Is a stereo amp better than an avr?

The short version: yes.
The long version: it depends

For 5.1 mastering, we are using a PIONEER SC-LX 73 which was no cheap unit in 2010. The AV sound of this receiver is very decent and the new formats like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio are indeed magnificent, when listened to through decent loudspeakers (we use Dynaudio Excite series for mastering).

But when listening to „normal“ stereo, this amp is utter crap (and the old multichannel vs stereo thing comes up again). It isn’t even as good as a 200 Bucks amp of the discounter. The sound is dull, uninspired and boring. After tweaking it with all means and voodoo, it became clear, that an av receiver isn’t a good idea for decent stereo listening. Even with high end loudspeakers, this will remain only mediocre because it can’t extract the real abilities of this equipment.

Enter Musical Fidelity M6i.

We tested a MuFi M6i for stereo in the same location. The difference was like changing from a LADA to a Porsche. The fun in music listening was back, the bass was monumental (without the sub!) and the stage was entirely 3D. Instruments played crisp and highly detailed, were located precisely and recordings, that sounded good on the PIONEER sounded magnificent with the M6i. Even lossy files via apple tv and „tuned“ by a Musical Fidelity M1 DAC sounded better than SACDs played through the PIONEER.

Well, in fact, the Dynaudios had played way under their capabilities with the avr. They need lots of power to provide the Dynaudio typical sound: excellent midrange, excellent voices and brilliant treble. The M6i ressurected them in a way, which was stunning – ok, 200 watts per channel are no joke at all.

And av sound? Well, with the M6i the av sound is better and more detailed too – the front speakers were driven through the HT inputs – means, that the PIONEER plays pre-amp for the M6i.

So if you’re only on av, watching movies, blu rays or dvds, a decent av receiver is ok. But if you’re seriously in stereo, dump your av and switch back to a stereo device. Or – if you don’t want to dump the av (we can’t), take the stereo amp in ht mode for all multi channel music. But then, a cheap av does the job, you don’t need an expensive av amp any more.

Could an avr be as decent as a stereo amp? Maybe, but then you got to spend multiple times the amount of a decent stereo amp (think of the Sausano series …).

Ah, one last thing: It is so refreshing to use an amp by just plugging in the speakers and a cd player and all is set up. No fraggin’ mikes for sound measuring (aka MCACC), and no playing around with 10 million sound presets. Just sound. Marvellous.