Top 10 great-sounding amplifiers from $40 to $450

This Top-10 list of great-sounding solid-state and vacuum-tube amplifiers includes headphone amps and vintage models. Most are light on features, so if you need autosetup, GUI menus, AirPlay, iPod/iPhone/iPad compatibility, home networking, HD Radio, Bluetooth, HDMI switching, digital-to-analog converters, Dolby and DTS processors, that's not the main plan. The focus is on amps that provide the maximum sound quality for a minimal investment, but I included one receiver with some of those goodies.

I'll do a top-10 affordable speaker list soon.

Dayton Audio DTA-1 Amplifier ($40)

It weighs almost nothing, looks cheap and flimsy, but Dayton'… Read more

Sony STR-DN1020 review: Decent receiver, but behind competitors

Sony AV receivers can be unpredictable, going from best in class one year to mediocre the next. The STR-DN1020 is Sony's midrange model for 2011, and it's underwhelming. It has fewer HDMI inputs than all of its competitors, it lacks the built-in AirPlay upgrade available on competing Denon and Pioneer options, and its paltry selection of streaming-media services is beaten by Onkyo and Yamaha. We'd be willing to accept those shortcomings if they were made up for with outstanding sound quality, but the STR-DN1020 was a step behind other midrange receivers to our ears. The STR-DN1020 doesn't have a deal-breaking flaw, but its competitors are better in every way that counts.

Read the full review of the Sony STR-DN1020.

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New Sony CD car stereos compatible with unified SiriusXM Connect tuner

To go along with the consolidation of the Sirius and XM satellite radio services, the new SiriusXM rolled out a unified hardware platform: the SXV100 SiriusXM Connect vehicle tuner. We've already seen the first receiver to offer compatibility with the SiriusXM Connect from Alpine. Now, Sony strikes back with the second, third, fourth, and fifth as most of its new CDX line of CD receivers is now compatible with SiriusXM's module.

Four of the six new CDX receivers feature compatibility with the SXV100 SiriusXM Connect module ($60) and connect to the module's proprietary connection. The SXV100 draws … Read more

How to buy great sound on the cheap, think 'vintage' audio

You'll never find a comparably equipped 1980 Corvette outperforming a 2011 'Vette, or a 1980 TV or computer blowing away a '11 model. Audio is a different matter; a lot of decades-old gear really does sound better than its 2011 equivalents. That's especially true when comparing 1970s and 1980s receivers with today's models. I covered why that is so in last weekend's "How can 30-year-old receivers sound better than new ones?" blog.

I chatted with Innovative Audio's Gordon Sauck to learn more about buying old hi-fi. Sauck started designing home theater installations in … Read more

Yamaha RX-V671 review: Excellent sound, 6 HDMI ins, but no AirPlay

The Yamaha RX-V671 covers the core functionality of an AV receiver well: it sounds great and has plenty of connectivity. Its six HDMI inputs will be enough for nearly every home theater, and one of those inputs is on the front panel, which is great for making a quick connection to a laptop or digital camera. Yamaha is also the only manufacturer that offers a colorful and responsive user interface, although the RX-V671's interface would still be considered archaic on any other home theater device.

Its main failing is the lack of AirPlay support, which we think is the … Read more

How can 30-year-old receivers sound better than new ones?

It's a strange turn of events, but mainstream manufacturers long ago gave up on the idea of selling receivers on the basis of superior sound quality. I'm not claiming today's receivers sound "bad," but since almost no one ever listens to a receiver before they buy one, selling sound quality is next to impossible.

Back in the days when brick-and-mortar stores ruled the retail market, audio companies took pride in their engineering skills and designed entire receivers in-house. Right up through the 1980s most of what was "under the hood" was designed and … Read more

RIM may be planning media-streaming device

Rumor has it that Research In Motion is working on a media-streaming device.

BlackBerry enthusiast site NerdBerry has supposedly confirmed with a trusted source that RIM will soon offer a digital media receiver, code-named BlackBerry Cyclone and destined for the market this fall.

Details on the device are a bit slim at this point, but NerdBerry reports that it will have access to Netflix and YouTube (not the most compelling lineup; we'd like to assume there would be more content providers upon launch). Other rumored features include HDMI, Wi-Fi, and DLNA/home network content playback.

As for aesthetics, NerdBerry says the media hub will resemble the BlackBerry Presenter, a small device capable of displaying PowerPoint and PDF files from a BlackBerry onto a monitor/projector. No word if it will feature the next-generation QNX interface found on RIM's PlayBook tablet.… Read more

Six reasons receivers shouldn't be media streamers

If you're looking to buy an AV receiver this year, one of the major step-up features you'll be tempted to pay for is built-in networking. All the receivers we're looking at in the $500 price range have an Ethernet port on the back and support for a variety of streaming-music features, such as Pandora, Rhapsody, Napster, Slacker, and Internet radio. As much as we're fans of those streaming-music services, we'd hesitate to recommend paying extra for getting them built-into a receiver, since AV receivers are our least favorite way to access them. Here's why.… Read more

Harman intros four new 2011 AV receivers

Most of the major AV receiver manufacturers have already announced and released their new 2011 line, but Harman Kardon is playing catch-up and rolled our four new midrange AV receivers yesterday. All of the details are already available on Harman's website (including excellent owner's manuals for each model) and we've broken down the most important features throughout the line.

Harman Kardon AVR 1565

Key features of the Harman Kardon AVR 1565:

5.1 AV receiver, 50 watts per channel Three HDMI 1.4a inputs 3D video pass-through and audio return channel Front panel USB port (for firmware updates only) Three digital audio inputs (two optical, one coaxial) Basic text on-screen display Logic 7 audio processing $400 list price; available now

Harman Kardon AVR 1650

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Onkyo TX-NR609 review: 6 HDMI ins, but no AirPlay

Onkyo has a reputation for delivering tons of features and high-end performance at a budget price, and in many ways the TX-NR609 fits the bill.

It's packed with six HDMI inputs (including a front-panel input), built-in networking (plus an optional Wi-Fi dongle for a very affordable $40), and more streaming-music services than even the Denon AVR-1912. Even better, the current street price is around $495, which is the cheapest we've seen a midrange receiver of this caliber.

But it's missing the one feature that many buyers will care about: AirPlay. We're definitely fans of Apple's … Read more