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 2021 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 gobbledygook 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 the basics of AV receivers and give you a detailed buying guide on the most important features.
Next, I will review a few of my favorites that you might want to consider.
And finally, I will answer some frequently asked questions.
If you find yourself getting lost in the sea of acronyms (hard to avoid I’m afraid), you can find many of them explained in the home theater glossary.
|Image||Model||HDMI In/Out||Power (W/Ch)||Dolby Atmos|
|Yamaha RX-V4A 5.2-Ch AV Receiver||4/1 (eARC)||80||None||Check Price|
|Sony STR-DH590 5.2-Ch AV Receiver||4/1 (ARC)||145||None||Check Price|
|Denon AVR-S750H 7.2-Ch AV Receiver||5+1/1 (eARC)||75||5.2.2||Check Price|
|Marantz NR1711 7.2-Ch AV Receiver||6/1 (eARC)||50||5.2.2||Check Price|
|Yamaha RX-V6A 7.2-Ch AV Receiver||7/1 (eARC)||100||5.2.2||Check Price|
|Denon AVR-X2700H 7.2-Ch AV Receiver||6/2 (eARC)||95||5.2.2||Check Price|
|Marantz SR5015 7.2-Ch AV Receiver||6/2 (eARC)||100||5.2.2||Check Price|
|Denon AVR-X4700H 9.2-Ch AV Receiver||7+1/3 (eARC)||125||5.2.4 / 7.2.2 (Support for 7.2.4)||Check Price|
|Yamaha RX-A3080 AVENTAGE 9.2-Ch AV Receiver||7/3 (ARC)||150||5.2.4 / 7.2.2 (Support for 7.2.4)||Check Price|
|Denon AVR-X6700H 11.2-Ch AV Receiver||7+1/3 (eARC)||140||7.2.4 / 9.2.2 (Support for 7.2.6)||Check Price|
|Arcam AVR10 7.2-Ch AV Receiver||7/2 (eARC)||80||5.2.2 (Support for 7.2.4)||Check Price|
|Arcam AVR30 7.2-Ch AV Receiver||7/3 (eARC)||120||5.2.2 (Support for 9.2.6)||Check Price|
|Denon AVR-X8500H 13.2-Ch AV Receiver||7+1/3 (ARC)||150||7.2.6 / 9.2.4||Check Price|
An AV receiver acts as a central hub in a home theater system. It is the 'brain' of your whole setup.
Being able to connect all these different devices into one unit makes it much easier to set up and operate multiple audio-visual sources.
There are other ways, but in my opinion, it's the best way.
An AV receiver will decode a surround sound soundtrack from DVD, Blu-ray or cable TV box and then send the audio to your surround sound speakers. All in a single box.
You have the flexibility to add more devices with different connection types and to easily change your speakers if you want to upgrade.
Alternative options are:
As I said, I think an AV receiver is the best way to improve the sound in your room. Let me summarize why I think an AV receiver is the best option for home theater sound:
These are some of the things you want to consider before buying an AV receiver:
Let's look at some of these options in a bit more detail.
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 that allows for the type of speaker configuration you want.
One channel will power one speaker.
So, a stereo amplifier will have two channels to power two speakers. Left and right.
An AV receiver supports surround sound. So, it will have more channels to power more 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 .1 refers to a subwoofer, which is a speaker that is designed to playback very low bass frequencies. This can add fantastic weight and rumble to a movie soundtrack. And really annoy the neighbors!
The following table summarizes the common surround sound speaker layouts:
The one you choose may just come down to how much you want to spend.
After all, more speakers = more money.
Or, the size and shape of your room may dictate the type of surround speaker layout that you can have.
You can find more details in the guide to surround sound speaker layouts.
Many AV receivers now come with a minimum of 7.1 channels – or more. If you only want 5.1, that's fine. You can still buy a 7.1 AV receiver, and just not connect the extra two channels.
Or, use these extra two channels to power a set of stereo speakers in another room.
Many receivers support different 'zones'. These are other areas in your house where you can route the same, or different, audio.
If you only need 5.1 audio, you may save some money by buying a receiver that only has 5.1 channels. However, these days, it is only some budget models that will be 5.1 only.
So, these are less common now, so you may not have a choice.
A new development is the introduction of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. These are object-based soundtracks.
