You’ll need to harness the power of the best AV receivers if you want epic cinematic sound at home — and who doesn’t?. The best soundbars are great, but they don’t compare to a multichannel amplifier in full flight, with sound coming at you from every angle.
The latest generation tempt with 3D Audio decoding courtesy of Dolby Atmos and DTS: X, sport updated HDMI ports able to cope with Dolby Vision, HDMI eARC and in some cases 8K, and have handy multiroom support as standard, be it via Heos, MusicCast or Chromecast built-in. So whether you’re new to AVRs or already a card-carrying home theater enthusiast, now could be a great time to upgrade.
Remember, not all AV receivers are created equal, so it’s worth paying close attention to the specs. Seven channel models will support a speaker configuration of 5.1.2 (that’s a standard 5.1 surround layout with two additional height/up-firing speakers), while step-up models with nine channels of amplification and can be used for either 5.1 with four Dolby height speakers (5.1.4) or 7.1 surround with two height channels (7.1.2). Once you’re ready to choose, read on to find out the best AV receivers you can buy today.
What are the best AV receivers?
If you want a peerless performer for music and movies, then Denon’s AVR-X4700H is our top choice. This 9-channel monster is a fantastically powerful performer, able to effortlessly engulf with rich, layered audio.
Of course, not everyone needs apocalyptic amplification. Enter the Marantz NR1711, our favorite slimline model. This 7-channel Dolby Atmos receiver is designed for smaller rooms, but doesn’t compromise on functionality.
Finally, if you’re after a great performing AVR that won’t break the bank, then our top value option remains Sony’s venerable 7-channel STR-DN1080. This Dolby Atmos classic doesn’t even require you to have a full complement of speakers. Clever psycho acoustic processing does a remarkable job creating virtual rears.
Check out all of our top picks for the best AV receivers below.
The best AV receivers you can buy right now
Denon’s AVR-X2700H provides an affordable jumping on point for the brand’s 2021 X-series AV receivers. The price tag hints at budget components, but in a smaller viewing room (rather than a cavernous theater), it defies expectations.
With a punchy delivery, it has no problem with action-orientated soundtracks, and it’s nuanced enough to portray subtle ambiance too. Power output is rated at 150W for multichannel, which seems a little generous. A seven channel model, it’ll support a 5.1.2 channel configuration or conventional 7.1 surround (depending on how you’ve set up your loudspeakers). There’s also 8K support, albeit via a single HDMI 2.1 input.
Marantz hasn’t changed the look of its half-height lifestyle NR AVR range for the best part of a decade, but we’re good with that because beneath the hood, there’s been constant evolution. This latest iteration is right up there with heavier hitters: you can run a 5.1.2 Atmos setup with a uniform 50W delivered across all 7 channels.
There are six HDMI inputs, one labelled 8K, which supports 4K/120fps and 8K 60Hz. There’s only one HDMI output though, but the feature niceties include HEOS multiroom and AirPlay 2. If you don’t have a full multiroom speaker setup you can also use Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization and DTS:X Virtual to roughly emulate a 3D listening experience.
A sonic tour de force, the X4700H is a jaw-dropping AV receiver with a class leading specification for movies and gaming. HDMI provision covers eight inputs, one of which is designated 8K. Generously, there are three outputs, with eARC support.
Advanced Audyssey calibration is on hand to make the receiver sound great in pretty much any listening room, and once optimised the results are stunning. The X4700H is fantastically dynamic, able to cope with dramatic transients like a boss. Bass is tight and there’s a superbly articulate upper-midrange. Unfortunately it does suffer from an HDMI 2.1 bug when connected to the Xbox Series X, but you can order a device which fixes it. More on this below.
The RX-A3080 is coming to the end of the road, with new Yamaha Aventage models lining up to replace it, but if you move fast you could pick up a bargain — this is a very tasty AV receiver indeed. But then it should be: Yamaha’s been an AV innovator since the early days of analogue Pro-Logic, and it continues to set the pace here with Surround AI.
Surround AI saves the bother of having to juggle Yamaha’s Cinema DSP modes (presets like Spectacle, Sci-Fi, Adventure, Music Video and Video Game), because it makes the appropriate post processing choices for you. Amazingly, it works rather well, and despite the RX-A3080 having a 9-channel design it can process 11 channels (7.2.4) if you add additional amplification.
This brilliant budget Sony AV receiver is a perennial favourite, ideal for home theatre fans that want barnstorming performance without the price. A 7-channel design, it supports a 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos speaker layout, however it cleverly also employs psycho-acoustic processing to add phantom rears, thereby creating a pseudo-7-channel surround listening experience.
