Best AV Receivers
Whether you’re a projector or TV-lover, you know that creating the best home theater is a necessity. You’ve already got the speakers and the projector and screen, or TV, but, as you probably already know (and if you don’t your wallet’s in for a surprise), your home theater is nowhere near perfect yet.
In fact, you’re missing out on what makes your home theater amazing in the first place, though getting a great projector like one of our Best Home Theater Projectors is a good step in that direction (Interlink to Best Home Theater Projectors).
Obviously, the missing piece is an A/V receiver. An A/V (Audio/Visual) receiver, or home theater receiver, is the control center of your whole home theater system.
A/V receivers have a lot of functions including connecting and switching between your audio and video sources, delivering more powerful, brighter, and clear images, decoding surround sound formatting, driving (providing power to) your speakers, tuning into radio stations, and being the overall interface, or remote control, for your system.
If you want the best sounding surround sound, you’re going to need a high-quality A/V receiver. A/V receivers offer at least 5 channels of amplification to drive your surround sound system, meaning enough amplification to power five speakers: two front speakers, two rear speakers, and a central speaker. These speakers are made for watching movies and listening to music.
By matching your receiver to your speakers and routing everything through it, your home theater experience is going to be much greater than it would've been without it. Here, we’ve listed the best five A/V receivers out there to date whether you're a gamer, big spender, someone on a budget, or someone just looking for the best of the best.
Top 5 A/V Receivers of 2019
- L x W x H → 13.35 in x 17.09 in x 5.94 in
- Weight → 16.54 lbs
- Connectivity Technology → Bluetooth, Wireless, USB, HDMI, Ethernet
- Output Watts → 165 watts
- Number of Audio Channels → 7.1, 5.2.2, 2.1
- 7-Channel Amplifier
- 3D Sound with Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and DTS Virtual:X
- Advanced HDMI Video Section
- Easy Setup
- Voice Control through Alexa, Google Assistant, and more
- Bluetooth and AirPlay Capability
- 4KUHD with HDR and Dolby Vision
- Bluetooth audio with 8-device memory
Denon AVR-S740H Review
There are many great A/V receivers out there today, but this is one of the mightiest of all. The 7.2 ch. Denon AVR-S740H is a powerful A/V receiver with amazing, blockbusting 3D sound and 4K compatibility.
The most important thing about an A/V receiver is its sound, and the AVR-S740H has amazing sound quality. With Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and DTS: Virtual X, the AVR-S740H has strong audio quality. Its Dolby Atmos envelops you into its sound with its realistic sounding 5.2.2 surround system speaker system and Dolby Surround upmixer.
DTS:X immerses you even more than Atmos by producing sounds naturally where they’d occur in space to create more realistic and multi-dimensional audio. Paired with the AVR-S740H’s DTS: Neural X makes gaming, music, and movies more realistic than ever before. DTS: Virtual X adds even more to this with its virtual height effects in a 5.1, 7.1, or 2.1 speaker arrangement. Overall, the sound on this bad boy is impeccable and real.
The SVR-740H uses a 7-channel discrete amplifier with an auto eco mode to deliver 165 watts of power per channel to operate at max performance. It only makes it better that setting up and connecting is usually easy through its guide, though many people don’t receive the guide in their box and have to go online and download it. While most people find this easy to set up, the AVR-S740H gives you control of every tiny thing which becomes complicated for some, especially newbies.
Its front panel makes its built-in Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and AirPlay 2 capabilities very easy and fast to operate, but you can also control it through your Smart TV remote, app control, or voice control through Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple Siri, and more. Sadly, there have been problems with voice control, including turning on and not operating like it’s advertised, but the guide doesn’t mention these much in the first place.
If you’re looking to use its Zone 2 audio, you’ll need to use analog connections, which isn’t great and many people would prefer wireless. Regardless, the AVR-S740H is still great for its value.
One of the best things about this receiver is HEOS, Denon’s wireless technology that allows you to stream music to HEOS wireless speakers or other HEOS-enabled receivers. You can control it through Amazon Alexa and the HEOS app using music streaming sites including Spotify, Pandora, Soundcloud, Tidal, and many more.
While this is a lot to take in, you may still be thinking: but what about picture quality? What about 4K? Well, the AVR-S740H is even strong with that. It has 6 HDMI ports and supports 4KUHD, HDR, BT.2020, Wide Color Gamut, and 4:4:4 Pure Color sub-sampling; helping to deliver amazing quality. It even supports Dolby Vision and Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) to bring amazing color, brightness, and contrast and delivers HDR even over broadcast content.
The Denon AVR-S740H is a very strong and smart receiver that is better than most. It is a must-have if you’re an A/V lover.
- L x W x H → 14.94 x 17.13 x 6.81 in
- Weight → 22 lbs
- Connectivity Technology → Built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB, HDMI, Wireless
- Output Watts → 210 watts
- Number of Audio Channels → 7.2
- THX Certified Select Reference Sound
- Works with Sonos
- Dolby Atmos and DTS:X
- Supports 4K HDR, BT.2020, 4K/60 Hz, and HDCP 2.2
- Chromecast built-in with Google Assistant
- Powered Zone 2 and Zone 2 line-out
- Ready for DTS Play-Fi Multiroom Audio
- Streaming services and internet radio
Onkyo TX-NR686 Review
If you’re looking for a home theater A/V receiver, then this is one of the best options for you. The Onkyo TX-NR686 is powerfully sounding and visually beautiful, including many great features and 4K compatibility.
One of the biggest feats of the TX-NR686 is its THX Certified Select Reference Sound which gives great, high-volume sound that fits rooms where the screen-to-seat viewing distance is about 10 feet and the volume of the room is around 2,000 cubic feet. Basically, this is great for home theaters and those with small rooms using short throw projectors.
Its Dolby Atmos and DTS:X even create 3D audio playback through finding spatial cues in legacy multichannel soundtracks and upmixing them. This all makes for an amazing and clear sound. Of course, there are people who don’t like the sound, but this is subjective. One thing for certain is that it works and sounds great with turntables, so this is great for that if you’re a turntable aficiando!
