An AV receiver can make or break your home theater. The best AV receivers can direct inputs from multiple devices to your screen while rocking your socks off with incredible audio delivered to your speaker setup. On the flip side, a less-than-ideal AVR can have you plugging and unplugging input devices all the time, and may do little more than make your speakers produce sound.
For the most complete multimedia center, the best AV receiver will serve as a hub for everything. You can plug in Blu-ray players, game consoles and cable boxes, and then the AV receiver will run the video to the TV and push the audio out to the all the speakers in your setup.
But, of course, not all AV receivers are created equal. The fact is, there’s a lot more to an AV receiver than just how many HDMI ports it has. Some HDMI ports can’t even handle 4K content. And let’s not forget that you’ll want an AV receiver that’s ready to support at least as many speakers as you have in your home theater setup.
If you’re planning to go large with UHD, look for a model with as many HDCP 2.2 supporting HDMI inputs as possible. And if you want multiroom streaming, there’s compatibility with your preferred wireless speaker ecosystem to consider - do you opt for Yamaha’s MusicCast system, HEOS or Chromecast? Even if you don’t need such functionality right now, it pays to plan ahead.
For many buyers, Dolby Atmos will be the must-have feature. This 3D audio system has become the standard for immersive audio. It may be available on soundbars, but only an AV receiver offers true overhead Dolby Atmos audio. You only need decide if you want a seven channel system, or a nine channel one.
Of course, you may not need Dolby Atmos at all, in which case a standard 5.1 amplifier will do the surround trick.
If you’re building a home theater system from scratch, make sure you read our guides to the best 4K TVs you can buy, and the best 4K Blu-ray players available. But if you’re shortlisting a new AV receiver, you’re in the right place. Time to crank up the volume…
Best AV receivers under $699
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
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
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.
Best AV receivers under $1,000
Yamaha RX-A860 AV receiver
Smooth and very powerful - and it’s MusicCast compatible too
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
Yamaha’s RX-A860 is nothing if not versatile. A seven channel design, it supports Dolby Atmos in a 5.1.2 layout and classic 7.1, as well as 5.1 with front presence speakers driven by Yamaha’s own Cinema DSP processing. Virtual speaker creation is available to help fill the rear channel hole if your speaker layout is 5.1.2, although this isn’t as effective as that offered on the Sony STR-DN1080. There’s also a weird Virtual Cinema Front mode, in which rear speakers are placed at the front of the listening room - but we don’t recommend this.
The cosmetic design, with its partly mirrored façade, is modernistic, while a fascia flap conceals front-facing HDMI, USB and analogue AV inputs. On the rear are seven HDMI inputs, plus two outputs, but only three support 4K HDCP 2.2 sources, which is a tad mean given the price point.
Connectivity embraces Ethernet and Wi-Fi, plus Bluetooth and Airplay. Like many Yamaha AV components, the receiver is MusicCast enabled. This means it can be used within Yamaha’s own wireless ecosystem, which also includes small wireless speakers to soundbars and music systems.
Yamaha YPAO room calibration is provided for setup, using the supplied mic. It works perfectly well. The user interface is a bit uncoordinated though, with windows popping up hither and thither.
Sonically, this receiver is smooth and powerful. Atmospheric TV shows and blockbuster movies both benefit from its easy fast delivery. Even when driven hard, there’s no sense of distress. The RX-A860 keeps its cool. The receiver is sweet with music too.
Yamaha has always been big on novelty DSP sound fields, and here we get an assortment of post processing flavours. Movies can be watched within Spectacle, Sci-Fi, Adventure, Music Video, or Video Game envelopes. Music has even more. Try them when you’re bored.
Overall, the RX-A860 warrants a cautious thumbs up. In performance terms, there’s much to like, but the limited provision of 4K capable HDMI inputs could hamper system upgradability.
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
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.
- Looking for a great movie to put your sound system to the test? Check out our list of the best sci-fi movies.
Best AV recivers over $1,000
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
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.
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
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.
- Want a cheaper audio solution? Try one of our best soundbars