Once upon a time a long long time ago in a Galaxy far far away from the Empire and Darth Vader, there was a Golden Age of Audio. And for a time within this Age a war raged on Planet Earth for over half a decade, the likes of which had never been seen before or since, and for a short time powerful High Fidelity sound was available to the average consumer.
The Receiver Wars occurred during the ‘Golden Era’ of Audio (1971-1981) when the major HiFi manufacturers developed audio products that really were aimed at producing the finest musical reproduction as possible and multi-billion dollar corporations invested massive amounts into R&D to achieve this end.
Commencing in 1974 and ending in 1979 the major manufacturers of retail HiFi components competed against each other in a ruthless all-out war to dominate the market and offer the most powerful, best sounding and most aesthetically stunning Receiver.
They were selling to a wealthier and more intelligent market than today (it was before “Diet, injections and injunctions” had reduced the average IQ) and the general pubic were expected to be capable of interpreting things like Nyquist Charts and be familiar with terms like ‘harmonic distortion’, ‘slew rates’ & ‘frequency response’ which today are only reserved for that bizarre and tiny segment of the human population known as audiophiles.
Receivers are an audio component that combine a tuner, pre-amplifier and power amplifier into one unit, so that everything you need to listen to the radio or other music sources in High Fidelity is contained in the one box – sans speakers of course. The company that invented the Receiver was Harman Kardon, however other manufacturers were quick to introduce their own Receivers to market. By the end of the 1960s, Receivers had become a highly popular audio component genre.
Excerpt from a 1972 Marantz Catalog Explaining the Concept of a Receiver
Perhaps one reason for their popularity was their stunning looks, with their mixture of multi-coloured back-lit tuning dials, signal strength and alignment meters, VU meters and a multitude controls that all combined to produce something that looked remarkable.
Next to these most separate components would just look, well bland in comparison. Receivers became a feature in the home, standing out without taking up a huge amount of space as the furniture based systems that had been so popular in the 1950s and 1960s.
Traditionally audio purists will tell you that for the ‘best’ sound separate components are the only way to go, and normally this is the case. However as the popularity for Receivers gained – R&D funding soon followed. Receivers began to see refinements and performance that out-paced what even the best ‘high-end’ reference components could offer. Receivers had become the flagship products of audio manufacturers.
The Receiver Wars Commence
It was 1974 and two events would occur that would forever change the landscape of HiFi and trigger the ‘Receiver War’.
The first event of 1974 was when the United States Federal Trade Commission moved to introduce a new and rigorous standard for rating the performance of Hi-Fi gear. While not perfect, and some argue it is not even measuring the correct thing, it was at least a step in the right direction.
Prior to 1974 the audio market had suffered from confusion caused by a myriad of different power ratings making it very difficult to compare one brand to another in terms of performance. Often a manufacturer would pick a method that would give them the most impressive figure that they could quote in their marketing material, and there was very little control over how these measurements were made. The outcome of this meant that it was entirely possible you could purchase a 50 Watt amplifier only to find that your neighbours 10 Watt amplifier would drown yours out!
The new FTC standard was directly aimed at combating the unrealistic claims being made by some manufacturers, and to arm the consumer with a rating system with which to compare one HiFi product to another.
The new metric was known as RMS or Root-Means-Squared and was a punishing test for amplifiers using sine-wave signal voltage to measure the maximum output that an amplifier could output into a resistive load before ‘clipping’ or distorting.
The RMS measurement was quoted as the maximum output in Watts an amplifier could produce with a corresponding measurement of harmonic distortion produced at that rating. This measurement was taken over a given frequency range, typically 20-20000Hz.
The second event to change the course of Hi-Fidelity History was when Pioneer – true to their brand name – released to market the first 100 Watts RMS per-channel Receiver as rated by the new FTC standard.
And thus the first salvo in the Receiver War was fired.