Your home theater will only sound better with the TX-NR686’s ability to connect to Sonos and be a part of your Sonos Home Sound System through Sonos Connect, allowing your receiver to instantly wake up, change inputs, play music at the volume you command, and instantly upgrade your music streaming capability all through the Sonos app. It can even connect to several streaming services and internet radio like TIDAL, Pandora, Amazon Music, and much more; including DTS Play-Fi which allows for multiroom streaming.
Its picture quality is just as amazing with 6 HDMI-inputs allowing for support pass-through of 4K, HDR10, HLG, and Dolby Vision formats using the BT.2020 4K video standard, HDCP 2.2 for premium content, and 4K/60 Hz playback. All of this is impeccable, especially at its low price, being an amazing value overall.
Lastly is its Powered Zone 2 and Zone 2 line-out. Finding out how to use this is complicated, though it is easy to implement by just pressing Zone 2 and turning up the volume. This lets you send your audio from two speakers in your main room to a pair in another room.
The TX-NR686 is very easy to set up, even with its Zone 2. With Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and AirPlay services, and its built-in Chromecast with Google Assistant, it’s even more accessible. There are problems with Google Assistant working, but that shouldn’t be a deal breaker.
This is an amazing choice for a home theater receiver for all that it gives to you. Another option is the TX-NR787 if you’re willing to spend ~$150 more, but this one is much more popular.
- L x W x H → 19 x 15 x 8.38 in
- Weight → 24.5 lbs
- Connectivity Technology → Built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, HDMI, LDAC
- Output Watts → 165 watts
- Number of Audio Channels → 7.2
- Consumer Technology Association’s Audio Product of the Year: Source Components
- Hi-Res Audio and Audio file formats
- Dolby Atmos
- Lifelike audio with DTS:X
- Full 360 degree sound
- Flexible speaker solution
- Digital Cinema Auto Calibration EX with Speaker relocation technology
- Consistent 4K quality and great HDR
- AirPlay, Wi-Fi, Chromecast built-in and Spotify Connect
- Six HDMI inputs, two outputs
- Touch, connect, and play through Bluetooth and LDAC
- Stream music throughout the house with Sony | Music Center
- Works with Google Home
Sony STR-DN1080 Review
Consumer Technology Association’s Audio Product of the Year for Source Components, the Sony STR-DN1080 is our (still inexpensive) high-end choice full of features. If you’re looking for a great quality receiver in both sound and picture, then this is it.
Sound quality is astounding with the STR-DN1080 equipped with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X and its easy resolution connection with eARC if your TV is eARC enabled. This includes a Phantom Surround Back speaker setting which allows you to experience this immersive Dolby Atmos 360 degree 7 channel sound with only a 5 channel set up without even having those back speakers. Using Digital Cinema Auto Calibration Ex, its flexible speaker relocation even adjusts your speakers to optimize your sound as if it were coming from the best positions and angles possible, working around any physical space restrictions.
Its DTS:X allows for even more multi-dimensional lifelike audio that adapts to your speaker configuration. You can position these speakers around and above you due to its 9 speaker channels, its Phantom Surround speakers, and object-based audio decoding. If you have a love for music, this is even better with its Hi-Res audio making it sound like your favorite artists are singing in front of you.
The STR-DN1080 is great for movies and home theater with more than sound. Picture quality is just as amazing with its 4K pass-through. While there are some problems with its 4K, such as not performing greatly or upscaling images, it has decent, consistent 4K and HDR quality. The biggest problem with this is that it’s very iffy with gaming - especially with its 4K and 4KHDR. These work great for some people, but it doesn’t connect at all or look good for others.
Overall, the STR-DN1080 is very easy to set up. With six HDMI inputs and two outputs, this receiver offers a lot. There is a problem with its HDMIs, though. Sometimes, they don’t connect, and many times they’ve died out and stopped working. There are many other connections that do work consistently: Google Home, AirPlay, Wi-Fi, and built-in Chromecast and Spotify Connect. You can even touch, connect, and play through Bluetooth and LDAC, and stream music throughout your house with Sony | Music Center to allow you to blast your favorite song all around the house through the Music Center app and multi-room listening.
There are still big problems with the STR-DN1080. It can be very laggy and slow at times, especially at startup, and while it has a Zone 2, there are configuration problems. Its biggest problem is its horrible remote, especially since there are only 4 HDMI buttons on the remote when there are 6 HDMI outputs.
Still, the STR-DN1080 is an amazing receiver. While it has many problems, it’s quite obvious that its features far outweigh its flaws.
- L x W x H → 19.13 x 13.56 x 6.88 in
- Weight → 18.25 lbs
- Connectivity Technology → Bluetooth, HDMI
- Output Watts → 145 w
- Number of Audio Channels → 5.1 ch
- 4K HDR
- Dolby Vision
- Flexible surround sound
- 5.2 ch surround for cinematic sound
- S-Force PRO Front Surround
Sony STR-DH590 Review
If you’re on a budget or just looking for a great, value receiver, then the Sony STR-DH590 is the perfect choice for you. This receiver comes at an amazing value overall, especially with the great overall quality that it dishes out in both sound and picture.
The STR-DH590 has amazing sound quality. With Hi-Res audio compatibility, you have a lot of potential with this receiver. It has a 5.2 ch surround sound giving cinematic sound to immerse yourself inside of your own home.
If you have a small room or home theater, this works even better for you. This was made for small rooms and uses its S-Force PRO Front Surround system which delivers virtual sound all around you while only using 2 speakers. With its 5.1 ch real sound and 2.1 ch virtual sound, you even experience flexible surround sound all around. The only bad thing here is that it’s really not that loud, which is probably why it’s best for smaller rooms.
Its picture quality is just as great with its 4K pass-through technology. While there are mixed thoughts on this receiver’s 4K performance, it’s generally pretty good. The STR-DH590 has great 4K HDR, HLG, and Dolby Vision to give you an amazing 4K picture. The overall picture is great for its value, though the one thing you probably won’t enjoy is that it doesn’t have 4K upscaling, so any image not 4K will be what it actually is on your screen.
