Equipping your front room with the best AV receiver can quickly transform your humble TV set-up into your own personal home cinema system.
This is because bagging yourself the best TV on the market might be able to bring that huge cinema screen feel to your home, but it will rarely be able to deliver the audio to match.
The answer? In order to get the high-end sound to make the most of your 4K TV, you’ll need to buy an AV receiver as well.
But… what is an AV receiver, you ask? It may sound like complex audio equipment, but it’s really just a way of better controlling your AV setup. AV receivers will take the audio track from whatever TV show, movie, CD or video game you’re watching or listening to, then process the audio and send it through to any connected speakers you have.
AV receivers (also known as AVRs) are the only way to power 5.1 and 7.1 speaker setups outside of a soundbar, and they also host a range of ports that allow you to keep all your devices connected all the time. This is important because you should think of the best AV receivers as essentially the central base that all of your entertainment equipment will need to connect to and communicate with.
Even if you have lots of other devices, this means that the transition between them will be seamless, regardless of what you’re trying to play, watch or listen to, you’ll always get an amazing entertainment experience to rival your nearest cinema screen.
On a budget
Best AV receivers on a budget
A budget receiver with excellent features and performance
Power output (claimed): 9 x 100W per channel | Dolby Atmos: Yes | HDMI: 7-in, 2-out | AV inputs: 2 x composite; 2 x digital audio | Weight: 27.6 lbs. (12.5 kg)
Tons of inputs and outputs
Decent wireless support
Easy to use
Needs more streaming support
Gone are the days when buying a surround-sound-supporting receiver with multiple HDMI ports meant spending an arm and a leg. These days, you can get a great receiver with support for a surround sound setup at well under $500/£600. Like, for example, the Onkyo TX-NR676.
It’s not the only receiver in its price range with a great set of features features or a plethora of inputs, but there are few comprehensive packages that are as easy to assemble, set up and use as Onkyo’s.
In terms of expected sound performance, Onkyo has long offered a great sound-quality, and this receiver is no different. The receiver supports DTS:X and Dolby Atmos, which helps give sound a much more immersive feel to it.
We found that the receiver was generally great-sounding at all volumes. At low volumes, there was still plenty of clarity and detail, while higher volumes produced little distortion, which was nice to hear. Extremely tuned ears might miss a little detail in the high end at louder volumes, though the receiver still shoots well above its price range when it comes to sound quality.
If you’re looking for a great A/V receiver and have a maximum budget of $400/£600, the Onkyo TX-NR676 is the way to go.
Read the full review: Onkyo TX-NR676
An innovative, affordable Dolby Atmos AV receiver with plenty of cool tricks
Power output (claimed): 7 x 165W into 6 ohms | Dolby Atmos: Yes (5.1.2) | HDMI: 6-in, 2-out | AV inputs: 3 x composite; 2 x digital audio | Dimensions: 430(w) x 156(h) x 331(d) mm | Weight: 9.7kg
Dynamic movie performance
Virtual surround speaker technology
Frustrating user interface
Fussy cosmetic design
It might be late to the party, but Sony’s debut Dolby Atmos AV receiver entertains with some cool functionality. While it’s ostensibly a seven channel design (which means it can run in a 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos configuration) there are also two phantom rears which create a pseudo seven channel surround soundstage. The receiver can even virtually relocate the physical position of your speakers, to create a better sonic balance.
Build quality is commensurate with its price tag. This is no heavyweight, and the fascia looks overly fussy, but the hairline finish is a premium touch. Connectivity is good. We get six HDMI inputs, all HDCP 2.2 enabled. There are also two HDMI outputs, for combi TV and projector use. There are also two analogue AV inputs, plus a pair of stereo phonos and two digital audio inputs.
The AVR connects via Ethernet or Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth with NFC for quick pairing, plus Airplay. The AVR also boasts Chromecast Built-in. That’s all the main wireless boxes ticked.
Setup is helped along by the latest iteration of Sony’s Auto Calibration software, which now features a 31-band graphic EQ and a stereo calibration microphone that adjusts phase, distance and level.
Usability is average. The receiver relies heavily on its UI, which is pretty but sometimes a little frustrating.
