opportunity to us.

Denon AVR-791

AVR-791The Denon AVR-791 clocks in at $499 like the HK. The AVR-791 claims 90x7 watts per channel measured 20Hz to 20kHz with discrete amps. The Denon ties with the Pioneer for the fourth heaviest overall at 22.5lbs. The Denon has quite a few features you'll want including four HDMI 1.4a inputs, one output supporting 3D and ARC. Dolby ProLogic IIz height channels are on board though you'll have to use the surround back amplifiers for them - there are no pre-outs except a single one for the sub. In fact, while the AVR-791 supports height channels, surround back, and Zone 2, they all have to be powered by the same amplifiers and there are no additional speaker connections for on the fly switching. This limits how much you'll be able to grow with the receiver as your needs change. Audyssey MultEQ is on board along with Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume. This is a welcome addition and represents a pretty serious advantage over the competition so far. The lack of Audyssey DSX support is surprising but not exactly a deal breaker (unless you are really in to height/width channels).

There is no HDMI overlay of the menu system but there is 1080p upconversion of all analogue inputs to HDMI. Denon has jumped upon the "dock" bandwagon so if you want networking or wireless iPod support, you'll have to buy an accessory. There is a USB port for direct iPod control which is a nice feature. What is missing, however, is a slew of inputs. The AVR-791 has only one component video input, one each of coaxial and optical digital audio (most receivers have at least three total with some having two of each), and three composite video inputs. There is an s-video input but that is for use with their iPod dock (for getting video). If you are seriously looking at the AVR-791, make sure it has enough inputs for your needs. If everything you have is HDMI, you should be fine. If not, buy with care.

Onkyo HT-RC260

HT-RC260The Onkyo HT-RC260 represents Onkyo's commitment to out-feature the competition. They've shoehorned everything they could into their receivers and the HT-RC260 is no different. While most of the competition maxes out at four HDMI inputs, the 100 watt per channel x 7 (20Hz to 20kHz rated) HT-RC260 has an impressive six 1.4a inputs and one output with 3D and ARC. It is the only receiver with both Dolby PLIIz and Audyssey DSX. It has analogue to HDMI 1080p upconversion by Faroudja DCDi cinema, dual subwoofer outputs, and is second heaviest at 25.4lbs. It has HDMI overlay of its onscreen menu, pre-outs for Zone 2 (as well as the option to power the speakers with the internal amps), and discrete amps.

Where the Onkyo had to cut corners was in its choice of room correction. While the Audyssey 2/EQ system is perfectly respectable, it isn't as advanced as the MultEQ system of the Denon (and the Marantz as we'll see later). There are only two component video inputs (the Sony and Marantz have three), a whopping five composite (who cares?), and no s-video. Onkyo has gone with the optional dock for additional cost as an iPod integration solution plus there is no networking or Sirius/XM support. Still, for the $499 asking price, the Onkyo easily beats the rest of the field in breadth and number of features.

Pioneer VSX-30

VSX-30The Pioneer VSX-30 retails for $550 which is above where we wanted to cut this comparison off. Since Pioneer didn't have another receiver to include, we decided to keep it. This led to the inclusion of the Marantz and the Yamaha which you'll see in a second. Pioneer was one of the first to include iPod integration and the VSX-30 is no different. Not only is there a USB port and control of your iPod from the remote, but there is an included cable and a free iPod Touch/iPhone app for controlling your receiver available. The VSX-30 sports 80 watts per channel measured 20Hz to 20kHz. It has four HDMI 1.4a inputs and one output which supports 3D but not ARC. There are pre-outs for Zone 2 (which can be powered by the internal amps) and a single subwoofer. Dolby ProLogic IIz is supported, Anchor Bay VRS video processing upconverts everything to 1080p over HDMI, and Pioneer's proprietary Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration system (MCACC) handles speaker calibration and room correction. There are two component and five composite video inputs, one coaxial and two optical digital audio inputs, and a graphical user interface but no HDMI overlay.

Where the VSX-30 really shines is in the integration department. While other manufacturers are trying to get iPods to work without a dock (or they aren't, why would they when they can claim compatibility with and asterisk fooling consumers), Pioneer has "Made for iPhone" certification and an app (as already mentioned) plus Sirius/XM support and Networking. Yes, the VSX-30 is the only one at this price point that can stream radio from the Internet. While it doesn't allow you to stream from connected computers or drives (as least from what we can tell), Internet radio is better than nothing.

Yamaha RX-V667

rx-v667The Yamaha RX-V667 is tied with the Marantz for the highest price at $599 MSRP though the street price on the Yamaha is around $499 to $549. It is rated at 90 watts per channel at 20Hz to 20kHz with fully discrete amplification. The Yamaha has six 1.4a HDMI inputs and one output supporting both 3D and ARC. Yamaha's proprietary YPAO room correction system is on board but there is no support for any of the height/width channels except Yamaha's own presence channels (a technology that was available long before Dolby ProLogic IIz or Audyssey DSX). Analogue video is upconverted to 1080p over HDMI with a proprietary chipset. There are two component, five composite, and no S-video inputs on board. There is no networking or iPod support (outside of a dock which users have to buy separately, increasing the price of the receiver). The RX-V667 is the only receiver in the group to have both 7.1 channel analogue inputs for integrating legacy gear and 7.2 channel outputs for integrating an external amp. The RX-V667 is also one of the few with HDMI overlay of the menu system and HDMI bypass when the receiver is off. At 23.1lbs, the RX-V667 has respectable heft. Overall, the RX-V667 has a lot of what you'd like to see in a receiver but it is quite a bit more expensive. For the price, you are getting some extra features (HDMI overlay, 7.2 channel outputs, etc.) but you'll have to determine if these are worth the extra cost.  

