Rich Warren | Some sound advice on buying a receiver

Rich Warren | Some sound advice on buying a receiver

Let's open with a reader question: We are setting up a TV area in our basement. I have a couple of vintage Polk audio speakers that I plan to use for a TV sound upgrade. My question for you is should I look for a vintage receiver somewhere or is there any good quality new ones on the market today? My budget is under $500.

Answer: Definitely purchase a new receiver, since only new models will work with the latest TVs, cable or satellite boxes and disc players. Even if you have an older TV, someday you may upgrade your TV. All new receivers work with HDMI, the current standard for all audio/video electronics. Most still include some old-fashioned conventional jacks, such as RCA pin plugs. Many also accept some form of pure digital input.

The sound and tuner quality of most under $500 receivers remains the same as a decade ago, if not two decades ago. A modestly priced receiver delivers enough power to easily drive your Polk speakers. Denon, Onkyo, Pioneer, Sony and Yahama all continue offering good performance and value, possibly better value than they did 20 years ago.

The pure performance of audio receivers peaked from 1980-90. That's the era when amplifier distortion declined and FM radio reception peaked. Now manufacturers include the FM tuner as an afterthought. Then again, most FM stations now consider good sound quality an afterthought. The manufacturers mentioned above include a premium line of receivers, somewhat like Lexus is to Toyota. As with a Lexus, features, and sometimes power, are the greatest difference.

Smartphone performance

Rocketing forward from traditional technology to very current technology, these tips will enable you to maximize smartphone performance. When it's bitterly cold, keeping your phone in a pocket or attached to your body extends battery life when outdoors.

Turn off all apps you're not using and completely remove apps you don't use. That app seemed fascinating when you installed it, but that may have been the only time you used it.

Turn down screen brightness. Most phone screens look just fine at 60-75 percent brightness. Disable the annoying auto brightness setting. On my various phones, it never adequately compensated for ambient light.

Finally, letting your phone's battery discharge below 20 percent will shorten the battery's life.

Apple regularly updates the operating system (iOS) on its phones. While major whole number updates occur on a roughly yearly basis, all Apple phones receive incremental updates as Apple releases them. Generally, Apple updates the operating system on its phones and tablets for several years.

In contrast, Google only updates Android once a year, with an incremental update mainly for security issues and bugs. When that major update installs on your phone is anyone's guess. It could be nine months after its release. You can buy a brand new model and it may lack the newest operating system. Google's own Pixel phones receive the major update instantly. Nokia phones and phones from one or two other companies subscribing to the Android One program receive the new operating system within a month.

I bought an LG V35 phone in December, about four months after Google released the newest Android Pie operating system, yet it arrived with the previous Android Oreo. LG currently estimates it will update my phone sometime between April and June. Google doesn't require companies to update phones to the latest operating system. Generally, most companies only update the operating system for two years, and then you're expected to buy a new phone. With most phones, the operating system update installs automatically with a notification. You also can set your phone to update its apps automatically. This usually improves app performance and increases security.

Problem solved

Finally, Good Vibes came by in November and installed a VHF antenna to augment my UHF antenna to improve my reception of WILL TV (channel 12). It solved my WILL reception problems.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. Email him at