Performance is excellent for the price. Tonally the STR-DN1080 may not be particularly warm, but it is exciting. Movies benefit from seamless panning and pronounced dynamics. Power output is quoted at 7 x 165W into 6 ohms. The biggest surprise is the effectiveness of the phantom rears, which really do help fill out the rear surround stage. This sonic trickery positions the STR-DN1080 somewhere above a standard 5.1.2 design, but below a true nine channel amp.
Overall, this is an innovative, exciting AV Dolby Atmos receiver. Consider it a brilliant value home cinema offering.
This slimline Dolby Atmos receiver can slam loud and hard when it needs too
Power output (claimed): 7 x 50W into 8 ohms | Dolby Atmos: Yes (5.1.2) | HDMI: 7-in 1-out | AV inputs: 6 x digital audio (2 x optical and 4 x coaxial) three stereo phono inputs, 3.5mm stereo minijack, six stereo phono inputs | Dimensions: 440(w) x 376(d) x 105(h) mm | Weight: 8.3kg
Easy to accommodate size
Generous feature list
Not a volume monster
Single HDMI output
The latest update to the popular slimline NR line, Marantz’s Dolby Atmos enabled NR1607 packs a load of features into a low profile frame.
Choose from either a 5.1.2 Atmos configuration, or 7.1 flatbed surround. Wireless connectivity comes via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or AirPlay.
All seven rear-side HDMI inputs support 4K with HDCP 2.2. There’s only one HDMI output though. This is joined by two digital audio inputs (one coaxial, one digital), plus three AV analogue inputs. On the front panel, there’s another HDMI input and USB with iOS Digital Direct.
Auto room correction is provided by Audyssey, viaa supplied microphone. It does a reasonable job EQing the receiver to the listening room.
The 50W p/c power rating may be modest, but this little box can slam loud and hard when it needs too. The subtle, immersive 3D audio of Atmos is also well handled here; audio panning around and overhead is thoroughly engaging.
The receiver is more than confident with two channel sources, although it lacks the sparkle of some of more expensive rivals. While the power output is plenty good enough for smaller rooms, larger theater spaces could be a challenge. Edge past 80 on the volume gauge and the mid-range dries out.
Overall, the NR1607 can be considered a potent slimline Dolby Atmos receiver. HDMI connectivity is class leading, and our only grumble is the solitary output, which could limit options if you want to run both a screen and a projector.
Under $1000 / £1000
Best AV receivers under $1,000 / £1,000
Yamaha RX-A880 AV receiver
Powerful and affordable, the RX-A880 is the best mid-range AVR
Power output (claimed): 7 x 100W into 8 ohms | Dolby Atmos: Yes (5.1.2) | HDMI: 8-in 2-out | AV inputs: 3 x composite; 2 x digital audio | Dimensions: 435(w) x 171 (h) x 382 (d) mm | Weight: 10.5kg
Tons of connectivity
Dolby Atmos support
The Yamaha RX-A880 is an excellent choice for anyone looking for a powerful, affordable receiver. Not only does it sound great, but it boasts a ton of ports, support for a range of wireless standards, and works with MusicCast, too.
If you’re looking for a receiver that boasts Dolby Atmos support and can be calibrated to your room, and have the money to spend, then the Yamaha RX-A880 is the way to go. If, however, you’d prefer to save some cash but still want support for 7.1 channels, then we recommend the Onkyo TX-NR676.
New and improved for 2018, the RX-A880 boasts a whopping seven input HDMI ports – all of which support HDCP 2.2 as well – which solves one of the biggest issues with the receiver’s predecessor, the Yamaha RX-A860, and there are also a few other analog input ports, so even older sources should work.
The receiver is capable of outputting audio at 110W per channel at 8Ω which is plenty of volume for those that want a powerful and loud overall sound. Even in larger rooms, this receiver should have no trouble filling the room with powerful audio, as long as you have a decent set of speakers too.
Plus, don’t forget the RX-A880 supports Dolby Atmos. If you have enough speakers to set up the full system, you’ll find that you’re intensely immersed in whatever you’re watching thanks to the Dolby features. But, even when we had just a 5.1-channel setup, we felt like we never needed to go to a cinema again.
