A little while ago I wrote an article discussing the top 10 features you might want to look for in your next audio/video receiver. Many of those were top-level or cutting edge features that may be unnecessary for some or many users, depending on how you intend to use your receiver and media room. To take that a step further, I thought it would be useful to look at features you really don’t need on a receiver. Like the earlier list, a case could be made for or against any of these features, depending on the individual user.
You may have noticed lately that, while everything else in the home tech world is getting smaller, thinner and easier to use, the home theater receiver (or A/V receiver, surround sound receiver… whatever) seems to be getting more bloated every year. The back panels look like old-fashioned telephone switchboards and the front panels look like NASCAR autos covered with corporate logos—those logos give you an indication of just how many redundant services, over-hyped processes and never-used adjustments these boxes are packed with.
My guess is that audio component manufacturers are jealous of all the attention the TV companies are getting, so to overcompensate they stuff their boxes with more riffraff than you find in the belly of great white shark.
But I happen to like sharks. They’re tough, put up a fight and are always the center of attention when they show up at beach parties.
Anyway, here’s a roundup of receiver features most people could do without:
1. Legacy Analog Inputs
My receiver has more than 50 red, white and yellow analog AV jacks in the back, plus component video (thankfully no S-video), and a whole lot of other holes to plug wires into. Most of them will never be used. All of my sources, well, almost all, connect via HDMI. The Wii (which now counts as a legacy device because there’s a new Wii on the market) struggles on with its analog inputs. An Autonomic music server also takes up a digital optical port. That still leaves more than 45 unused inputs and outputs on the back panel. For high-performance AV receivers, this is pretty standard. It’s like buying a Ford F-150 just to cart groceries—so much wasted space.
Receiver companies do this, of course, because they want to make sure the box is ready for anything and everything, but most users don’t have anything and everything to connect to it. Unfortunately if you want the highest power and top processing from a receiver, you have to get the model that’s also got the highest quantity of redundant features.
2. Dock connectors
What are docks, you’re asking? That’s exactly my point. With wireless connectivity (Bluetooth, AirPlay or DLNA) on every new receiver, there’s no need for a physical dock for your iOS or Android device. In fact, a dock presents the major drawback of taking the device out of your hands. How can you browse your music stations or album collection when the device is at the other end of the room? Go wireless or go home.
But all that wireless streaming drains your smartphone battery, so maybe a docks isn’t so bad after all.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.