Q: Last week, you made a comparison between cars — basic through exotic — and audio components. Where does my Denon receiver fall on that scale? Is it the equivalent of a “luxury car” like a BMW?
A: You weren’t the only reader asking if they had the equivalent of a Honda, BMW or Rolls-Royce in their equipment rack. There were enough inquiries following that column that I thought I’d best add some other brands to the discussion.
Denon, Marantz and Harman/Kardon straddle the Honda and BMW categories, so it depends on the model. For example, Denon (usa.denon.com) makes mass-market receivers such as the $199 AVR-S540BT, premium receivers like the $3,999 AVR-X8500H, and everything in-between.
McIntosh (mcintoshlabs.com) is definitely a Rolls-Royce, but there are things that set it apart from other esoteric brands. It makes some mid-market equipment, for example the $5,300 MA5300 Integrated Amplifier. But it also offers high-end gear, such as the $15,000 MC2152 Vacuum Tube Amplifier and the $9,000 MC462 Amplifier, which features the large blue meters that McIntosh is famous for. This is a storied brand that has been around since 1949, and its products tend to represent a lifetime investment that holds its value very well. It’s a brand I would be happy to own.
Just as McIntosh has a few relatively affordable pieces, some BMW-tier brands have a premium line designed to compete with the Rolls-Royces of the audio world. Cambridge Audio’s Edge (cambridgeaudio.com) components are built on a large chassis, have impeccable technical specifications and the finish and materials are what you would expect from the highest-end brands. But the prices are not Rolls-like. The Cambridge Audio Edge A Integrated Amplifier is $6,000, and the Edge W Power Amplifier is $4,000, which might sound pricey but actually is a fraction of the cost of the esoteric amplifier brands that start in the tens of thousands of dollars.
One last comment is about home theater receivers and processors: I recommend that you avoid the exotics and get something from Harman/Kardon, Onkyo, Denon or Marantz. Digital technology changes very quickly in terms of HDMI versions and audio/video features such as Dolby Vision, HDR10, DTS: X and Dolby Atmos. The exotic brands can’t keep up with the changes because they do not have the same engineering resources and don’t sell in nearly the same volume.
I learned this lesson the hard way. I have a $4,700 Anthem AV50 A/V processor in my 1080p home theater. Despite a lot of firmware updates, it has had HDMI handshake issues (jargon for systems not communicating with one another) since Day One. Some of the high-end manufacturers have wisely given up on this category, and if I needed a processor tomorrow, I would probably buy a Marantz. If you do want a high-end home theater processor, the Emotiva processors (emotiva.com) are solid choices, and the company supports them with updates and upgrades as technology evolves.
Send questions to Don Lindich at email@example.com. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.