Budget Receiver Shootout!

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by StevenK, May 23, 2002.

  1. StevenK

    StevenK Second Unit

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    I've recently had the fortune to demo several low to mid range receivers in my house. I was running an Onkyo 676 and wanted to upgrade to get the latest features. I started out with the H/K 520, moved on to the Yamaha HTR-5560, borrowed a Sony DE-1085 for a few days, and just got the Pioneer VSX-D811S in 3 days ago. The H/K and Sony is gone, so I can really only do a true direct comparison between the Pioneer, Yammie, and good ole Onkyo. I hope this would be of interest to some people, because not quite all of us can afford a Outlaw 950/770 combo [​IMG] I also notice that people then to be very bias towards their own receiver when giving a newbie or not so newbie buying advice...so I'll try my best to be objective, as I haven't really settled on any one receiver. But I'm sure some bias will show through.
    I know people have different priorities for choosing receivers, so I'll try to break it down into smaller sections. I'm a movie person and rarely sit down to listen to an entire CD from beginning to end (I usually do chores around the house or whatever...), so I'll try to not throw terms like "it widens the soundstage dramatically." For true sonic performance, the only reliable judge is your ear. So I'll try to make this more a comparison of features, ergonomics, etc....
    My setup is as follows:
    Fronts: NHT 2.5i
    Center: NHT AC-1
    Sides: HTD Level3
    Rear: HTD Level3
    DVD: X-Box
    Price (shipped to N. Cali)
    Onkyo TX-DS676 $359 refurbed from Ubid
    Harman Kardon AVR520 - $627 from Onecall.com
    Yamaha HTR-5560 - $359 from JandR.com
    Pioneer VSX-811S - $317 from BSLess.com
    Sony DE-1085 - $566 from local BestBuy
    Build Quality Impressions
    1 – Onkyo. Built like tank. Thick Aluminum fascia.
    2 – Yamaha
    3 – Pioneer
    4 – Harman Kardon
    5 – Sony
    2-Channel Music (no sub, using the receiver's DAC. All 5 had a direct pass-through mode though).
    1 – Onkyo – What can I say…I just prefer the sound of Onkyo. Very neutral, solid bass, defined highs. I like it.
    2 – Yamaha – A little brighter than the Onkyo, but not harsh.
    3 – Harman Kardon – At first I thought it was warm and smooth…but after a month, I felt it was a little too warm and colored. Some tracks became a little tiring.
    4 – Pioneer – Didn’t stir me one way of the other. A little bright. Didn’t feel it was capable of driving the NHT 2.5. I think a victim of weak internal amps….though it could all be psycho-acoustics [​IMG]
    5 – Sony – Driving Bose…couldn’t tell jack sh!t. [​IMG] Kidding aside…lacked oomph (i.e. meaningful bass) and static highs. I honestly think it’s the speakers more than anything else.
    5.1 performance (with powered subwoofer)
    1 – Harman Kardon, DD/DTS/DPL II performed as expected, Logic 7 viable alternative to DPL II, no I am nowhere near enamored with it as some seem to be.
    2 – Yamaha, DD/DTS/DPL II performed as expected
    2 – Pioneer
    2 – Sony
    4 – Onkyo, no DPII a big minus
    6.1 performance
    1 – Pioneer. DTS-ES Discrete is improvement over Matrix
    2 – Yamaha. Lack of DTS-ES Discrete minor annoyance.
    3 – Sony. Has both DTS Matrix and Discrete, but I couldn’t tell one mode from another. Not implemented well.
    4 – Harman Kardon. Lack of DD-Ex MAJOR annoyance.
    5 – Onkyo. No 6.1 available.
    Remote
    1 – Onkyo. Learning, well laid out, nicely balanced, macros. Excellent remote.
    1.5 – Sony. Nice learning remote. Not quite as well laid out as the Onkyo, but just as powerful.
    2 – Pioneer. Not learning, some codes don’t
    4 – H/K. Learning remote with built in SPL. Very powerful with macro ability, but useablity is down the toilet. Lay out is horrible! Tiny buttons. Not worth the aggravation.
