i just auditioned a bunch of avrs to replace my ancient (but good-sounding) pioneer elite. my thoughts at large:
1. i didn't hear a ton of difference between mid-priced ($1k) yamaha, denon, onkyo and sony ( i didn't try marantz)--they all had a ton of bells and whistles and that sort of brightish tone that sounds detailed but a bit processed when compared to my two channel gear.
2. i was not impressed by the build quality of the above (yamaha being a bit better than the others)--plasticy, lightweight and somewhat shoddy
3. my buddy's arcam avr5 was better built and sounded better than the mass market stuff--fuller, warmer, less digital sounding and seemed to have a more robust power supply, but i've had bad luck with arcam reliability. i have also heard nad, which seems a cut above, but have the same reliability concerns.
4. i ended up with a used anthem mrx 720, which doesn't have the latest codecs and gizmos but good power and a nice, analogish tonality.