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An audio/video (A/V) receiver is the quarterback of your home theater. It’s not just because it tells everything where to go, routing signals to different speakers and screens. It’s because a good quarterback makes the team better - and a good receiver will bring the best out of your home theater speakers. The market is a crowded one, so we’ve picked out some of the best A/V receivers for this year for you to choose from - whatever your budget, or room size. For more background information on A/V receivers, see our comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
 

How We Choose

A/V receivers don't get game-changing updates that often - home theater companies are more likely to bring out a new bigger (or smaller/entry-level) variation of their existing models. We always try to feature the latest - but we'll always urge caution when you could get an almost-as-good, slightly-older product for less.

We compare receivers from dozens of different manufacturers, taking into account everything: whether they have Dolby Atmos or DTS:X (or both), their wattage, what their connectivity is like, price and more. Using that knowledge, we've made picks for our best overall receiver, best budget, best high-end, and a host of others. Agree? Disagree? Be sure to let us in know in the comments.
 

Best Overall A/V Receiver

1. Denon AVR-X4400H ($1,599)

Denon AVRX4400H.jpgChannels: 9.2
Dolby Atmos: Yes
DTS:X: Yes
Wattage Per Channel: 105/8Ω, Two-Channels Driven
What We Like: Unreal sound quality, virtually perfect design.
What We Don't: Not ideal for smaller rooms.

No manufacturer in the home theater space has impressed us more than Denon. Not just because they consistently deliver groundbreaking high-end receivers, but because they've also done what feels like the impossible. They've created a relatively-affordable 9.2 channel receiver, which can not only scale to 11.2, but which delivers a staggering amount of technology for the price. It easily beats comparable models from Onkyo, Yamaha and NAD, in both sound quality and feature set.

It's the former category, however, where the AVR-X4400H distinguishes itself. The audio quality has serious weight and presence, with fantastic timing. It's also surprisingly musical – while we'd recommend a good stereo amp as the first port of call for any hi-fi system, this will happily pull double duty. And with a full complement of features - including Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Amazon Alexa support, and Audyssey room correction - you've got absolutely everything you need to build the home theater room of your dreams. However, we do have one word of warning: we think it's reasonably priced, compared to other models like the NAD and the Arcam, below, but it might still be a little bit expensive for some. And if you have a smaller room, you're better off going with something like the Sony STR-DN1080 or Onkyo TX-NR686. You won't get as many channels or features, but they are still excellent receivers.
See the Denon AVR-X4400H


A Close Second (And $1,050 Less)

2. Onkyo TX-NR686 ($549)

Onkyo%20TX-NR686.jpgChannels: 7.2
Dolby Atmos: Yes
DTS:X: Yes
Wattage Per Channel: 100/8Ω, Two-Channels Driven
What We Like: Great range of features for the price.
What We Don't: Sound quality isn't super-exciting.

The Onkyo TX-NR686 is an ideal alternative to the Denon AVR-X4400H, above, especially if you don't need the additional channels and power. For almost all setups, this is an excellent choice, boasting a great range of features for the price. These include the ability to add speakers in an additional zone, meaning this could easily power the audio in an entire house. You also get not one but two subwoofer outputs, meaning that the entire house will shake on its foundations.

It must be said that the reason this is at number two, despite the attractive price and features, is that the sound quality isn't nearly as meaty as the Denon AVR-X4400H and others on this list. It's still very good – you certainly won't feel shortchanged. But it doesn't have the punch or excitement other receivers have, and if you really want to experience movies and streaming series in the best possible way, it's worth spending a little bit extra for the Denon. You also don't get quite as many surround sound options - just Atmos, DTS:X, and DTS Neural:X Otherwise, this is an excellent – and more affordable – second choice.
See the Onkyo TX-NR686


Best Budget A/V Receiver

3. Pioneer VSX-532 ($199)

Pioneer VSX-532.jpgChannels: 5.1
Dolby Atmos: No
DTS:X: No
Wattage Per Channel: 80/8Ω, Two-Channels Driven
What We Like: One of the best 5.1 receivers available right now.
What We Don't: Lacks advanced features and surround software.