Smart connection through this receiver is even available through Bluetooth and DCAC. Bluetooth allows you to play your favorite tracks through the STR-DH590, and the DCAC allows for auto-calibration to adjust the audio for optimal sound in any room. It also helps that it has a great remote control.
Sadly, many refer to this as just “decent.” This may be because it’s a more-budget item, but that doesn’t take away from how good it is for its price.
- L x W x H → 12.4 x 17.13 x 6.34 in
- Weight → 17.86 lbs
- Connectivity Technology → Bluetooth, HDMI, Wi-Fi, AirPlay
- Output Watts → 145 watts
- Number of Audio Channels → 5.1
- Full 4K UHD and HDR10
- HDMI Support
- Wi-Fi, AirPlay, and Bluetooth compatible
- Bluetooth Output
- Cinema DSP 3D
- Easy Sound Optimization with YPAO
- Wireless Surround Speakers
- MusicCast and Alexa on MusicCast
- Streaming Services
- Second Room Surround Sound
Yamaha RX-V485 Review
When it comes to gaming, you need something with at least 1080p pass-through; sound is just a great addition, but who wouldn’t want amazing sound? While these systems don’t reduce lag, they can add lag if you’re upscaling and not using pass-through, but there hasn’t been much research on this to say how much if any.
The Yamaha RX-V485 is great for gaming because it packs strong sounds, great images, and nice features all at a great value for its cost. This is a receiver made of great, sturdy material with a lot of connections, coming with an ease to set up and a great remote that makes everything even easier to use.
When it comes to sound, the RX-V485 has amazing quality. Using Cinema DSP 3D, a Yamaha proprietary sound field creation technology, the RX-V485 brings realistic sounds into your rooms to immerse you into your music, movies, and games. This becomes even more enhanced with Yamaha Parametric room Acoustic Optimizer (YPAO). This comes with a microphone that you place in your room. From this, YPAO analyzes your room’s acoustic and your system to create the best, most optimal, sound for your room.
Other pluses are its Second Room Surround Sound and Wireless Surround Speakers. The Second room surround sound allows you to send audio via a 2-channel system to a second zone and hear what you’re playing in two rooms. The Wireless Surround Speakers come with the MusicCast 50 or MusicCast 20. They deliver realistic streaming sound and are rear speakers.
Speaking of compatibility, there’s much more than just MusicCast. Still, MusicCast allows you to connect all devices that use it to the same network and blast your music throughout your house through the MusicCast app. You can even control it with Amazon Alexa. If you don’t want to use this app, there are many streaming services that you can use including Pandora, TIDAL, Spotify, and more. Yet, there have been problems streaming because of connection and that the MusicCast app is wonky.
The RX-V485 is also Wi-Fi, AirPlay, and Bluetooth compatible, but there’s a problem with this too. Yamaha claims that there is a Bluetooth output, which means you can stream music from the receiver to your Bluetooth headphones, but a lot of users claim that they can’t connect their headphones and that the Bluetooth is really only one way.
Gaming needs great picture quality, and Yamaha has it. It has 4K UHD HDMI support with the latest HDMI standards. This allows for the 4K video transmission at 60fps pass-through, which is amazing for gaming. This receiver supports HDR videos, using HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HLG providing impeccable contrast and beautiful and bright colors for an amazing natural and realistic picture.
This receiver is amazing with its picture quality pass-through, great transmission, and amazing sound that gamers should definitely look into.
Best A/V Receivers: Buying Guide
There’s a lot to know before buying an A/V receiver to make sure you’re getting the best one for you. We go over each of these factors to help you with this process.
When is the right time to buy an A/V receiver?
This comes down to your priorities and budget. We’ve already hounded on about how important they are to the overall home theater system, but you can still use everything without a receiver; it’ll just be nowhere near as good as it can be. Get an A/V receiver when you think you’re ready for one.
A/V (Surround) vs. Stereo Sound
Don’t get tricked and accidentally buy the wrong type of receiver. There are two types of receivers: A/V, otherwise called surround, and Stereo. Stereo speakers are for music with more radio-like features including AM/FM tuners, XM or Sirius radio capability, and more. If you’re looking for something for music and not home theater, get a stereo speaker. They're generally better for listening to high-end music but are a lot less popular nowadays. Stereo receivers and TVs will not create the surround sound you want, you need an A/V receiver for that.
A/V receivers are for home theaters - having both audio and visual aspects. While some are great just for audio alone and can compete with stereo receivers, they are primarily for home theaters.
Analog vs. Digital Surround Sound
There are two types of surround sound: Analog and Digital.
Analog surround sound refers to analog inputs and connections. Though it’s much more common and enjoyed to use digital (unless you’re using a stereo receiver and three speakers), this helps to connect to devices that use analog connections such as VCRs, cassette recorders, older gaming consoles like the N64 and the original PlayStation.Tracy V. Wilson & Tom Harris, , How Stuff Works, December 19, 2001
If you don’t have any analog devices or don’t care to use them, the more popular option is digital. There are two types of digital connection: coaxial and optical. Audiophiles prefer the coaxial. Digital surround sound uses digital inputs and connections and is less likely to have electrical interference, unlike analog. This is used, and required, for digital surround-sound formats such as DTS and Dolby Digital.
Receivers can come with both of these connections, so make sure to see what inputs your receiver comes with if you want a certain one or both.
A/V Receiver Channels: What are they and how many do you need?
Now: the deeper run-down. As you’ve probably noticed, there’ve been numbers like 5.1, 5.2, 7.1, and so on throughout this list. Well, those are channels. To make this easy, think of this as one channel = one speaker. The first number is the number of speakers, so there are 7 speakers in a 7.1 channel set-up. The .1 or .2 is for the low-frequency sound - the subwoofer. .1 is one subwoofer, .2 is two. So a 7.1 setup has 7 speakers and 1 subwoofer. Sometimes, you’ll see another number such as in 5.2.2 in the Denon AVR-S740H. This second .2 is for height/ceiling/overhead speakers, so you’d have 2 overhead speakers. Here, if there are three, take the first and last number and add them together - that’s how many channels of amplification (speakers) you need. You’ll see the third number in receivers that are enabled with Dolby Atmos.