Posted In: Article, Featured
Tagged: `, receivers wars
Some people debate which was the first 100+ watt per channel receiver: The Pioneer SX-1010, the Kenwood KR-9400, or the Marantz 2325?
It doesn’t matter, they are all great receivers!
Great write up on the Receiver Wars. However, it’s a shame that the Sansui G-8000 or G-9000 was not even mentioned because they were actually the 2 most powerful Sansui receivers of the 1970’s.
The 22,000 and 33,000 are NOT receivers. They are a separate power amp with a preamp/tuner.
Yes you are right! I did mention that Sansui (and Rotel) were technically CHEATING but decided to make allowances for it because the G22000 & G33000 are just so AWESOME! Maybe I am being corrupted by modern politics 😉 When I get time I will have to mention the G9000.
An absolutely lovely article. I was a young lad in the 70s when my dad bought a SX-939; not a monster but close to it. I enjoy vintage audio and apparently so do many others!
Very good article well written
Wow. Great info. I run a store in Seattle and I get to see this stuff on a daily basis. Though I haven’t owned most of these monsters I have had a lot of their smaller brothers in the shop including a Marantz 2330, Kenwood KR-7600, Sansui 5050, and many more! Thanks for writing such an easy to read fun article!
Turntables & Trails
I just wanted to say thanks for putting this piece together. I have just entered the world of receivers in hopes of
buying my first. I’m a child of the 70’s, so it really is exciting to enter into this audio sphere. Your article
cleared up the issue of why so many receivers of that era seem to be so sought after, and at such premium prices !
Cheers for a job well done.
I just bought two of the best. Marantz 2325 and Pioneer SX-1250. Waiting to rebuild them so I can hear what music can sound like from them.
A fun read and thanks for putting it together. I’m now a proud owner of a fully restored Marantz. Every cap , diode, transistors, extra soft start relay etc on every board has been replaced.
Let me say, it’s a privilege to hear this and I can’t thank enough the engineer who did this out of passion.
I’m a LUCKY individual to be hearing music so softly at times and thunderous at others while at the same times the delicate details of the music. The cadence , rhythm, attack and decay of handling 15″ woofers on my Klipsch Belle’s on VERY low volume at one in the morning while little one sleep is truly a sign of a great receiver.
Anyway, hearing so much about the musicality of Sansui G-22000/33000 I’ll be looking for one just out of curiosity.
Folks, get a Marantz 2500 fully “off the frame” restoration and you’ll never regret it.
I owned a Kenwood 9600. Great unit. I ran JBL L100s and L166s through it. It didn’t even blink.
Interesting that Harman Kardon stayed out of these wars.
Realistic STA-2080 anyone?
I still own my Pioneer SX-1250. My father garbage picked it for me as a kid in the early 2000’s and to this day I still can’t understand why someone would just throw away a fully working beauty. . . . . Okay a few bulbs were burnt out and three knobs were missing but still fully functional (all fixed up now). Things like this normally are far out of reach for my budget so I feel extremely honored to own such a blessing. The warmth this thing reproduces is inviting even if you’re listing to MP3’s. It will even put most vacuum tube units to shame even through my cheep craigslist speakers. (I plan on getting some used “cheap” Vandersteen Model 2’s for it.) My bias is for the Pioneer but the truth is all vintage high fidelity receivers from this era are truly a class above anything made today. They’re envious inducing for all your friends so for the love of God don’t keep anything like that in your garage.
I have a Pioneer 1280, Sansui 9090 and a Marantz 2325. I love my 9090 and the other two are great. I just prefer Sansui products. I have never turned the volume above 2 and you can’t hear a person next to you. Crisp clean and loud. I also like some of the stuff Luxman put out there.
Nice write up. This is the most extensive chronological account I have seen of the major blows in the war. Most turn into a list of “all the monsters”.
The last page regarding the real purpose of this type of equipment seals the deal on this being a well thought out article.
