Recommendations for a new stereo/multimedia receiver?
March 12, 2018 11:40 AM   Subscribe

I haven't bought stereo components in 20 years, during which time everything became a computer. I would love some help navigating the consumer stereo market.

I last bought stereo components - all Sony; all on the higher end of consumer-grade - about 20 years ago. And I'd still be using them today had we not recently lost our home, and everything in it, in a fire. We are slowly rebuilding. One of the last major re-purchases is what we used to call a "home entertainment center."

I *think* what I want is a receiver, but, to be honest, the market for such products has changed so much since I last dabbled in it that I'm not entirely certain WHAT I'm looking for. But I can describe the functions I'd like it to perform, as well as the component connectors that I'll need.

I'd like a single device that can handle multiple audio and/or video inputs, and can output them, at reasonably high fidelity, to a set of speakers. I also need to buy the speakers themselves, so I'm open to "all-in-one" systems that include a receiver + speakers. If the receiver somehow has an integrated CD player, all the better, but I don't expect to find that unicorn, not in 2018 when no one listens to CDs but me.

We currently have a PS4, a Roku and a FireStick, all hooked up via HDMI to the old (but good!) Panasonic HDTV that a friend gave us. We just got the PS4, and it pretty well obviates the Roku, so I'm probably going to remove the Roku to free up an HDMI port.

I still like physical media, and am slowly rebuilding my destroyed (huge) CD and DVD collection. It is important for me to be able to play these media. The PS4, to my astonishment, plays DVDs and Blu-Rays but not CDs. I love CDs and have already amassed many, so I'll need a standalone CD player. I used to have a 5-disc changer, but that's not vital. A single-disc is fine.

I will also soon be replacing my record player, and the model I will likely buy uses RCA cables to connect.

I use Spotify, too. I can run this via the PS4 --> TV --> stereo, or from my phone via Bluetooth. I'd prefer the former, but I'd still like the receiver to have Bluetooth functionality so my toddler can listen to his music on the home stereo. It would be nice if the receiver could handle multiple Bluetooth devices (as saved presets, eg), in fact.

Everything (except for the record player and any standalone CD player I get) needs to run through the TV, and then get routed, via digital optical cable, into the receiver. CD and LP need to connect directly to the receiver. So I need the receiver to have at least one, and preferably two, digital optical inputs.

I would also like the receiver to have several other inputs:
- at least 1 HDMI port (2 would be better)
- at least 2 (total) digital optical input ports (as noted above)
- at least 2 sets of paired RCA component ports
- inputs for the 6 speakers needed for 5.1 output (one must be for a subwoofer). I am open to wireless speakers, but I figure they will probably not sound as good as wired speakers. But maybe I'm wrong!
- do receivers still have a "ground" connector for record players? If they do, I'll need one, I suppose, though I could always ground it to something else, I'm sure.

I would like a remote control to operate this device.

Right now, we have no external speakers, so everything comes through the TV's rather shitty onboard speakers. I would like a 5.1 setup (or better), but our new space is quite small, so the speakers need to be small, too. As I say, I'm open to all-in-one systems: receiver + speakers (front left & right, rear left & right, center channel, subwoofer).

I would like to spend less than $500 on receiver + speakers + CD player, if possible. (I'll buy the turntable separately.) Is this possible? Willing to pay more if I need to.

I'd love any specific equipment recommendations, general advice on what *types* of devices or products I should consider, or even recommendations of trustworthy brands or merchants.

Oh, and if it wasn't clear, I'd be happy to have your suggestions for a standalone CD player, as well. Single-disc or multi-disc.

My family's ears and eyes thank you.
posted by Dr. Wu to Shopping (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Your sticking point is going to be component ports. They're kind of obsolete and even high end gear is losing them. No low end receiver carries them anymore. You're going to be paying over $1000 for two component ports or you need to look at older gear on eBay.
posted by Talez at 11:52 AM on March 12

I think the main variables you'll want to address, and the only ones that are going to significantly differ over the past few years, would be related to video content and integrated apps.

