Prompted by this and [many] other online postings, I set out to learn, once and for all, 'do all receivers sound the same in a real-world setting?' So, early last month I took the better part of a weekend and set to work recruiting help and components. I own three receivers; a modern, (two-years old), high-end Pioneer Elite VSX-36tx, an old, (some would call it vintage), Pioneer SX3700, and a Technics SA-DA10 unit, (most expensive in the ‘SA’ line which they manufactured before they pulled the plug in North America a few years ago). One sits in the living room, one is generally in the basement packed away and the other in the shop. I also borrowed my brother's ‘low-end’ Kenwood VR806 receiver, a local store's top-of-the-line NAD 773 and my ex-roomate’s Denon AVR 1603. I scrounged around for both Yamaha and Onyko receivers but came up empty... which is unfortunate as I have always had this mental image of Yamaha products sounding ‘better’ than all other components; maybe I have been sucked in by the “natural sound” mantra of the company…
My brother and I both have excellent hearing, he is 26 I am 39 years of age, and we prefer different music styles... to say the least. We both play 7-string guitar, as does my wife who is also blessed with a beautiful voice, (sings at special events). Additionally, we attend a great many live musical presentations in our city, thus, I feel that we have a solid foundation of how music ‘should sound’.
Armed with more audio gear than common sense would allow, we sat down for the better part of an entire weekend of -20 degree outdoor temperatures, (hiding in the house from our beautiful Canadian weather), swapping receivers and cables from our source, (a brand-new Elite 47Ai, SACD / DVD-A CD player). Our reference material included ‘standard’ CDs, as well as SACD & DVD-Audio discs. We listened to a stunning array of material from raunchy punk-rock & metal, (his choices), to more ‘moderate’ selections from Dylan, Pink Floyd, Neil Young, BB King and, for the reference sake of clarity, (to cleanse the mental palette), a ‘sampler’ Teldec CD of classical music. Our patch cabling was all Audio Research manufactured with the exception of the heavy-gauge speaker wires which were manufacturer by Paradigm. The loudspeakers were swapped back and forth between a set of Magneplanar 1.6QR’s and Paradigm Acoustics Monitor 9’s, (indulgent enough to own both). The room is irregularly shaped, sort of an abbreviated “L”, approximately 20 feet wide and 35 feet long, carpeted and hosting a variety of soft furniture, but mostly ‘acoustically hard’ walls.
After many hours of work swapping components and listening, (repeat), at a variety of volume levels, from subtle to uncomfortable, both of us agreed; when tone controls are set to 'flat', volume is adjusted to produce the same SPL, (using a Radio Shack SPL meter mid-room) and all DSP sound effects are disabled on the units (the method we employed for all testing), the end-result is that (our samples), of reasonably well constructed receivers appear to, quite frankly, sound pretty damned much the same - this includes units in our test group running from a little more than a hundred and fifty dollars, all the way up to a unit which costs nearly three grand (with taxes).
What else can I say, well, to quote my grandma, “stick that in your pipe and smoke it”
"It's difficult to understand something, when your salary depends on you not understanding it"