This article from Audioholics, Trading Amplifier Quality for Features: A New Trend with A/V Receivers?, raises some interesting ideas, and I like it a lot. It posits that manufacturers have been skimping on basic audio quality as they race to add features (while maintaining price points) that consumers want, such as video switching, more audio codec handling, or multi-zone audio (that means that your receiver can pump out different audio to two or more places in your home). So over time, the sound quality of these receivers have been getting, if not worse, then less good.
The author makes a compelling argument, yet I think that because he sees new gear all the time, he may be missing the point in the real world of audio consumers. Most of us don’t purchase new gear every year. I’m more into this home theater stuff than most of my friends, yet I still upgrade my stuff fairly infrequently. I bought a Denon AVR-3300 receiver in 2000, and I just replaced it with the Denon AVR-1909 in the fall of 2008. I switched receivers at the same time I replaced my television, but I’ve kept the same speakers, satellite box, and DVD player.
The 1909 has a ton of features that the 3300 lacks, including the main reason I bought it, HDMI switching. No surprise there; HDMI hadn’t yet been invented when the 3300 was produced. Here’s three key facts: eight years later, the 1909 was $250 cheaper than what I paid for the 3300; the 1909 has less rated power per channel than the 3300; and the 1909 sounds a heck of a lot better. That’s my subjective opinion, of course, but it was also immediately noticeable to Dori, who pays lots less attention to this sort of thing than I do.
One of its new features is that the 1909 has the ability to adjust its sound to the shape of our living room, using a microphone that is placed at the different listening positions during setup. I didn’t turn up the bass setting between units, but the new one gives my subwoofer more of a workout than the old. A couple of nights ago, an earthquake in a movie I was watching created so much bass that Dori called from the bedroom asking if we had had a real quake. I think that the bass information is cleaner and more gets sent to the subwoofer. Similarly, I’ve noticed more and different things in soundtracks and music than before.
So the Audioholics article may indeed be correct, that over time, manufacturers have been reducing the amplifier quality in their receivers to trim costs. But my theory is that this reduction is swamped by how much better the rest of the receiver’s electronics have gotten, given eight years of technology improvement. What do you think, audio lovers?