Any receiver from the past few years will handle 1080p video content passthrough, but if you're going to have a newer television with 4k resolution, HDR support, HDCP content protection, or anything that involves the newest HDMI version and additional video data going over it, you'll need a newer one.

I'd rather not have a receiver with apps and am cool with using an Apple TV/Chromecast/whatever for music streaming, but if you want built-in Spotify support or extensive Bluetooth connection options, you'll probably want something more complex.

For what it's worth, I have a receiver from less than a decade ago, and used it as you've mentioned: all video and audio input went to the receiver, then video out to the television. Now that I have a newer tv, I thought about upgrading my receiver but it seemed like an expensive option, so I have all my video devices hooked to the television with audio passed to the received over an optical cable.
posted by mikeh at 11:52 AM on March 12

For $500 and a small space I'd seriously consider going with a 5.1 soundbar instead of components. I switched from a Yamaha receiver plus 5.1 speakers to a Vizio 5.1 soundbar and never looked back. I have the exact setup you need... optical from the TV to the soundbar, but no record player or cd player. I stream music to it, too. It sounds great to me, and it's sooooo much easier to deal with.

Modern record players have built in pre-amps and USB and such things... you probably don't need a ground.
posted by Huck500 at 11:53 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]

Oh, and as for the turntable options: nearly every modern receiver, unless it's meant for audiophiles or _just_ for turntable listening, will lack phono input. Which is OK, because many modern turntables have the phono stage built in, and if they don't, a standalone phono amp lets you hook it up to a standard RCA input jack on the receiver. Phono amps typically provide the ground post.
posted by mikeh at 11:54 AM on March 12

If a receiver has a phono input, there will be a ground screw. The Sweethome "receiver for most people" has just enough inputs for your purposes, but it looks like you'd have to get either a phono with built in pre-amp, or an outboard one. There are other receivers with input sections more attuned to your needs, but the 5.1 outputs should be no problem in general.
posted by rhizome at 1:00 PM on March 12

I wouldn't assume that every turntable has a preamp. I bought a new one two months ago and it doesn't have one (I mean, I went into it knowing that, but still.)
posted by Automocar at 1:41 PM on March 12

A newish but not brand new Only TX-7xx would be a good choice if it has enough HDMI inputs. 2010-2012 were probably the high point for HDMI input count while still having multiple component inputs. (They all still have at least a couple of SPDIF and RCA inputs)

Ideally, your receiver will have enough inputs that you only need the one HDMI cable to output video to the TV. If the TV and receiver both support ARC, that HDMI will carry audio back from the TV to the receiver for those times you're using its built in tuner. Otherwise you'll need a SPDIF port for that.

Using the TV inputs as a switch for some things and the receiver for others is a recipe for frustration unless you have a Harmony remote. Much better to either use the TV for everything and ship the audio to the receiver (which works fine if you don't need HD audio and your set supports DTS passthrough at least) or use the receiver for everything. I much prefer the latter.

My 2008ish Onkyo 600 series had a phono input still, in addition to a few line level RCA inputs, for what it's worth, so it may be possible to find a newer one that has one.
posted by wierdo at 6:47 PM on March 12

Thanks for the answers so far, though I'll admit that I'm slightly more daunted now!

Any other specific hardware recommendations?

¡muchas gracias!
posted by Dr. Wu at 9:06 AM on March 13

I bought a second-hand Marantz SR5006 receiver and a pair of these Elac Debut series speakers recently. My use case had some overlap with yours—I wanted better sound quality than the lousy onboard speakers on my TV set provide, and also the option to play my large CD collection in addition to streaming audio from my phone or the TV.

The speakers are in the "really good for the price point" bracket and as I have a small space they sound pretty good. I'd say the Elac line is worth checking out. The receiver has just about everything you're looking for except the phonograph input. 5.1 or 7.1 speaker connections are no problem to find these days.

The area that seems to get fussy is persuading all of the different digital protocols to place nice with each other. For some reason I could only get my TV to send audio over an optical output channel, and while the receiver has optical audio input it was a "process" to get that set up and working (it does work though). When I eventually upgrade the TV to 4K I'll likely have to upgrade the receiver as well.
posted by 4rtemis at 9:29 AM on March 14

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