You need a new AVR, but you aren’t sure which one is really going to deliver the rich sound you’re after. Do you spend $200 and live with it? With all of the features, it can get dizzying. I’ll try to break it down in a simple way, and show you some solid performers that would be on my short list.
The heart of your system is your AVR, or Audio Video Receiver. If you are going to put together a great sounding system, you need a decent AVR. Wattage is not as important as you would think, but you do want low THD and you want to look at the 2 channel 8 ohm specs, keeping in mind this only with 2 channels driven, so if you’re driving 5 channels, or even 11 channels, this number gets divided up. If you’re looking at 6 ohm or 4 ohm numbers, or single channel numbers, they will be higher than the 8 ohm 2 channel numbers.
I have a Denon X2000, and while they have newer amps that are better, it works very well and does not seem over taxed (I would have preferred an amp with pre-outs for external amplifiers). If I was driving large full range speakers like the Ultra Towers I’d want to go with more power. The Prime Towers work with my AVR just fine, but will also handle more power. I send most of my low frequencies to the subwoofers, taking load off of the AVR.
Something you want to look for is Audyssey or similar room correction. Audyssey is a microphone setup that tunes your amplifier to your room. It adjusts individual speaker volume and delay, which gives a really nice sound when it’s all set up right. The sound is richer without sounding too adulterated.
**Note that you may need to turn the subwoofer volume on the AVR up (not on the sub) after running Audessey, and you may want to make adjustments to crossover as it almost always sets it too low, but all in all it does a good job.***In some cases you may need to turn the subs down, so expect to make adjustments for your tastes.
It’s not perfect, but it sets the levels up pretty good. You may want to look at the Audessey page for a list of manufacturers that use their technology. Denon was the first. Note that there are also varying levels of Audessey, and my unit has one of the cheaper iterations. “Generally” the more money you spend on an AVR the better you will get, but do your research.
Here’s a video:
Generally speaking, an AVR under the $400 range is going to be a little less than ideal, but you will probably notice more benefit by spending money on subwoofers and drivers, and surprise surprise, I would upgrade the subwoofer first. The THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) tends to creep up, and I personally look for .09 or lower. They are getting better, but beware of sub $400 receivers with high wattage ratings. Again, those are usually measured in 4 or 6 ohm.
I’m sure there are and will be a few exceptions, but it’s a good general guideline. It’s a pain to trudge through all of the specifications, so I gathered together some decent units below. I would also place a priority on pre-amp outputs, found on X3200 and better, if there is any chance that you might want to add external amps later on.
Here are some amps that I think are worth looking at, and their newer versions should be worth looking at too:
All AVR’s above have “object based” surround, Atmos and DTS:X, and a few will have the option to upgrade to Auro 3D for a fee. Getting the next in series, like the x4300 vs the X4200, should be a step up, in that case gaining more channels. I personally went with the X6200.
Getting an upgraded model is usually good, in an attempt to future proof, but these are the minimum quality AVR’s I would consider. There are many other brands like Anthem, Yamaha, Onkyo, Integra, and a few others. I was going to try to go Onkyo, but they did not have a 9.2 channel AVR that met my needs, which include all 3 “Object Based” surround formats.
There are also separates, like Preamps/Processors (pre/pro) and amps, but that’s a whole different can of worms that I can’t intelligently speak to. I have a desire to keep it simple and less expensive, though I may add a 5 channel external amp down the road, something like the Outlaw 5000, which is rated at 120 watts per channel, ALL CHANNELS DRIVEN, putting out more power altogether than the most expensive AVR on this page.
Again, I send most of my low frequency signals (the signals that need the most power) to the subwoofers by running all of my speakers as “Small” and a crossover of at least 80 hertz. I look for functionality first. Good room correction? Can I add more power? Object based formats? How many channels do I need? The power I get is whatever comes with the AVR that handles my needs.
I didn’t buy the X6200 because it’s rated at 140 watts, I bought it because it had on board amplification for 9 channels, had the object based formats I wanted (Atmos/DTS:X/option for Auro 3D), and allowed me to add more power if I want/need it for up to 11 channels, allowing 7.2.4. The SR-7010 has less power, but it did a great job too. I just couldn’t live with the display.