Sometimes, you don't need additional channels. You don't need the 11.2 channels offered by the Denon AVR-X4400H, or even the 7.2 you get with the Onkyo TX-NR686. If you have a small room, with not a lot of space for speakers, this could be the answer to your prayers. It's an incredible receiver at an even better price, and only the lack of advanced features - like network functionality and Alexa compatibility - keep it from being higher up. If value-for-money is your main concern, this is where you should be looking.

You may not get Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, as you would with the pricier Denon AVR-S740H, below, but you get surprisingly excellent sound quality. The receiver delivers 80 watts of power, which isn't huge. But it more than makes up for it with audio that is dynamic and expressive, able to translate what's happening on screen with a high degree of accuracy. If you have less than $200 to spend, then we strongly recommend this receiver.
See the Pioneer VSX-532


Best High-End A/V Receiver

4. Arcam AVR850 ($6,000)

Arcam AVR850Channels: 7.2
Dolby Atmos: Yes
DTS:X: Yes
Wattage Per Channel: 120/8Ω, Two-Channels Driven
What We Like: Unbelievable sound quality and power.
What We Don’t: Staggering price tag, way too much for most people.

Bottomless bank account? Home theater room the size of a concert hall? Well then, Sir, Madam, or Other, step right this way. We'd like to introduce you to the most jaw-dropping receiver we've ever seen. For almost everybody, the Arcam AVR850 would be overkill, but if you can afford it, and have a need of something with this much grunt, you're in for one hell of a ride.

At 120 watts per channel (two-channels driven), and the ability to deal with just about any surround sound program from Dolby Atmos to DTS Neural:X, it's very hard to find a situation that the AVR850 can't handle. In fact, we can only think of one: the ability to run a 13.2 channel system, which is something better managed by the Denon AVC-X8550H, below. But outside of that, you've got to work hard to find a problem with either the sound quality or the design, both of which are flawless. This kind of receiver is ideal for large listening rooms, and, although it's not even within sniffing distance of affordable for most people, we'd be crazy not to put it on this list. It's the ultimate A/V receiver.
See the Arcam AVR850


Best A/V Receiver for Large Spaces

5. Denon AVR-X8500H ($3,999)

Denon AVR-X8500H Channels: 13.2
Dolby Atmos: Yes
DTS:X: Yes
Wattage Per Channel: 150/8Ω, Two-Channels Driven
What We Like: A truly unique receiver.
What We Don’t: Most people will never find a use for it.

At a time when home sound systems are getting smaller, smarter, and more compact, Denon decided to go in the opposite direction. They've created this truly stupendous receiver, with 13.2 channels. Yes, you read that right. That's 13.2 native - available from the get-go without any additional preamps. Eight height speakers? Why not?

At the time of writing, there's simply nothing else quite like it. And if you can imagine a type of surround sound program or a receiver technology, it's here. The feature set is just unbelievable. However, like the Arcam AVR850, this is overkill for most people. It's something that should only be bought by those who can take full advantage of its speaker channel complement. Otherwise, you're just wasting your time. If you have a big room and want to experience the joys of something like Auro-3D, then this is most definitely the receiver you should go for. It services a niche market, but it does this incredibly well. If you want the same Denon quality, but aren't prepared to pay quite as much (and don't need as many channels) try the top-rated AVR-X4400H. By the way, this is known as the AVC-X8500H in the UK and Europe, because...actually, we have no idea why. We've asked Denon for an answer, and will update when they reply.
See the Denon AVR-X8500H


Best A/V Receiver for Small Spaces

6. Yamaha RX-V585 ($500)

Yamaha RX-V585Channels: 7.2
Dolby Atmos: Yes
DTS:X: Yes
Wattage Per Channel: 80/6Ω, Two-Channels Driven
What We Like: Performs exceptionally well in small spaces, wireless functionality.
What We Don't: Hard to upgrade later, if you move to a larger space.

