Sound Advice: Best receiver flying under his radar

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Q:

I saw your recent article on receivers and have a few questions as I am buying one soon. I found two receivers I am interested in. One has HDMI, a Yamaha, and the other only has HDMI pass through, a Sony. There is a difference in price of $597. Can you explain to me what it means by HDMI pass through vs. HDMI ready. I am trying to make a logical decision on whether to spend $597 to upgrade. Also, in your article you mentioned you are waiting for a receiver with a good amplifier, Dolby Digital, DTS and Dolby Pro-Logic II. Do I need all three of these on my receiver?

JIM NORKOSY
Minneapolis

A: My comments last week about HDMI still being "a work in progress" are reflected in your questions, and why I do not consider it a must-have at the moment. Various components have various levels of functionality with HDMI, whereas a component connection always will transfer video signals, a digital audio connection always will transfer digital audio signals, etc.

The Sony simply will pass the HDMI signal through to a TV, and a separate audio connection must be used to transfer audio signals to the receiver. This has been seen before, for example, on some otherwise highly regarded products such as the Arcam AVP700 surround processor. The pass-through is meant as a convenience when switching video sources.

The Yamaha can extract the digital audio signal from the HDMI connection, so another connection is not needed. This is fulfilling the promise of HDMI, and within a year or so it is likely all receivers will do this as a standard feature. Chances are the Yamaha has more power, additional features and better specifications to help justify the higher price. I do not know for sure, as you did not furnish model numbers.

You do need Dolby Digital, DTS and Dolby Pro-Logic II on your receiver. Dolby Digital is the standard for audio for HDTV programming and DVDs. DTS is a surround format found on many special edition DVDs, and some find it to sound better than Dolby Digital. Dolby Pro-Logic II is the best-sounding surround mode for TV programs and VHS tapes, and can be used to play music in surround sound.

A final note: I think the best receiver for you is one you have not considered. Check out the new Onkyo TX-SR604 at a suggested retail of $599, surely less than the Yamaha given the $597 price difference you quoted between Yamaha and Sony. Besides Onkyo's traditionally great sound and clean, plentiful power, it can decode digital audio sent through HDMI and has Audyssey 2EQ automatic room calibration. It will send out test tones and automatically sets speaker volume levels for surround sound, making setup easy. It has XM Radio capability with an optional antenna and can interface with Onkyo's iPod dock. It's an awful lot of receiver for the money.

Q: I have several nice audio pieces to sell. Is there an audio site besides eBay?

JIM LINDLY
Winfield, Kan.

A: Try www.audiogon.com and www.craigslist.org. Both are free and very effective! Craigslist is meant for local buyers, unlike eBay and Audiogon, which have a national reach, but I still have sold some pretty exotic audio gear on there myself despite the local, limited audience. I recommend you try both; but if on Craigslist, stay local only, as scammers abound.


Don Lindich is a national columnist and creator of the "Digital Made Easy" book series. Submit your questions to donlindich@yahoo.com .


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