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.
Sony STR-DN1080 7.2 Channel Surround Sound AV Receiver
Yamaha RX-V685 7.2-Channel AV Receiver
Denon AVR-S750H 7.2 Channel AV Receiver
Sony STRDH590 5.2 Channel AV Receiver
If you think you've seen a similar-looking Sony receiver recommended here before, that's because the STR-DN1080 replaces our previous top pick, the STR-DN1050. Once again, Sony's top offering carries the just-right combination of features and performance, balanced by a reasonable price and widespread availability.
Outwardly, the STR-DN1080 looks entirely familiar. The cabinet is slightly smaller than before, but not much has changed with the front panel. The volume and input selector knobs taking up the right side, joined by a row of slim buttons that underline the LCD. As always, it's an understated look that doesn't draw undue attention to itself, while giving off a quietly premium air. The rear panel is more of the same; all of the ports are laid out in a logical manner and labeled clearly. Out back, there are 6 HDMI inputs and a pair of HDMI outputs for multi-room flexibility. As expected in 2019, analog connectivity is at a bare minimum, with two composite video inputs (joined by a single composite video output) and 4 individually marked RCA audio inputs. Each of the speaker terminals is compatible with banana plugs, including the dedicated set for the zone 2 output terminals.
As with its predecessors, wireless connectivity is a particular strong suit. The STR-DN1080 can connect to your home network via Ethernet or Wi-Fi, depending on your setup and proximity to networking equipment. Both Apple AirPlay and Google Chromecast are natively supported, and the STR-DN1080 goes one step further by offering Google Home connectivity to wirelessly control any other Sony audio product in your setup. Beyond that, there's the tried-and-true Bluetooth connection for easy playback with smartphones and tablets.
We've always been impressed with how Sony receivers sound, and the STR-DN1080 continues that trend. One of the biggest new additions to the STR-DN1080 is Dolby Atmos support, adding separate height channels to the sound stage. The built-in automatic speaker calibration system can adjust to include height channels, and is capable of tailoring the sound stage to your particular setup by compensating for imperfect speaker placement. Overall, the STR-DN1080 provides reliable output with accurate sound, though we've seen feedback from more critical users regarding an overly "cool" or "impersonal" sound with treble-heavy speakers. We feel that the STR-DN1080 is more than suitable for home theater usage, and holds its own with music playback as well.
The STR-DN1080 is Sony's top A/V receiver offering (not counting the custom installation line), and represents the best combination of features and performance. It's equipped with plenty of digital connectivity for most homes, and the Google Chromecast/Home/Assistant compatibitily makes it a great choice to integrate within a smart home as well. Between its solid construction and Sony's reputation for reliability, the STR-DN1080 earns our recommendation as the best A/V receiver overall.
Where most A/V receivers do their best to be all things to all people, Yamaha takes a different approach when building their units. As you would expect from a company that was created to produce musical instruments, Yamaha's upscale A/V receivers tend to focus on sound quality and flexibility around equipment that audio enthusiasts prize.
A/V receivers tend to carry a similar look due to their required equipment and functionality, but the RX-V685 manages to stand out with an instantly identifiable design. The front face carries an almost two-tone appearance, with the glossy top section dominated by the display and function buttons. The bottom section houses the important controls, with a prominent volume knob and input control buttons. It takes a minute to decipher each button, but the advantage is that there are no shared functions between them - each button performs a designated task.
The RX-V685 veers from its competition when it comes to connectivity, though the array of ports is relatively similar. It strikes us as somewhat odd that Yamaha would only include 5 HDMI inputs on the RX-V685 when most of its rivals offer 6 to 8, but those 5 inputs should cover the needs of the vast majority of home theater systems regardless. A pair of HDMI outputs is offered (HDMI 1 supports ARC) for multiple display options. Surprisingly, the RX-V685 includes a single component video input in addition to the composite video input - a rarity in today's increasingly HDMI-centric world. A dedicated phono input makes this receiver a great choice for turntable enthusiasts, and other analog audio components can be connected via the 2 stereo RCA inputs. There's also plenty of flexibility with speaker outputs - the RX-V685 can drive 7 channels in its standard arrangement, and two of the four rear channels can be diverted for height speakers (think Dolby Atmos) or to drive speakers in a different room. Two subwoofer pre-outs are included, and the front channel enjoys its own set of pre-outs if your system includes separately powered stereo speakers.
One of the characteristics that define Yamaha products is their audio performance, and the RX-V685 does not disappoint. Not only does this receiver pack plenty of power, it's clear that Yamaha's expertise in delivering a truer, lifelike sound is baked into this unit by default. The RX-V685 is most likely to appeal to picky audiophiles who are limited by space or budget, but anyone can enjoy how this receiver performs when paired with a decent set of speakers. Yamaha's YPAO acoustic calibration is present, and receives a notable upgrade via its R.S.C. technology that can compensate for reflections in the room. The RX-V685 is well-suited for home theater use and stereo listening alike, and the front-channel pre-outs are a deliberate nod towards enthusiasts who prefer to use a dedicated amplifier for critical listening instead.