Filling a small room, and making it sound like a big one, is an art. The Yamaha RX-V585 has truly exceptional performance in this area. It delivers tight, compact, powerful audio quality that really lets you feel every punch and explosion, and it never feels like the audio is being compromised because of odd wall angles, or small spaces. While the Pioneer VSX-532, above, may cost around $300 less than the Yamaha RX-V585, the Yamaha pips it in being ideal for smaller rooms. Part of this is its ability to use wireless speakers for its rear surround channels, and subwoofer. Your space will go a long way when there are fewer wires to clutter things.

Leaving space aside, it still manages to be a very good receiver. You get Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, which should take care of the majority of your surround sound needs, as well as excellent audio tuning and calibration via Yamaha's proprietary software. If this receiver has one downside, it's that it only has four HDMI ports. While they can all handle 4K video playback, four isn't very much – if you plan to add more sources later, this may pose a problem. Still, it's a minor issue, and for those of us without a ton of space, this makes a huge amount of sense.
See the Yamaha RX-V585


Best of the Rest

7. Sony STR-DN1080 ($598)

Sony STRDN1080Channels: 7.2
Dolby Atmos: Yes
DTS:X: Yes
Wattage Per Channel: Unknown
What We Like: Terrific sound and user interface.
What We Don’t: Doesn’t quite compete with bigger models.

Several other sites place the STR-DN1080 at the top of their lists. We are not several other sites. While we think it's solid – especially for the price range – it doesn't quite get the edge over the Denon AVR-X4400H or the Onkyo TX-NR686. All the same, it's got excellent sound quality, not to mention power: 165 watts, which is more than enough to power just about any speaker currently on the market. And it easily beats out the similarly priced Denon AVR-S740H, below, in most categories. There's only really one exception, which is Amazon Alexa functionality. The Denon has it; the Sony does not. You may want to take that into consideration before buying.

We also love Sony's interface, which continues from the one present on the old 1060, and is very easy to use. We appreciate the fact that it not only has Dolby Atmos and DTS:X functionality (not usually seen at this price range) but also DSD functionality. That means it can play ultra-high-resolution audio files; a nice touch, and not one you see often. Here's to the…1090? 1100? What we wouldn't give for some original receiver names…
See the Sony STR-DN1080
 

8. Denon AVR-S740H ($479)

Denon AVRS740H.jpgChannels: 7.2
Dolby Atmos: Yes
DTS:X: Yes
Wattage Per Channel: 75/8Ω, Two-Channels Driven
What We Like: A great mix of tech and features with stellar sound.
What We Don't: Not enough of an update to justify the expense, HEOS functionality still finicky.

Here's our problem with the AVR-S740H. It's an update to the 730H, which was previously in the upper echelons of this list. That receiver was excellent, and this one is too. The problem is, the new version costs $479 – $130 more expensive than the 730H. It also doesn't offer any improvement in terms of audio, focussing on updated video standards, including 4K Ultra HD, HDR, Dolby Vision and Hybrid Log Gamma. If you feel those are important enough to pay for, then by all means, get this one. But we're not wild about expensive updates that don't offer anything new, and this definitely qualifies. It's especially glaring given how many advances Denon are taking in receiver tech – just look at our top pick, the Denon AVR-X4400H.

All the same, it remains a great receiver. Very few receivers deliver 7.2-channel audio that sounds quite this good, with this much depth and intensity to the sound. The features are excellent, and you can even use the HEOS functionality to add Amazon Alexa to the mix - although we think it's just a touch finicky, which is a problem that carries over to the newer model. Our take: at this point, you should probably buy the Sony STR-DN1080, which is a far better receiver for only a little bit more money.
See the Denon AVR-S740H
 

9. Onkyo TX-NR787 ($649)

Onkyo TX-NR787.jpgChannels: 9.2
Dolby Atmos: Yes
DTS:X: Yes
Wattage Per Channel: 100/8Ω, Two-Channels Driven
What We Like: Huge range of streaming options.
What We Don't: No preamp outputs available on this model.

