Why Your Dad's 30-Year-Old Stereo System Sounds Better than Your new One

If you fashion yourself as an audiophile and just threw down a decent wad of cash on a new A/V receiver, you probably won't like hearing that the receivers of yesteryear produce comparable sound. Why is that? Technological advancement, ironically.

Cnet's Steve Guttenberg sheds light on this interesting development that over the years, actual sound quality became a secondary selling point since most people started buying their equipment either online or from big box retailers. People started caring more about the number of connections and wireless interfaces and wattage of systems. As a result, there was less money in R&D budgets to spend on advancements in sound.

OK, so what's wrong with that? The receiver engineers have to devote the lion's share of their design skills and budget to making the features work. Every year receiver manufacturers pay out more and more money (in the form of royalties and licensing fees) to Apple, Audyssey, Bluetooth, HD Radio, XM-Sirius, Dolby, DTS and other companies, and those dollars consume an ever bigger chunk of the design budget. The engineers have to make do with whatever is left to make the receiver sound good. Retail prices of receivers, the ones that sell in big numbers, never go up. The $300 to $500 models are where most of the sales action is, just like 10, 20 or 30 years ago, when their $300 to $500 models weren't packed to the gills with the features I just listed. Something's got to go, and sound quality usually takes the hit.

What's more is that over the past few decades, the average power of receivers has gone down in high-end receivers. While the entry level and mid-range receivers have more watts than before (from 20w-30w then, to 90w-100w now), high-end receivers top out around 140w-150w. Gutenberg references a 270w Pioneer receiver from 1980, and a test of that receiver by Innovative Audio shows that it can go toe-to-toe with the newest gear. So if you're solely interested in a receiver for music, going vintage might not be the worst idea. [Innovative Audio via Cnet]

Image via Brent Butterworth