I enjoyed reading the article. I thought you did a great job compiling the key elements of the receiver war for a historical and educational perspective in a nutshell and included specific specs on specific models of receivers as support . This article wasn’t meant to showcase all the wonderful receivers during that time. There’s other articles and debates on that. Every person involved in the receiver war has a favorite and excuses why others wouldn’t be given the time of day, even if they were better. Right Marantz people?
On another note- I’d like to think the real winners of the receiver war are the receivers that are still going strong, all original , without issues, and without the ‘for its age’ excuse.
I delighted to read these lines. Thank you for resurrecting the genealogy of these timeless monsters.
I’m just one more fan of these machines. Unfortunately in Europe followed the english model – integrated amplifiers and let pass completely these Ferraris…
In my collection i have 2 Marantz 2270, one Pioneer SX-850, one Pioneer SX-950, one Pioneer SX-1050 (bought 2 days ago) and the Sansui 9090, my all time favorite one!
in the future i want to get the SX-1250 and the Sansui9090DB.
Please write an article about the Marantz 2270. He is not one monster receiver, but he deserves it.
It would also be good to write a review about the SX-1050, the little brother of the Pioneer SX-1250.
The Pioneer SX-1050 has “only” 120 horses :0)
Fabulous website! Thanks for all your work putting it together. One correction: Your quoted power of Yamaha CR1000 is wrong. Its correct RMS rating (20-20kHz at 0.1% THD), is 70wpc @ 8 ohms. IHF rating is 100wpc @ 8 ohms. Not “40wpc RMS” and “70 wpc IHF,” respectively, as stated in your article above. For reference, I cite the manufacturer’s original brochure, which can be found in the online HiFi Engine library. Thank you, in advance, for making this correction.
Done! Thanks for the info.
Great job, i am Lucky cause i use à 5760 with infinity kappa, both in a mint condition. Only pleasure and strengh
À french man
I have a pioneer sx1010 and feel privaliged to be a part of the receiver wars and this great era for hifi
The Monsters little family members watched the war from a different side. These models may be known as “Mid-Fi”, “Lo-Fi”, or ‘If-Fi’. If I had way more money then I would’ve bought a Hi-Fi monster.
And eventually I did. Now I have that and everything in between. I love the big receivers but when I use the lower tier audio I’m more at ease since the big ones , if something should happen to them….it’s not that simple and cheap to remedy the situation. There’s more at stake. Then again the rewards are somewhat higher too, although that’s subject to debate.
What I’m saying is let’s not forget the ones in the garage, bedroom, basement, man cave, dorm room, spare room, office, the one you brought to the girlfriends house (future wives?) and the ones she made you get rid of in your house.
Awesome article I love those receiver amplifiers use to own If I’m not wrong Marantz 2325 paired up with Bose 901 produced unbelievable sound me and my friends enjoyed many years to come, it was a magic decades.
Nice article but lacking certain pertinent call-outs.. The monster Pioneer & Technics receivers had fraudulent power output specs, for example the SX1980 actually put out 145W/ch rather than the claimed 270W/ch. Both receivers had robust power supplies but inadequate heat sinking area, and Pioneer was slapped with a an FTC Case & Desist about their fraudulent claims for the SX-1980. Basic problem was that neither receiver would NOT pass the FTS preconditioning tests. When tested rock-cold the SX-1980 would put 270W/ch but… as the heat sink heated up its power output would decrease significantly… The only monster receivers meeting & exceeding the FTC power output specs were the Marantz 2385, 2500 and 2600.. I actually have serial # 0002 model 2600 hand carried back from Japan by a close relative, it is in mint condition and I have turned down offers of >$9,000.. Great product, plenty of power, scope, 5 gang front end, quartz lock tuner, full complimentary output stage, patented servo-controlled heat-sink tunnel output stage…
Hi, and thanks! Interesting… do you have any articles to the support the fraudulent power output spec claim?
I could not find any reference to FTC cease and desist orders other than 1 comment on another website that also lacked any source references.