If we're being honest, the Onkyo TX-NR787 leaves us in a slightly strange position. We like it… but we don't like it more than the cheaper Onkyo TX-NR686, at currently sitting at number two on this list. Yes, it may be newer, but it doesn't feel like it does enough to justify its own existence. And outside of the streaming options – which are far more extensive on this receiver – there's no real reason to choose it over the 686.

However, it still deserves a spot on this list, because even though it can't compete with its bigger brothers, it's an excellent receiver in its own right. You get all the expected features, including those amazing streaming options, and it even has ChromeCast built right in. The sound quality is excellent, even if not quite powerful enough to topple the really big boys. If you can't find the other models on this list - including the 686 - then this is an excellent alternative.
See the Onkyo TX-NR787
 

10. Yamaha AVENTAGE RX-A880 ($900)

Yamaha AVENTAGE RX-A880Channels: 7.2
Dolby Atmos: Yes
DTS:X: Yes
Wattage Per Channel: 100/8Ω, Two-Channels Driven
What We Like: Amazing functionality, plays well with a wide variety of speakers.
What We Don't: Not enough of an upgrade on the 780 to justify the extra cost.

The newest entry in Yamaha's RX-A receiver range is an absolute monster. It gives you a hell of a lot for your money, including more HDMI ports than ever before, as well as Yamaha's excellent YPAO room calibration. While this isn't quite as easy-to-use as the Audyssey calibration found on Denon systems – like our top pick, the more expensive AVR-X4400H – it's still excellent. You also get tech like Yamaha's A.R.T (Anti Resonance Technology) Wedge, used to dampen vibrations. Furthermore, rarely have we found a receiver that plays this well with so many speakers. It really flatters everything, no matter the brand.

So why is it so far down the list? Because it doesn't have quite enough to improve on the previous model, the RX-A870. Sure, you get a little more power and a few more HDMI ports, but was that really worth charging an extra $230? We don't think so. We would much rather receiver companies do a genuine update, instead of incremental ones, and so we can't help but penalised Yamaha here. If you don't need the extra power or HDMI ports, get the previous version and save yourself some money.
See the Yamaha AVENTAGE RX-A880
 

11. NAD T 777 V3 ($2,499)

NAD T 777.jpgChannels: 9.2
Dolby Atmos: Yes
DTS:X: No
Wattage Per Channel: 160/8Ω, Two-Channels Driven
What We Like: Terrific audio quality and unique modular design.
What We Don't: Not suitable for casual listeners.

When evaluating receivers, we don't just put the most expensive ones at the top of the list. The reasoning behind this is because receivers that cost over $1,500 often have specialized uses – ones which may be above the desires of many listeners. Other models – like the Denon AVR-X4400H, at the top of this list – offer more value for money. But that doesn't stop receivers like the NAD T 777 V3 from earning a place on this list, and it does so because it has one truly unique selling point.

The T 777 V3 has a modular design, meaning you can swap cards to give it access to different surround sound programs. That means there's no need to replace the receiver if a new, advanced version of Dolby or DTS comes along; just buy a new card, and it's good to go. That's a feature that no other receiver on this list can boast, including ultra-high-end ones, like the $6,000 Arcam FMJ AVR850. It essentially makes this receiver future-proof. Add fantastic sound quality (thanks to Dirac room correction), and you've got a real winner. It is, however, expensive, and if we are being picky, we would have liked to see DTS:X included with this receiver as standard, rather than just Dolby Atmos.
See the NAD T 777 V3
 

12. Anthem MRX 1120 ($3,599)

Anthem MRX1120Channels: 11.2
Dolby Atmos: Yes
DTS:X: Yes
Wattage Per Channel: 140/8Ω, Two-Channels Driven
What We Like: Unbelievable sound quality, killer room correction.
What We Don’t: Quite expensive, limited surround sound program support.

One thing that sets Anthem apart from the others is room correction. Theirs is among the best in the business, and it turns this receiver from an already powerful part of your system to an absolutely essential one. With the correction enabled, the sound is just unbelievable, squeezing a huge amount of power and depth into your living room.

