The AVForums Receivers of 2013

Soundbars may be in vogue but when it comes to surround the AVR is still king

by Steve Withers Dec 30, 2013 at 8:27 AM

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    The AVForums Receivers of 2013
    It's a sad fact that the demand for Audio Video Receivers (AVRs) has been in decline for a number of years.
    The increased popularity of soundbars and people's general aversion to multiple speakers and spaghetti like cabling has helped turn the AVR into something of a niche product. Some of the blame can rest squarely on the shoulders of the manufacturers themselves, after all the basic design of the AVR has remained largely unchanged for decades. Look at all of the AVRs on this list and most follow the classic two knob and display layout. One wonders how long it will be before a manufacturer launches an AVR with a more streamlined and modern look?

    However the manufacturers have been trying to fight back, be it through simplified setup or by dropping all those unnecessary legacy connections and thus making the rear slightly less daunting to the average consumer. We agree with both the approaches and the proliferation of Auto EQ software (ARC, Audyssey, MCACC, DCAC and YPAO) has certainly helped people get a better performance from their AVR without resorting to a tape measure and SPL meter. We're less convinced by the inclusion of so many internet features, we would rather the manufacturers concentrated on sound quality but we understand they all have to play the marketing game.

    Despite the falling sales numbers, there has never been a better time to buy an AVR. You can get a ridiculously good performance for surprisingly small outlay, with full lossless support and effective room equalisation and setup. Most AVRs also have a large number of HDMI inputs these days, making it far easier for you to connect all those different sources to your display. If you're prepared to push the boat out a little further you can add increased power and up to nine channels of amplification; there's even support for DTS Neo:X with its 11.2 channel configuration.

    So let's take a look at the AVRs that have impressed us this year, ranging from budget to fairly high-end in alphabetical order.

    Anthem MRX300
    You won’t find a better sounding receiver than the Anthem, regardless of price.

    The Anthem MRX300 might not be as pretty as some of the competition but in pure audio terms you won’t find a better sounding receiver, regardless of price. Yes the features are minimal, there are no multi-channel analogue inputs and frankly it could do with a few more HDMI ports but in the areas that matter, the MRX300 delivers the goods. The reason for this is two-fold, firstly Anthem's receivers are well designed and use effective and realistic amplification for all seven channels. Secondly the audio calibration software - Anthem Room Correction (ARC) - is second to none. The MRX300 comes with a calibrated microphone and stand and once setup, the results are astonishing both with multi-channel soundtracks and 2-channel music. At about £1,000 the MRX300 offers incredible performance and value, so awarding a Best Buy badge was a no-brainer. In the last week, Anthem have started shipping their new MRX710 and MRX510 receivers, with the MRX310 planned for release in early spring. So we’re looking forward to finding out how good the next generation is in 2014.

    Denon AVR-4520
    The Denon has 9-channels of amplification and enough power to blow you through the back wall.

    The Denon AVR-4520 is their current flagship receiver and whilst it will cost you around £2,000, it certainly delivers in terms of features, build quality and performance. The AVR-4520 is gorgeous to look at, with a beautifully engineered and machined finish. There are more connections at the rear than you could possibly use and an extensive set of features. Thanks to Audyssey MultEQ XT32, the setup is straightforward and the results in terms of room equalisation are excellent. There are also 9-channels of amplification and enough power to blow you through the back wall. If you add two more channels and a second subwoofer, you can even run a full 11.2-channel DTS Neo:X configuration - although there's currently only one film encoded in the format. The AVR-4520 delivers a lively and hugely enjoyable performance, especially with film soundtracks. Bass is well integrated and the entire sound field has cohesive and detailed presence. The AVR-4520 was awarded a Highly Recommended badge in our review because it’s a class performer from a manufacturer that really knows how to put a receiver together.

    Marantz SR7008
    The Marantz has a subtle and decidedly 'European' sound which makes it especially good with music.

    The SR7008 was only released recently and replaces last year’s SR7007 but we were glad to see that Marantz had been taking feedback on board. The new receiver retains many of the features that made the previous generation so good but now has nine channels of amplification and Audyssey MultEQ XT32. The design retains the cool round display and the excellent build quality, whilst the features are decent if not spectacular. There are plenty of connections at the rear, a well designed remote and a large display behind the drop-down flap on the front. At a price of around £1,400 the SR7008 certainly plenty of bang for your buck. Apparently the Marantz receivers are tuned in Germany which would explain a more subtle and decidedly 'European' sound which made the SR7008 especially good with music, although it could also handle multichannel soundtracks with equal aplomb. Our only real complaint was that the SR7008 was a little lacking in power but that didn’t stop us awarding a Recommended badge in our recent review.

