10 Best Receivers | March 2017
- features accueq music calibration
- dynamic audio reproduction
- user interface feels clunky
- plays most audio file types
- low distortion at all volume levels
- energy efficient eco mode
- multi-zone fuctionality
- 60 fps hd video pass-through
- uses dolby atmos
- can control it with smart devices
- 8 hi-def inputs
- a natural sound with a spacious feel
- powerful dynamic amps
- integrated wi-fi connectivity
- apple airplay compatible
- easy to navigate user interface
- multi-room audio with musiccast
- auto ypao sound optimization
- giga ethernet hub with 8 ports
- fully 4k compliant
- best choice for audiophiles
The Heart Of Your Entertainment
When I was in school in Virginia, my dad let me use his beat up old 1991 Honda Civic hatchback to get around. It was a great car, despite appearances. The big problem with it, though, was the engine. White smoke intermittently spewed out the tailpipe, the engine massively overheating.
You see, your audio receiver is a lot like the engine of your theater or sound system. That makes whatever input device you use–be it a DVD, CD, Blu-Ray, TV box, Roku, etc.–kind of like your gasoline.
Your receiver takes that incoming signal and amplifies it and redirects it out through a surround system that you've hopefully set up. That redirection can split the incoming audio signals into a few different sound maps, in part based on the data coming into the receiver from the source.
If a video game, for example, is designed with Dolby 6.1 surround, you could actually hear the sound of an enemy sneaking up behind you in the center rear speaker, so it actually sounds like they're behind you. That's because 6.1 translates to a seven speaker setup: center, center-right, and center-left are all in front of you, right and left are literally beside you, and a rear center speaker lives centered behind you. The seventh speaker is the subwoofer indicated by the .1 in Dolby-speak.
If the audio input doesn't support that kind of mapping (maybe it's an old DVD with only 5.1 data available), you'll still hear audio coming out of all speakers including the rear, but it won't create that three-dimensional environment as realistically.
Surround Yourself With Quality
We spoke for a moment there about surround sound, and, among audio receivers, the availability of different surround formats is crucial to your selection. There's a caveat here, however, as it isn't quite as simple as just spending more money to get more quality.
If Dolby is the only name that comes to mind when you think of surround sound, you're missing out on a format that actually has better specs across the board than the king of the hill does. I'm talking about Digital Theater Systems, or DTS. DTS uses a much higher bit rate in their compression algorithm, which dedicates a lot more data space to the dynamic range and channel discretion of your audio.
Think of the bit rate of a given audio signal as its room to breathe. If an audio signal were a puppy and you wanted to transport it in an airplane, you'd want to put it in as big a cage as you were allowed to bring on board, wouldn't you? Well, DTS offers a cage for your puppy roughly three and a half times the size of the cage that Dolby offers, so your audio signal has more room to stretch out and display its nuances, to show off lower lows, and higher highs, and to place specific sounds around the room with more precision.
Now, it's safe to say that most audio receivers on the market support DTS, though some are built with DTS in mind over Dolby, and these receivers will work more fluidly with the data. The issue that arises here is that there's not as much DTS source audio available, so even if you spend the extra cash on the best hardware and software combination to make the most out of your DTS experience, that experience might not even be available to you.
In my opinion, it's better to have a receiver with the best DTS and Dolby platform options, so that you can get the most out of whichever format you have in hand.
War Begets Audio
It was primarily US soldiers returning from the battles of WWII who began the audio revolution. A number of fighting men learned electronics and radio operations in the war, and many others took advantage of the GI bill to get themselves a legitimate education in the field. A lot of the audio innovations through the 40s, 50s, and 60s, came at the hands of these vets.
Spurned on by the musical revolutions occurring from the birth of rock through to the musical rebellion fueled by the war in Vietnam, a new generation of music lovers began demanding more from their listening experience by the mid to late 60s. Here you see the advent of the stereo store. Where previously, radio stores sold parts for their tinkering hobbyist customers, now you had customers coming in and demanding systems outfitted with certain technologies.
One of these pieces, the centerpiece, actually, of these systems, was the audio receiver. These were analogue amplification devices that usually fed only two speakers or a set of headphones, and the sound quality was greatly determined by the quality of the wiring, all the way up to the arrival of digital audio on the consumer stage in the 1980s.
Fortunately, that audio advancement didn't require a war to gain momentum, though the battle between Dolby and DTS is pretty close.