It's not like we ever need a reason to upgrade, Kenneth, but I think you're making a pretty good case. Are you looking for things to tell your wife?
As for your particular issue, I didn't notice a problem with ROTK so I'd be inclined to say it's the receiver as well. Sony's are notoriously noisy and harsh, IMO, until you get to the ES line.
Speakers will make more of a difference in overall sound quality, but to say one step in the chain, a receiver or pre-amp/amp combo, will make no difference seems rather silly and goes against my experiences.
That might be an easier case to make for old analog stereo receivers, but with digital processors and all they entail(A/D & D/A converters, bass management, signal processing, etc...)it's a no-brainer that they'll have an impact and not sound the same.
Kenneth, In any regard, just don't push the volume level too high. I'm sure with the receiver described, lots of distortion could be introduced in an effort to get the sound level up there. This could be very bad for the speakers.
My nephew has a very similar Sony receiver. I recall it being a model that sold for $199 at Best Buy a few years back. I gave him a pair of JBL speakers a few years back, which he blew because of introducing too much distortion to them. Last week, as his graduation present, we hooked him up with a pair of Paradigm Titans. Let's hope he doesn't push the receiver too hard to blow those, too.
Finally, subwoofers go a long way in helping us. Without a sub, we tend to want to overdrive our other speakers in an effort to get some bass into the room. Having a sub, allows us to use a bit less volume because we're getting the bass that we desire from the sub (well, for some of us, we are content like this.)
I wouldn't trust that assessment either. In reality, a crap receiver will never make good speakers sound their best. And bad speakers will hinder a good receiver.
You have to have at least mid-level of both; you can't hook up a $300 set of HTIB type speakers to a Denon 3805 and expect to get "high level" performance, just as you can't hook a pair of VonSchweikerts up to a $150 RCA Receiver and think they will sound good.
*laugh* It's amazing though, price does come down. When I bought my Denon 3600 AVR years ago, I paid $2,100. Now I could get three times that for 1/3 the cost, basically.
Being the curious person I am, I did cruise over to Audioholics and check it out. I couldn't find anything in any of the articles, but I did find some posts in the Forum by "PDS" saying the same thing. Is that you Paul?
Do you have any links of tests performed by Audioholics or Hirsch/Houck Labs? I'm genuinely interested.