Denon HEOS AVR
This multiroom receiver is a bright, lively listen
Power output (claimed): 5 x 50W into 8 ohms | Dolby Atmos: No | HDMI: 4-in 1-out | AV inputs: 2 x digital audio (1 x optical and 1 x coaxial), 3.5mm stereo minijack, stereo phono | Dimensions: 434(w) x 90(h) x 277(d) mm | Weight: 6kg
Compatible with wireless HEOS multi-room speakers
Not Dolby Atmos compatible
Fun for movies, music not so much
It’s not often we see something radically different in the world of AV receivers, but this HEOS model definitely qualifies. For starters, it looks fundamentally different to the herd. There’s no front panel display. Rear connectivity has also been stripped back. Standing just 90mm tall, it’s refreshing compact.
Build quality is superb. Only a volume knob on the extruded aluminium fascia gives the AVR game away.
There are four HDMI inputs, and a single output, all with HDCP 2.2 support. There’s just two digital audio inputs (coaxial and optical), plus analogue stereo, 3.5mm minijack, lone USB and Ethernet LAN. Wireless connectivity covers Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
Perhaps surprisingly, this is a 5.1 channel design and doesn’t support Dolby Atmos. Key to the receiver’s appeal is HEOS wireless speaker integration. While there is provision for wired rear speakers, the system is designed to work with wireless HEOS rears. In most systems, only the front L/C/R will be tethered. It can also partner with a dedicated wireless HEOS subwoofer.
While a remote is supplied, it’s a basic zapper. There’s no onscreen display either. Setup and control is done through a HEOS app.
For our audition, we partnered the AVR with a pair of HEOS 1s at the rear, and the wireless HEOS subwoofer. With speakers grouped, the package becomes a working 5.1 system. There’s no further calibration required.
The HEOS AVR may not be a powerhouse, but it’s a bright, lively listen. The receiver delivers multichannel movie soundtracks with gusto. It’s crisp and exciting, particularly when there’s plenty going on around the soundstage (try it with Edge of Tomorrow Blu-ray, then duck as the DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack unloads chaos in every corner).
This isn’t a particularly musical AVR though. Pop and rock are entertaining enough, but throw a throw it something classical or jazzy and its spatial delineation turns a bit mushy.
Using wireless rears can invite some problems. While latency isn’t an issue, we were aware of occasional low-level pops and fizzes.
As an ambitious reworking of the classic home theater receiver, we rate this first HEOS AVR as an qualified success. The cosmetics are admirable, and for dedicated HEOS multiroom users the wireless interactivity is a boon. Employing an app for control seems to make perfect sense, the only snag comes if your streaming audio sources are also app controlled and need to be juggled outside of the HEOS app. This may not be the future of AV receivers, but it’s a refreshing rethink nonetheless.
- This product is only available in the US and UK at the time of this writing. Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the Marantz NR1607
When money’s no object
Best AV receivers, whatever the price
Outstanding performance in every regard
Power output (claimed): 9 x 200W into 6 Ohms | Dolby Atmos: Yes (7.1.2) | HDMI: 8-in 3-out | AV inputs: 4 x composite; 4 x digital audio (2 x optical and 2 x coaxial) | Dimensions: 434(w) x 389(d) x 167(h) mm | Weight: 13.5kg
Powerhouse movie performance
Nine channels of amplification
Overkill if you don’t partner with kick-ass speakers
If you want a no-compromise Atmos experience, then stepping up to a nine channel AV receiver is well worth the premium. With this big Denon, you can opt for 5.1.4, or 7.1.2 – and that makes a big difference to the overall performance. There’s actually processing for eleven channels if you want to add additional amplification.
But there’s more than just wraparound audio to this beast. The H suffix denotes that it’s also HEOS multiroom compatible. It can play, or route, content to and from other HEOS connected components. Spin a CD on your Blu-ray deck, and you can Party Zone the music through both your cinema system and any connected HEOS speakers.
Build quality is stellar. The receiver has a copper plated chassis with monoblock construction. There are seven rear HDMI inputs, plus one on the front fascia. All support 4K HDCP 2.2 sources. There are also three HDMI outputs.