    Onkyo TX-NR5010
    When it comes to delivering soundtracks with power and excitement there are few AVRs to compete with the Onkyo.

    The TX-NR5010 is Onkyo’s flagship receiver and as such the manufacturer has pulled out all the stops to deliver an uncompromising level of features and performance with a build quality that's second to none. Naturally this all comes at a cost and the NR5010 will set you back nearly £3,000. However if you can think of a feature the Onkyo probably has it, from nine channels of amplification to Audyssey MultEQ XT32 setup, THX certification and 11.4-channel pre-outs. There’s a wireless adapter, a Bluetooth adapter and DLNA compliance, along with internet features such as Spotify and more connections than you thought possible. There’s even a comprehensive set of video controls and 4K upscaling, although strangely no 4K pass-through. The NR5010 takes full advantage of its superb processing capabilities, audiophile components, superior construction and amplification to deliver movie soundtracks with power and excitement. There are few receivers on the market to compete with the NR5010 in this area and it deservedly picked up a Highly Recommended award in our review.

    Pioneer VSX-923
    The Pioneer might not be as powerful as the competition but makes up for it in subtlety and charm.

    The VSX-923 might well be part of Pioneer’s budget line-up but you wouldn’t think that based on its design or build quality. The front might be suitably minimalist but there’s an excellent set of connections at the rear, including 8 HDMI inputs. Setup is straightforward thanks to Pioneer’s MCACC room calibration software and the VSX-923 takes full advantage of its seven channels of amplification. The features are minimal but main areas are covered and the remote app is excellent. The built-in QDEO video processing is also excellent and includes 4K upscaling and 4K pass-through. The Pioneer might not be as powerful as some of the competition but it makes up for it in subtlety and charm. There is plenty of detail and clarity to the audio, with some precise placement of effects and pans around the room. Overall it made for an exciting and lively sound field and the more graceful delivery also meant that the VSX-923 paid dividends with two-channel music. Not bad for £449 and a deserved winner of a Recommended award in our review.

    Sony STR-DA5800
    The Sony has an attractive and effective user interface that makes setup and use far easier.

    The DA5800 certainly looks different from the competition, with a rather busy facia that might seem intimidating to AVR neophytes but thankfully the user interface is one of the best. It makes setup and use far easier and Sony’s proprietary Digital Cinema Auto Calibration (DCAC) software does a great job of optimising the sound. The DA5800 cost around £2,000 but for that you get nine channels of amplification and rear connections that are the very definition of comprehensive. There’s even four LAN ports so the receiver can act as a digital hub. There are extensive features and even video services like BBC iPlayer and Sony’s Entertainment Network, along with a highly effective remote app. In terms of audio performance the DA5800 was excellent, delivering an expansive and well defined soundstage. Movie soundtracks were handled very well, with superb localisation of effects, genuinely effective bass and a lively presence that resulted in an immersive surround experience. The DA5800 was equally as assured with music, providing a delightfully subtle and nuanced performance that earned it a Highly Recommended Award in our review.

    Yamaha RX-A1020
    The Yamaha delivered a precise and detailed sound which was highly effective with film soundtracks.

    The A1020 follows the standard AVR design but its clean lines and choice of two tone finish make for an attractive looking receiver. At around £1,000 it sits in the middle of the price range but the build quality is excellent and Yamaha don’t skimp on the features. There are extensive connections at the rear and a well designed menu system that makes setup easy. The A1020 has seven channels of amplification, along with internet features, Apple’s AirPlay and an effective remote app. There’s also some excellent video capabilities and even 4K pass-through for a degree of future-proofing. Yamaha’s Parametric Acoustic Optimiser (YPAO) does an effective job of analysing and calibrating the sound for your room and the results were excellent. As is often the case with a Yamaha receiver, the A1020 is precise and detailed, resulting in genuine authority with multi-channel film soundtracks. However, whilst it could deliver a surprisingly nuanced performance with well-recorded music, it could occasionally sound clinical. However the A1020’s combination of looks, build quality, features and performance earned it a Highly Recommended award in our review.

    So there you have it, our favourite AVRs for 2013. We appreciate there are probably some that we have missed but we can only review a finite number in a year. However, perhaps you feel your AVR is vastly superior and should be on this list, if so tell us all about it in the thread below.

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