A/V receivers come with 5.1 channels or more, where 5.1 and 7.1 are the most common. With a 5.1, you have a speaker in the center, front right, front left, surround left, and surround right, and a subwoofer. Add a speaker in the back left and right and you have a 7.1. Usually, most people opt for a 5.1 set-up and put the other two speakers (and sometimes the subwoofer) in a second zone. Once you get to 9.1 and more, you’re adding overhead speakers.
It’s most common to use a 5.1 set-up and get a 7.1 receiver. Get a 7.1 or higher just in case you want to add more speakers in the future. 5.1 receivers are becoming more and more obsolete, but many people don’t require more than 5 speakers. We recommend getting a 7.1 so at least you can use a second zone if you want, or just have the possibility of more speakers in the future.
More speakers usually also come with other additions, such as Atmos with 7.1 or DTS:X. Honestly, these features are up to you, and they’re not truly necessary.
Surround Sound Software: DTS:X, Dolby Atmos, and Auro-3D
To get the most realistic sound, you’ll need a surround sound software/format. These make your home theater much more immersive and use certain speakers (whether the front, back, left, right, or even height) to make it sound as if you’re in what you’re watching. Referred to as 3D surround sound, Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and Auro-3D are the most common of these. Most receivers can play at least two of them. If you get these, you’re probably going to need at least a 7.1.
DTS:X is the best choice for beginners. It’s the easiest to integrate into your already existing 5.1 or 7.1 surround system set-up, so you don’t even need to worry about installing extra speakers, but it can support up to 32. This format is purely software-based and there are no physical limitations around where you place your speakers or how many you have. It can upscale non-DTS:X sources (like stereo music files) to add more spatial realism, and auto-calibrates your system to make dialogue and sound effects sound the best for you - bringing dialogue out above even when it’s really low.
Dolby Atmos, on the other hand, uses two or more extra height speakers and is written in forms such as 5.1.2 or 7.1.2 instead of 5.1 or 7.1. As stated before, this third number is for ceiling speakers. These speakers can be in-ceiling or elevated and are usually placed above your ground speakers so that sound can move between the top and bottom more realistically. You can buy receivers that come Dolby Atmos-enabled with everything already included, or you can upgrade your system. The only problems with upgrading are the cost of the elevation speakers (which you need at least two, maybe four of) and that you need to make sure your receiver is Dolby Atmos-compatible. This is the most popular option of the three and you’ll probably want a receiver that this is compatible with.
Auro-3D produces phenomenal sound but is very hard to put in place. These usually come in 9.1, 10.1, 11.1, and 13.1 setups. Its basic set-up is the 9.1 and requires extra height speakers at the front and back. With 10.1 and up, it uses what is referred to as the “Voice of God” channel, which is this really nice single main ceiling speaker.
You can upgrade your 5.1 or 7.1 to Auro-3D too. Adding four height speakers to the 5.1, two above your main speakers and two above your surround, and adding a speaker above each surround and center, as well as the single ceiling channel to the 7.1 does the trick. Of course, with all of this, it can be seen why many don’t go for the Auro-3D as well because it requires a lot of precise work. Yet, this format is amazing and produces outstanding sounds that truly makes you feel like you’re there.
Other Surround Sound Software: DTS Neural: X, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby Digital Plus, and DTS:X Pro
There are even more surround sound software, believe it or not; they’re just not as popular. There are actually dozens of them, but some are used only in very specific circumstances and some rarely at all. We’re just going to go over some of them here.
DTS Neural: X comes with one of our top choices: the Onkyo TX-NR686. If you have a source (like BluRay) that only uses 2.1, 5.1, or 7.1 audio, but your setup has height speakers, then DTS: Neural X would work great for you. This extrapolates height information from the audio to bring out more realistic sound.
Dolby TrueHD is what is used when your receiver isn’t Dolby Atmos compatible, but you’re using an Atmos-compatible source. It’s an eight-channel mix that produces quality sound, but it’s not as good as Atmos.
DTS-HD Master Audio does the same thing as Dolby TrueHD, except for DTS:X receivers.
Dolby Digital Plus is the standard non-Atmos Dolby software. You’ll use this if you don’t have height speakers, but still want that Dolby audio mix. If you have DTS:X, just use that instead, but if not use this. This isn’t great, but it’ll give you surround sound without the height elements.
Power: What is it and how much wattage do you need per channel?
Power is one of the most important things about a receiver. Measured in watts, usually from 50-200 though it ranges from 30-500 in receivers, power is what determines your sound quality. Receivers with more wattage generally produce better sound quality than those with lower wattage, even when at lower sounds, but this isn’t guaranteed. You want to make sure that you have enough power for your speakers and room.
The larger your room, the more power you need. For your speakers, this depends on sensitivity - which is the number of decibels it puts out per watt of power. Speakers with lower sensitivity require more power.
If you have an average-sized room, 50 to 100 watts is great. Look at your room’s size, wattage, and your speakers to determine what’s good for you. More doesn’t always mean better, especially since more power usually costs more money, and not everyone truly needs more power anyway.
A/V Receiver Placement
You need to think about where you’re placing your A/V receiver before you get it. These things are big and bulky and get hot very quickly, so you need space for it to sit and ventilate. That means not to put it in anything. You hear me? DON’T HIDE IT AWAY.
Yes, it’s ugly, but putting it inside of a cabinet, cluttered or not, instead of on something with space to ventilate (two to six inches is recommended, but you can have more if you want), is bad. It can result in your receiver overheating, shutting down, and losing some of its lifespan. It also makes it harder to use your remote.
Fine, maybe there’s nowhere else to put it. Then, maybe an open-space cabinet would work better for you. Maybe you can even place it on the floor, out of the way of everything else of course. Just make sure that it has some room for itself to cool down wherever you put it.
