Check out some of the refurbed units from various websites that are authorized dealers and the units come with a manufacturer's warrantly (harmanaudio.com accessories4less.com onecall.com). This way you get a little more bang for you buck with a warrantly. If I had to do it over again, I probably would've gone this route.
I have a similar budget. I can tell you what I am looking at and the conclusions I have drawn w/ my research. I have not bought anything yet:
Sony DA4ES (a little over $600) very flexible and customizable, lots of features, powerful but not quite as powerfull as they state, a brighter sound out of the box but can be customized for almost any sound you like
Harman Kardon 325 ($450 refurb) or 525 ($550 refurb) - overall more powerful than the Sony, not as easily customizable but still not bad, HDCD decoding on the -525, not as easy to use as the sony product, a warmer more laid back sound
There are also Onkyo and Denon products in your price range you should consider.
My problem is I don't know what features I need/want. I was thinking of the Denon 2802 but everyone says the 2803 is so great with all these great features. In reality, do I need those features? Will I be missing anything by getting the 2802? Or is there some great benefit from the 2803 or will I need the features for the future? If someone could answer that question my problem would be solved.
thats the only difference im currently aware of, the weight difference may have to do with the amps, or possibly the extra rear center post.
the 2802 is basically last years model, the 2803 is this years, model, so i would assume aside from small differences, the recievers should perform basically the same, but im not too informed about this, since i do not currently own either. i just know this from some research ive been doing.
someone that owns a 2803 should chime in and help him out.
You don't say what speakers you have, which is going to make a big difference in the receiver you should choose. However, you do have a big room, which means that you should get a powerful receiver, unless you have extremely efficient speakers.
In this price range, there is only one receiver that I think is head and shoulders above all others, the NAD 742. Although it doesn't have the usual claimed 100+ wpc, it has very high current (and in my opinion, Yamaha and Denon are lying in claiming that they are high current amplifiers--just look at their dynamic headroom and you see what I mean). The NAD is simply cleaner and more detailed than any other receiver at your price point. The MSRP is $649, but my local dealer offers it for $575 and Legacy Audio (www.legacyaudiovideo.com) offers it for something like $488.95.
If you have rather bright sounding speakers, on the other hand, you may well prefer the harman/kardon 525, which can be had as a refurb from onecall.com for about $550. The h/k is warmer, but less detailed than the NAD. If you have something like Klipsch or JM labs speakers, I would recommend the h/k because it would temper the brightness of the speakers.
I have Definitive Technology 2006 front speakers. I thought of NAD but someone told me they are really really simple and don't carry some of the features of other receivers. You sound like you have experience with them. Would I lose anything if I chose an NAD receiver over a Denon 2802 (which I can't find in my town)?
I've been looking for the H/K 525 but haven't been able to find any refurbs and it's way out of my price range.
You may "lose," in terms of features, if you choose NAD over Denon, but I think you'll "win" in terms of performance. NAD's put out solid power, and I think you will not be disappointed. Will they blow away a 2802? No. But you certainly aren't losing anything in terms of quality amplification.
I heard your speakers last fall at a local dealer, but I am not sure that I remember correctly how they sounded. It seems to me that they were a bit reserved, but I may be thinking of something else (I have been doing quite a bit of shopping to put together my own HT setup). Nonetheless, your speakers are very efficient. According the Def Tech website, they have a built in powered sub and have a sensitivity rating of 92 db @ 1 watt/meter, so you really don't need a "brute" like amp to drive them. In my mind, the key is to get a "quality" amp to drive the, even if it has less power than the usual receiver.
I strongly recommend that you listen to the NAD 742. NAD has long prided itself on providing the features people use, not what the japanese engineers want to show off. Yamaha is a classic on this. Their line of receivers have up to 27 different programs, where you can change the ambiance from a jazz club to a cathedral, rock concert to who knows what. Are you going to listen to them? Some might, but most of my friends who have these things admit that they never use them! In that regard, yes, NAD has fewer features. I have always wanted good sound, so I have never been impressed with these little technical toys. As for Legacy, I really don't know if they are an Authorized Dealer or not. Call them and see. If not, negotiate with your local dealer and expect that you can get it for anywhere from 10-20% off if you ask.
When compared to the Denon 2802, the NAD has no phono section, no speaker A/B switching, and is only 5.1 rather than the Denon's 6.1 capability. I am perfectly satisfied with 5.1 but it may be important to you. (I was in to see a dealer yesterday who informed me that he already has advance sheets on a 8.1 receiver from one of the lines he represents--he wouldn't tell me who). You can add more channels with an outboard amp you want more channels with the NAD. The Denon offers DTS NEO:6, while the NAD can only do it with the outboard amp added. (This again may be important to you, but I doubt it). On the other hand, the Denon's remote sucks--there just isn't another word for it that can be posted on this site. The NAD's is far better. The NAD also has a bigger power supply, which in my mind, is the most important feature. NAD weighs 33 lbs. vs Denon's 25.4 lbs. Big difference, especially when you consider the NAD retails for $150 less.
The real question is what features do you want? For example, some people want component video switching built in. It is tough to come by at your price point, and while it may be a convenience, it isn't really necessary. Most people run their DVD and satellite connections directly into their monitors. But if this is really important to you, I would look at the Onkyos because Onkyo offers component video switching throughout their line now. An Onkyo 800 factory refurb is available from One Call (which I know is an authorized dealer because the Onkyo website tells me they are) for about $640. This is a very good unit, with great features, but the sound is not quite as clear as the NAD line. The Denon 2802 offers component vieo switching, but its bandwidth is only 27 Mhz, which is not wide enough for HDTV, so it is pretty useless in the future. The NAD 742 does not offer component video switching, but the 752 does (and it has DTS NEO:6 built in, as well).
If your speakers are on the bright side, you may want to look at the Harmon Kardon line. Given the efficiency of your speakers, you could get by with a 325 instead of the 525. At One Call (www.onecall.com), the 325 is only $549. They are also offering both the 325 and 525 as facory refurbs at very attractive prices, as well.
Well, I have rambled on far longer than I had planned. I hope that my info has been of some use to you. Good luck!
Nice thread you started as I am also looking for an AVR (my first) in the same general price range. Had listened to the Denon 2802, 2803, 3803, HK 225, 325, 525, Onkyo 600, 700, 800, Integra 6.3 and upon the recommendations from others finally went to hear the NAD T-742. At this point, I think I have narrowed my search down to the NAD and the HK 325/525. It is going to be tough to choose but I will most likely bring home both to make my final decision. Now I just got to decide on my speakers, ARGHH, this is tougher than I thought.
What in this range would Y'all reccomend to go with NHT Super One's and a SuperCenter? I wanna upgrade to DTS from my good old Pioneer Elite VSX-05, (Which I'm gonna sell if anyone's interested! GREAT amp but NO DTS!)
i just listened to the def techs two days ago at a local dealer, and they are not bright, but more mid and lows, i listened to them for about 20 minutes switching back and forth between a marantz receiver i think it was the 8300, and an integra, (i dont remember the number)
i remember thinking to myself that the def tech speakers have a lot of low mids, and mids, but was lacking a bit in the highs.
so maybe a receiver bias to lows may not be a good choice for the def techs.