I get it. There are too many home theater receivers to choose from! And why does it have to be so complicated? If you are looking for the best AV receivers in 2017 it can really make your head spin.
All you want to do is listen to some lovely surround sound when watching a movie. But you need to take a degree in gobbledegook to understand what you need to buy.
Well, my task is to hold your hand and we will tiptoe together through the minefield that is the home theater receiver. You never know, you may even enjoy it!
First, I will explain a few of the most important features that you should be looking out for. Next, I will review a few of my favorites that you might want to consider. And finally, I will give you a brief buying guide and answer some frequently asked questions.
An AV receiver acts a central hub in a home theater system. It is the 'brain' of your whole setup.
A home theater receiver simplifies the connection of many devices to your speaker system and TV/projector.
It allows you to connect, and switch between, several playback devices. Blu-ray players, games consoles, video cameras, CD players - even content from your mobile devices.
An AV receiver is the amplifier that powers your speaker system. It also sends the picture to your TV or projector.
Being able to connect all these different devices into one unit makes it much easier to set up and operate multiple audio-visual sources.
Each manufacturer of AV receiver has so many different models, it can make it a real headache trying to decide which one to buy.
One thing you should realize is that all brands release a series of surround sound receivers at different price points. You may see several receivers with different model numbers, but they are probably very similar. They are just part of the same series with an increasing number of features as the price rises.
I will now run through some of the main differences that you will come across. This should make it clearer to decide which is important for you.
AV receivers are designed to support different surround sound speaker layouts. So, you need to buy a receiver which allows for the type of speaker configuration you want.
The one you choose may just come down to how much you want to spend. After all, more speakers = more money. Or simply how much space you have in your room for all those speakers.
The standard surround sound speaker layout is 5.1. This means three speakers at the front – center, front left and front right. Then, two rear surround speakers on the left and right.
The following table summarizes the common surround sound speaker layouts:
The .1 refers to a subwoofer, which is a speaker that is designed to play back very low bass frequencies. This can add fantastic weight and rumble to a movie soundtrack. And really annoy the neighbors!
You can find more details in the guide to surround sound speaker layouts.
A new development is the introduction of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. These are object-based soundtracks. Sound effects can be placed using a combination of height, front/back and left/right speakers.
There is another option when it comes to 3D surround sound, and that is Auro-3D. Developed by Auro Technologies, this is another possible surround sound format which you may find with an AV receiver. Some of the top end models provide this as an optional add-on.
You will see many of the newer AV receivers supporting these audio formats. Of course, if you need this depends if you are going to the expense of adding the extra speakers to your room. Or if you have any movies that provide this format on the disc.
For DTS:X, you can use your existing 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound speaker system. You don’t need to worry about installing extra speakers.
For Dolby Atmos, you will need to add a minimum of two extra height speakers to your 5.1 or 7.1 setup - up to a maximum of 64! The Dolby Atmos speaker configuration with two extra height speakers is written as 5.1.2. Or 7.1.2 for the seven channel version.
The extra speakers for Dolby Atmos can either be in-ceiling speakers, or special elevation speakers. An example of this is the Klipsch RP-140SA speaker pictured above. Elevation speakers are easier to install as you just place them on top of your existing floor standing or bookshelf speakers.
Auro-3D builds on a standard 5.1 or 7.1 sound system and adds a height and overhead layer. The basic setup is a 9.1 speaker configuration with extra height speakers at the front and rear.
There is also a 10.1 version which adds a single ‘Voice of God’ speaker directly above the listening position.
If you really don’t have enough speakers at this point, there are further options for 11.1 and 13.1 layouts!
One of the best things about an AV receiver is the sheer number of connections it has on the back. Now, initially, this may just make it look like something you might find on the console of a spaceship. But the advantage is you can easily connect a wide range of different device into your home theater system.
However, the number and type of connections will vary between models. When choosing a model to buy, it is important to think about all the different devices you will want to add to your setup. And what type of connections they require.
One of the most important connection specifications is the number of HDMI inputs and outputs.