Connecting your A/V Receiver
Connect your A/V receiver to your home theater set-up isn’t as hard as many people think. It only takes six easy steps.
- Using an HDMI cable, connect your console or Blu-Ray player to one of your receiver’s HDMI in ports.
- Connect your speakers to their specific channels by using speaker wire of at least 16-gauge. If you’ve never done this, all you need to do is unscrew the cap on the speaker wire, then thread this stripped wire through the hole so that the metal wire makes contact with the metal speaker port. Screw the cap back on when you’re finished. When connecting, notice that each speaker has a red (+) connection and a black (-) connection. As with everything else, black goes to black, and red to red.
- Connect your subwoofer to your receiver’s pre out port using a standard RCA cable.
- Connect your TV to the HDMI out port with an HDMI cable.
- Plug in the receiver and subwoofer. Make sure to do this last. Don’t connect anything with your receiver already plugged in.
- Turn on your TV and receiver and switch to the correct HDMI input whether with the on-tv buttons or your remote control. Follow the on-screen instructions from there.
In the end, you’ll have a great set-up!
This one’s big and important. The number one thing to worry about/consider is the amount of HDMI inputs/outputs (I/O). In this day in age, everything needs to have HDMI I/O. The more you have, the more you can do - but if you don’t have enough sources to switch between on your TV or projector, then there is a possibility of having too many. We recommend getting a receiver with one or two more ports than you think you presently need, just in case for the future. There will be more inputs than outputs, so don’t worry about that.
It’s possible that you may only need one: to connect to your TV. If you plan to game, or use a Blu-Ray Player, connect it to your cable box or projector, etc, then you’ll need more. Most receivers nowadays come with seven HDMI ports, but you’ll probably need only around four unless you plan to connect it to everything. Remember, you’re paying more for each I/O, and you can unplug and plug something else in if need be. It doesn’t need to be permanent.
You may be asking: What does HDMI even do? HDMI stands for High-Definition Multimedia Interface. Its cables transport high-quality video and sound from one source to the next. With 4K on the rise, there have been HDMI cables specifically made for 4K, such as the HDMI 2.0a with HDCP 2.2 certification, but if your HDMI can handle 1080p, it can handle 4K. Don’t worry about spending more for a newer cable; though the 2.0a boasts an ability to support 4KUHD and HDR.
HDMI also allows for video upscaling and transcoding. With video upscaling, on a 4K receiver, your HDMI will “upscale” a lower resolution to appear to be 4K. Transcoding, also called video conversion, allows you to connect a number of analog composite and component video signals and convert them all to a digital signal that can be output through a single HDMI cable. This means that you can basically have all of your analog sources connected to your receiver through just one cable, which is amazing!
The last thing about HDMI is its Standby pass-through. With this intuitive feature, you can have your HDMI signal sent out to your TV even when your receiver is off, so you can still watch TV with the connected sources in without having your receiver on or the surround sound coming from the speakers.
Connectivity: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and other connection options
You need to know what your receiver connects to in order to control it and properly use it and all of its features. Your receiver will come with both analog and digital connections to allow you to connect to both older devices and newer ones, allowing you a lot of leeway, yet knowing what you want to connect to will help you with your choice.
Consider everything that you want, and may want in the future, to connect to your receiver. If you want to play music wirelessly, you need onboard Wi-Fi at the least, but you may also want Bluetooth, AirPlay, or internet radio. You may want an ethernet cable or even a USB. Know what you want to connect to your receiver, and get more connections just in case, so that it won’t be a waste to you. Here, we’ll go over a handful of connection options.
Many new receivers nowadays come with built-in Wi-Fi adapters, which is really handy when you want multi-room listening. Though most receivers in the past, and some still now, require you to hardwire your network from your router to the receiver, having built-in Wi-Fi is much easier - even though setting up your Wi-Fi can still be complicated regardless. With Wi-Fi, you can stream music and videos from anything else on the same Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is more reliable than Bluetooth because it’s less suspect to dropouts (disconnections), and you can even wirelessly connect to some speakers.
Bluetooth streaming allows mostly the same possibilities as Wi-Fi through Bluetooth streaming from your phone or tablet, though this works within a range of 30 feet. The sound quality isn’t as good as Wi-Fi, and it has the possibility of dropouts. You will find this built-in to some receivers, and it’s definitely something to consider if you want to stream music.
AirPlay, otherwise referred to as Apple AirPlay, works from any Airplay equipped device or device with iTunes. You can stream movies, photos, music, etc., and works generally better than Bluetooth. You need your receiver connected to your home network, but the audio quality is pretty lossless.
Google Cast, otherwise known as Chromecast, works like AirPlay except with both iOS apps and Android. It can stream to multiple rooms and can even stream high-quality images.
A lot of receivers nowadays come with ethernet ports and connections to allow you to connect your receiver to your network. With this, your receiver’s firmware can be easily updated. This will be the primary connection to accessing the content on your network and aspects like internet radio. You do not need this is you have built-in Wi-Fi.
Another option to stream your music, video, and photos over your network through DLNA: Digital Living Network Alliance. You’ll know if your digital device is DLNA certified because it will say so. You can access all of your digital files on your computer using DLNA, though the bigger your library, the slower your device.
With USB ports, you can plug in your flash drive and watch movies, view pictures, or listen to music. Some of these even work with iPods and iPhones too.
We’ve talked about using this a little. While most internet radio doesn’t sound great, there are thousands of stations so you’re sure to find something that’s good - and you have the internet at your hands, meaning a lot of access.
This has a superior sound quality to FM stations, eliminates static, and allows access to additional stations that are broadcasted by your favorite channels.
Satellite Radio is the last of our options. You’re going to need a subscription to Sirius/XM service. The tuners to these stations aren’t always included with receivers, so you need to make sure that your’s comes with you if you want it.
Sound Quality: What’s the point without it?
So the biggest thing to consider is sound quality. We’ve already discussed surround sound and we’ll discuss THD after this, but you’re going to need to consider sound quality most of all. The big question is: are A/V receivers the problem or are the speakers?