    4 – Yamaha. Not learning, but plenty of codes.
    Looks
    2 – Onkyo. More buttons than I prefer, but fairly simple, “mid-fi” look.
    3 – H/K. Elegant, polished, “hi-fi”, beautiful look when in standby mode. Bright green busy LEDs bouncing off fake gold buttons scream Yorx and Emerson when turned on.
    3 – Yamaha. Basic, blue-collar, non-offensive, “I’ll just stand in the corner”, wallflower looks.
    3 - 1 – Pioneer. Simple, elegant. But a little too plastic looking.
    4 – Sony. “Hey, did you get that at Best Buy?”
    Connectivity
    1 – Harman Kardon. Very nice, full of everything. HDTV bandwidth for component switching. Main amp input. S-Video output exhibited noise…not seen in other receivers (using same TV and cables of course)….probably a defective unit.
    2 – Pioneer. Plenty of everything. Component switching, 7.1 ch input, plenty of digital i/o….very nice.
    3 – Yamaha. More than I ever need but not quite as much as the Pioneer.
    4 – Onkyo. No component switching. Enough of everything else.
    5 – Sony. No pre-amp out…nuff said.
    Ergonomics:
    1 – Harman Kardon. Back panel is very well laid out and OSD is intuitive.
    1 – Onkyo. Ditto
    3 – Yamaha. Nothing to right home about
    3 – Sony. Ditto
    4 - No OSD and back panel layout is a maze.
    Notes:
    The H/K only has 5 channels of power…but each channel is assignable.
    The choice:
    If I didn’t have an amp, and I was concerned with music over movies, I would stick to the Onkyo.
    If I didn’t have an amp, and I was concerned with movies over music, I would choose the Yamaha.
    As it stands, I do have an amp…a Sherwood Newcastle 9080, so my choice is as follows…
    The decision I had to make was really only between the H/K 520, Yammie 5560, and Pioneer 811S. The Onkyo didn’t really count as it doesn’t meet the 6.1 qualification. I still prefer the Onkyo for music and plain ole 5.1 DD/DTS tracks (though I do prefer DD-EX/DTS-ES Matrixed over 5.1) so I intend to keep it for a long time as a secondary receiver. The Sony was never in the running either as it had no pre-outs. These two receivers were compared just for some reference.
    The H/K quickly dropped out of the decision because of the lack of DD-EX (huge factor), distracting front display in a dark room, horrible remote, high price, and perceived low build quality. I’m honestly pretty worried seeing the high number of H/K refurbs out there.
    So the real choice is between the Yammie and the Pioneer. I’m slightly leaning towards the Pioneer because of DTS-ES Discrete, but I honestly can’t say that those 4 movies with DTS-ES discrete are worth it. I do feel the Yammie is more solidly built and people rave about it’s reliability, whereas I’m more skeptical with the Pioneer. If I listen to 2-Channel music more often, I would more likely lean towards the Yamaha. Having the Newcastle 9080 amp drive the NHT makes that music gap much closer than in the above comparison. As it stands, I’m 50.1% in favor of the Pioneer…but I’m going to hold onto the Yamaha until as long as possible and my decision might change in the next hourJ.
    BTW, if the build quality of the Onkyo SR700 were as good as the 676 and the 2-channel music performance were the same as the 676, I’d grab it in a heartbeat. Too bad it’s a little more than what I want to pay ….
    BTW2, I desperately wanted to keep the H/K. H/K in my mind as an aura to it like Jaguar does in the car world. To me, it just seems further from the mass market brands. But just like the Jaguar, reliability, build quality, and underperformance lies under the hood of those sleek lines. For a receiver of this price to not include DD-EX and a 6th channel is inexcusable, IMO. The mystical qualities of the H/K amps were lost on me, as they seem to distort the music to the warm side. I prefer that the sound is neutral rather than biased to any side. They
     