These days, most modern AV equipment will use HDMI to send the signal – both picture and audio. Therefore, look at the number of HDMI inputs on the AV receiver.
It will usually be listed something like – 7/2. This example means there are 7 HDMI inputs and 2 HDMI outputs.
Therefore, you can connect up to seven external devices into the receiver via HDMI.
As for HDMI outputs, most people only require one - to their TV or projector. However, some models offer two (or more) which can be useful if you want to send the picture to another display or projector at the same time.
Apart from HDMI connections, think about all the other devices you may want to connect – and what type of connections they use. Games console? Video camera? CD player?
Does the receiver offer all the connection types you need? Maybe allow for a couple of extra ones for future purchases?
Another feature you might want to look out for is network connectivity. A fairly recent innovation, a network AV receiver will have an ethernet connection allowing you to connect it to your home network.
This can allow various Internet-based features like streaming of online music and radio services. Such as Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music and Napster. You may also be able to stream your own music collection over the network using DLNA.
The best home theater receivers will also be able to connect via WiFi, Bluetooth or AirPlay. This can also allow for streaming music from the network – or sending video or music to your system via a mobile device such as your phone.
You could also connect wirelessly to external speakers around your home.
If this sounds useful, then make sure the receiver you buy has the right network connectivity.
Many models of AV amplifiers will show the power rating of the device. Put very simply, this means how loud you can make it in the room.
As a rule, the more expensive models will have more power.
However, it can get very tricky when trying to compare the power ratings of two different AV receivers. There are different ways of measuring the power an amplifier can output. You must, therefore, be sure you are comparing like with like.
The bigger number isn’t always better!
You must compare power numbers that are rated using similar tests. Otherwise, it doesn’t mean anything. The common variables are:
Also, you should be aware that a higher power rating doesn’t mean that the amplifier will be that much louder than one with a lower rating. And most people won’t need the extra volume anyway.
I have written an article on understanding amplifier and receiver power ratings if you want more detail on this.
Generally, power ratings will range from around 50 to 200 watts. 50 to 100 watts will be plenty for most average-sized rooms. However, there’s no problem buying one with more power if you want. Just make sure your speakers will be able to handle the extra power if you plan on turning it up really loud.
There are several great AV receiver brands. Whilst I’m not going to list them all, here is a quick summary of some of my favorites.
Denon is a Japanese electronics company formed in the early 1900’s. They began producing hi-fi audio components in 1971 and now specialize in home theater and wireless audio products.
They have two main ranges of AV receivers:
Marantz was originally founded in New York in the 1950’s when the founder produced his first audio product – a preamp. After many years of success in the hi-fi audio market, the company was sold to Marantz Japan in 2001. They are now a sister company to Denon.
They have a smaller range of AV receivers than some of their competitors but are well-regarded.
Onkyo has been producing consumer electronics since 1946. They are a Japanese company and specialize in audio products and home theater equipment. Their range includes hi-fi components, personal audio technology and various speaker systems.
Onkyo has been producing popular AV receivers for many years. Their range of receivers include:
Based in Tokyo, Japan, Pioneer have a long history of producing popular AV products. Although they stopped making televisions in 2009, they still produce many products for the home AV market.
In 2014, Pioneer sold their home AV business to Onkyo, and so they are now sister companies. However, Pioneer still releases products under their own brand name.
Their premium range of AV receivers is labeled the Elite Series. The aim is to produce high-end products aimed at audiophiles and sound purists. Within this range, Pioneer release receivers at two different price points:
It’s slightly confusing, but the Elite VSX models are labeled VSX-LXxxx, and the non-Elite VSX models are labeled VSX-xxx (without the LX).
Sony is one of the most well-known home electronics brands in the world. Among its many areas of business, this Japanese company produces many popular products in the home AV market.
They offer three main ranges of AV receivers:
Yamaha is a Japanese company that has been producing a wide range of products for over 100 years. They have a strong reputation in a diverse range of markets. None more so than in musical instruments, professional audio and audio-visual technology.
Yamaha produces some of the best surround sound receivers and has a range of models to suit all needs and budgets.
