The best-sounding midprice receiver is...

The contenders from Denon, Marantz, Pioneer, Sony, and Yamaha are impressive, but when the dust settled there was one clear winner.

The Denon AVR-1911, the best-sounding $600 receiver of the year Denon

I've reviewed a bunch of midpriced receivers over the past few months, and came away impressed by the quality of all of them. Pioneer's VSX-1020 was an immediate front-runner, and I love the Marantz NR1601's rich sound. Yamaha's RX-V667 was no slouch, but Sony's STR-DN1010 didn't thrill me as much as the others. The receivers all carry MSRPs between $500 and $600; street prices are $100 or so less.

So it was the Denon AVR-1911 that took top honors, it just sounded better to my ears than the others. Bass definition was superb; upper treble clarity and resolution led the pack. I didn't have all of the contenders on hand to directly compare with the AVR-1911; just the Marantz NR1601 and the Pioneer VSX-1020. The Pioneer was the brightest and in some ways the most detailed-sounding, and I felt its front-to-rear imaging was the clearest, but the NR1601 and AVR-1911 both sounded more powerful. The grenade explosions and gunfire in the "Black Hawk Down" Blu-ray had greater impact, and dialog sounded more naturally balanced over the AVR-1911.

I also felt, literally, the Denon's bass control and power was the best of the three receivers. Not only that, the AVR-1911's treble purity and "air" on "Goldberg Variations Acoustica," a jazz interpretation of Bach's Goldberg Variations was well above average for a midpriced receiver. This Blu-ray's Dolby TrueHD sound is a great test for speakers and electronics, and the AVR-1911 decoded the drummer's cymbals and percussion instruments with remarkable finesse.

A side benefit of the AVR-1911's high-frequency resolution was that it had the best soundstage depth of the three receivers. That is, on a great recording like the "Goldberg" disc, the soundstage of the front left, center, and right channels seemed to simultaneously project farther forward and behind the plane of the three speakers. That spacious quality was also evident on the better-sounding movies, like "Master and Commander."

I felt the AVR-1911's charm was just as apparent on CDs; the receiver's soundstage depth and dimensionality on Barbra Streisand's "Live at the Village Vanguard" was ahead of all the other receivers. The Denon AVR-1911 is the best-sounding midpriced receiver I've heard this year.

I covered audio setup and performance in these reviews; Matthew Moskovciak handled everything else. Read our full CNET reviews to get the complete story about each receiver.

Read the full CNET Review

Denon AVR-1911

The Bottom Line: The Denon AVR-1911 costs more than competitors and has fewer features, but its outstanding sound quality bests competing 7.1-channel AV receivers. / Read full review

Read the full CNET Review

Marantz NR1601

The Bottom Line: The Marantz NR1601 has a stylish, slimline design and excellent sound quality, although other AV receivers offer more features for less money. / Read full review

Read the full CNET Review

Pioneer VSX-1020-K

The Bottom Line: Six HDMI inputs, easy iPod connectivity, and sweet sound quality make the Pioneer VSX-1020-K an excellent midrange AV receiver, although it's missing some minor HDMI features. / Read full review

Read the full CNET Review

Sony STR-DN1010

The Bottom Line: Sony's midrange AV receiver improves on its predecessor with new HDMI features like standby pass-through and 3D compatibility, but it lacks a compelling reason to pick it over its competitors. / Read full review

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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