  2. Juan_R

    Juan_R Supporting Actor

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    I enjoyed reading your shootout, good job.
     
  3. Ricky T

    Ricky T Supporting Actor

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    Steven,

    Very well and thoughtful write-up! Either the Yamaha or Pioneer would make a great $350 prepro. Based on your rankings, I would go with the Pioneer because it has 6.1 discrete, a better remote, and better connectivity.
     
  4. ThomasL

    ThomasL Supporting Actor

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    Steve, great writeup.
    I've had the Pioneer 811S for 2 1/2 weeks and have been trying it out. So far, besides a few quirks, it works fairly well. I may be picking up the Onkyo SR600 (have you considered that for your tests?) to give that a try - Cambridge Soundworks has a 45 day return policy which is nice.
    As for the Pioneer, it's remote actually is a learning remote according to the manual, although I have yet to try this. It does not have macro capability like the new Onkyo SR600 remote. I didn't find it's back panel to be particularly confusing - although I don't have a lot connected other than speakers and audio in connections. I don't use it for video switching so actually prefer a non-OSD setup which you listed as a drawback. I find the front panel menu system to be easy to set up and quick to zoom through to change something. Besides sound quality, which you correctly say is subjective [​IMG], I've found two minor gripes with it:
    (1) there is no toggle button to switch, when in DD or DTS, from 5.1 to 6.1. You can do it by toggling the 6.1 setting in the menu system but it's a bit more of a pain. I noticed that the new Onkyo will let you toggle between Auto, On and Off for each DD and DTS.
    (2) Direct mode still uses the subwoofer. I'd like an option where I could switch it off. I use a speaker selector to have music in the other rooms on my first floor. So, it would be nice for my wife to play a cd in the kitchen without having the sub thump in the den. Once again, the Pioneer will let you accomplish this but one has to go into the menu and toggle the front mains to Large and then remember to switch them back when the cd playing is done.
    But one can never get everything one wants so these are two minor gripes to be sure. For my small room, the Pioneer seems to have more than enough power.
    I have also found that DTS-ES Discrete and Matrix do sound different and the Discrete version of Gladiator is excellent. I've also found that I like DTS Neo6 CInema better than DPL II Movie. The one thing the Pioneer does not have is adjustable settings for DPLII/DTS Neo6 Music modes. I am not sure how much these actually do anything for me though. I tend to listen to cd music in regular stereo.
    cheers,
    --tom
     
  5. StevenK

    StevenK Second Unit

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    Hi Thomas,

    You are indeed correct about the remote...don't know what I was smoking. Anyways, I didn't consider the SR600 because of the lack of pre-outs. Like I said though, if I didn't have an amp, I wouldn't hesitate to try an Onkyo again as my 676 has performed so admirably. On the issue of Direct passthrough, I have a DIY switch that cuts the power to my sub via remote. I think X10 sells these things pretty cheaply, and since the remote is learning, you can program the sub on/off into the remote! Also, I agree switching from 5.1 to 6.1 is kinda tedious.

    The 811s certainly isn't perfect, but for $317, I think the positives outweigh the negatives by quite a bit.
     
  6. Jed M

    Jed M Cinematographer

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    Thanks for the review Steven. I would go with the 811s as well. Sounds like a good choice. It seems to be the most consistent out of your reviews. Good luck with your decision.
     
  7. LinChen

    LinChen Agent

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    Great review Steve.

    I have actually used the D811S learning remote to control my TV, VCR, DVD player and receiver itself as well. It is very user friendly. The only complaint I have is that when switching to TV control, it doesn't have the video/TV switch, so I have to use the DVD player remote to switch it to video mode every time I want to watch a DVD movie.


    Lin
     
  8. matthew_rm

    matthew_rm Second Unit

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    So the Onkyo had the best SOUND with the built in amps. How do you guys feel it would go with Klipsch RF3's? I need a reciever that has a lot of bass. HK, Denon, Onkyo?
     
  9. Steve K.H.

    Steve K.H. Supporting Actor

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    Excellent post! Cool to see you decided what's important to you, and not what is important to others.

    I like the 520, a lot, it powers my friend's H/T. The self balancing on this is within 3 dB when used against a true readings on a calibration meter. The fact it doesn't have DD-EX is one thing, I would prefer if it was simply upgradeable.