The one major downside to the RX-V685 is its price - at $550 at the time of writing, it's one of the most expensive A/V receivers we're recommending, and pricier than its direct rivals. Then again, the RX-V685 comes with several enthusiast-centric features that are otherwise not available in this price range. Between its top sound quality and unique options to connect specialty equipment, the Yamaha RX-V685 is worth the reach if your priorities place sound quality and performance over having the most inputs or general affordability.
Denon has been a reliable presence in the A/V receiver market for decades, and plenty of their receivers have been featured on our pages. The AVR-S750H is the latest revision of Denon's 'goldilocks' receiver - outstanding audio quality and plenty of features balanced out by a palatable price tag. For this year, Denon kept the basic formula carried over from previous models, and added a sprinkling of technology updates to keep up with ever-evolving digital standards.
The AVR-S750H looks very much like its direct predecessor, the AVR-S740H. Even when placed side by side, the two units share the same overall design - right down to identical button placements. The AVR-S750H remains one of the few A/V receivers to retain a convenient front-mounted HDMI port, and the emphasis on easy access continues with the redundant input select buttons if you would prefer not to use the selector knob instead. Even the rear panel remains unchanged - you'll find 5 more HDMI inputs and a single HDMI output. Look closely, however; you'll see that the HDMI ports are now compatible with HDCP 2.3, and the output now supports eARC. They're ultimately subtle differences, but go a long way towards future-proofing your equipment. Analog video connectivity has been pared down to a mere 2 composite video inputs and one composite video output - anything requiring component video plugs will need to go through a converter. One nice surprise is the inclusion of a phono input, which remains unchanged from the AVR-S740H. Overall connectivity is competitive for the class, and should fit the vast majority of home theater systems.
While the design may not have changed much, the AVR-S750H is thoroughly modern when it comes to smart home integration. Denon's own HEOS streaming software is built in, and there's plenty of support for HEOS-enabled devices. Beyond the in-house support, the receiver can link with Alexa or Google Assistant for hands-free operation. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are also present; the former has been updated to enable Bluetooth playback to a connected device (as opposed to receive-only) such as a headset. Apple AirPlay is supported as well, and works with multi-room setups.
The 2019 AVR-S750H sounds similar to the AVR-S740H, which is to say natural, lifelike, and not overly processed. The two rear channels can be reassigned to support a true Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 setup; if those speakers are used in a 7-channel setup instead, the AVR-S750H now supports Height Virtualization Technology to create a similar effect without requiring additional speakers. Rather than bring things in-house, Denon continues to utilize Audyssey's MultEQ calibration suite; this setup works especially well if you're unable to physically move some of your speakers, as it can compensate for response times to create a truer soundstage.
The AVR-S750H is - just like the models it replaces - a solid midrange A/V receiver with a well thought-out design and excellent performance. There's plenty of room for accommodating most home theater systems, and the intuitive controls and up-to-date compatibility make the AVR-S750H a great option for just about anyone. Better still, it's reasonably priced considering its capabilities, and Denon's immense retailer network means finding the AVR-S750H online or in stores is never a problem.
Building a home theater setup from scratch is always a pricey proposition, and the cost alone will turn newcomers away in favor of a sound bar. Sony offers an enticing solution to this issue with the STR-DH590, a solid 5.2-channel A/V receiver that focuses solely on quality and performance without tacking on price-bloating features.
The STR-DH590 looks much like the rest of Sony's A/V receiver lineup. The front panel is sleek and unobtrusive, relying on a simple display and a pair of large knobs to control the volume and input selection. Out back, there's a total of 4 HDMI inputs and a single HDMI output with full ARC support. There's no analog video connectivity here, so older video game consoles and DVD players will need to be hooked up directly to the TV instead. The front left and right channel speakers can be wired via banana plugs, but the center and rear surround channels are relegated to spring clips only - disappointing, but not entirely surprising given the budget-friendly price. On the other hand, the STR-DH590 is equipped with two subwoofer pre-outs, allowing the use of a pair of powered subwoofers without having to daisy-chain them instead. One feature Sony opted to include is Bluetooth audio, making it easier to pair a phone or tablet for music playback without messing with wires.
The main draw of the STR-DH590 lies with its performance. The STR-DH590 packs enough power to drive just about any speaker setup; even with just a pair of front channels, the Virtual Front Surround feature utilizes sound processing to create a surround-like sound stage. Despite being an entry-level model, Sony includes an auto calibration tool that can compensate for imperfect speaker placement and extract the most performance out of the whole setup. With a $250 price tag (often lower when on sale), the STR-DH590 leaves breathing space in your budget to build the rest of your system.
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.