Buying A New AV Amp / Processor in 2015

I decided to start a thread on this as I am looking at a new AV receiver / processor and in the course of of my buying process, I received messages, talked to other members and also got very helpful advice from pros.

So I want to share my thought process, so others can learn and also benefit from my journey.

I sold my Denon 4520 last year, and have been awaiting the arrival of the new 3D sound formats since I got wind of this. At that time, there was scant information, only that Atmos, and Auro may arrive, and now we have these two formats as well as DTS X on the near horizon.

In addition, I managed to add the four speakers required for Atmos: Top Fronts + Rears, and also a VOG : Voice Of God. I also retained my original Front Heights which will come in handy for Auro.

With this in mind, I held back initially when the first wave of Atmos amps hit the market, and I soon realised that you have to really go in with your eyes and ears open.

The main caveats:

- none of the current amps are HDCP 2.2 compliant fully, only Onkyo is partly compliant.
- only Denon and Marantz have the fully Audyssey XT 32 implementation which includes HT Sub EQ, which is very useful in sorting those difficult subwoofer placement and equalisation issues.
- Pioneer and Yamaha amps don't use Audyssey at all and rely on their own forms of auto-EQ.


How about processors?

Well currently, you have Onkyo, and Marantz options, and again subject to the same issues as the amps.

So since a AV amp is essentially a processor with built in amps, that's not a bad thing, and if I wanted to listen critically, I can use my stereo amp.

Another thing to bear in mind is how many amps do you possess?

A full 3D surround experience will have 11 or even 13 channels, and that will required a lot of amps. Most amps have a max of 9 built in amps, and that means you need at least an external amp with two or more channels.

Note that only the Denon 7200 allows the same freedom of amp assignment as the older 4520, where you can assign the internal amps freely.

So now in Jan 2015 with the picture a little clearer, what can a member looking to get a 3 D surround experience hope to get?

Well you can get an amp with both Atmos, and Auro, via a firmware upgrade, that currently costs USD 199, and AFAIK, isn't available in Asia-Pac right now.

DTS X is coming too, but no one will promise that the current first gen amps can get an upgrade.

But today, there is news of the premier model: The Denon 7200. This sits at the top of the food chain in the Denon and promises to have all three, but you get only Atmos in the box.
HDCP 2.2 requires you to send it in for an upgrade via a new HDMI board.
Auro is upgraded via a USD 199 firmware upgrade, and in USA, you can get DTS X free, but again, it's unclear what is the SOP in Asia.

Remember that the free Airplay offered in the older Denon 4311 didn't happen in Asia.

Plus, the MSRP of a new 7200 is around twice of a 5200 or Marantz SR 7009 / AV 7702.

So the question is do you want to pay that much for these, and have all three formats on board?

Also, for those switching between Auro and Atmos, Auro makes use of the Subwoofer 2 output for the VOG channel, and you will need to re-calibrate Audyssey again when using Auro.

So you will need to re-load a saved configuration file to use Auro and switch between the two. That will take 15 mins or so.

Plus there is scant software of any kind on the ground for all the formats. You can still use the upscaling function to enjoy pseudo-3D sound with older discs.

As for the HDCP 2.2 issue, well you can either get the new Denon 7200, or Marantz AV 8802, and get a new HDMI board when it comes out, or hope a dual HDMI 4k Blu Ray play comes out and allows you to bypass the HDCP 2.2 issue.

There's no guarantee this will work, despite what you may read in AVS, simply because no one has tried it yet.

As for 4k, there is also very little commercially available software to buy, and it may be 2016 before it becomes pervasive.

So the options:

- if you are like me, and are in the market soon for a new amp, you can get something with Atmos for < $2000.

Your options are available from Onkyo, Denon, Marantz, Yamaha, Pioneer etc. If you want HDCP 2.2, then there's only Onkyo.

But note the issues I posted before.

If you want Audyssey, then only D & M have it and Atmos.

- if you can wait, it is likely that as technology progresses, Atmos, Auro and even DTS X will trickle down to the lower end amps in 2015 or 2016. And if you can wait until 2016, then the fight between these three formats will probably end by then allowing a winner/s to emerge and you can bank on the winning format.

It's heady times, and for some, embracing new technology is fun in itself, but for the less daring or those who don't like to on the cutting edge, then masterly inactivity is in order.


However for those who enter the 3D game early, you gain the fun of enjoying sound coming from around you, not only the sides, but also the top. Is this a big deal? Well as always, Your Mileage May Vary or YMMV :)

It's not life altering with Atmos, and you can certainly live with less. In fact most HT owners are only using 5.1 and there's nothing wrong with that.

So 2015 promises to be very interesting, and for me, I will decide soon, as the picture has become a little clearer and CES will only make it clearer :)
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 I have no financial interest or other interests in any of the items / events I write about.

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