Receiver Suggestions


I know that each person has their own preference with receivers, but I need a starting point, so any help would be greatly appreciated.

Here is my setup currently:

Sony STR-DE685 Receiver, nothing special, but it does the job.

Onkyo SKS-HT500 speakers, once again, nothing top of the line, but the best for their price bracket from what I hear.

I've had this for a bit, and now I'm ready to start thinking and researching upgrading.

What I will probably do is upgrade the receiver, then peice by peice replace the speakers.

I want a receiver that is truely for the all around user. I love watching DVD's on my system, so I'm a big HT fan. But at the same time, I'm just as big of a fan, if not a little bit more, to listening to music. For music, I listen to lots of types. I mainly listen to Classic Rock, Hard Rock, Techno, and Classical music. For the ouputs, I would like to have 6.1 surround if possible without selling a kidney on teh black market, but I am content with settling for 5.1.

I like my music loud and clear. If there is any way to describe it, think of it this way. When you are watching a movie, and the person puts on the stereo, and you can tell them completely removed all other sound tracks except for the music. Thats what I like to hear. A perfect example is in Pulp Fiction, when John Travolta picks up the girl for the date, and he is waiting in her living room, and turns on the music, and it cuts out all other sound.

If anyone can imagine what I am talking about, then I tip my hat to them. I would rather have accurate reproduction of sound than anything else.

For the receiver, I am looking to spend less then 500 dollars, and am willing to buy receivers used, and previous year's models. But if it will really make a difference in giving me the sound I want, I can probably spend up to 800ish.

Essentially what I am looking for in a reply is a starting point, I know everyone needs to go demo the receivers, but I am very busy, so I would like to weed it down to a few receivers first, to cut time off of my demo session.

Thank you for any help.

By the way, I know most people disagree with me on this, but I dont care, this is my personal preference, to each man his own.

With music (and only music, when it comes to HT, i want good imaging) when it comes t sound stging, I dont care about being able to distinguish where each instument is playing nearly as much as i want room filling sound coming from all directions. I'm the type of person that when I was 10, had an old old Kenwood receiver, with stereo, and I hooked up 4 speakers to the 2 speaker outputs, and placed them all around me. I'm also the person that pumps up the volume on my rear speakers, even tho everyone tells me not to.

Give a listen to Denon's 1804, 1803 or Onkyo's 701. Most receivers in the $500 and up range differ in absolute power and features more than sound.

Try to find the features you need - connectivity, decoding, remote etc. Then try to find reviews of the equipment. The reviews may reveal ergonomic quirks of the equipment and which manufacturers are fudging thier numbers.

You will probably notice that receivers from $150 to $1200 are all rated at 100 watts per channel. If you look closely at the specs of the receivers, some (Sony, Pioneer, Aiwa) only go down to 40 Hz. Some have rated power at 1% distortion. Most are rated with only 2 channels driven and incredably most are rated to only 20KHz. Dolby Digital can do just below 100 KHz. There isn't much sound up there but why throw away 75% of your musical potential. Some even require that the speakers impedence be at 8 ohms and above - even for just 2 speakers.

This will probably limit you to only 4 or 5 receivers. Don't worry about price unless it's out of your range - if you find one receiver for $399 that does everything you want and another for $799, don't automatically assume the $799 receiver is better. You may just have a deal staring you in the face. Finally give them a listen with music and DVDs you know well. The technical stuff above will just prevent you from making a mistake. The final listening should be what you base your final decision upon.

Other brands have thier advantages and disadvantages. I will give you my oppinion (and this is only MY oppinion).

HK: The good - They meet thier specs, wideband amps, multiroom provisions. The bad - a tiny bit more expensive on a feature by feature basis.

Yamaha: The good - They have a very long history in the DSP world. The bad - noisy. I owned a Yamaha about 10 years ago and the back channels where very noisy. I was shocked that a recent Sound and Vision magazine article still listed this as a problem.

Kenwood: The good - Very good price for the features. They were one of the first affordable THX and video convering reveivers at reasonable prices. The bad - nothing realy. People aren't giving them the respect they deserve for thier efforts.

NAD: The good - easy to use. They beat thier specs. NAD (and to a lessor extent Proton, Carver and Soundcraftsmen) has produced amps with VERY high dynamic power, sometimes 4 times the rated contiuous power. They have also produced soft clipping amps that are sound mucical even when abused and good FM tuners. The bad - back and forth quality and a little hard to find.

Marantz and Arcam: The good - Very musical. Near McIntosh mechanical quality. The bad - A little expensive and hard to find.

Rotel: The good - Very musical. Easy to use. The bad - a little hard to find.

JVC, Panasonic, Sony: The good - they come with cool remotes. The bad - not very musical. Sometimes a little hard to use.

Pioneer and Sherwood: The good - $90 to $150 can get you in the door. The bad - Not very musical.

Onkyo and Denon: The good - Very good features. Musical. Reasonablly priced. The bad - none realy.

That's my two cents (here comes the hate mail). Good luck on your quest and I hope this helps.

See and the associated sites for reviews.

Alford Holland
I almost agree with Derek. Generally speaking I have found that most receivers do a good job with HT and only a few can do good stereo or multi channel music. I think that this is because most people use a DVD player for music. A dedicated CD player is best in my opinion. My experience with Denon has been totally unsatisfactory with HT and music. Kenwood is one of the best with HT but lacking with music. HK (more expensive models) seem to sound better with music but not so good with HT. Rotel excells in both. Onkyo good with both. Panasonic is excellent HT and not musical.

Again, audition as many as possible and buy what sounds best to you.
Please send all hate mail to Derek as he started this.