     
  10. ThomasL

    ThomasL Supporting Actor

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    StevenK, thanks for the tip on turning the sub on/off. I haven't decided yet whether to try the Onkyo SR600 and then return the Pioneer 811S. For me, they are essentially the same price at the local stores (onkyo $475 at CSW and $400 for the Pioneer at Best Buy). The pluses to the Onkyo would be the direct/no sub mode and the easier way to flip between 5.1 and 6.1. In addition, I'm wondering if the Onkyo will simply sound a bit better with music/my CSW Newton M50 speakers. The minuses are it only has one surround back speaker post in the back so I either have to manually wire my two back speakers in series or wire them together in the post and present the receiver with a 4 ohm load on that channel. I'm also wondering if the holes on the binding posts will even take two 16 gauge wires stranded together. Even though it's simply wired in series, the Pioneer offering a second set of surround back posts makes connecting things easier for me. These speakers are only 3 feet behind the listening position, so don't require a lot of power. Other minuses are that I'm unclear how to balance the speakers using Avia with the Onkyo. I know it can be done but the manual is a bit unclear in this area.

    cheers,


    --tom
     
  11. Andrew_Ballew

    Andrew_Ballew Second Unit

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  12. Jed M

    Jed M Cinematographer

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    Matthew, My best friend owns Klipsch and an Onkyo receiver and I think the two mate really well. I normally don't comment on "mating" type questions but for some reason I have always like the sound of Klipsch with Onkyo. That being said, I have owned Klipsch for about 6 years and have never owned an Onkyo. Go figure.
     
  13. StevenK

    StevenK Second Unit

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    Andrew -

    Indeed if DPII and 6.1 were features I did not care about, then the Onkyo is by far the easiest choice. I agree that it isn't really fair to compare the 676 since it's a 3 year old design and it's what I'm upgrading from...but I just wanted to give some other reference in terms of sound, build quality, remote, etc....

    ThomasL -

    Even though the 811S has 2 speaker posts for the rear channel, it's actually just putting the speakers in series. There are only 6 channels of power, not 7. So with the Onkyo, you could wire it up the same way with (receiver + to speaker 1 +, speaker 1 - to speaker 2 +, speaker 2 - to recevier -). If I were you, I would definitely give the Onkyo a try to see how it stacks up against the Pioneer. I think the SR600 is a nice piece and the only reason I didn't consider it was lack of pre-outs.

    Steve K.H. -

    Indeed you are correct about Logic 7 on the 520 being a crippled version. I prefer DPII, but I do urge people to try out L7 to decide. For me, asthetics ranks pretty high up there...not as high as sound, but I do consider that important. The problem I had with the 520 was not necessarily the asthetics alone, but the fact the green LEDs actually interfered with watching a movie in a completely dark room. In any event, the 520 is certainly a great machine and I wanted to like it badly...it just didn't fit my bill. If I didn't have an amp, I would have considered it much more strongly.

    LinChen -

    The 811S remote does have a TV/Video button. It's the bottom left corner...most likely though, you'll have to manually program it in, as none of the codes for my TV activated that button. But learning the button took all of 10 secs (provided you have the original TV remote).

    matthew -

    Another vote for Onkyo based on my experience with the 676. My NHTs are considered as bright as Klipsch by some and the Onkyo is a perfect match for them.
     
  14. Steve_Tk

    Steve_Tk Cinematographer

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    I read in the HK manual that you can turn down the LED brightness in the OSD menu.
     
  15. StevenK

    StevenK Second Unit

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    Steve_Tk -

    You can turn down the VFD...actually all the way off if you want...but not the LEDs. I even called H/K on this one. BTW, they suggested to open up the receiver and snip the power cable going to the LEDs!!!! I actually kinda like H/K just for that.
     
  16. LinChen

    LinChen Agent

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    Thank you Steven. I'll try to program the remote this evening when I get home. Have a nice holiday!

    Lin
     
  17. LinChen

    LinChen Agent

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    Steven, you said the TV/Video button is on the bottom left corner of the remote? Does this button have a name? Is it on the "TV control" section? I am still not quite clear which button you referred to. Thank you in advance for your help!

    Lin
     
  18. Ted Lee

    Ted Lee Lead Actor

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    cool post. nice to see a "real world" shootout...not something you read in a lab.
     
  19. ThomasL

    ThomasL Supporting Actor

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    Stevenk, right, I know it's series...it's just easier from my installation standpoint to have two separate posts on the receiver. I also figure wiring in parallel should not hurt the receiver either. I've been doing that for years with budget receivers and it's never come to any harm (but I also don't listen at ear splitting levels).

    cheers,


    --tom
     
  20. StevenK

    StevenK Second Unit

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    LinChen-

    I think it's called the TV input button. Yes, it's in the TV control section. Most likely you'll have to program it in. In fact, you can program the TV/Vido function to pretty much any other button if you like.
     

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