Generally speaking, the bigger the receiver, the better the sound, but some people find that receivers sound the same. People say that the speakers make the true difference, but there are just as many saying it’s the other way around. In the end, this is perfectly subjective and whatever sounds good to you is great. Test everything out if you can and determine which sounds work for you.
Total Harmonic Distortion
Yes, the picture is confusing. We know, but it’s there to show you how THD affects your output. It’s much more confusing than this (with a crazy formula behind it), but we’re just sticking to what you need to know. Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) is a huge thing when it comes to sound quality. This refers to the hum and distortion that you hear on occasion when playing music from sources, especially loudly. If you’ve ever turned up your music all the way on your car’s original speakers, you know this rumbling sound.
You’ll experience this too if your THD rating is above 0.1 percent. Anything less is inaudible, and anything equal to or under 0.08 is very good. Stick to those under 0.1 and your sound signal will remain closer to how it’s supposed to sound.
Matching Your Speakers to Your Receiver
If you want to get the best sound from your speakers, you need to correctly match them to your receiver. This all depends on power and your speakers’ impedance, sensitivity, and bandwidth.
For impedance, you’re going to want to look for a receiver with an 8-ohm impedance rating. These receivers play very smoothly, but if your receiver has an impedance rating less than this, then you’re going to want to consider getting more power to drive your speakers.
Sensitivity depends on your speakers Sound Pressure Level (SPL) and is measured in decibels (dB). As we stated before, you’ll need more power to drive receivers with lower sensitivity. With more power here, your speakers can play louder.
Lastly, bandwidth is all about that bass. If you’re looking for heavy bass, or just want a lot of bass in general, you’ll need more power, but this also depends on the sensitivity. High sensitive speakers tend to put out more bass with less power, and if your subwoofer is in charge of your bass, you also won’t need a lot of power. Checking out your receiver’s sensitivity will help with all of this.
Room calibration refers to the aspect of setting the surround sound’s sound to perfectly fit your room and sound the most realistic and lively to you, but this is a daunting task for many and that’s why auto-calibration was made.
Auto-calibration is in many receivers out there nowadays. These receivers come with a microphone that you put in your listening room. After playing a test sound, the microphone sends information to the receiver to properly find the best acoustic levels in your room. The receiver then adjusts your speakers and applies EQ levels to your listening room to create the best sounds possible.
This is a must-have for some, but usually only works best in the more expensive receivers. If you’re interested in this, go for it, though you may find more enjoyment by just calibrating it yourself.
Space: Do you have enough room?
This is an obvious one, folks. You’re not only going to need to have enough room to place all of these speakers and your home theater set-up itself, but you’re also going to need space for your receiver to ventilate. A/V receivers are large as it is for ventilation purposes, so you’re going to need space for it, at least two inches free above it, and space for everything else.
Who doesn’t want to listen to music and watch videos in other rooms? While the prior is much more common than the latter with receivers, the use of Wi-Fi and/or a Second Zone will bring wonders to your home theater system. We’ll discuss the second zone, aka Zone 2, next, but touch on Wi-Fi more here.
There are options to use cables instead of Wi-Fi in some receivers, but no one wants to do that unless they have to - especially since it involves analog connection. The possibility with Multi-Room capability ranges from playing the same song in two rooms to playing two different shows or songs in two different rooms. Most receivers on this list can only do the same audio, though there are many receivers with more possibilities.
Sonos originally made wireless multi-room audio popular. Following them, all of the latest receivers have come out with their own multi-room wireless audio systems: MusicCast by Yamaha, HEOS by Denon, the DTS Play-Fi standard, Apple AirPlay 2, built-in ChromeCast, and more. They’re all even controllable by apps, so you have all of the multi-room possibilities on your phone ready to be controlled.
If your receiver doesn’t come with this already built-in, you may not even have to worry. A lot of these companies, such as Yamaha and Denon, also sell this compatibility in a small cube-like add-on that you can attach to your receiver.
Zone 2 Explained
Usually with analog receivers, second-zone or Zone 2 audio allows you to hook up speakers or another audio system in a second room and send the source signal to them. Generally, this allows you to listen to the same thing you are listening to in the main room, but some receivers even let you listen to a different source in the second-zone room. Some receivers even have a third zone for audio in another room.
The remote or onboard controls allow you to have control over these zones and sources, meaning you can watch a DVD movie with surround sound in one room, while someone listens to something else in the second room.
They can be powered, line-out, or both. Powered is for 7.1 channel receivers where if it has speaker terminals labeled Zone 2, you can connect speakers directly to the receiver where the receiver will power them up. When Zone 2 is activated, the sixth and seventh channels are sent to the Zone 2 connections (which there are two of), so your main system becomes a 5.1 channel and your Zone 2 a 2.1.
Line-out is used if your receiver has RCA audio outputs labeled Zone 2 which you’ll need to connect an external amplifier to. You’ll then connect the added speakers to the external amplifier. These receivers allow you to use your main room’s full 7.1 channels while still outputting to Zone 2 with its external amplifiers.
This isn’t needed, but if you want it then get it.
4K and 4K switching
If you want the best thing out right now for picture, it’s 4K (though 8K and 10K are also here/coming soon). 4K brings amazing color, clarity, and sharpness all packed in its large amount of pixels: 3,840 x 2,160.
Most newer receivers come out with 4K, and it’s the thing everyone wants, but there is a problem with 4K: there aren’t many videos actually in 4K. HDTV peaks at 1080p, most videogames are at 1080p, Blu-Ray is generally in 1080p, and so on. While there are 4K options for these, as well as with streaming, it’s just not as mainstream yet. This means that you’re going to be upscaling videos instead of getting native 4K, so the images will appear 4K, but not actually be 4K. It’ll still look great in the end. Regardless, all the receivers on this list are 4K-ready.
If you want 4K, you need to make sure that your receiver has 4K-switching so that it can switch between audio and 4K visual signals. Without this, you won’t have much luck with 4K images. You’ll also want HDCP 2.2 support so that you can watch HDCP 2.2 content. Without it, trying to watch it will just produce a black screen. HDCP 2.2 is a technology designed to stop people from illegally copying video content, especially 4K. This may sound irrelevant to you, but you can’t watch HDCP 2.2 copy-protected videos without a receiver with support for it; which most come with.