I do agree with Alford that music is where you really hear the differences and if you find a receiver that does well on music, it will do fine on HT. You really should audition receivers, and become knowledgeable about the different sounds each manufacturer aims to produce. It will affect your choice in speakers when you decide to upgrade them later.


I disagree with your assessment of the Onkyo and Denon receivers. I have a Denon, and like the Onkyos I was comparing it to, they are great on HT, but I have been very disappointed in my Denon's musical capabilities. Both are a bit "dry" sounding, which is great for HT but not as enjoyable for good music. I strongly recommend either one for someone who tells me they are doing 90% HT, but not if someone listens to a lot of music. Nonetheless, you are spot on with Yamaha. I still have a 20+ year old Yamaha (with the "sliderule" tuner!) that I use in my garage and it sounds better than any Yamaha I have heard for the past 10 years.

Hawk, you are right about the Denons vs Onkyo. Denon must be doing something right. You have one and I have TWO. I too would have prefered an Onkyo but at the time the Onkyos in my price range (the 600) didn't have two VCR loops like most receivers these day.

The Onkyo had wider bandwidth on the front channels, wider bandwidth on the Component video switcher etc... Oh well.

Oh, yeah... Thanks for backing me up there Alford ;)

Alford Holland
Derek, Hawk,
I was wasting time on Saturday and went to a local high end shop that has been in business for about 60 years. They take some trades ( take is probably correct as I doubt they invest many $ on a trade).
They have an old Yamaha, 90 watts I believe, and I can't remember the model. The cabinet was wood and the channel and tuning meters were on the front. Probably mid to late 70's vintage. I wanted but was afraid I would buy if I asked the price.
I can remember owning a like or similar Yamaha in the 70's. I had to use my wife as collateral to buy it and then could only afford very poor sounding speakers. I still like the old Marantz, Yamaha, Onkyo, Sansui, etc. better than any new receiver for music.
I better close for now before I reveal my age.
Happy listening to all.

Peter C
If you're more into music than HT, Marantz is the way to go. Price wise, you won't find any other hi-end brand in the bracket you're looking at with the same functions and power. Yamaha and Denon are really good for HT, but lack some musicality compared to Marantz. Just go to a shop that sells Marantz, Denon and Yamaha and do an A/B comparison. Don't forget to bring your favourite CDs

I'm younger than you might think but I've owned Dynanco, Fisher, Sansui, Kenwood (Quad), Ampex and Sony tube reel-to-reals, Carver, PS Audio, Clubmen, Soundcraftsmen, AR, ADS, Technics, Pioneer, Yamaha, Celestian, Sherwood, ADS a lot of Sony, BIC etc.

There used to be a place in Chicago on north Clark called The Saturday Audio Exchange that I did a lot of business with but this is back in the days of MusiCraft and Playback.

Whoo, that takes me back...

John Allen
I have the same priorities as Anonymous ( first post; second must be a different anonymous?). For music AND HT, or either separately, I am delighted with my NAD T760, even if it is now replaced with the T752. NAD has really, really great clarity and tons of power, more than the spec suggests (5 x 60W for T760; 5 X 80 W for the T752). Good sound has lasting value. On two-channel stereo , the NAD sounds like a top audiophile-grade product to me. And all 5 NAD output channels (or 6 for the T762) have the same output. Perhaps this is why DTS sounds so good. Try a DVD-audio at 24/96 in DTS for a new sound experience. Good DVD players (I have an NAD T532) will do that, no problem.

Yes, the Pulp Fiction scene conveys how great sound feels. When I say "audiophile-grade", of course, I don't have the income of Travolta's date, or her boyfriend. Btw she/he used a full-size, analogue, reel-to-reel tape player, I recall. I don't remember the brand... The scene might have been just as convincing if they'd used a serious turntable, instead, and Travolta had put on an LP. For me, powering up a Sony HT system would not have hit the spot.

It's black, so it's not and Akai or Sony. It's probably a TEAC or a Studer/Revox.


I used to have one those receivers, too. Sounds like a Yamaha RX-620 (which I had) or an 820, from circa 1978. Very sweet receiver.


You might be surprised to learn that Saturday Audio Exchange is still around, although they have moved from North Clark, I believe. They have two stores and I have been recommending them to people who want NAD. Nice people.


You are so right about Marantz being better than Denon or Yamaha. I have a Denon now and the Marantz is so much more musical, especially if you get a 7300 or higher. But, it still isn't as smooth or musical as the NADs.

I have found musical nirvana--an NAD receiver driving Magnepans. Problem is, I just can't afford it right now.

Hey guys (I'm the original poster).

Thanks for all of your help, I've alloted some time to go down to a local dealer and test out the Denon's, the NAD's, the Onkyo, and whatever the person also recomends.

I have a question, you say that the NAD's have great clarity, but the problem is their build quality. Is this so much of an issue that it should advert me from buying one?

John Allen
NAD build quality. I had the right power amp stage go down on an NAD T760 recently but the dealer fixed it in a week under guarantee. They said the output cable had come away from one speaker contact. That model is a couple of years old. Otherwise it is built like a tank. I would not worry, especially if you are buying new.

I think John is right--NAD is no worse than anyone else right now. Nine months ago, this forum was covered with posts from people who had purchased Onkyo 500s and 600s which had some problems, but nobody suggests that Onkyo has a reliability problem. These receivers are becoming so complicated that it is not unusual for there to be a software glitch, but the manufacturer usually solves the problem and issues a fix.

I have checked with three different NAD dealers that I know and they have all been very pleased by the reliability of the current lineup of receivers. These are all dealers who have been in business for a long time and they aren't going to continue to sell a product with reliability problems.
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