“Whether it’s first-time buyers or existing owners, £500 hits the sweet spot for a lot of people”
It takes more than impressive brawn to win the day
Every year, the £500 AV receiver is one of the most hotly contested of all the product categories we test. Whether it’s for first-time buyers or existing owners who want an upgrade, £500 hits that Goldilocks spot for a lot of people. Which means there’s a lot at stake for any receiver at this price.
What makes it such a nail-biting battle is that it’s always the same handful of names – Denon, Sony, Pioneer, Yamaha, Onkyo – that trade places at the top, and that there’s no guarantee that last year’s Award-winner will continue to lead the pack. It’s tense. It’s exciting. And it’s always surprising.
“It’s the Denon’s superior handling of voices and ability to be that bit more revealing that has us captivated”
Down to the sound
With all three receivers on test here sporting similar features (all the latest streaming and format technology, including 4K HDR, Spotify Connect and Dolby Atmos), it’s the audio performance that’s the ultimate decider.
First up is the Pioneer VSX1131, the newest amp from a company that has a reputation for always being the bridesmaid at this price point. It’s the most powerful and muscular Pioneer we’ve heard at this price, but it still can’t quite strike that balance between aggression and subtlety its rivals can. Despite offering more scale and punch than the delicate Denon, it’s a clear step down when it comes to detail, precision and agility. Almost, Pioneer, almost. It comes down to the Denon AVRX2300W versus the Yamaha RXV581 in the end. And here it becomes interesting. Where the Denon prioritises refinement, lots of subtlety and fluid dynamics, the Yamaha puts all its focus on power, punch and the deepest, most rumbling bass we’ve heard at this price. They’re both clear five-star performers, and whichever you decide to buy depends on the presentation you prefer.
For our money, as much as the Yamaha’s exciting character has us enjoying the latest blockbuster films, it’s the Denon’s superior handling of voices and ability to be that bit more revealing and expressive that has us completely captivated by what’s on screen. It’s a superb performance from Denon – make it the centerpiece of your home cinema system and you won’t be disappointed.