To match a 4K receiver, you should get a 4K projector. Check out our best 4K projectors here (Interlink to Best 4K Projectors).
Alongside 4K, High Dynamic Range (HDR) is the way of the future. HDR works to create better contrast and color within your screen’s pixels to create more realistic and accurate picture with much more depth. There are three HDR formats: HDR10, Dolby Vision (DV), and HLG. HDR10 is the most used of these three, though many prefer Dolby Vision.
Your receiver’s interface is very important because if you don’t understand it, good luck with anything else. If you can’t understand the interface, you can be missing out on a lot of possibilities from amazing sound to beautiful pictures. Make sure to check out receiver interfaces when looking up receivers. Most quality receivers nowadays come with a graphical interface which allows you to set up and operate the receiver from its screen.
Smart Receivers: A/Vs with Alexa, Google Home, and other great services
Smart everything is the way of the future. If you have a smart receiver, chances are that it won’t come with the service it can use. Instead, you’ll have to connect it to the assistant, whether Alexa, Google Home, or whatever else, though Wi-Fi. This does allow you to control its volume, pause it, turn your receiver on/off, play/pause music, skip or go back, etc. Some even let you AirPlay music from your iOS device.
There’s also app control if voice control doesn’t do it for you, so you can control some receivers from your phone with their dedicated apps instead of yelling at your Alexa to work and hoping she will actually listen; we all know how dumb “Smart” technology can be from time to time. The apps that A/V receivers come with are usually free and allow you to control your music, switch sources, adjust volume, and more.
You’re probably going to want a smart receiver since that’s what’s coming out now, but you don’t need one. They’re cool to have, though.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are several questions people ask about A/V receivers. We answer most here.
How do A/V receivers work?
An A/V receiver receives signals from several input devices, like a satellite dish, DVD player, etc., and interprets and amplifies those signals to your output devices - your surround sound, television, etc.
A/V receivers are composed of audio/visual inputs for video sources, a preamplifier, a surround sound decoder, such as Dolby Digital, a power amplifier, and outputs for the speakers and TV. The receivers take in the input component and the preamplifier selects the signal and amplifies and outputs it to power your loudspeakers.
As HowStuffWorks puts it, the receiver outputs the video to your television, while the audio is output to the decoder (whether that be analog or digital) to sort out the different sound channels from the video and then sends the information to the amplifiers for each sound-channel output where each amplifier is connected to the appropriate speaker(s).
From there, your inputs have become outputs and your surround sound and video are much better than before.
Why buy an A/V receiver?
If you don’t buy an A/V receiver then you’re missing out on the whole center system of your home theater system. If you’re trying to create the best home theater, then you’re going to need an A/V receiver. Without it, your speakers will be nowhere near as good as possible, and your video won’t be as amazing either. Not buying an A/V receiver when trying to make a great home theater will be something you’ll easily regret.
Are A/V receivers worth it?
Yes. If you want to create your best home theater experience, they are definitely worth it. If you’re just looking for a good audio experience and aren’t worried about the visual aspect at all, go for a stereo receiver.
Are A/V receivers obsolete?
This is a common question, but I have no idea why. No, they’re not obsolete. If they were, we wouldn’t still be pushing for them today. Certain receivers are now obsolete, like most 5.1 receivers, and with time their features and HDMI connectivity gets closer and closer to obsolete, but that’s if you plan to get the top notch stuff. If not, no. It’s nowhere near obsolete.
Are A/V receivers amplifiers?
No. An A/V receiver is much more than an amplifier. While an amplifier does exactly what it says (amplifying the signal to your loudspeakers), an A/V receiver includes an amplifier, preamp, decoder, and input and output sources. Buying an amplifier would just be referred to as buying a “separate” since you’re just getting one part of the system that you’d have to install into the rest.
Why are A/V receivers so big?
A common complaint about A/V receivers is that they’re big (and ugly). There are smaller builds nowadays, but they’re big because they require big power draw and supply, and power creates heat. So, the more power, the more heat, and heat dissipates better in bigger units. So, a bigger receiver is needed for better power draw and heat transfer.
How do you compare A/V receivers?
Comparing A/V receivers is like comparing most other products. You need to take a look at the features and what’s being offered to you. Know what you want and what to look for. How many channels do you want? What kind of connections do you want? What about the power it outputs? Its size may even be a reason to think twice.
Take a look at their surround-sound software, if you’re looking for 4K, HDR, 3D sound, and so on. Basically, know what you want, check the pros and cons, and choose which one fits your needs better. If you’re stuck between two, see if you can find a video on their sound and image quality to get a better understanding of what it can do overall. As with any product, the best way to find out which is great for you is to test it if you can.
What about second-zone audio?
Second-zone audio is something many people wonder whether it’s worthy to get. This is honestly all up to you. If you want it, then get it. With it, you’ll be able to listen to audio in a second room, whether it be the same or different (depending on the audio) or powered or line-out. It is great if you want to bring your audio out of the main room, but if not, then it doesn’t matter. You can always get a receiver with a Zone 2 feature just in case, even if you don’t plan to use it. Most of them come with it nowadays, regardless.
How much power do I need?
This depends on several things such as the size of your room, speakers themselves, and how loud you actually want it to be. Like with everything else, more doesn’t always mean better, especially since a big increase in watts isn’t equal to the same increase in volume (ex. Doubling the power only increases 3dB, but this is a good, moderate change). More power generally means more dynamic headroom, allowing your receiver to output power at a higher level for short periods to create a more dynamic effect during sound events like orchestral peaks and high movie sound effects.
More power also helps to drive speakers with lower sensitivity and less efficiency, while efficient speakers don’t require this extra power. If you have a larger room, it’s quite obvious that you’re going to want to have more power as well to fill it, but you don’t need a lot then you don’t need a lot of power.
Is automatic speaker calibration something to consider or worry about?