In these soundtracks, sound effects can be placed using a combination of height, front/back and left/right speakers.
So, to make full use of this type of audio, you really need to install extra height speakers in your room.
Different AV receivers will support different object-based layouts, depending on the number of speakers it supports.
As a rule, the more expensive models will allow for more 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.
If you have four height speakers, then it will be a 5.1.4/7.1.4 layout.
A system with four height speakers and two subwoofers will be 5.2.4/7.2.4.
You get the idea.
These height speakers can be at the front of the room, in the middle, or at the rear. You just tell the receiver where they are located when you set it up.
Dolby suggests that the extra speakers for Dolby Atmos should either be in-ceiling speakers - or special Atmos elevation speakers.
An example of an elevation speaker is the Klipsch RP-500SA Dolby speaker pictured above.
Elevation speakers are easier to install as you just place them on top of your existing floor standing or bookshelf speakers.
However, to be clear, many people just use standard direct-firing speakers for the height speakers and say they prefer the sound that way.
If you want to understand more about the different types of speakers that are available, take a look at my guide to the best home theater speakers for surround sound.
DTS:X systems don't actually require you to install any extra speakers to a 5.1 or 7.1 layout.
The DTS:X processing supports up to 32 different speaker locations from 5.1 and up.
However, you won't get the fun of the sound coming from above in a 5.1 layout – and so I would always suggest height speakers to make the most of DTS:X.
Therefore, the rules for speaker locations are pretty much the same for DTS:X vs Dolby Atmos.
There is another option when it comes to 3D surround sound, and that is Auro-3D. Some of the top-end models provide this as an optional add-on.
Developed by Auro Technologies, 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/most scary 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
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 connections is HDMI. You will have a few HDMI inputs and one or more outputs.
These days, most modern AV equipment uses HDMI to send the signal. The picture and the sound are sent down the same single connection.
Therefore, look at the number of HDMI inputs on the AV receiver. This will determine how many input devices you can connect via HDMI.
For an AV receiver, it is usually written something like - 5/1.
For this example, it means there are 5 HDMI inputs and 1 HDMI output.
Therefore, you can connect five external devices into the receiver via HDMI.
Think about how many devices you might need to connect. And, make sure the receiver you buy has enough. Maybe allow a couple of extra for future purchases?
Sometimes, you may see this written as 6+1/2. This means there are 6 HDMI inputs on the back of the unit - and one on the front (and 2 outputs).
A front HDMI port can be useful for quickly adding a device into your system temporarily.
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. Or different content to another zone.
Apart from HDMI connections, think about all the other devices you may want to connect – and what type of connections they use.
Does the receiver offer all the connection types you need? Maybe allow for a couple of extra ones for future purchases?
Budget receivers will have fewer connections. More expensive models will have many more options – more than you will probably need. Better to be safe than sorry though.
You might find this video useful to familiarize yourself with the rear of an AV receiver:
Another feature you might want to look out for is network connectivity.
A more 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 Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Chromecast 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 may also be able to connect wirelessly to external speakers around your home. Many newer models will have their own multi-room wireless speaker systems.
For example, Denon and Marantz use the HEOS wireless system - and Yamaha has their MusicCast system:
If you want this, go with a brand that provides multi-room wireless speakers as an extension to the AV receiver.
Other models support Sonos Connect which allows them to connect to any Sonos speakers that you already own.
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. On a basic level, this indicates how loud you can have it in the room.
But, there is more to it than that.
As a rule, the more expensive models will have more power per channel. But there are many reasons they cost more. Mainly build quality and better components.
A bit more power is just one of the reasons - and not the most important.
You should also be aware that it can be difficult comparing 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 the same tests. Otherwise, it doesn't mean anything. The common variables are:
On this site, I like to use 8 ohms, 20 Hz - 20 kHz and with 2 channels driven as the baseline. This is a common rating and I quote this where I can. However, some manufacturers don't provide this measurement.
The very best measurement would be for when all the surround channels are driven at the same time. Not just two. Because this is what happens when you watch a surround sound movie. But very few brands give these numbers.
A cynic might say that is because they like to use tests which makes the power output appear higher. Call me a cynic!
Finally, you should know that a higher power rating doesn't mean that an amplifier will be significantly louder than one with a lower rating.