In the table at the top of the page, I selected my top 10 AV receivers currently in 2017. There are so many to choose from, that you’ve got to start somewhere!
While it would be easy to just pick the most expensive model from each manufacturer, I have tried to keep in mind value-for-money too. Therefore, you will find a range of AV receivers from different price brackets. Hopefully, there should be something for everyone in the list.
If you find yourself getting lost in the sea of acronyms (hard to avoid I’m afraid), I’ve explained some of them at the bottom of the page - AV receiver acronyms.
Now, I’ll take a closer look at the top 5 AV receivers, and after that will highlight the important features of the next 5.
This top-of-the-range Yamaha AV receiver comes from their Adventage series. These models offer the best audio performance of all the Yamaha AV receivers, with best-in-class levels of audio processing.
Some people prefer the sound of some home theater receivers to others, and I will admit that Yamaha is probably my favorite.
With a powerful 150 watts of output power (8 ohms, 20 Hz - 20 kHz, 0.06% THD, 2ch driven), this beast will provide plenty of volume for almost every home user.
It is a 9.2 channel receiver with supported processing for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. You might see that this model is an 11.2 channel receiver. This is only possible with the addition of an extra 2-channel amplifier. It has processing for 11.2 channels but doesn’t power all these channels without another amp.
The Cinema DSP HD3 processing mode will process any audio soundtrack to enable full use of your 9.2 channel speaker setup.
If you wanted to add Dolby Atmos speakers, it will support a 7.1.2 configuration, or 5.1.4.
The RX-A3060 supports all the latest HDMI standards. This will allow full 4K video pass-through from your player to the screen – plus 4K Ultra HD upscaling. It has full support for HDCP 2.2, HDR and BT.2020 specifications.
As well as ethernet network connections, this receiver can connect via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and Wireless Direct. It can, therefore, connect to internet radio stations like Spotify, Tidal and Deezer – as well as stream music from your mobile devices.
This also allows the connection of wireless speakers and headphones.
But that’s not all, it also has MusicCast support. MusicCast is Yamaha’s multi-room audio solution which allows for the wireless connection of speakers and sound bars.
All of this can be controlled by an app on your phone.
Advanced HDMI zone switching provides full video and audio capability in a second zone. This allows for sending any video or audio source into another part of the house. There is also support for zones 3 and 4.
For easy setup of your speakers, this receiver comes with YPAO microphone. YPAO – Reflected Sound Control is the Yamaha feature that will listen to the acoustics of your room. Then set the best volumes for all your speakers. Thus, enabling you to get the full effect of the surround sound experience.CLICK FOR LATEST PRICE
The Denon AVRX4300H AV receiver sits near the top of the Denon range.
It has full support for a 9.2 channel surround sound speaker system and provides a hefty 125 watts of power (8 ohms, 20 Hz - 20 kHz, 0.05% THD, 2ch driven). It can handle processing up to 11.2 speaker layouts, but that will require the addition of an extra 2-channel amplifier.
This receiver supports 4K Ultra HD pictures at the full 60fps, as well as supporting all the necessary specifications of HDR, BT.2020 and HDCP 2.2.
There are an impressive 8 HDMI 2.0a inputs (7 on the rear, and one on the front), plus three HDMI outputs. This is more than most receivers, and so this might be a good reason to choose this model.
DTS:X support is provided, as is Dolby Atmos. It will power Dolby Atmos speaker configurations of 5.1.4, or 7.1.2. This AV receiver is also upgradeable for Auro-3D surround sound. Once upgraded, the receiver will decode an Auro-3D mix and supports Auro-3D 9.1 or 10.1 layouts. Although this does require another external amplifier.
Network and Wi-Fi connectivity is extensive. Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and AirPlay support present. Plus, the Denon HEOS wireless multi-room streaming system.
HEOS wireless speakers, and even other HEOS receivers, can be connected to stream music around your house. All of this can be controlled by the free HEOS app. There is also a separate Denon AVR remote app which will allow full control of the receiver from your mobile device.