As we’ve covered, automatic speaker calibration uses an included microphone to find the best acoustic levels in your room and adjust your speaker and apply EQ levels to your room to create the most optimal sounds. This sounds very cool, but the technology behind it is still iffy and it may just be better if you adjust the sound manually. You can try it out, of course, and there are certainly receivers where it works, but it’s not something to worry about.
Do expensive receivers sound better?
Do expensive shoes make you walk better? Unless you have shoes made for your feet, no. It’s all about the look and the build since more expensive builds usually put more into the sturdiness and quality of their build.
While some amazing receivers are worth an arm and a leg, there are also amazing receivers that are pretty inexpensive. Just because it costs more doesn’t mean it’s better. Check out the features and see if you can find a video of its sound somewhere or check it out yourself if possible. You don’t need a ridiculously expensive receiver unless you actually want and can afford one.
What brands are the best to consider?
There isn’t a singular answer to this because it depends on personal preference. We’d say any brand on this list is good to consider: Denon, Onkyo, Sony, and Yamaha are the top four brands. Some people swear by one, some people switch from one to the next, but they all create great quality receivers.
Should I worry about the warranty?
Should you worry about any warranty? Well, once again, it’s up to you. When you spend a lot of money, you usually want to make sure that there is a warranty on it just in case something happens. This is all up to you, whether or not you should worry about it. If you think that something wrong is going to happen or you just want to be cautious, then get it, but you don’t have to.
Are 3D, THX, and MHL important?
3D, THX, and MHL are all great features that your receiver can have, but each varies in its importance.
Most HDMI-receivers are already 3D-compatible, so you likely won’t even have to worry about it. THX is entirely subjective. If you want it, get it, but you’re usually paying more for it when A/V receivers perform amazingly well even without it. You don’t need it. MHL, on the other hand, is good if you want to use something like the Roku Streaming Stick or you have an MHL-enabled phone. Like THX, you don’t need it, but it’s more worthwhile than THX.
Do I need a 4K receiver?
Do you need one? No. You don’t need it at all, but if you want the best quality possible and the ability to switch 4K signals, then you’ll want one.
Do I need a new receiver for my 4K TV?
If you want to experience 4K images, then yes. If you don’t upgrade your receiver, you won’t be able to experience 4K when passing through signals. HDTV nowadays only uses up to 1080p, so you don’t “need” it, but if you bought a 4K TV, then you’re probably planning to use it for 4K. You need your whole system to be 4K to fully enjoy this. Otherwise, you’re both missing out on upscaling lower quality images through the receiver and receiving 4K quality in the first place.
Do I need a special HDMI cable for 4K?
No. You can get one, like the HDMI 2.1 which can handle 4K at 120fps, or 8K at 60fps, but you don’t need this at all. If your HDMI cable can handle 1080p, it should also be able to handle 4K.
How do I connect my 4K TV to a non 4K receiver?
The same way you connect your regular TV to the receiver, through your HDMI. You won’t receive 4K video since your receiver doesn’t have 4K passthrough, but you can still watch High Definition videos.
What else should you buy with your receiver?
If you don’t already have the home theater setup and speakers (which if you don’t… get it already), then that, of course. Otherwise, we’d recommend a power conditioner just in case something happens to protect your receiver during power outages, lightning strikes, etc.
Are more channels better?
Nowadays, the most common speaker set-up is a 5.1, but most A/V receivers come with a minimum of 7.1 channels - which works great if there’s a Zone 2. While more channels don’t necessarily equal better, it does mean more speakers (and more money). The more channels you have, the more places you can put speakers, but that’s only if you really want it or need it. There are many places you can put them, whether overhead or on the sides of your room. You can even place them on the bookshelf! Check out our best bookshelf speaker lists if you’re into that (interlink here)!
While harder to find nowadays, many don’t want more than a 5.1, but it’s highly recommended to get a 7.1 regardless just in case you want more in the future. The general case is to at least get 7.1 if you even have a choice anymore.
Is a 7.1 setup more worthwhile than a 5.1?
The 7.1 setup allows for you to put two speakers in your second zone, but, as stated in the last answer, the 5.1 setup is the most common. It’ll be hard to find a 5.1 receiver nowadays regardless, but it’s recommended to use a 5.1 setup in one room and set the other two speakers in another. If you want to set up the whole 7.1 in your one listening room, go ahead, we’re not going to stop you.
What is the best A/V receiver for music?
We’d say that the Denon AVR-S740H is the best for music, but if you’re just looking for a music surround sound system and not one also for video, then get a stereo.
What is the best receiver under $1000?
We believe that the best receiver under $1000 would be the Denon AVR-S740H, though both the Onkyo TX-NR686 and Sony STR-DN1080 are also great options.
What is the best receiver under $500?
The answer to this question is the same as the one prior. The TX-NR686 is the cheapest of the three, while the Denon AVR-S740H is the most pricey just under $500, but any is a great choice. We’d say to go with the Denon if you have the money.
What is an A/V receiver preamp?
An A/V receiver preamplifier, or preamp, is a device that can connect all of your audio or a/v source components, whether they be DVD, DVR, CD, or Blu-Ray Disc players. They are generally used to extend/output input audio signals to the amplifier to power up your loudspeakers and produce the sound, being referred to as Power Amplifiers in these situations, but can also be used to switch between sources and process audio and/or video.
Wow, that’s a lot to take in, but all of this will help you to make sure that you choose the right A/V receiver for you. Whether you go after any of the great options on this list or any other choice, using our FAQ and Buying Guide will help you to choose the perfect receiver for you.
Amazon, A/V Receivers Help Guide, Amazon, 2019
Chris Opfer, 5 Things to Look for When Buying an AV Receiver, How Stuff Works, November 17, 2011
Danny Briere, Pat Hurley, What Does an A/V Receiver Do?, Dummies, September, 2015
Howdini, Home Theater Buying Guide: Buy the Best AV Receiver (for You), YouTube, October 4, 2012
Richard L. Stevens, Home Theater Receiver Buying Guide, B & H Foto, 2018How Home Theater Works