There’s also a forest of other inputs, including four digital audio inputs (split between digital optical and coaxial), six analogue stereo pairs and phono (MM) turntable support. You can also stream over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Power output is prodigious, at 9 x 200w into 6 Ohms. This doesn’t mean you should go super-loud, more that it can effortlessly bludgeon without strain or distortion.
The user interface is slick, with high-res graphics guiding you through the setup routine. Auto calibration is via Audyssey.
The Denon’s performance is outstanding in every regard. It does a fabulous job with multichannel Dolby Atmos soundtracks, both explosive and atmospheric, and is no slouch when it comes to music either. Beneath the hood are fourth-gen SHARC DSP processors. Spatial imaging and transient attack is excellent.
Overall, we rate this class-leading Denon as a home cinema superstar. It’s feature heavy, and massively powerful. But there’s agility behind the brawn. In short, it’s a fabulous home theater performer.
- This product is only available in the US at the time of this writing. UK and Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the Denon HEOS AVR
Arcam FMJ AV850
Arcam’s best sounding AV receiver to date, but it has a frugal spec
Power output (claimed): 7 x 100W into 8 ohms | Dolby Atmos: Yes (5.1.2) | HDMI: 7-in 3-out | AV inputs: 6 x digital audio (2 x optical and 4 x coaxial) three stereo phono inputs, 3.5mm stereo minijack, six stereo phono inputs | Dimensions: 433 (w) x 425 (d) x 171 (h)mm | Weight: 16.7kg
Sublime musical performance
Class leading auto calibration system
Only seven channels of amplification
Outdated user interface
While the Arcam AVR850 is unlikely to win any Best Value accolades – it’s unashamedly expensive for a 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos design – its overarching musicality is hard to beat. This is arguably the UK audio specialist’s best sounding AV receiver to date.
The AVR850 uses Class G power amps, conservatively rated at 100W-per-channel.
The design is understated, with a nice matte cabinet finish and big central volume knob. It tips the scales at a reassuringly heavy 16kg.
Connectivity is good. There are seven HDMI inputs, all with HDCP 2.2 support, plus three HDMI outputs. Audio options include six analogue inputs, and six digital audio inputs.
The really significant difference here, compared to previous Arcam home theater boxes, is the provision of Dirac Live room calibration.
Arguably the most sophisticated auto calibration technology available, it does a extraordinary job fine tuning the receiver to the listening room. Dirac tuning is not carried out by the receiver with a microphone, but via a laptop. Sounds complicated? Don’t fret. Buyers will have room calibration done by the dealer that supplies the receiver.
While Dirac is the height of sophistication, the user interface is pretty basic, just a plain text box. Arcam isn’t even trying to impress here.
Still, the receiver sounds sensational, with precise imaging that really makes the most of Dolby Atmos encoding. It’s tight and forceful with action sequences, and delicious melodious with two channel music. That feature count may look frugal for the price, but when it comes to performance, your investment will be repaid in spades.
The Arcam AV850 may be ruinously expensive for a seven channel amplifier, but tuned with Dirac, it’s clearly a premium performer. We’re prepared to forgive it any foibles.
Choosing your AV reciever
How to choose the best AV receiver for you
Which speaker type is best for you?
There are lots of speaker styles to choose from – that’s why we’ve put together lots of guides on the best speakers you can buy in 2020.
If you need a speaker you can take everywhere, make sure you look at the best waterproof speakers.
If you have a 4K set-up at home, then you need to be on the lookout for a receiver that has a wealth of HDCP 2.2 compatible HDMI ports. If you want to get really high-tech with your set-up, and invest in multi-room streaming, you need to think about which wireless speaker system is best for you – Chromecast, Heos, or even Yamaha MusicCast. Even if that’s not something you’re interested in right now, it makes sense to future-proof your set-up.
For many people, Dolby Atmos will be the killer app. This 3D audio system is now the gold standard in immersive audio. It may be available on soundbars, but only an AV receiver offers true overhead Dolby Atmos audio.
All you’ll need to do is decide if you want a seven or a nine-channel system. (However, that said, you may not need Dolby Atmos at all, in which case a standard 5.1 sound system will fill your surround sound needs nicely.)
Have we convinced you that you need an AV receiver yet? The next step is figuring out which is the right one for you and luckily we’ve got a big list of all the best AV receivers you can get your hands on today.