After the last go-around here on this subject, I went back to more dealers to investigate further. Surprise, surprise. I actually found two that preferred Yamaha over all else for home theater and music. One even said he thought Denon, by comparison, was a bit bright! First time I heard that. My conclusion? Well, my semi-virgin ears – compared to those of longtime audiophiles here – did not detect many conclusive differences between the receivers to which I listened, at least in two-stereo music. I checked out the Yamaha rx-v2300 vs the Marantz 7200, Sony ES4, Pioneer vsx 45 and vsx 49, Denon 3802 and Nad T752. To my ears, the Yamaha sounded terrific at both the top end and bottom end of the musical scale, with arguably the slightest touch of weakness, or perhaps it was just subtlety, in the middies. Certainly more warm than cold. I thought the Denon was the closest in sound, followed by the Pioneer. The Pioneer seemed a tad forward in detailing the highs, but I felt I had to strain to notice a difference. The Sony was fine, but did sound different. I don’t know how to describe it, other than to say it wasn’t for me. The Marantz definitely stood out more, but I can’t say I liked or disliked it. It seemed warmer and friendlier with its handling of the music, but at the slightest loss of detail. As if the edges of the music had been barely rounded off. Still, it was a matter of degree, not kind. The Nad impressed me most as having the best overall sound, but it wasn’t as explosive with the music. A very even keel. Again, though, I would not say it stood out head and shoulders above the others. I could easily live with and enjoy any of these AVRs. In short, I decided that the differences were so minute among the receivers that cost and features will be the determining factors in my decision, not the sound itself. The Yammy rx-v2300, Pioneer vsx45, and upcoming Denon 3803 and Nad T762 are my four finalists. Unquestionably, I noticed much bigger differences among speakers that I tried with the receivers than I did with the AVRs. And I put the AVRs thru a variety of tests with folk vocals, rock, jazz, orchestra and chamber music. I listened to B&W 603.5s, Vienna Acoustics Haydns and Mirage Omni 9s. All very nice, with different strengths and weaknesses. Interestingly, both dealers said, as I have heard, that the Yamaha receivers have become more “musical” in the past “year and a half.” Certainly I didn’t hear anything to persuade me otherwise. Why so? I’d throw out two basic theories. First, I don’t have enough experience in listening to receivers. Maybe if I listened more, I’d discern more differences. Simple enough. Second, the stiffer competition has pushed the products of the industry closer together, so that the differences increasingly are eliminated. To my mind, this one makes more sense. Competition in electronics industry, after all, appears to be entering the same hyperdrive occupied by computer makers. It only figures that everyone is utilizing the best technology to keep up with the Jones, thereby reducing differences in quality. The main brand avrs are getting better with music while the explicitly music oriented avr makers (Nad, Rotel, Integra, etc) are getting better with HT. At the same time, it seems to me that a consensus has developed on what’s an appropriate approach to reproducing music – making it sound like it really does (what a concept!) Not exaggerated. Not too high (bright). Not too low (boomy, muddy). Not fatiguing. Etc. Yamaha’s surrender is a clear indication. Also, the industry infatuation with DSPs seems to have lessened. Sure, they still give plenty of modes, but most of the work and research has been done. Now the companies appear bent on cutting prices, supplying other new features and improving the timing of new models to gain an edge on rivals. In short, the industry is being commoditized, just like with computers and peripherals. (It makes me wonder, then, whether much of the difference people seem to hear on the newest avrs really owes to a placebo-type effect. Or whether it's related to brand loyalty. Or is it something else?) Ultimately, this means prices should continue to plummet rapidly while quality and features improve dramatically, as the HT revolution steams ahead. And it won’t end anytime soon. The increasingly popularity of HDTV should drive demand for avrs (or separates) for years to come. Soon we will all be able to afford the highest of high-end audio sound and video reproduction without having to fork over a year's salary. Of course, this trend makes it harder for consumers. Every time I am ready to buy a new AVR, some company comes out with a new, snazzier model and the prices of the old models I was looking at fall. Now I find myself wanting the new model, but not wanting to pay the msrp. So I wait for the next round of products to emerge from competitors, hoping that it will drive down the price of the avr I am looking at. And then, déjà vu all over again … Now, if I could only see the same process play out with separates.