The AVRX4300H also supports a wide range of high-resolution audio formats such as FLAC, ALAC and WAV. This ensures the best sound quality when listening to music on your sound system.
If you are looking for assistance in getting the best sound in your room, then Denon have you covered. This receiver uses the popular Audyssey MultEQ XT32 system for accurate and simple calibration of your speakers in your room. It also comes with the Audyssey MultEQ editor app for fine tuning the setup from your tablet or phone.CLICK FOR LATEST PRICE
The Yamaha RX-V683 is from their mid-range series of AV receivers. It is an excellent choice if you are looking to keep down the cost a little.
With 7.2 channels, and Dolby Atmos/DTS:X support, you will certainly be able to get a great sound in your room. It also has that great Yamaha sound which many people love. An output of 90 watts per channel (8 ohms, 20 Hz - 20 kHz, 0.06% THD, 2ch driven) means you will have plenty of volume if required.
It’s not just the sound. This model has support for the new Dolby Vision HDR technology. Just bear in mind you also need a player and a TV that support Dolby Vision for it to work. Of course, BT.2020 and HDCP 2.2 are also present so it should play nicely with your existing 4K gear.
There is no shortage of network capabilities either. Ethernet, Wi-Fi, AirPlay, Bluetooth and MusicCast offer a whole host of possibilities for streaming audio. All the usual online services are available. Including SiriusXM, Tidal, Deezer, Spotify, Pandora and Napster.
The Yamaha-developed MusicCast system can connect up to nine wireless speakers in rooms around your house.
This receiver has 6 HDMI inputs and 1 output. It also has a zone 2 connection for sending content to another room while still playing something else in the main zone. There is even a phono connection for your turntable.
To top it all off, you have access to the Yamaha AV controller app to control many of the features your receiver from your phone or tablet.CLICK FOR LATEST PRICE
The Onkyo TX-RZ820 is from their top-of-the-range RZ series and is a 7.2 channel AV receiver.
This premium model provides high-quality audio performance. It comes with THX® Certified Select Theater Reference Sound. THX certification ensures a high sonic performance with certified components and industry-standard testing.
It is also shipped with various THX certified listening modes. THX Cinema, THX Music and THX Games can transform even ordinary 2-channel audio into a surround sound experience.
Dolby Atmos is supported up to 5.2.2 channels, and DTS:X is also present as an alternative for 3D audio playback. With 7 HDMI inputs (1 on the front), and 2 outputs, you have plenty of connection options for your devices.
This is a powerful device that offers 130 watts per channel (8 ohms, 20 Hz - 20 kHz, 0.08% THD, 2ch driven). There is also the ability to send video/audio to zones 2, and audio to zone 3.
As you would expect from a high-end device, there is full support for 4K HDR Ultra HD along with all the expected specifications such as HDCP 2.2 and BT.2020.
If you need network connections, you have the choice of a wired connection via ethernet or selectable 5 GHz/2.4 GHz Wi-Fi. Bluetooth, AirPlay and Chromecast are also built-in for an excellent choice of connection types.CLICK FOR LATEST PRICE
The Denon AVRX2400H AV receiver is the next on my list.
It comes in slightly further down the scale than the first Denon we have looked at but provides fantastic quality at an attractive price.
This is a 7.2 channel AV receiver, with additional support for DTS:X and Dolby Atmos. With Dolby Atmos, it will allow you to have a 5.1.2 speaker layout. One thing you won’t find with this model is Auro-3D support.
There is plenty of power on offer with 95 watts per channel (8 ohms, 20 Hz - 20 kHz, 0.05% THD, 2ch driven). This will be plenty for many people.
It offers 8 HDMI inputs (7 rear and 1 front), and 2 HDMI outputs which allow for parallel viewing on a TV and projector at the same time.
All the required specifications for 4K Ultra HD are present, so you will have no problems on this account. That means support for HDCP 2.2, HDR and BT.2020.
This model has all the wireless connectivity of the more expensive models. Wi-Fi, AirPlay, Bluetooth and Denon’s own HEOS wireless system. Ethernet connections are also supported.
