“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

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Contents -

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.

Ex­pres­sion­ist art

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.

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