It has another cool talent: if you can’t place speakers in their ideal position, crafty audio D.C.A.C. EX processing will virtually relocate the speakers you have. And it works, if imprecisely. In any case the STR-DN1080 is an entertaining performer, with agile sonic steerage and a sucker-punch LFE (low-frequency effects) channel that relishes big, explosive effects. There’s no 8K or 4K high frame rate support, but if If you can live with this limitation, it remains a fabulous buy.
The VSX-LX504 is a 9-channel Dolby Atmos AV receiver, suitable for speaker configurations of 5.2.4 or 7.2.2. HDMI provision covers 7 inputs (one on the front facia), with two outputs. There’s Dolby Vision but no 8K support. Digital audio inputs are limited to one coaxial and one optical.
Pioneer AVRs have a characteristically crisp delivery, which can sound overly analytical, but we like its character. There’s also a Reflex Optimizer function to fine tune up-firing Dolby Atmos speakers. On top of that, this receiver has built-in Chromecast and Google Assistant support, plus Apple Airplay 2 and support for DTS Play-Fi. In terms of bang for buck, then, it’s hard to argue with this glossy Pioneer.
There’s something enduringly elegant about Marantz’s AV component design. The curved fascia with small porthole display speaks of legacy and old-school musicality. But don’t let that fool you, this AV receiver is also a movie beast on the cutting edge. Its audio performance is sublime, with effortless control of the soundstage. Never feeling under pressure, sonic placement is always precise.
A 9 channel model, it can be configured for 7.1.2. There’s also Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization and Virtual DTS: X, plus IMAX Enhanced certification, which means it’ll automatically change bass management handling for deeper bass when it recognises flagged content. The receiver has a single 8K-capable HDMI 2.1 input, while smart support covers Alexa and Google Assistant, as well as AirPlay 2.
Arcam is often cited as the connoisseur’s choice when it comes to home theatre. In addition to the usual list of immersive codecs, this high performing receiver comes with both Auro-3D compatibility and IMAX Enhanced certification. And, while the AVR30 is a 7-channel receiver, there’s processing headroom for 16 channels if you’re prepared to stack up extra amplification.
Calibration is best in class, thanks to Dirac Live, which does a first class job of optimising the AVR’s output to suit your listening room. Less exceptional is the lack of 2.1 compatibility; Arcam is offering a complete board swap later this year, but that’s a prohibitively expensive fix. Still, What the AVR30 lacks in mod cons, it makes up for in performance, proving capable of instantaneous highs, and solid plunging lows. Wireless support covers Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, with Google Chromecast and Apple AirPlay 2 talents too.
How to choose the best AV receivers
Finding the best AV receiver isn’t just about HDMI inputs. Sure we like plenty of inputs, but the number of outputs are important too, particularly if you plan on running both a flatscreen and a projector in the same room.
Resolution and frame rate support
Do you need 8K or High Frame Rate HDMIs? If your AV receiver is unlikely to have a games console connected then the answer is no. In which case there’s some great deals to be had on AVRs with regular HDMI 2.0 inputs.
Dolby Atmos compatibility is a given (and by default that means you’ll get DTS:X too), but how many channels do you need? Given the option, 9 channels always trump 7, because it opens up more speaker options (5.1.4 or 7.1.2)...
Don’t have a full Dolby Atmos home theatre loudspeaker set up? Look for a model that offers height virtualisation technology, so you can enjoy an immersive audio experience even when you don’t have a full set of physical speakers...
Power isn’t just about roof-raising volume - Even if you’re not lucky enough to have a dedicated movie room, a model with big amplification makes sense. A high power output means an AVR can deliver dynamic transients, and pressure load a space without clipping or strain.
8K AV receivers HMDI 2.1 bug explained
While 8K, or more likely 4K at 120fps from a next-gen games console, is a compelling reason to upgrade your dusty old AV receiver, there’s an elephant-sized HDMI bug in the room we need to address.
The first generation receivers with 8K HDMI 2.1 input/s you can buy right now are known to suffer a compatibility issue that means some new 8K/4K source devices that offer a 4K/120fps or 8K video resolution output (we’re looking at you Xbox Series X) do not always pass the video signal through to the display.
This has left the likes of Denon, Marantz and Yamaha scrambling to find a solution. Consequently, this summer, Denon is supplying buyers of affected Denon and Marantz AV receivers an HDMI adapter box free of charge. The SPK618 sits between your console and AV receiver, and corrects the HDMI data allowing it to pass. Inelegant perhaps, but effective.
An alternate workaround for owners of affected AVRs is to connect their console directly to their 4K/120fps capable TV, and then route audio back to the AVR using the eARC HDMI connection.
Alternatively, gamers can just output from their console at 4K/60fps resolution (effectively the default premium display option anyway) and all will be fine and dandy.
Then again, you could hang fire and wait for new models. Yamaha says its upcoming RX-A8A, RX-A6A and RX-A4A receivers use a next generation HDMI board which isn’t so afflicted.
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