IMO, if you do a lot of 2-ch listening it DOES matter. I had a Sony A/V reciever and it was absolutely terrible with music. I went the 2-ch route and bought an integrated amp and it sounded 10 times better. I've since sold the integrated amp but have gone the separates route for my HT/Music system and I'm very satisfied.
It's hard to get good music performance out of most A/V recievers when everything's got to be crammed into one box.
To carry the integrated amplifier thought a step further, you can get one that has some sort of preamp bypass function. This is usually given a special name by the manufacturer's marketing department. For example, Krell calls it "Theater Throughput". Simaudio (Moon) makes quality integrated amplifiers with this feature as well. I'm sure that there are others that I'm not aware of. When listening to 2-channel music, you just put the source through the integrated amp and don't use the receiver at all.
To watch movies, you use the L/R preamp output from your receiver and connect it to the "bypass" inputs of the integrated amp. Then, select that "source" on the integrated amp. The integrated amp then acts exactly like a power amp (no tone or volume control, that must be done by the receiver/processor).
This way you get great 2-channel performance, and the ability to use it seamlessly in your HT setup.
Here is how my system works...
For 2 channel (mostly CD)...
Arcam CD23 CD Player --> Krell KAV-300i Integrated Amplifier --> B&W DM602 Main speakers
Sony DVD Player --> NAD T-751 receiver --> Krell KAV-300i Integrated Amplifier --> B&W DM602 Main speakers
My NAD receiver also powers my center channel and surrounds.
This works well for me. No speaker cables or interconnects to switch when going from 2 channel to movies. In fact, I can do it all by remote control. I use my system about 80% for music so I'm not willing to spend too much on an A/V receiver or processor. Now if I had a dedicated HT room, I'd probably be more inclined to spend the extra $$$ for separates for watching movies. Iâ€™m currently content with just getting a new low to mid level A/V receiver every 2 years since there is such a high turnover in that product line (i.e.: features in $2,000 receivers can be found in $700 receivers within a year or two).
The quality of your speakers should be good enough to sound better with higher quality components feeding them. There are probably 4 or 5 levels of Receivers. Bottom line, top line and those in between. I tried the midrange Denon and Sony A/V receivers and was not impressed with the sound quality. After researching according to my budget I found a floor model Marantz SR18. It was a step up in price range and quality. I didn't want to pay full price when this one had the full warranty at half price. There was a big enough difference in sound that I was very happy with my choice. There are a lot more expensive and higher quality receivers than my Marantz and to my thinking some of them probably sound better.
My opinion is the receiver definately makes a difference. The best way to tell is try them out with your setup.
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