Product Review - B&K AVR-202 Surround Sound Receiver - March, 2000

Colin Miller

Manufacturer's Specs:

Preamplifier Section:
Frequency Response
:  5 Hz - 20 kHz, +0/-.5dB
Maximum Output
:  9 Volts
S/N Ratio
:  89 dB CCIR 2 k Weighted @ Max
Input Impedance
:  50 k Ohms
Output Impedance
:  221 Ohms

Amplifier Section:
Power @ 8 Ohms
: 105 watts x 5
Frequency Response
:  5 Hz - 45 kHz
: 0.09% @ 1kHz
S/N Ratio (A-weighted)
:  95 dB

: 6 1/2" H x 17" W x 17" D

Weight: 55 Pounds

MSRP: $2,699 USA

B&K Components; Web

"Nothing is more simple than greatness."  - Ralph Waldo Emersion

I found that bit on the B&K website.  I've got one of my own, "Catching up on sleep with six or seven hour naps in the middle of the day gives me a slight headache."

A former roommate of mine could get in fourteen or eighteen hours before experiencing physical pain.  Impressive, but not something I aspire to.  As much as I enjoy the occasional binge sleeping session, all in all, I think that I should simply go to bed earlier.  But then again, sleeping eats into the time to do things like this.

The following review has been a long time in the waiting: My waiting for a product that the manufacturer had on backorder, my subsequent waiting for an opportunity to borrow the unit from a friend, his waiting for my returning it after the review, and my editor's waiting for a review that, for all my procrastination, just couldn’t seem to get out of my brain and into the keyboard.  Believe it or not, this whole process started long ago, at the Consumer Electronics Show back in early ’98.

Shortly after meandering into the B&K booth, and glimpsing a DVD player that has yet to come to market, I happened upon the prototype of what was then quite a novel idea - a no frills, high-performance surround-sound receiver set to sell for roughly $2,500.  Keep in mind that two years ago the status quo over $2,000 was separates, and that B&K had been tapping that conception, drawing the masses away from the compromised mass market receiver.

The majority of A/V enthusiasts at that time figured that separate components had an inherent advantage over a one-piece unit because specialized sections of the audio chain could be isolated from each other.  Most didn’t mention that the added complexity of extra inputs and outputs, as well as additional cases for the extra electronics, added costs that didn’t necessarily correlate to better performance.  I personally think that the true motivation behind the rationale was that gear-heads generally like to have as many boxes as possible.

Coincidentally, in sort of a parallel evolution, Krell introduced a one-box CD player/Preamplifier, simplifying the chain of “high-end” CD reproduction - the Transport/Resolution Enhancer/Jitter Reduction Device/Digital to Analog Converter/Preamplifier combination.  There was good technical reasoning behind that collapse of the stack, but before I digress . . . .

Novelty didn’t separate B&K’s AVR-202 from the rest of the wannabes, but the fact that when I peeked underneath the hood, it flashed a power supply that put some dedicated outboard amplifiers to shame.  This is quite sensible, as the greatest limiting factor in the majority of receivers on the market today is the power supply behind the power amplifier section.

I had previously stated, on some written occasion, that any receiver that could perform to my standards without the help of an outboard amp would have to sell for $2,500 or more, mostly for that reason.  Manufacturers simply couldn’t put real guts in a box with a good front end for less money.  They could do fairly well if they cut back on the amplifier section, and geared their products towards more forgiving speakers (8 Ohms, high sensitivity), but when it came to a truly great single-box unit, there was a hole in the market.  B&K must have been listening, and others as well.

Denon’s AVR-5700 and Yamaha’s DSP A-1, are probably the most famous of the new breed of truly high-performance, single-box turn keys for digital decoding, signal processing, control, and power amplification.  The more specialized High-End companies have recognized the niche for more convenient, less intimidating packages, and have followed the example, but so far as I know, the first was B&K.

Even when they only offered separates (preamp/power amp) and merely Pro Logic decoding way back in 1995 (and maybe earlier), B&K was just a little bit ahead of the rest.  Every surround processor/preamplifier they’ve offered, from the first AVP-1000, is not only software, but hardware-upgradeable.  Heck, on top of upgrading the insides to incorporate the latest software decoding or necessary hardware, you can even opt to change the outside to resemble the most current model.  There are a few companies who make it their business to ensure that their customers never get left behind, no matter how long ago they spent their money. B&K is one of them.

I’m glad to see that what finally came to market didn’t back down from the promise of that prototype. I took a look around and found the following characteristics inherent to the 202:

  • With a 122 VAC line in, DC rail voltage measured at +/- 67 V, with 4 amp rail fuses.  Whoa!  Kind of high for a receiver, eh?