And, many people won't need the extra volume anyway.
Doubling the power only increases the sound level by 3 dB. To the human ear, 10 dB is 'twice as loud'.
So, increasing the power from 50 watts to 100 watts isn't going to make that much difference to how loud everything is.
It will be louder. 3 dB is a noticeable difference. But, it's not as much as many people imagine.
I have written an article on understanding amplifier and receiver power ratings if you want more detail on this.
More power doesn't mean it will necessarily sound better.
But, the differences might not be as big as the numbers suggest. And, many of those differences will be more to do with the build quality of the receiver rather than the 'power'.
There isn't a right or wrong answer. The main point is, don't worry about it too much.
Most people won't be running their AV receivers even close to maximum volume and so won't use all the available power anyway.
Generally, AV receiver power ratings will range from around 50 to 150 watts (8 Ohms, 20 Hz-20 kHz, less than 0.1% THD, 2 Channels Driven).
50 to 100 watts will be plenty for most rooms and most speakers.
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 for long periods.
120-150 watts should mean you'll never need to worry about this again.
If you are regularly turning the volume control beyond about 75%, then you might benefit from a receiver with a bit more power. It's not a great idea to be constantly running an amplifier near its limits.
If you have speakers which are harder to drive. Then a bit more power should help them sound better. Or, you could buy more efficient speakers.
The specifications of your speakers should give a guideline power range that they can handle. You will have plenty of wiggle room, so you are unlikely to have issues unless you take things to extremes.
Speakers also have an impedance rating which the amplifier needs to support.
Most amps and speakers designed for home use will work fine together.
You probably don’t need to worry. But if you have some exotic speakers, you might want to check this.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s my guide to matching amplifiers and speakers.
There are several different surround sound audio formats on a DVD or Blu-ray disc. We’ve discussed Dolby Atmos and DTS:X already.
However, there is also LPCM, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio and many more.
Some may be supported by your AV receiver and some may not. If you need something specific, then you might want to check the receiver supports it.
Receivers also have several listening modes that can alter
how you hear the sound on your speaker system.
Most brands have similar options. But, again, if you're looking for something specific, then you might need to check that a receiver has what you want.
In my opinion, a couple of the most useful options are Dolby Surround and DTS Neural:X. These are upmixing modes that make full use of your 5.2.2 or 5.2.4 speaker layouts.
Usually, if you play a normal stereo or 5.1 soundtrack, then your height speakers won't be used at all. However, these upmixing modes create a virtual mix that moves some of the audio into your height speakers.
It's not quite as good as the real thing - but they can be rather effective. I always have these enabled for legacy soundtracks.
Plus, you get some more use from those extra speakers you spent all that time and money installing in your room.
You can still use Dolby Surround/DTS Neural:X if you don't have height or elevation speakers. You can use them to upmix stereo soundtracks to your 5.1 speakers, for example.
Again, I always have one of these enabled for standard stereo TV transmissions. However, some people prefer to leave stereo soundtracks in stereo. Try both and see which you prefer.
I draw the line at music though. For me, stereo music is always the front two speakers only. As nature intended!
However, I'm an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy. Feel free to go wild and spread that stereo music around your whole room. You rascal.
Many receivers will have additional zone connections to allow you to send video and/or audio into different areas. These areas are usually called zones.
A zone can be anything you like. Another room. A living space outside your home. Another location in the same room.
There may be a single zone 2. Or the higher-end receivers might have zones 3 and 4.
A zone 2 output is often a line out like in the picture below. This would need to be connected to another amplifier.
Some receivers also have powered channels for the second zone - which just need to be connected to another set of speakers.
In some AV receivers you can watch one thing in the main room and something different in another zone. Some will only allow you to watch the same thing in two different zones.
Some zones will be audio-only. Some zones may need an extra amplifier in the other room. It varies a great deal.
First, decide what you want to do, and then find a receiver that does it.
Most AV receiver manufacturers have a range of products at different price points.
They will have a premium series with high-end components and all the latest features.
They will also have a mid-range and value range set of receivers. These receivers can still give great value for money and fantastic quality.
The quickest way to identify the right series for you is to start with the price. Setting your maximum budget will narrow down the ones you can buy.
Then just find the models with all the features you need.
