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.