  • The Plintron Torroidal Transformer  is rated at 682 VA, with a 12 amp main fuse. Not a huge transformer, but big enough to crush the average mass market neighbor with a good drop from a few feet.  Plintron is known for making quality toroidal transformers.  Quality is always a nice thing.

  • Two main filter capacitors rated at 27,000 µF each. Hey there, take it easy big fella!  A combined 54,000 µF of storage capacitance.  For a receiver, that's unheard of.  This is far more than even a good number of dedicated power amplifiers have, two-channel or five.

  • One pair of MOSFET output devices per channel. Not a whole lot of devices per channel, nor did they look overly rugged.  I have no doubt they'll do the job, just don't expect to arc weld for long periods.

  • LOTS of heat sink real estate. Center and Rear channel output devices occupy one heat sink, left and right front main channels on the other.

  • Speaker output hard-wired to terminals. Good solid connections, and if you strip the binding posts, it won't be a complete pain to replace them.

  • Outer casing fits into machined groove of face plate.  Unfortunately, you don't see this kind of workmanship often accompanying a box that sets out to do so much.

Anyway . . .

The rail voltage is relatively high for the size for the transformer, considering that it supplies all five channels.  Explain?  Love to.  The consequence of a high rail voltage is that for a given power supply step-down transformer rating (measured in VA, Volt Amperes, i.e., watts), a higher voltage output translates into a lower continuous current output capability. 

In most circumstances, engineers only count on between 70% - 80% of the transformer capacity, both for safety margin, and because of the fact that transformers do “weird” things when they approach capacity, like heat up, supply far less voltage than required, or otherwise wreak havoc.

For instance, a transformer with a 600 VA rated limit, at maximum output, can theoretically supply current and voltage so long as the product of the two (expressed in VA) does not exceed 600.  If the transformer will supply 60 volts rms, the total current cannot exceed 10 amps rms.  However, if the transformer’s secondary only offered 20 volts rms, the current capability would triple to 30 amps rms.

In both cases, the transformer remains the same size.  The only difference between the two is the ratio of turns between the primary and secondary.  Which transformer offers more power capacity depends on the load.  The first will perform better into higher impedance loads that would exhaust the voltage swing faster than the current capacity. The latter will better suit lower impedance loads that would bleed the first transformer dry of current before ever taking advantage of the higher voltage potential available.  If you’d like to throw the numbers around:

Voltage (Volts) = Current (Amperes) x Impedance (Ohms), and so, one can derive that Current = Voltage/Impedance.

Power (watts) applied to a given load = (Voltage applied to the load) x (Current drawn by the load at that voltage) x the cosine of the phase shift between the current and voltage (in the case of reactive impedances). Got that? Film at 11.

Although a lot of people make a big hype about “high-current” amplifiers, usually without qualifying the term, sacrificing a bit of current capability for the sake of greater voltage swing is not necessarily a crippling feature, particularly taking into account a good deal of storage capacitance and the variable nature of both loudspeakers and audio.

Continuous current capability, while certainly nice to have on tap, is not absolutely necessary for short peaks if the storage capacitors in the power supply can stash away enough reserve energy.  With very little current capability from the transformer, and very little storage capacitance, you’re very much in trouble.  But, with a little saved in the bank, the capacitors can supply bursts of current for short-term demands, which a moderately robust transformer can make up between stressful moments.  Equipped with a power supply boasting 54,000 µF (Micro-Farads) of filtering capacitance right after the rectifiers, and a power transformer that is pretty big to begin with, the AVR-202 can save enough juice for a rainy day or two, and perhaps even a minor flood once in awhile.

So, with a somewhat high rail voltage and a formidable set of storage capacitors, we can state that the power supply has been designed to exceed its rated 105 [email protected] 8 ohms by a wide margin for short periods, especially if it should only have to stuff a channel or two at a time.  In other words, the AVR-202 is optimized for transient-heavy, dynamic program material, coincidentally similar to action-oriented theatrical audio that often reaches barely sane, if not stupidly high levels of SPL between spans of intelligible dialogue. Stallone in other words.

But wait, there’s MORE!  

Surround Modes:

  • Surround - Basic Pro Logic or 5.1 decoding as appropriate, be it PCM (Pro Logic Only,) Dolby Digital, or DTS.

  • 3 Stereo Hall -  A 5 channel matrix decoding mode.  Retains any LFE in subwoofer.

  • 3 Stereo -  A 3 channel (L,C,R) matrix mode.  Retains any LFE in subwoofer.

  • Stereo Hall -  4 channel matrix decoder (no center.)  Retains any LFE in subwoofer.

  • Stereo Front/Rear -  Down-mixes 5.1  (except LFE) to  left and right front channels, then outputs identical stereo information to the front and rear.  Retains any LFE in subwoofer.

  • Stereo -  Down-mixes everything (except LFE) to stereo.  Retains any LFE in subwoofer.

  • Stereo Lt Rt -  Down-mixes everything (including LFE) to left and right front channels.

  • Headphone (Surround mode?  No, not really) -  Same as Stereo Lt Rt except that it comes through the headphones.

Quick Terrifics:

  • Discrete Power Commands - A real help with setup macros, especially if you want to integrate it with an automation system.
  • Tuner - Not remarkable in itself, but nice to have with 20 station presets.
  • User Presets -  Easy access to 20 combinations of preset channel levels, volume levels, inputs, and surround modes.  They can be named.
  • Completely Upgradeable Architecture -  Like its dedicated preamplifier predecessors, because of its modular design, the AVR-202 is completely upgradeable in terms of both hardware and software, from digital inputs to DACs, far beyond mere 5.1 analog audio inputs, or even flash ROM capabilities of many competing products, which for me, adds very real long-term value.  The model name is also upgradeable, not important, but thorough.
  • Bass management allows running a channel full-range AND routing the bass content to the subwoofer by setting the speaker to LARGE and the subwoofer to ULTRA mode.
  • Build Quality to Envy -  A face plate to set the look, parts behind to hold it up.
  • Independent Secondary Zone handy for distributing audio and video to another room.
  • IR distribution ports (2 inputs, one for each zone, and 4 outputs for other components).
  • Four 12 V DC trigger plugs (limited to 50 mA).
  • Input names are programmable on the display.
  • Seven A/V inputs, 5 A/V outputs, ALL of which include S-Video.
  • LOTS of digital inputs and outputs (7 coaxial - 1 of them is a 3.5 mm plug - digital inputs, 5 optical digital inputs, a 3.5 mm plug coaxial output, and 1 optical output).
  • Preamplifier outputs for all channels (2 each for both sub and center).
  • 5 year warranty

The remote control is both universal with pre-programmed IR codes, and learning capable.  It's wonderfully easy to set up, and the user needs only press a couple of buttons, scroll through the choices, and wait for the power command to kick in with the component.  Otherwise, enter a code provided by the manual.  Or, learn codes from existing remotes.  Layout of the buttons is nice and uncluttered, easy to reach, and intuitive. 

Although I did like the simple, minimalist face plate that just oozes class, because almost everything is accessed though the menu tree, or scrolling slowly through a list, I did miss direct access from the front panel.  So, on my list of complaints:

  • The volume control knob on the front doesn’t turn, but is a stiff, spring-loaded two-way ramping control, and takes a long time to begin the ramping (a good second or two).
  • There is neither direct source selection on the face, nor a quick turn of the knob to do the same thing.
  • The digital error concealment seems lacking, meaning that if you’ve got source material that sends a bit stream with holes in it (scratched discs or faulty CDR recordings) you’ll get a burst of noise where other processors/dedicated DACs will mute the output for an instant.
  • The remote control interface, though it does offer discrete input selection, and quick, easy volume changes, does not contain basic preamplifier functions (like volume) if the last button pushed was an input, as that subsequently makes the entire remote function as if it belonged solely to that selected component.  One could learn the functions to the respective buttons on each “page,”  after setup, but that requires an additional remote from a nice dealer.
  • RS-232 port provided does nothing, at least at the time of the review.  It's supposed to in the future.

Okay, complaint  session over. That said, the AVR-202 has another positive I haven't mentioned . . .

IT EVEN SOUNDS GOOD!  (Or at least conveys an electrical signal that, when converted to acoustic energy by reasonably accurate loudspeakers, it does so.)

My 5.1 experience with the AVR-202, whether it be with DTS encoded music recordings, or movie material in Dolby Digital or DTS, was always smooth, cruising, and easy on the ears.  With Alan Parsons’ DTS disc, or with "Antz", "Bugs", or the Launch Sequence of "Apollo 13", the AVR-202 carried off the performance without a hitch.  Even though it's not rated with 4 ohm loads, I never had stability  problems at normal listening levels with either the Infinitys or the M&K's, both of which offer real 4 ohm nominal loads that dip to or below 3 ohms.  Into moderately efficient speakers, especially those offering a 6 or 8 ohm nominal impedance, volume levels in small to medium rooms should never be a problem.  With truly efficient speakers, output volume won’t become an issue short of sound reinforcement applications.  Down the road, should you move into a large room and/or change over to less efficient speakers, did I mention the preamplifier outputs yet?

