Originally Posted by Appleby
Thanks, that's exactly what I wanted to know. I had actually been looking at speakers, because the consensus seems to be that they're the most important part of the audio chain (and because I don't know anything about receivers). I'd been thinking about a pair of used Tekton M-Lore's (at 34" they're only 4" taller than the current setup--they were purchased in '93, btw), but ran into the aforementioned aesthetics problem. Your suggestion to buy a used receiver sounds excellent, and 2-channel output would indeed be sufficient. I'll start looking through the forums for recommendations, but I'd certainly appreciate any models you think would give good value.
I think the speakers are the most important, but what caused me to recommend trying the receiver first is that it's hard for me to know how good your speakers are without a model # and you have that aesthetic constraint - so recommending you replace your speakers first might not be the best move if your current ones are already pretty decent.
On the other hand, your Yamaha receiver seems somewhat old, was more of an entry level model even when it was new, and whether your speakers now or new speakers that you'll eventually get are not the most efficient, you'll likely benefit from more real power - I say real because some/many brands inflate their power ratings.
Once you reach a certain level on the receiver side, you'll (IMO) effectively remove that from being the bottleneck, not have to worry about that any more, and you can concentrate (and take your time) on the speakers. By purchasing a higher end used receiver (whether two channel or older surround), you should be able to get away pretty cheap (<$200) while boosting power and amplifier quality significantly. When I recommended you get something with pre-amp outs, this gives you the option later to pick up a used 2-channel amplifier to give you even better quality amplification, but I wouldn't go there first - it's just a possible option for later.
If you pick something used but <10yrs old, you likely won't have any problems with bad caps, etc like you might with a really old 70's or 80's vintage receiver. Many people like that due to build and sound quality, but going that old means that something may already have aged to being bad or may soon. But <10yrs old should be pretty safe. I would stay away from the total mass market brands (Sony, Technics, etc) - certainly stay away from any receiver that was part of a home-theater-in-a-box setup. Higher end Yamaha, Denon, Pioneer, Harman Kardon, Marantz, etc should be pretty safe. I had heard Onkyo's had a tendency to get hot and had potential reliability issues, so I personally wouldn't go there myself. Look at reviews and forums to guide you as well.
Then see how happy your system makes you (after just the receiver). If it's a significant upgrade, live with that awhile while you save up more money for speakers, Then once you've saved enough and know where you can go aesthetically, pull the trigger on the speakers and I'm sure you'll notice a significant upgrade then. Again, you may get a good value buying used. Again, stay away from total mass market stuff from electronics makers that aren't known for making speakers - even some of the guys that are fine for receivers (Yamaha, Pioneer, etc) I'd steer away from for speakers. There are a lot of good speaker manufacturers (Paradigm, Vandersteen, etc) that only make speakers - there's something to be said for having a core competency and focus.
I think it's also very important to listen to any speakers you may buy before you buy them. Both to make sure they're good (if used) and just to make sure they fit your criteria of what sounds good/natural, etc.