What I did find was 2 independent lab tests that told a different story:
The folks at Audio Magazine in the September 1978 issue reported on their laboratory tests on the Pioneer SX-1980 using both the older FTC standard and the newer 1978 IHF standard (with the specified warm up). Both their tests showed that the 270 Watt RMS rating was very conservative, with the SX-1980 delivering more than the 270 Watts claimed.
The reviewer went even further to say:
“Though the new [IHF mandated] “Dynamic Headroom” measurement is specified in dB, it should be mentioned that based upon the short-term signal used to measure the 2.3 dB headroom of this amplifier, it was producing nearly 460 watts of short-term power under these test conditions!”
Then there is HiFi Stereo Review, the November 1978 edition that published their Hirsch-Houck laboratory tests of the Pioneer SX-1980 using the new standard – IHF-A-202 1978 which included the prescribed one-hour preconditioning period at one-third rated power, they stated that the unit did not become excessively hot during this stage. Their tests indicated that the 270 Watt rating was quiet conservative with clipping occurring at around 300 Watts with intermodulation distortion measured at 0.045 percent at 300 watts.
I will check in later if I find some independent lab tests for the Technics.
Planar brand quad receiver.
After trying low end Electrovoice EV1144 & Sanyo quads I finished up in 1976 with a (owned by Canadian Electrohome) Planar XR-4120 receiver, rated at 4×30/2×70 watts RMS 20-20 kHz at 0.5% THD, which could handle all quad formats including full logic SQ. I enjoyed RCA CD-4 and had a library of about 20 CD-4 + 40 SQ & 1 QS LPs.
I built my own 4 towers each using Philips drivers-1 8 ohm AD80652-W, 1 AD5061-M, 1 AD2011-S & 1 AD8002 passive radiator, and crossovers using data from Philips published ‘Building Hi-Fi Speaker Systems’ by M.C.Hull. Dual (forget model) turntable with (forget model) cartridge & Shibata stylus compatible with CD-4 high frequency requirements. I also had a joystick 360 degree speaker control. Unfortunately my enjoyment was short-lived, since while on vacation my house was burgled with only my system taken. Presumably one of my kids had been talking about it and one of their acquaintances had unsavoury connections.
Planar were late into the short-lived quad market and went out of business. I remember the hefty 50 lb weight, more than some much higher rated receivers, even although the power transformer was toroidal.
As an example of the advertising problem, before I bought my Planar XR-4120 I had a large French Provincial cabinet (by Drexel) Motorola credenza since my wife liked it as a piece of furniture. Multiband radio, turntable brand I forget, cassette player (motherboard Nakamichi) and 3-way (12 inch woofers) speakers. Advertised as 350 watts, but this was dynamic power rating for 2 channels, no distortion figure quoted, which translated into less than 20 watts RMS/channel into 8 ohms. European ratings had for years been based on continuous RMS at specified distortion levels, usually into 8 ohms. As a ‘Brit’ with exposure in family radio & TV business since age 10, I was familiar with both systems, living in Canada 1963-72 & 1976 on.
Just wanted to congratulate you on your FANTASTIC Site. Who is the brilliant Hi-Fi Journalist who wrote the article on the Receiver Wars ?
Thanks for your feedback, much appreciated!
I am glad you are enjoying the site 🙂 This site is a hobby of mine to spread the love of vintage HiFi, unfortunately I haven’t had the time to contribute to it lately.
Where is famous Akai ? This company also enjoined receiver wars with model AA 940 (classic two channel) stereo . Must added in this competition .
While I do love Akai gear from this period, they did not take part in the Receiver Wars. The war started with the 1974 100 Watt RMS per channel Pioneer SX-1010 while the Akai AA-940 was 66 Watts per channel. Likewise I do not include the celebrated Marantz 2270. Akai actually adopted a unique market approach and instead of competing in the raw power race, Akai opted to offer quadraphonic sound in their top of the line models.