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A Guide for “Future Proof”, “Bang for Buck” AV Receivers

Shopping for an AV Receiver or Pre-amp/Processor can be confusing. There are so many features, it can be difficult to sort through all of the details and keep it all straight!

Last week, I posted a write up on The Current State of DTS:X and Atmos Receivers. That editorial focused largely on models capable of using 9 or 11 speakers. In my opinion, when Immersive Audio is the priority, it is necessary to use at least 9 speakers for an optimal experience.

But there are two phrases that come up very often when AV Rant Listeners ask us for advice regarding AV Receivers and Pre-Pros: “Future proof”, and “Bang for buck”.

The industry is currently in a transition phase to new audio and video standards. If you want your new AV Receiver to be “future proof”, that means having the ability to support these new A/V formats. And when you get that support at the lowest price, there’s your “bang for buck”!

This write up will focus on 7 speaker models that are as “future proof” as possible while listing some of their other features that will hopefully allow you to determine exactly what you want at the lowest price possible.

The new standards in question are Immersive Audio – in the forms of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X – and UltraHD Video – which includes 3840 x 2160p resolution at up to 60 fps (Frames Per Second) with HDR (High Dynamic Range), WCG (Wide Color Gamut) and 10-bit (as opposed to 8-bit) signals – which requires a new HDMI standard (HDMI 2.0a) and a new copy protection standard (HDCP 2.2).

Most people quickly grasp the new HDMI and HDCP standards as necessities for being “future proof”. But a lot of people declare that they have no interest in adding speakers on their ceiling, or speakers that fire upward to reflect sound off of their ceiling. And thus, they question whether Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are really something worth worrying about. But there is more to these Immersive Audio formats than just overhead speakers. Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are mixed in a new way. Rather than sounds being mixed directly into speaker channels, sound are instead treated as “objects”. These sound objects are not tied directly to any given speaker position. Instead, they exist as a set of co-ordinates, and it becomes the job of the Dolby Atmos or DTS:X decoder to decide which speakers are utilized. Furthermore, it is possible for each sound object to be manipulated independently from all the other sounds.

Even if you only use 5.1 speakers, object-based audio allows for things like adjusting the volume of the dialogue completely independently from all the other sounds, or choosing which announcers you want to hear during a sporting event – flip between the home and away announcers on the fly, or turn them off completely – that sort of thing. Those features will require these new Atmos and DTS:X decoders. So even for 5.1 systems, there’s potentially some value in being able to handle Atmos and DTS:X.

Two other considerations are whether you have any analogue video sources and whether you would like the option of using separate amplification in the future. If you have any analogue component or composite video sources, it’s nice to be able to convert those to HDMI inside the Receiver so that you only need to run a single HDMI cable from the Receiver to your TV. And if you’d like the option to be able to use separate amps in the future, you’ll need to make sure the Receiver you buy has pre-outs.

Lastly, some people would like to keep all of their sources in one place, connected to their AV Receiver. But they would still like to be able to hear those sources in another room, or perhaps out on the patio. Having a “Zone 2” connection allows you to send a 2-channel audio signal to a second room.

 

In 2015, Denon and Marantz have kept things very simple:

– every 2015 model that has 7 or more speaker channels supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X

– every 2015 model supports HDMI 2.0a with HDCP 2.2 on every single HDMI port

– every 2015 model has Audyssey room correction

 

When we look at the lineups of the other major mass market AV Receiver brands, they simply don’t stack up:

– Pioneer and Pioneer Elite have not announced a single model that supports DTS:X

– Yamaha’s least expensive model that supports DTS:X is the $1200 RX-A1050

– Onkyo and Integra have several 7 speaker models, but feature-for-feature, Denon and Marantz are less expensive. Plus, Onkyo and Integra have included HDCP 2.2 support on only some of their HDMI ports, not all. And their room correction program called AccuEQ is extremely basic, and frankly, better left unused!

 

To be very clear, we have no particular allegiance to Denon and Marantz. The situation could easily change in just a few months or a year. Manufacturers are constantly leap frogging one another on features and price. But right now, Denon and Marantz are offering the most “future proof” models at the best prices with the most compelling feature sets. That’s a winning combination! So let’s break down what they have to offer:

 

Model: Denon AVR-S710W
Amazon Price: $479
Pre-outs?: Subwoofers only
Audyssey: MultEQ
Convert analogue video to HDMI?: No
# of HDMI ports: 6 in (1 front)/ 1 out
Zone 2: Assign Surround Back speaker terminals

 

Model: Denon AVR-S910W
Amazon Price: $579
Pre-outs?: subwoofers only
Audyssey: MultEQ
Convert analogue video to HDMI?: Yes
# of HDMI ports: 8 in (1 front)/ 2 out
Zone 2: Assign Surround Back speaker terminals

 

Model: Denon AVR-X1200W
Amazon Price: $599
Pre-outs?: subwoofers only + Zone 2
Audyssey: MultEQ XT
Convert analogue video to HDMI?: No
# of HDMI ports: 6 in (1 front)/ 1 out
Zone 2: Pre-outs or assign Surround Back speaker terminals

 

Model: Denon AVR-X2200W
Amazon Price: $756
Pre-outs?: subwoofers only + Zone 2
Audyssey: MultEQ XT
Convert analogue video to HDMI?: Yes
# of HDMI ports: 8 in (1 front)/ 2 out
Zone 2: Pre-outs or assign Surround Back speaker terminals

 

Model: Denon AVR-X3200W
Amazon Price: $999
Pre-outs?: Full 7.2 + Zone 2
Audyssey: MultEQ XT
Convert analogue video to HDMI?: Yes
# of HDMI ports: 8 in (1 front)/ 2 out
Zone 2: Independent 2nd HDMI output, Pre-outs, or assign Surround Back speaker terminals

 

Model: Marantz Slimline NR1606
Amazon Price: $699
Pre-outs?: Front L/R & subwoofers only + Zone 2
Audyssey: MultEQ
Convert analogue video to HDMI?: Yes
# of HDMI ports: 8 in (1 front)/ 1 out
Zone 2: Pre-outs or assign Surround Back speaker terminals

 

Model: Marantz SR5010
Amazon Price: $899
Pre-outs?: Full 7.2 + Zone 2
Audyssey: MultEQ XT
Convert analogue video to HDMI?: Yes
# of HDMI ports: 8 in (1 front)/ 2 out
Zone 2: Pre-outs or assign Surround Back speaker terminals

 

If Immersive Audio is a priority, have a look at the 9 and 11 speaker models detailed in the previous editorial. But if “future proof” and “bang for buck” are what you’re after, these are your best options.

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