As a rule, you do get what you pay for with AV receivers. The more you spend, the higher-quality sound and better features you will get.
However, be sensible. If you have cheap speakers, then you probably won't hear a big difference in sound quality even if you buy a high-end receiver.
Many of the AV receiver manufacturers will bring out a new model each year. Most years, the changes are incremental, rather than adding 'must-have' new features.
If last year's model is still in stock, you can often grab a bargain. If the receiver has all the features you need, you may not need to pay a premium for the latest model.
This can be one of the best ways to buy a high-end receiver at mid-range prices. Or a mid-range at budget prices.
However, don't wait too long. The stock levels of these older receivers can be limited. The retailers may run out of stock if you wait too long.
Who makes the best AV receiver? There are many to choose from.
There are several great AV receiver brands that you might want to consider.
As this site is primarily aimed at users with less experience, I'm mainly going to include brands that provide a good mix of budget to mid-range models. However, I'll also throw in a couple of high-end favorites for experienced audiophiles to enjoy.
So, whilst I'm not going to list them all, here is a quick summary of some of my favorite brands. Each offers both budget and high-end models for a range of budgets and needs.
I've also highlighted the different ranges that each one offers. I think one of the most confusing aspects of buying an AV receiver, is trying to figure where each model fits into the bigger picture. This quick summary should help.
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 three 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.
You can see a list of all the latest models, and compare their most useful features, in my guide to Marantz AV receivers.
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:
Comparing the different models in a range can be difficult. Fortunately, I've got a guide to each series which lists the main features of the latest models - Onkyo RZ Series AV Receivers and Onkyo NR & SR Series AV Receivers.
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 its 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).
To clearly see the difference between all their models, check out my guide to the Pioneer Elite and VSX AV receivers.
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:
My guide to Sony AV receivers details the features of all the recent models. This should make it easier to find what you need.
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.
You might find that it's a bit confusing to understand which models are available - and the differences between them all.
I know I do.
If so, you might find it useful to take a look at my guides to the:
I could double the length of this page just by listing all the brands available.
I will suggest some of these models in my guide to the best receivers below.
OK. We've now come to the heart of the matter. You now understand many of the things you need to consider. But there are still dozens of AV receivers to choose from. Where do you start?
Previously, I used to have a random list of excellent AV receivers that I liked.
However, some people asked if I could make it easier to choose by listing them by price or category.
There's no pleasing some people!
Anyway, always eager to please, I've bowed to their wishes.
I've picked a number of my favorite AV receivers at different price points. And included a few general categories too.
The models in the price categories are based on the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP). However, be aware that the prices of AV receivers can vary. I've never seen any higher than the MSRP – but often below.
You can sometimes pick up a bargain when a receiver in a higher price band gets reduced. Often at holiday times or when there is a newer model available.
So, you might want to check out the price of a model that is in a higher bracket – you might get a pleasant surprise.
At the end of each section, I have a few more suggestions in that category. It's good to have a few more options so that you can make the right choice for you.
The right choice might be based on price – or features – or build quality. Or it's a brand that you've used before and like.
Only you know which is the most important thing for your setup.
Firstly, in my opinion, it's usually best to select an AV receiver by your budget – rather than channels.
For all types of receivers, you can buy high-quality, expensive models - and cheaper, budget models. All with a similar number of channels.
However, if you are sure that you only want 5.1 surround sound, then you may get more bang for your buck with a pure 5-channel model.
There aren't many receivers that are only 5-channels these days. Remember, you can always buy a 7-channel receiver (or higher) and just connect 5-channels.
A pure 5-channel receiver these days will usually be a budget model – so I'm going to assume somebody looking for a 5.1 receiver will be looking at a budget model.
My choice for the best 5.1 AV receiver is the Yamaha RX-V4A.
No matter if you are looking for a budget or high-end model - Yamaha is always a good choice for an AV receiver.
The Yamaha RX-V4A has two subwoofer output connections. If, like most people, you just use one subwoofer, just ignore the second connection.
But it’s always handy to have a second output if you want to add a second sub in your room.
This model has all the basics that you would want in an entry-level AV receiver.
A good sound, plenty of network and wireless connection types, and full support for many of the audio formats that you would want – including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.
This model is also one of the first to support 8K/60p and 4K/120p video. All the HDMI inputs support 8K – and there is full pass-through support for 8K from player to screen.
