Ever wonder why there are receivers with 120 watts per channel that cost $499.00, yet there are receivers with 110 watts per channel that cost $699.00?
One of the main reasons the lower wattage receiver costs more is the amplifier section. The wattage specifications on paper say almost nothing about an amplifier's capability. The numbers and terminology after the wattage rating are more telling.
Let's take a look at the published specifications of the two receivers, mentioned above, that we sell:
Pioneer Elite VSX-21 - 110 x 7 (20Hz - 20kHz, 0.09%THD, 8 ohms, All Channels Driven)
Now, I'm going to try to keep my explanation as simple as possible. The first indication that the VSX-1019 has a weaker amp section is the "1kHz" measurement. 1000 Hertz is the easiest frequency for an amplifier to drive and will yield a higher wattage number on paper. The VSX-21's amp section is measured into a 20 Hertz through 20,000 Hertz full-bandwidth signal; the same full-bandwidth signal associated with all of our music, movie, and gaming material. While the VSX-21 can deliver its rated power to a speaker system across the entire frequency spectrum, the VSX-1019 can only deliver its rated power into one single tone. The second, and even more important, distinction between the two models is the "All Channels Driven" statement in the VSX-21's specs. This means what it sounds like. In order to come up with that wattage spec, all seven channels of the VSX-21's amplifier were driven simultaneously during testing. The VSX-1019, on the other hand, was only tested with one channel being driven, as stated in the detailed specifications page of its owner's manual. In a seven speaker system, the VSX-21 is capable of delivering its rated power to the entire system, where the VSX-1019 can only give that kind of power to one-seventh of it. Lastly, the VSX-1019 was recently bench tested by a leading audio/video magazine and revealed, when all channels were driven, the actual output was less than 30 watts per channel.
Further examples of how wattage specs can be "fudged" can be found in the receivers, or amplifier sections, of popular Home Theater in-a-box systems. While rated into 1kHz and with one channel driven, these amps are also frequently rated at a staggering 10%THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) and into 3 ohms. Any amplifier rated into a load less than 8 ohms will yield a higher power rating on paper, and the 10% distortion rating indicates that by the time that amplifier is putting out its max-rated power, 10% of what you are hearing is distortion. To sum up, an amplifier that is rated with one channel driven, into a single frequency, at a high rate of distortion, or into a lower than 8 ohms impedance is not giving you all the wattage and performance you are expecting.
I know I've been hard on it in this comparison, but is the VSX-1019 a bad product? By all means, no. It is simply that the VSX-21 is a better one. Even though the VSX-1019's published wattage is overstated, as is the case with most budget-friendly receivers, it can be a great receiver option depending on your room size, desired performance at louder playback levels, and the speaker system it is driving.
The next time you are looking at a new receiver or amplifier, and the sales clerk touts the high wattage it puts out, ask for the real numbers so you may make an educated decision with your money.