Do receivers have too many features?

Selling receivers on the basis of sound quality doesn't cut it anymore, now it's all about features. Voice your opinion in the poll.

Did they leave anything out? Steve Guttenberg

Do you remember when you bought stereo receivers based on their power and connectivity? The entry-level models were low in power and had just a few inputs. As you moved up in the line, they got more power, more ports, and an extra feature or two. The top models looked cooler than the entry-level ones, with a more high-end design flair and they hid their lesser-used controls under a flip-down panel. If someone bought a more expensive model, it's because they wanted better sound quality.

Home-theater receivers followed the same course, except the higher end models had more speaker channels, 7.1 (or up to 12 channels) versus the low end's 5.1 capabilities. About 10 years ago, video switching and format conversion debuted on flagship models and soon trickled down to entry-level fare. Manufactures quickly spread Component and later HDMI switching throughout the lines. With the increasing market emphasis on video, sound quality advancements were devalued.

Today's $400 receivers are jam-packed with more gizmos than any $2,000 receiver you would have bought six or seven years ago had. For example, Pioneer's VSX-920 receiver ($399) is iPhone certified, it's Bluetooth Ready, has HDMI 1.4a 3D video switching, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS Master Audio surround processing. What else could you possibly need? And what does Pioneer's SC-37 Elite series receiver ($2,200) bring to the party? More power, sure; it has 140-watts per channel versus the smaller receiver's 110-watts per channel. The SC-37 has more features and probably sounds somewhat better than the less expensive model. But is it worth $1,800 more? I doubt it.

So the question is: Do features such as streaming service capabilities for Rhapsody-Napster-Pandora-Flickr, USB inputs, Works with iPhone certification, Audyssey MultEQ XT Auto Calibration, Wi-Fi, Windows Vista and DLNA certified, HD Radio, Internet Radio, Sirius-XM satellite radio, multiroom-multizone connectivity, Ethernet and RS-232C ports, or Bluetooth Wireless Audio Transmission Capability influence your buying decisions?

Remember, loading receivers with more and more features isn't a purely benign move; the manufacturer has to pay licensing fees and royalties to the companies that developed those features to include them on the receiver. To bring a receiver in on budget, manufactures' make cost-saving decisions to cut back on other aspects of its design.

Do you buy the receiver with the most features at a given price point, even if you don't have any use for them. Or would other factors such as ease-of-use, sound quality, or styling rate higher?

Tell us what you think about the ever-increasing features glut in the comments section, and vote in the poll.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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