Please note, the new HDMI 2.1 features - such as 4K/120p, VRR, ALLM and QMS will not be available until they are enabled in a future firmware update (currently scheduled for Spring 2021).
The RX-V4A supports all the current versions of HDR – HDR10+, HDR10, Dolby Vision and HLG.
It can be voice-controlled via Amazon Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant - and also supports Yamaha’s MusicCast wireless speaker system.
With MusicCast Multi-Room, you can control wireless speakers in rooms around your home.
Perfect for those of you who are fed up with running those pesky speaker cables around your room.
When we get to receivers with more channels, then looking for a particular number of channels is more useful. There aren't that many AV receivers with this many channels – and you may have your mind set on a specific set up.
A 9.2-channel system can be ideal if you are looking to create a 3D Dolby Atmos surround sound layout. With a 9-channel receiver, you can have a 5.2.4 speaker layout.
This is one of the best ways to experience Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.
5.2.2 is good. But 5.2.4 is better as you can get to experience the overhead effects from front to back.
My choice for the best 9.2-channel AV receiver is the Denon AVR-X4700H.
Denon is always a contender in any category. They make fantastic receivers that excel at movie audio. And they work great for music too.
This model supports the very latest in video formats. You will be able to pass-through 8K at 60Hz and 4K at 120Hz.
As well as built-in amplification for a 5.2.4 or 7.2.2 speaker layout – there is support for a 7.2.4 system if you add an external 2-channel power amplifier.
That should be enough speakers to keep you happy for a while.
The Audyssey MultEQ XT32 auto room configuration available on this receiver is one of the best around. You will be able to get a tight and balanced sound in any room when you run the Audyssey setup routine.
In my experience, it is especially good at cleaning up the low frequencies, so they don’t overpower the room.
An AV receiver with 11-channels is perfect for a complete Dolby Atmos surround sound system. You have all the built-in channels to install a 7.2.4 speaker system. That's an impressive layout that will make you feel part of the action.
AV receivers with this number of channels aren't that common. However, there are a few about. Whichever way you go, you can't go wrong with any of these monster receivers.
My choice is the Denon AVR-X67000H. It's a fantastic receiver with great sound and many features.
If audiophile sound quality is important to you, then the Anthem MRX 1120 might be better. However, the MSRP is almost twice as much as the Denon.
And, anyway, Denon receivers sound great. So this model will be excellent for movies and music for the majority of people.
As always, you need to find the right balance between cost and features that is right for you.
This Denon receiver allows for 7.2.4 or 9.2.2 speaker layouts with full support for Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, IMAX Enhanced and Auro-3D. There is also support for a 7.2.6 layout if you add an external power amplifier.
And, if you have been waiting for an AV receiver with pass-through support for 8K video resolutions, then you are in luck. There is a single HDMI port on the rear that will take an 8K/60p or 4K/120p source.
All the other HDMI inputs allow for a maximum of 4K - but the receiver can upscale any of these to 8K if you wish.
You can install a multi-room wireless speaker system if you buy one or more HEOS-enabled wireless speakers. These can be placed throughout your home and are controlled by the free HEOS app.
If you want an AV receiver with 13.2-channels, then you've got an easy decision to make. At the time of writing, I'm only aware of one.
*** UPDATE: Denon have released another 13-channel receiver. Their 110th anniversary model - the Denon AVR-A110 13.2-Ch AV Receiver ***
The Denon AVR-X8500H is a monstrous beast that has the quality of the Denon brand with 13-channels of amplification.
This will allow you to build an impressive 7.2.6 or 9.2.4 surround sound layout. All using the built-in channels in the receiver.
Remember, some receivers with fewer channels have processing for bigger Dolby Atmos layouts. This means you can use the pre-out connections on the rear to install additional power amplifiers.
However, the advantage of a beast like this, is you don't need to pony up for power amplifiers. It's all built-in.
Some of you may be keen on the idea of buying an AV receiver. I don't blame you – they're great!
However, what you might not be so thrilled about is the size of some of these AV receivers. They can certainly take up some space in your room.
And, believe it or not, some people think they look a bit ugly. Surely not!
If you are in this category, then maybe one of these receivers will fit the bill.
Some brands have a range of slim receivers which can be much easier to install in your room. They're so small, they will almost disappear from view. Well, almost…
Small AV receivers will usually have less power and features than a standard size model. However, that doesn't mean they can't drive an excellent surround sound system.
My choice of the best slim AV receiver is the Marantz NR1711. A 7.2-channel receiver that can perform with the best of them.
It’s rated at 50-watts. So, less than the larger models listed here, but still enough to drive most small to medium-sized speakers in a standard room.
It has plenty of connections for a small device and even comes with the excellent Audyssey MultEQ room correction system.
The main update in the latest model is the introduction of 8K support. So, you can connect your new game console and experience video at 8K/60p or 4K/120p.
This amplifier also supports pass-through for HDR10+.
Many people just want a simple AV receiver to get surround sound in their room. That's great. You don't need to spend a fortune to get a very decent surround sound system.
It's going to sound waaaaay better than using the speakers on your TV (just… don't). And, don't forget, you can always upgrade the receiver later if you want to a model with more features.
So, a budget AV receiver under $300 can be the perfect way to start.
My choice is the Sony STR-DH590 5.2-Ch AV receiver. Sony doesn't release AV receivers as regularly as other brands.
But, they are a popular choice and their long history in AV products means you can be sure of getting a solid performer with many useful features.
It supports 4K pass-through with HDR10, Dolby Vision and HLG. If you connect your Blu-ray player you can also experience high-resolution Dolby True-HD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks.
This receiver also has Audio Return Channel (ARC) support on the HDMI output.
This is a no-frills receiver at a price that is hard to beat. If you just want to get surround sound up and running in your room. You can't go wrong at this price.
If you spend a little more, then you really can go up a level or two. The number of features that you get in an AV receiver around the $500 mark is quite surprising.
These models are mostly 7-channel receivers, which means you can start to use the immersive speaker layouts for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.
You will also notice that you get more network features like Ethernet, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
My choice in this price range is the Denon AVR-S750H 7.2-Channel AV receiver.
Denon is always an excellent choice if you want a receiver with great sound and a host of cutting-edge features.
This price band is another gradual step up in quality and features. You can expect to get a little more for your money in terms of performance and you might need to go to this level to get more connections, power or channels.
Some of these models will also give you more options in terms of sending content to different zones in your house. So, if this is important, think about what you want to do and then check out which model offers those options.
My choice in this category is the Yamaha RX-V6A 7.2-Ch AV Receiver. It might not have as many bells and whistles as some of the other models I suggest here.
But don't assume that having more features is always better. Sometimes less features, but implemented better, is perfect. As long as you have all the performance that you need.
This receiver has 7 HDMI inputs and 1 output. The HDMI output supports eARC which can be useful for sending surround and high-resolution audio from your TV apps back to your speaker system.
Three of the HDMI inputs also support the new HDMI 2.1 specification and 8K/60p video. 4K video is also supported at 120Hz.
Most of the new features of HDMI 2.1 are more likely to be of interest to gamers with the latest game consoles. If you are not a gamer, HDMI 2.1 might not bring you too many benefits.
That aside, this model will be perfect for anyone looking for a great performance with movies and music.
The new HDMI 2.1 features will only be available via a firmware update. This is currently scheduled for Spring 2021.
You can set up a 5.2.2 Dolby Atmos speaker layout to experience 3D audio in your room. And MusicCast Surround support allows you to create a 5.1 system with wireless rear speakers.
Yamaha is a respected brand that should be on the list for anybody looking for a reliable and solid performer.
The RX-V6A is the long-awaited update for the popular RX-V685 receiver. It is an excellent AV receiver that should work well for most home theater rooms.
At this price point, we are getting into high-quality AV receivers. Not the very best, but pretty darn good.
You should expect a great sound that will do justice to any first-rate speakers that you own.
When you get to this level, the improvements are less in terms of features. But you will be getting better build-quality and components.
One of the most important features of an AV receiver is the power supply. A better power supply is a big factor that helps to increase sound quality.
My choice in this category is the Denon AVR-X2700H 7.2-Ch AV Receiver. A great all-rounder that has 7-channels of amplification and plenty of inputs.
It is also one of the first receivers to support 8K resolutions. One of the HDMI inputs allows for 8K/60p and 4K/120p resolutions. As mentioned previously, this will mainly be of interest to those of you with the latest game consoles.
As you may have figured out by now, I really like the Denon brand as they often hit the mark when you consider price, sound quality and features.
As the price goes up, so does the quality of the AV receivers. If you spend a little more then you really start to get to some high-end brands.
You can buy some of the entry-level models from top-notch audio brands like Anthem and NAD.
My choice at this price range is the Marantz SR5015 7.2-Ch AV receiver. With 7-channels and the famous Marantz sound, you will be getting an excellent receiver that excels at most things.
With support for 8K video, Dolby Atmos and Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization, this is a great all-rounder at a competitive price.
However, if sound-quality is your focus, then the 5-channel Anthem MRX 520 might be a better fit for you.
If you want more channels, then the Denon AVR-X3700H 9.2-Ch AV Receiver is a better choice.
Remember, the best AV receiver is the one that ticks all the boxes for you. Different people have different needs and requirements.
At a price around the $2000 mark, we are really getting to some serious AV receivers.
If your budget extends this high, then you really are spoiled for choice. You can't really go wrong.
My choice in this category is the Yamaha RX-A3080 9.2-Channel AV receiver.
One of my favorite brands and at this price you are getting their flagship model. It really is an exceptional performer that sounds great for movies and music.
At this price, it really is a bargain.
If your budget is around $3000, then you really will have a hard choice to make.
The main differences at this price level are the models that have more channels – like the Marantz SR8012 and the Denon AVR-X6700. And the audiophile sound quality of the Anthem, Arcam and NAD models.
If you are someone who needs top-notch performance for movies and music, then Arcam, Anthem or NAD should be on your list.
However, it's a fine line. That doesn't mean the Marantz and Denon don't work well for music. They do. But, if I was forced to sum up the difference, I would say their strength is movie audio and features.
It may be frustrating. But in the end, these things come down to personal taste - and what you are used to listening to. It's not black and white. Whatever some people may tell you.
If you are unsure - and sound quality is extremely important to you - the only way is to go and demo the amps yourself.
My choice in this category is the Arcam AVR10 7.2-channel AV receiver. It is right up there if you want a receiver which can sound great for music as well as movies.
You might be able to replace your high-end stereo amplifier if you currently use one just for music.
Although it is limited to 7-channels, the AVR10 has 11.2 pre-outs on the back. So, you can connect external power amplifiers and get an excellent 5.2.6/7.2.4 speaker layout.
If you can quite believe it, we've still not reached the top of the tree. You will need to invest some serious money if you want to buy one of these beauties.
But, you know, sometimes you just need to buy the best there is.
These AV receivers are the flagship models for each of the brands. Each has its strengths.
The Denon has the most channels. The Marantz and Anthem aren't far behind - and still offer the fantastic sound quality that these brands specialize in.
The Yamaha has been on this list before in a lower price category. Which just shows how much of a bargain it is.
My choice is the Arcam AVR30 7.2-channel AV receiver. It doesn't have the number of channels as the others do.
But this is because it has Class G amplification which excels at providing a dynamic and detailed sound. And, it is expensive to engineer.
However, there is an impressive 15.2 pre-out connections on the back that will allow you to build a 9.2.6 surround sound system - if you buy some extra power amplifiers.
It's definitely not cheap – but it is certainly a great choice for an audiophile who wants an accurate sound with low distortion.
Yes, you sacrifice some of the bells and whistles that are common in other receivers. But the focus is on high-end sound and video quality.
If that is your priority, then you will be delighted with this receiver.
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 know 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 amplifiers in 2021. Buy a good one, and it will last for years to come.
If you are finding all this a bit too complicated, then there is a simpler path you can take to home theater audio nirvana.
Take a look at, 'The Best Home Theater Systems in 2021: Top 10 Reviews & Buying Guide'.
With a home theater system, you get the amplifier and speakers all in one package. It's a simpler solution for some people.
Another alternative is to buy a soundbar system with a wireless subwoofer.
No. An AV receiver includes an amplifier to power your speakers.
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 we can connect input devices, alter the volume and then power our speakers. All in one box.
Some more advanced audio systems will use two separate boxes – a dedicated preamplifier and power amp.
An AV receiver is an integrated amplifier. It includes a preamplifier and a power amplifier in the same box.
So, why is it called a receiver? Why not just call it an amplifier?
Quite simply, a receiver is an integrated amplifier that also has a tuner to receive AM/FM radio signals.
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 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 playback 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 good stereo receiver.
Many home users will have an AV receiver for movie audio, and use a dedicated stereo amplifier for listening to music.
Short answer, yes.
Longer answer. As a rule, more expensive AV receivers will have better components and build quality. They will have bigger and better power supplies. All of these will make the sound quality better.
However, to get the full benefit of this, you will also need to pair this with high-quality speakers and source material. And, it all needs to be installed properly with good quality interconnects. And, it should be placed in a room which allows you to hear the improvement in sound.
Final thought. 'Better sound' is a very subjective thing. For some people, it will sound better if you just add extra bass. You don't need an expensive receiver if you just want that. Just turn up your subwoofer!
For audiophiles, a more balanced sound will be required. A more expensive receiver should provide high-end detail, balanced mid-range and controlled bass.
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
The AV receiver will need to able to do this if I am connecting a DVD player using component connections - and I then expect it to output this to my TV screen via HDMI.
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 is often only the more expensive receivers that are able to upconvert different types of video input to the HDMI output.
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 upscaling 1080p to my 4K Ultra HDTV.
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.
All modern TV screens have scalers built-in and many are pretty good. Therefore, any TV will automatically upscale a lower resolution image to display on the screen.
A high-end AV receiver may have a better video scaler than the TV. If so, make sure you allow the receiver to upscale the video before it is sent to the TV.
The .1 and .2 refer to the number of subwoofer outputs. A 7.1 receiver will only allow for one subwoofer (which is all most people use). A 7.2 receiver has two subwoofer connections so you can have another sub in the room.
The main advantage of an extra subwoofer is to spread the bass frequencies more evenly around the room.
My guide to surround sound speaker placement explains more about this.
A 5.2 receiver allows for 5 surround sound speakers and two subwoofers. The standard layout for the 5 surround speakers is front left, front right, center, surround left and surround right.
A 7.2 receiver has seven channels for surround sound speakers and two for subwoofers. In a 7.2 speaker layout, the configuration is front left, front right, center, surround left, surround right, back left and back right.
To understand this more clearly, go to my guide to surround sound layouts.
Maybe. Don't assume that an AV receiver with Bluetooth connectivity will be able to work with your Bluetooth headphones.
Many AV receivers that support Bluetooth will only be able to receive audio from your connected device.
For example, you can connect your phone to the receiver via Bluetooth and send songs from your phone to your speaker system. Nice.
However, to work with Bluetooth headphones, your AV receiver needs to send audio out via Bluetooth. Not all AV receivers will be able to do this. Many will receive audio only.
Check the manual of the receiver you have/want to buy.
Unless it describes exactly how to connect Bluetooth headphones, I would assume it doesn't support this.
There is an option for using Bluetooth headphones if your AV receiver doesn't support them.
You can buy a Bluetooth transmitter that connects to an audio output on your AV receiver. Many of these devices will support a stereo analog or optical audio output.
For an analog connection, you might need to have a suitable zone 2 output to do this. If not, you might be able to feed it from the headphone output on the front of the receiver (assuming it has one).
One solution is this one from Amazon:
With this device, you can connect an optical or analog output from the AV receiver - and then transmit this audio to connected Bluetooth headphones.
You could also do this by sending the sound directly from your TV, rather than using the AV receiver.
There is one possible problem I would consider.
For listening to music, you should be fine. However, with some Bluetooth transmitters, it is possible that the picture and sound may be out-of-sync through the headphones.
This is due to the latency of sending the audio to your headphones via Bluetooth. It might work, but just know this might be a problem.
The device pictured above supports aptX low latency audio. This will transmit low latency sound which solves the problem of out-of-sync picture and sound.
However, you will need to pair it with headphones that also support aptX low latency for this to work.
Just lookout for this if you decide to buy another model.
Paul started the Home Cinema Guide to help less-experienced users get the most out of today's audio-visual technology. He has worked as a sound, lighting and audio-visual engineer for around 20 years. At home, he has spent more time than is probably healthy installing, configuring, testing, de-rigging, fixing, tweaking, re-installing again (and sometimes using) various pieces of hi-fi and home cinema equipment.