Home theater receiver replacement for vinyl-friendly household
August 12, 2016 8:14 AM   Subscribe

Yes, this is absolutely rich-American-problems territory, but this crowd seems to Know Things. I've narrowed it down to a couple contenders, but I'd love to hear the wisdom of this particular crowd...

Our home theater receiver -- a Yamaha RX-V863 -- has developed an irritating problem where one of its HDMI inputs is refusing to carry or decode surround tracks. The broken one can carry stereo fine, but anything more complex than that is lost.

We've had the thing for a while (2008?), and it looks like the market has advanced enough that we could buy a better device for way less than I paid for this one (which was about $1K), so I'm okay going that route ESPECIALLY in light of the better features now available, including and especially being able to control it from an app on our phones.

But, obviously, there's a complication.

I've been pretty pleased with the recs on offer from The Wirecutter, and their current rec is the Denon AVR-S710W; it's a steal vs. our old one at $379, but is only an 80W per channel device vs. the 105W Yamaha. We have a big room and power-hungry main speakers, so my inclination is to step up to the next model, the AVR-S910W. And I was about to just buy it when I ran into a problem:

Nothing below the $1,300 level in the Denon line comes with a phono input, which is an issue because we enjoy vinyl and have a nice turntable that requires a phono stage.

Onkyo and Yamaha both have models in my price range that support phono natively, but the wrinkle here is that the Denon models suggested by the Wirecutter are now available on end-of-model-year closeout. I could get the fancier one for less than $400, and then pick up (e.g.) a phono preamp from Crutchfield for about $100, and still spend less than for a new model Yamaha.

Is that a crazy idea? I've been happy with Wirecutter recs in the past, and I could easily believe that a $99 dedicated phono stage might outperform anything included by default, but that's really a guess. Balancing "good buy + fiddlier setup" vs. "all in one solution" has me a bit flummoxed, as does my total ignorance of relative quality for these three brands. (I'm also totally open to some other maker, but these three are ones easiest to get.)

posted by uberchet to Shopping (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Pretty much everybody I know (myself included) use a phono preamp instead of the built-ins. I don't think there's a huge advantage other than it's another fun thing for audio people to tinker with and geek about, but if you're not opposed to the extra gadget and wiring, getting a cheaper receiver with an outboard preamp is a perfectly awesome solution.

As far as the watts - 80W per channel seems like plenty to me unless you want to rattle your neighbors windows or have a really huge room, or are splitting that wattage amongst a whole bunch of speakers.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:28 AM on August 12, 2016

Also, and I'm not an engineer, but how much power you'll actually get out of your speakers depends ultimately on how your input and output impedances match, not on the watt rating. And truly, if you want to preserve fidelity, as opposed to maximize power, you want to an impedance mismatch to drop most of your voltage at the end.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:31 AM on August 12, 2016

Best answer: There's no reason not to use an external phono stage. Go for it.
I'll also second that 80wpc is likely fine. No harm in going to a bigger amp though if it isn't stretching your budget. I'm using 220wpc amps in my living room just because I can and had them handy.
posted by switchbladenaif at 8:49 AM on August 12, 2016

Response by poster: Not to threadsit, but: I get that watts is an imperfect metric. Given the size and height of the room (lofty-style townhouse), the relative inefficiency of the mains (Vandersteens), and the performance of the Yamaha so far, it seems to me that taking a step back in power wouldn't make us happy -- if for "big explodey movies" if nothing else.
posted by uberchet at 8:51 AM on August 12, 2016

The extent to which power ratings are inaccurate to the point of fabricated when compared to reality is much, much greater than the difference between 80w and 105w, you would never tell the difference. Don't make that one of your factors.

(I'll put my 50w NAD up against the 105w Yamaha and bet everything in my wallet on which has more oomph)
posted by Cosine at 9:06 AM on August 12, 2016

Best answer: Agree with Cosine, above. Power ratings are wonky. Back in the 80s, receivers would tout 200W/channel. Granted, they were stereo/2-channel.

My 5.1 home theater receiver puts out 80w/channel.
My home stereo for turntable puts out 125w/channel.
All speakers for the above have an impedance of 8 ohms.

Both use fancy speakers and put out a ton of sound at high volumes, and I've never even come close to the ceiling lest I go deaf, or things break. I've never once felt the need to upgrade them for more power. I've a pre-amp for my home stereo. I can tell no difference with it in use or not, though I generally keep it on.

What I do have is a dedicated phono pre-amp. This has made a tremendous difference in sound for my turntable. The only issue I have is that the output from the pre-amp uses RCA cables that plug into the receiver, and I've got to select the source input that isn't labeled "Phono." So you might have to remember to select "Aux" or "CD" or something. Not a big deal.

Feel free to MeMail me if you'd like specifics of the equipment I use.

tl;dr: Absolutely get a phono pre-amp. It's superior. My 5.1 80w/channel receiver with 8ohm speakers produces deafening, undistorted sound.
posted by herrdoktor at 9:52 AM on August 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nthing the advice to get a separate phono preamp. The Schiit Mani, the U-Turn Pluto, and the Pro-Ject and Music Hall lines are all good options and good price/value propositions.
posted by box at 8:34 AM on August 13, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks all for confirming my direction, both here and in MeMail. I placed an order for the discounted Denon and a Pro-Ject phono stage; I should be hooking them up tomorrow!
posted by uberchet at 6:53 PM on August 14, 2016

« Older Snacks that can be ordered online?   |   Best USB keyboard for my arthritic fingers? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.