With the supplied microphone, you can use the Audyssey MultEQ XT room acoustic measurement system. This will balance your speakers for perfect surround sound performance.CLICK FOR LATEST PRICE
So that’s a pretty good list we have seen. But I’m not done yet. If you want to look at a few more, then I’ll summarize my next 5 options:
I’ve already been through some of the important areas to look out for when you are looking for the best home theater receiver. But now, let's tie it all together.
Firstly, you might find it useful to familiarize yourself with the back of an AV receiver.
Let me summarize the important points again, and I will mention a couple of extra things to think about:
Well, there we have it. Phew, that is a lot of information to take in.
If you are new to the field of home theater, then it can appear impossible to know where to start. Or what you should be looking out for.
Even when you do about this stuff it can get confusing!
However, don’t lose sight of the end goal. Having great audio in your room is a fantastic way of experiencing movies and music in your room. You won’t regret it.
Hopefully, this guide will help you find the best AV receivers in 2017. Buy a good one, and it will last for years to come.
All playback devices, like CD or DVD players, output the audio at a low level. This is called line level. This is not strong enough to power a set of speakers directly, therefore we need to boost it by using an amplifier.
There are two stages to this process:
An integrated amplifier has the electronics for both the preamp and the power amp in a single box.
An AV receiver is an integrated amplifier because it receives input devices, and then powers our speakers. All in one box.
Some more advanced audio systems will use two separate boxes – a dedicated preamp and power amp.
So, now we understand that an AV receiver is basically an integrated amplifier, why is it called a receiver? Quite simply, a receiver is an integrated amplifier that also has a tuner to receive AM/FM radio signals.
Preamp + power amp + tuner = receiver.
Technically, if the device doesn’t have a tuner, it should be called an AV amplifier. Although the term AV receiver is often used regardless.
Most people who want a home theater sound system, usually think about surround sound with several speakers around the room. This is especially great for movie soundtracks. However, you can still get great movie audio in your room by using stereo speakers.
If you were happy with stereo only, then you only need to buy a stereo receiver which powers just two speakers.
AV receivers will support multiple speakers and play surround sound soundtracks from Blu-ray or DVD players. An AV receiver is often referred to by many different names such as a surround sound amplifier or simply a home theater receiver. They all essentially refer to the same thing.
Go here to see the difference between hooking up a stereo and surround sound receiver.
Although an AV receiver supports surround sound, we can also use it to play back stereo sound sources too – like CDs. However, a dedicated stereo amplifier will usually provide better hi-fi sound than an AV receiver. You would need to buy a high-end AV receiver if you also wanted it to get near the quality of a stereo receiver.
Many home users will have an AV receiver for movie audio, and use a dedicated stereo amplifier for listening to music.
One important thing to think about when looking at AV receivers is the ability of the device to upconvert or upscale a video signal.
These are two different things.
By upconverting I mean, can it receive one type of video input (e.g. analog component video) and output it as another (e.g. digital HDMI)?
The AV receiver will need to able to do this if I am connecting a DVD player into it using component connections. And expecting it to output via HDMI to my TV screen.
If it can't upconvert, I will have to send the component
video signal directly to the display via a component connection. This means
more cables to the display.
It may not be the end of the world if the AV receiver cannot upconvert various types of inputs. Just be aware that this may be a limitation if you are hoping to keep the cabling of your system as simple as possible.
For upscaling, I am talking about converting lower resolution video into a higher resolution i.e. from 576i PAL to my 1080p screen. Or from 1080p to my 4K Ultra HD TV.
This process is performed by a video scaler.
If the receiver doesn't upscale, then this job could be done by the Blu-ray/DVD player or the screen itself. So, it may not be something you need in your AV receiver.
Most modern TV screens have pretty good scalers built-in. So, it will automatically upscale a lower resolution image to display on the screen.
If you love an acronym, you will have a great time researching AV receivers! However, if all those complicated terms bring you out in a cold sweat, let me help a little by summarizing some of the common ones you will come across: