Best AV Receiver
AV receivers (alternately, A/V receivers) act as an electronic gateway or organizer for your home entertainment system, and consolidate the function of multiple devices into a single box. Modern AV receivers offer several HDMI inputs and an ARC-capable output, with higher-end units featuring advanced video processing as well. Better AV receivers offer superior sound quality, which can immerse viewers in the "atmosphere" that movie directors intended. The best AV receivers below offer excellent options for expanding your home audio or theater system, and we’ve also provided an AV Receiver buyer's guide below for your review.
Best AV Receiver Overall:
With multiple HDMI inputs and support for all the latest HD audio codecs including Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, these mid-range receivers are ideal for watching Blu-ray movies and any other HD material. All of our selections are more than capable of delivering performance that will satisfy the needs of all but the most demanding buyers. Our picks also need to be easy to set up and use, while offering a good balance of features such as internet-based content streaming and overall value for money.
We've selected Sony A/V receivers as our best overall pick for several years straight, and the STR-DN1080 carries the flag yet again. The right combination of performance, features, connectivity, and pricing means the STR-DN1080 earns our recommendation as the best A/V receiver overall. Read Full Review
The Yamaha RX-V685 is an outstanding performer that emphasizes sound quality and enthusiast-level flexibility. It's more expensive than our other recommendations, but comes with unique features that can't otherwise be found in this price range. Read Full Review
The AVR-S750H primarily consists of minor updates to its predecessor, making it a good way to future-proof your outfit. Beyond the updates, Denon's hardware has been proven both in terms of quality and reliability. Between its wired and wireless flexibility, superb sound quality, user-friendly setup, and reasonable price, the AVR-S750H is a great way to add a reliable A/V receiver to your system that will serve you well for years. Read Full Review
Best Budget AV Receiver:
If you've ever considered adding an AV receiver to your home theater setup, you've seen first-hand that prices for these devices can inflate in a hurry. Whether you're a first time home theater enthusiast looking to expand or are simply constrained by space or budget, an entry-level AV receiver may be the best fit. These budget-friendly AV receivers are typically 5.1- or 5.2-channel units with emphasis on everyday performance over features. You won't see network connectivity or multi-room operation here, but the trade-off is robust, reliable performance that won't break the bank.
Sony's entry-level STR-DH590 receiver is an easy recommendation for the best budget A/V receiver. Whereas most A/V receivers carry hefty price tags and tend to intimidate newcomers with frustrating complexity, the STR-DH590 bucks the trend by offering refreshing simplicity, great sound quality, and a highly affordable price tag. Read Full Review
AV Receiver Buyer's Guide
Despite major improvements in sound bars and other simple home audio solutions, an AV receiver and a good set of speakers are needed for true high-quality surround sound. An AV receiver combines an HDMI switch and an amplifier into one device, allowing you to connect a variety of components. It serves as the central hub of the home theater system, performing all the audio and video switching, as well as providing power to your speakers.
With so many features and technologies now included on AV receivers, it can be difficult to sort out what’s best for you. By breaking down your needs step-by-step, it becomes much simpler to narrow down your choices to a select few.
First, be honest with yourself about the intended use for your AV receiver within your home theater setup. While it's definitely a great experience to crank the volume and make your speakers shake the room, it's not always practical to do so. Take note of the space where you intend to place your home theater system. If you have a smaller area to work with, you might not need to spend as much on an extra powerful unit.
You’ll also want to make a list of your devices, writing down the amount of AV connections they require - including potential devices that you may add on in the future. Most of today's AV receivers are heavily biased towards HDMI connectivity; conversely, analog connectivity is getting increasingly sparse.
AV receivers are often pricey propositions, so you'll want to plan accordingly. When planning your budget, be sure to include the costs for speakers - after all, they're not cheap, either. Any receiver you consider should be able to easily accommodate all of your devices, speakers, and subwoofers that you want to connect.