Marantz NR1601

NR1601The Marantz NR1601 is both tied for the most expensive at $599 and the smallest receiver in the bunch. This "slimline" model is designed to appeal to the space conscious or simply space challenged consumer. The NR1601 sports discrete amps putting out 50 watts into 8 ohms into seven channels measured 20Hz to 20kHz. Like the Denon (it's sister company) it sports four HDMI 1.4 inputs and one output with both 3D and ARC, Audyssey MultiEQ, and Dolby ProLogic IIz. Unlike the Denon, it also includes a fair number of component video inputs (three), HDMI menu overlay, extra speaker connections for on the fly configuration changes (even though it doesn't support Zone 2), and an extra optical digital audio input (one coaxial, two optical). The Marantz doesn't support multiroom audio but it does have a front mounted USB port for iPod integration. Networking and Sirius are absent as well though all inputs can be upconverted to 1080p via HDMI. What the Marantz has really got going for it is its size. While the others are six to seven inches tall, the Marantz is barely over four. For those that are looking for a smaller solution, the Marantz is surprisingly full featured. Is it worth $50 more than the Pioneer or $100+ more than the rest especially when the Yamaha is the same price and has a lot more features? That's really up to you.

Conclusion

The fact is that your specific needs will determine which of these receivers is best for you. We found the Sherwood and Sony receivers to be the least impressive in this comparison, but flip the clocks back a year ago and these would have been class leading products. It just goes to show you how far electronics advance in just one year.  If you only want HDMI 1.4 and 3D support and have limited devices, maybe the Sherwood RD-8504 will work for you. If you desire the maximum features, the Onkyo is for you unless you can spring for the Yamaha. The Denon AVR-791 has a good breadth of features though the lack of multi channel inputs is a bit perplexing. If you are an iPhone junkie, the Pioneer surely will speak to you. The HK, the Sherwood, and the Yamaha are the only ones that have 7.1 analogue inputs so if you have legacy gear, that might make a difference. Of course, the Marantz NR1601 is the most expensive but it does have a lot of features in a very small case. The HK doesn't have a lot going for it that you can't find elsewhere in terms of features, although we suspect with the HK's heft and conservative power ratings come with a juicer amp section capable of delivering more real world power than most of the other receivers in this comparison. The street price on the HK AVR 1600 is around $399 making it an audiophiles bargain.  The Yamaha RX-V667 seems to strike the best balance between performance and features so if you can shop around and find it on sale for $499, we feel its a great pick.  The Sony STR-DN1010 has enough features for most though much of the "extras" require other Sony products and purchases. In fact, there are plenty of add-ons for nearly all of these receivers. There are Bluetooth receivers, lots of iPod docks, and even a network dock for the Denon. While we hate the idea of these (we'd rather they were integrated into the receiver) but if you, or your spouse, already has one of these receivers, we'd suggest one of the docks as a stocking stuffer. It's a lot cheaper than a new receiver and it should keep them off Amazon for a few months.

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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:

endbegin posts on November 20, 2010 00:42
anamorphic96, post: 767617
As much as you and many people would like to think there is audible differences in DAC's there isn't. Put a blindfold on and level match the signals and I guarantee you will not be able to tell a difference. DAC's are a mature technology now.

I wouldn't like to think so, so it is nice to know that it doesn't matter.

There are plenty of articles out there that say jitter can be a huge problem.
Even comparing the specs of Yamaha's receivers, say the RX-A1000 v/s the RX-A2000: For the former, the “specs” say that low-jitter PLL circuits have been used, while for the latter it says ultra-low jitter PLL circuits have been used. What is the difference between low and ultra-low in terms of hard numbers? Yamaha (other manufacturers too) doesn't say what it is. Is it just marketing hype? Is there an audible difference?

The point is that there seems to be no reliable way for the average consumer to know these things, which is what led me to this site in the first place.

Anyway, I ended up going with the RX-667. Hopefully, I can finally just enjoy the music.
anamorphic96 posts on November 19, 2010 17:20
endbegin, post: 767538
I'm curious about how to compare the DAC in say the Yamaha RX667 v/s the HK 3490 you reviewed. Both their specs are 24-bit/192 KHz but surely not all 24/192KHz's are created equal?

I do realize that the Yamaha offers much more functionality, but just from a D/A conversion point of view, how could I tell which is better?

Hope you can shed some light on this …

As much as you and many people would like to think there is audible differences in DAC's there isn't. Put a blindfold on and level match the signals and I guarantee you will not be able to tell a difference. DAC's are a mature technology now.
endbegin posts on November 19, 2010 11:31
gene, post: 767065
thanks and sorry about that. I just downloaded the user manual and confirmed their website is wrong. That's a bit disappointing but I am sure the amps are still solid in this product. Their 3490 receiver blew me away when I bench tested it.

I'm curious about how to compare the DAC in say the Yamaha RX667 v/s the HK 3490 you reviewed. Both their specs are 24-bit/192 KHz but surely not all 24/192KHz's are created equal?

I do realize that the Yamaha offers much more functionality, but just from a D/A conversion point of view, how could I tell which is better?

Hope you can shed some light on this …
anamorphic96 posts on November 18, 2010 15:55
JohnA, post: 767300
Is there a reason the Pioneer VSX-1020-K wasn't included?

Yes. Because the VSX-30 was. It's pretty much the same thing. But it's now part of the Elite line. I wouldn't read much into it though.
GranteedEV posts on November 18, 2010 15:04
Hey, I think I read that the HDMI 1.3 harman kardons have the 1.4 chipset and can be upgraded via firmware?
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