Here’s how to make sense of the mumbo-jumbo
Looking for a new stereo receiver, it’s easy to find yourself lost with all those complex specifications being bandied about. Is Damping Factor an essential requirement for you? How about the Total Harmonic Distribution? In order to get past all the technical mumbo-jumbo, all you need to do is decide what you’re going to be using your new stereo receiver for. After that, it’s easy to narrow down your choices.
Stereo vs Multi-Channel
The biggest choice you’ll be faced with is between stereo receivers and multi-channel receivers, or to put it in simple terms, movies vs. music.
If you love your music more than your movies, then stereo sound is the way to go. Despite all the advances in technology in recent years, most music tracks are still recorded in stereo sound, and so you’re going to need a stereo receiver to hear them the way they are mean to be.
The majority of receivers today though are in fact multi-channel – aimed at providing a total home theatre experience. Most systems these days are designed for a 7.1 system, or seven speakers and one subwoofer, though you can also find 6.1 and 5.1 set ups. Multi-channel receivers are difficult to set up when compared with stereo receivers, but the sound effects when watching HD DVDs or Blu-rays will simply blow your mind.
Surround sound is about the set up you go for: 5.1, 6.1, or 7.1 set ups are standard, though it is possible to get high end systems with even more channels.
If you’re new to all of this, then the 5.1 set up is a good enough starting point – this type of system is more than capable of replicating excellent surround sound in your living room, using a combination of sub-woofer, three speakers at the front and two on the sides.
For those who have more room and more inclination, then a 7.1 set up, with an additional two speakers set up at the rear will increase the effect and reach the absolute pinnacle of surround sound in all its glory. 6.1 systems are just as good, although these use just one speaker at the rear.
Most DVD format receivers are encoded in DTS or Dolby Digital sound, which replicates a 5.1 sound experience. Some DVD formats allow 6.1 or 7.1 sound, for example Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Pro Logic IIx and DTS-ES, but these formats are not universally supported so be careful with them.
If you are looking for true next generation sound quality, you need one of the latest high definition formats, such as HD DVD or Blu-ray. Both of these can support Dolby Digital True HD, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS-HD Master Audio, and DTS-HD High Resolution Audio, and provide the most immersive sound quality that money can buy – it’s very difficult to choose between the two.
There are dozens of high quality brands to choose from, and in many cases there is very little to choose between them. Our personal favourites are the Sony BDV-E770W blu ray receiver and the Samsung HT-C6500, which come priced at around $519.99 and $379.99 respectively.
Denon’s AVR-1912 is also a very capable competitor, featuring built-in AirPlay and available for just $499.99
Where to buy
When it comes to buying, we suggest going to the store first of all to check out the sound quality, but rather than buying there you should get yourself online for the cheapest prices. Bestbuy is our favourite destination for stereo receivers, as we found that not only were its prices competitive, but it also offers a comparison function that allows you to compare different model specs.