Finally, consider the features you want. Most features are marketing hype, but some options might actually be beneficial for your setup. If your speaker setup supports it, a receiver that offers Dolby Atmos or DTS:X compatibility can really open up the sound stage. Likewise, some receivers are compatible with Apple AirPlay or Google Chromecast, which make them immensely useful for multi-tasking.
AV Receiver Types
Ultimately, the differences between most AV receivers come down to price. However, high end receivers tend to put more focus on quality and overall performance – sound quality and clarity. AV receivers are essentially all-in-one amplifiers at the end of the day, and the high-end ones are equipped with more powerful amplifiers, better noise isolation, and more attention to detail in order to preserve audio fidelity.
Midrange AV receivers are the most common type you're likely to encounter, whether you're shopping online or at a local store. These AV receivers tend to offer an appealing combination of performance, connectivity, and value for the money. This means solid sound quality and flexibility with inputs; more recently, manufacturers have been including Wi-Fi connectivity and compatibility with various wireless streaming standards such as Apple AirPlay, Google Chromecast, and even the "Works with Sonos" label in some cases.
Budget AV receivers are the most affordable way to enter the world of home theater audio. Many of these units are an exercise in function over frills, but the trade-off is a simpler interface that is more welcoming for newer users. Notably absent are features such as network connectivity and multiple sound processing programs. A budget receiver tends to offer fewer inputs and amplified channels compared to pricier options, but all of the basic functionality remains.
5.1 receivers are the most affordable AV receivers on sale today - see Budget, above. These units can power a front left, front right, center, surround left, and surround right speaker, and feature a subwoofer pre-out (or two, in some cases, making them a 5.2-channel model) that can be used to add a powered subwoofer for extra bass.
HDMI connectivity is your primary consideration, but also take into account any non-HDMI devices you have. This allows you to determine what types of inputs and connections as well as how many you’ll need. Connections such as digital audio (coaxial and optical digital audio inputs for audio-only components) or a phono preamp for turntables might be necessary to create your ideal system.
Since most of your home theater components will use HDMI, the amount of connections you’ll need depends on how many devices are going to be hooked up. It’s best to pick an AV receiver with at least one or two more inputs than actually needed. Since AV receivers are typically an investment which last for several years, this allows you to cover your immediate needs while leaving room for future expansion.
Many of today's AV receivers have wireless connectivity for WiFi, Bluetooth, and AirPlay built in. These features may be worth the additional cost if you have devices that would make this capability especially convenient to have. Depending on the device, wireless connectivity will allow you to do things like stream music apps from your phone or tablet.
Between brand-name offerings, you won't find a bad-sounding receiver on the market today. As such, sound quality is a relatively minor aspect to worry about when looking for a new AV receiver. Although some people prefer the sound characteristics of one brand over another, chances are the audible differences from model to model are too subtle for most individuals to notice. AV receivers from established brands such as Yamaha, Onkyo, Denon, Pioneer, and Sony will all have excellent sound quality.
Unless you have a full 7-speaker surround setup, going for 7.1 or even 9.2 channels typically isn’t worth the added expense over 5.1. Of course, there's always the exception of specialized setups. Many 7.1-channel receivers can redirect two channels to create dedicated "height" channels in order to fully support Dolby Atmos or DTS:X audio. Another benefit of 7.1 receivers is the ability to set up second-zone audio, which means using the two extra channels to power a second set of speakers.
Automatic Speaker Calibration
Automatic Speaker Calibration requires users to place a special microphone throughout the planned home theater soundstage, which then picks up individual frequencies emitted by each speaker. Afterwards, the AV receiver will do its best to determine the ideal calibration setup with the gathered information.
Since power ratings aren’t standardized, the wattage of the AV receiver isn’t that important for typical home theaters. The general rule is you need less wattage for a smaller space and more for a larger one. Fortunately, most popular AV receivers are perfectly adequate for an average-sized home theater.