Q: You recently recommended two soundbar models from GoldenEar Technology and Definitive Technology. I assume the speakers need an amplifier to drive them. Can you recommend a decent and affordable receiver to work with them?
A: With both surroundbars selling in the $1,000 range, a receiver selling for about $500 is appropriate, unless your room is large and you need a lot of power. Here are two great receivers that will work well with either soundbar or a high-quality home-theater surround-speaker system.
The Marantz NR-1402 was a top recommendation last year. Its successor, the $399 NR-1403, is the same receiver with a better remote and two more HDMI inputs, for a total of six.
The NR-1403 (us.marantz.com) is a 5.1-channel A/V receiver that is attractively styled and well-constructed on a slimline chassis that is about half the height of receivers with similar specifications. The amplifier is clean and strong, and the sound is beyond reproach. Inputs are clearly labeled on the back. Plug your cable into the input, select the same input with the dial on front, and you have sound from your speakers and a picture on your TV. Although this sounds basic, you might be surprised to find how awkward it can be to synchronize inputs on many receivers. The NR-1403 makes it easy.
It also doesn’t confuse its owners with obscure features they don’t need. The NR-1403 focuses on the basics — outstanding sound and easy operation. I’ve used one with a Definitive Technology surround-speaker system and a GoldenEar soundbar and found it to be a perfect match.
The $525 Pioneer Elite VSX-43 (www.pioneerelectronics.com) is a fuller-featured, 7.1-channel alternative to the NR-1403 for those interested in more functionality.
Most receivers have automatic setup and calibration systems that are of no or little benefit when used with a surroundbar. Outside of high-end products, the only system of this type that has impressed me is Pioneer’s MCACC system. Once your speakers are placed, you plug a microphone into the front of the receiver and run the MCACC setup. It automatically sets the speaker balance and optimizes the sound for your speakers and room acoustics. It’s a difference easily noticed by the untrained ear. That makes the VSX-43 one of my top choices for use with separate speakers placed throughout the room.
As much as I like the Marantz, if I had a traditional surround-speaker setup, I’d lean toward the VSX-43 because of the MCACC feature.
AirPlay is supported via an Ethernet connection and a Bluetooth module is available for wireless streaming. Zone 2 operation is available, allowing it to power a second set of speakers in a different room.