With 2-channel music reproduction, the AVR-202 behaved in every way as a well-trained gentleman.  Even with my amp-wrenching vintage Infinity Renaissance 90s, the receiver did very well, considering.  It couldn’t light the towers up as either of my Aragon 8008 models did, or for that matter nudge a full glow like the Sunfire Stereo amp did.  To be fair, speakers like the Renaissance 90s weren’t designed with a receiver in mind.  One might even think that they were created to destroy them.  Even so, the AVR-202 fared better than a few “muscle” amplifiers that the Renaissance 90s had run over in prior encounters, allowing me to have my fun with the Mars Lasar, Dire Straights (my fiancée hates that group), Jewel, Fiona Apple, the venerable Miss Amos, and even gold old Maurice Ravel.

Overall, I’d venture to say that the 202 as a whole leans toward the smooth side.  So long as within its output capabilities, the sound never became harsh, fatiguing, or otherwise unpleasant, but rather consistently enjoyable.

Regarding the higher frequency reproduction, it has been said that MOSFET devices are inherently smoother, more tube-like, than bipolar transistors.  I don’t know if that’s a categorically true statement, but the characterization fits the AVR-202.  It didn’t exactly sound like the big Cary monoblock heaters that used to squat on my floor, but the top side of the spectrum did stroke me a bit softly, rounding the rough edges and imparting a refined character while blending some of the upper-end texture, but still with a glint of sparkle, with that sparkle more apparent when using the digital inputs.  [It may very well be that the analog input always goes into the A/D converters by default, limiting the very top-end resolution, as well as providing a slight upper-end roll-off.  This would explain the somewhat limited bandwidth in the preamplifier section.]  In a way, the digital to analog section reminded me a little of sweet champagne (California sparkling white wine for you snobs.)  In every regard, a B&K.  No doubt, many will find the AVR-202 simply “musical.”  

In fact, a few audiophiles whose opinions I truly respect have deemed my own preferences somewhat on the analytical side.  When I say that the AVR-202’s outstanding performance overall just doesn’t steep my tea exactly as I’d have it, when it comes to the last octave and a half up, keep in mind that I wouldn't argue with anyone's opinion that the top-end is utterly outstanding, even if I could.

The midrange performance left nothing to complain about.  There was no metallic sheen (sheen is typical of less robust receivers choking on a load).  Neither musical or theatrical information seemed held back, muffled,  or otherwise muted.  All in all, just about right.

Bass content, though not the equal of either Aragons or the Sunfire, upheld standards for tight, deep, and full-bodied.  The AVR-202 couldn’t pull off the same kind of weight running full-range with the Infinitys, but in more practical situations, such as running the high-pass configurations of the bass management with the assistance of powered subwoofers, the AVR-202 will do splendidly.

Sound stage (imaging characteristics) of the AVR-202 are immediate, up front, yet very spacious and open.  A nice sense of dimension, assuming content allows, accompanies a believable variety of focus and depth.

Top to bottom, front to back, side to side, and along the other three degrees of freedom for the heck of it, the AVR-202 is an extremely good product, for the money, or by sheer value alone. Dare I say that it might reflect well on the tastes of the owner?

The build quality, compared to mass market products, is astounding.  The sonic performance goes neck and neck with the best of its class, and the drive capability, in the context of a receiver, is tremendous.  I have to say, that even though some of the functional aspects clash with my own personal preferences, the AVR-202 is top-shelf, through and through.  If you've got the time, the inclination for experimentation, and a good back, take one home for a spin.

- Colin Miller -

For the record, components used during review:

Aragon 8008bb Stereo Power Amplifier
Aragon 8008x3 Three-Channel Power Amplifier
Sunfire Stereo Power Amplifier
Yamaha RX-V995 Receiver
Infinity Renaissance 90 Loudspeakers
M&K satellite/subwoofer systems, including; S-150 THX Ultra Satellites, S-1C Satellites, 2 MX-700 subwoofers, and the THX Select 5.1 Loudspeaker system.
JVC XL-Z1050 CD player
Toshiba 2109 DVD Player
Bybee/Curl Prototype AC Purifiers & Power Cords
M'Dor Power Cord
DH Labs Silver Sonic Interconnects, WBT RCA connectors
AudioQuest Diamond Interconnects
Liberty Emerald 14-4 Speaker cable, custom-terminated.

© Copyright 2000 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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