Years ago, I crossed swords with the editor-in-chief of a magazine that covered tech only in passing. His deputy editor took me aside, and a reflective look came into his eyes as he explained why his distinguished boss hated my work: "There's a kind of hardheaded practicality to him, and the whizbang stuff you write just leaves him cold. High-end cars he understands, but not high-end audio, and he wants you to convince him that this stuff is really worth paying good money for." Ever since then, I've tried to recognize that hardheaded practicality when I run across it—especially in readers.
Back in the misty days when 2-channel stereo was still an exciting new format and tubes ruled the land, Sherwood was a brand name to be reckoned with. Together with such companies as Harman/Kardon, Fisher, Marantz, and McIntosh, Sherwood was instrumental in launching the American hi-fi industry on a path that would culminate in today's high-end audio gear—grist for our sister publication, Stereophile.
The STR-DA9000ES is Sony's entry in what has become a new trend in home theater: receivers that seriously challenge separate components. That challenge is extended not only in features and performance, but in size as well. Many of these new behemoths equal the sheer bulk of more than a few preamplifier-processor and amplifier combinations.
Being a big electronics company and not having a $1,000 A/V receiver is a little like being a big car company and not having a car around $20,000 to $25,000. It's that key middle ground that you hope will ultimately help transition people from your entry level to your high-end level. It's also one of the first levels where people expect something well beyond the basics, and the competition to provide it, and grab those extra dollars, is stiff.
The sound goes round and round and comes out here.
The 2004 Home Entertainment East Show was chock full of cool, new high-tech goodies, but I found myself returning again and again to the Arcam/Gallo Acoustics room. This was all the more surprising because I'm pretty familiar with Arcam's uncommonly elegant electronics and Gallo's radically round speakers, but they were demoing the Drumline DVD at realistically loud levels, and the choreographed thunder of competing marching bands was huge, dynamically alive, and tons of fun. A week after the show, I was still reminiscing about the sound. I made some phone calls, worked out some scheduling and shipping details, and now I'm sitting here exploring the system's capabilities in my very own home theater. Let me tell ya, the spectacular sound I heard at the show wasn't a hallucination; the Arcam/Gallo combination is good. . .really good.
New Acoustic Dimensions, aka NAD, has been building reliable, affordable, good-sounding audio equipment for well over a quarter of a century. Anecdotal evidence: My NAD 7225PE receiver, 20+ years old, is still working perfectly as the heart of my garage workshop audio system.
A cross between a torque-driven Datsun Z and a rev-happy Mazda RX was the first thing I thought of when I read the model designation of Yamaha's new flagship receiver: RX-Z9. I wasn't far off. This baby is a beast of a receiver with enough horse under the hood to drag you kicking and spitting into a 21st-century home theater beyond reproach. The list of standard features is as long as a dragster's tailpipes, but starting with the 170W to each of seven primary channels (and another 50W for two Presence channels), Yamaha's intentions are quite clear: This is all the receiver you need!
In a previous lifetime, the Sharp SD-PX2 was probably a too-cool 1940s Bakelite radio—boxy, plastic, and proud of it. The SD-PX2 DVD/receiver is a certifiable forward-thinker. Utilizing Sharp's 1-Bit digital amplifier technology, the streamline SD-PX2 packs a DVD player and receiver into a stand-up chassis that, at only 4.5 inches deep, wouldn't look out of place on a bedside stand.
The most reliable guide to power ratings isn't the specs provided by the manufacturers but the measurements made by our technical editor. He follows the mandates of the Federal Trade Commission in measuring power output and distortion with all channels continuously driven (along with a less-demanding two-channel spec). When objective third-party measurements aren't available, here's a quick-and-dirty means of sorting high-power receivers from the junk: Just feel the weight. Aside from the nefarious inclusion of useless lead weights, more pounds indicate either the presence of a heavier power supply or a heavier, more-sturdy chassis—ideally, both. All things being equal, with conventional amplifiers, you don't need expensive test gear to figure out that a 50-pound model is likely to play louder and cleaner than a 15-pound lightweight, even if both are rated at 100 watts per channel.
This receiver's front panel is black but sets itself apart with a high-gloss finish and Pioneer's traditional (and rather attractive) amber display. It doesn't depend excessively on the jog dial. To the left, above the jog dial, are buttons labeled "music" and "movies," which make it easy to switch between Dolby Pro Logic II's music and movie modes (there's no IIx). To the right are buttons that choose the external line inputs for a universal player, select modes for the room EQ (including off), and bypass the tone controls for direct stereo playback. Touching any button on the remote activates red-orange backlighting.
If you're shopping for a deal, you might find one on this stylish two-tone receiver. Its list price is not the lowest in this group. Search the Internet, though, and you'll find good deals on the AVR 630 from authorized dealers. (To make sure you buy from an authorized dealer, with a valid warranty, check the "where to buy" page at www.harmankardon.com.) The street-price differential between the AVR 630 and the others in this roundup is many hundreds of dollars. For some, that may prove to be the deciding factor.
This feature-laden receiver conceals its gifts behind a basic black exterior. There's nothing unusual about the plain white fluorescent display, volume and jog dials, or flip-down panel that conceals most of the buttons. Denon's one original touch is a set of navigation controls behind the hinged panel that follow the same layout as those on the remote (up/down/left/right, with the enter button in the center).
If you've got $5,000 to spend, we've got five great systems to show you.
It's tough being a consumer in the home theater market these days. You want eye-popping visuals and earth-shattering sound, but sometimes the only eye popping and earth shattering that occurs is when you find out the prices of some A/V systems. Never fear. We at Home Theater hear your cries for a powerful system that won't give your wallet a beating, and we understand. That's why we've gathered our top minds and put together five excellent home theater systems that cost around $5,000. Loudspeakers, universal disc players, HDTVs, projectors, and screens—you name it, we've got you covered. So take a peek over the next few pages, and see the systems for yourself. With all the money you'll save by purchasing the systems we've shown you, you'll be able to spend a little extra to upgrade your wire, cable, and interconnects—and maybe even purchase a sexy stand to hold your new gear. You definitely deserve it.
Last fall, the editors of Home Theater beat a path to our industry's CEDIA Expo to see and be seen, as we do every year. This time around, we were surprised by the opportunity to witness the bona fide evolution of entertainment gear. We learned the names of three manufacturers (and so will you) whose creations—each multizone-friendly and high-end in its own fashion—bring next-generation features to the home theater and beyond. At press time, these products were still too new for a full hands-on review, so we'll share what we do know thus far.
A receiver that listens to the room sounds better.
Home theater has its sweet spots. In the surround sound arena, the slickest compromise between "in a box" basics and "cost no object" indulgences would have to be the $999 A/V receiver. History tells us that Yamaha has a long track record of hitting this target with one best-selling model after another. So the RX-V2400 comes with a distinguished pedigree—and THX Select certification—even without the ground-breaking addition of automatic equalization. There's nothing new in the concept of using equalization to correct flaws in room acoustics. Custom installers have been using carefully tweaked EQ for years. What's new is that the idea has trickled down from custom home theaters to bleeding-edge preamp/processors to the humble receiver.