It’s a big system, too, with native 11.2 functionality. While it would be nice to see something like Auro-3D or DTS Neural:X here, the support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X is quite sufficient, as is the 4K functionality, wireless connectivity, and simple user interface. It should be said that we do still prefer the Denon at the top of this list, which we think offers better value for similar functionality, but if sound quality is what you’re looking for, then this should be your first port of call. When it’s set up and humming, it’s absolutely unbelievable. You will, however, pay through the nose for it - be sure to take that into account.
See the Anthem MRX 1120
 

13. Rotel RAP-1580 ($3,850)

Rotel RAP-1580Channels: 7.1.4
Dolby Atmos: Yes
DTS:X: Yes
Wattage Per Channel: 150/8Ω, Two-Channels Driven
What We Like: Terrific power and design.
What We Don’t: At this price, we’d expect Auro-3D.

The case for the defense: a good complement of channels and features, a very solid amount of power that can drive all but the hungriest speakers, a decent range of surround sound programs, and absolutely terrific design. This model includes one of the best displays we've ever seen on an A/V receiver. You would have to have a heart of stone not to be impressed by all of this, and you'd have to be insane not to want the distinctive circular blue glow of a Rotel receiver in your living room. Did we mention the sound? We should mention the sound. It's tight, controlled, balanced, and refined. No wonder plenty of our readers, in our regular Facebook series #ShowOffYourGear, have shown a preference for Rotel gear.

The case for the prosecution: at this price – already quite a bit more expensive than most people are willing to spend – we'd expect things like Auro-3D to come as standard. While it's great to have Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, we would have preferred to have the ability to upgrade later, especially for the money you pay. If you want that feature, look to something like the cheaper NAD T 777 V3, which offers modular functionality.
See the Rotel RAP-1580
 

14. Marantz SR8012 ($2,999)

Marantz SR8012Channels: 11.2
Dolby Atmos: Yes
DTS:X: Yes
Wattage Per Channel: 140/8Ω, Two-Channels Driven
What We Like: A receiver for the future.
What We Don’t: This Auro-3D upgrade thing is getting tiresome.

Marantz teased the upgrade to the 12 series for almost a year, and when they finally delivered, they really came through. This takes everything that made the 7011 and the 7012 so good, and boosts it all, adding new features and tweaking the overall package. Chief among these features: an additional two channels as standard, and a big boost in power.

However, it does have a couple of annoying bits that we wish Marantz would take care of. Amazon's Alexa runs through HEOS (made by Denon, who along with Marantz are owned by the same company, Sound United). HEOS is fine, but it still feels like a weird and clunky way to run a system this expensive. That aside, this is a receiver that is clearly looking to the future. Buy this, and you shouldn't have to buy another one for quite a while. By the way, if you need less power, and want to spend significantly less, while enjoying the same solid build and sound, it may be worth looking at second-hand versions of the 7011 and 7012 - or newer, cheaper models released by the company, like the 5012 and 6012. Those aren't nearly as good as the other models on this list though...
See the Marantz SR8012
 

15. Pioneer VSX-LX503 ($999)

Pioneer VSX-LX503Channels: 9.2
Dolby Atmos: Yes
DTS:X: Yes
Wattage Per Channel: 180/8Ω, Two-Channels Driven
What We Like: A great nine-channel option for under $1,000.
What We Don't: Doesn't feel like it does anything truly special.

With nine channels, two subwoofer outs, a range of surround sound programs and a huge amount of power, every indication is that this Pioneer receiver should be at the very top of the list. The problem is, it doesn't feel like it does anything new or special. One of the worst trends in home theater is releasing a new iteration of a receiver with a little bit more power and a few more channels, and whacking a couple of hundred extra bucks on top of it. That's a trend we very much like to see die, and unfortunately, the new VSX-LX503 is guilty of it.

Not that it's a bad receiver. Taken in its own right, it's very good indeed, happily the equal of the cheaper Yamaha AVENTAGE RX-A880. And if you do want to experience the newest Pioneer, without spending the earth, there is a VSX-LX303 option available. That one retails for around $799, and has the same number of channels with significantly reduced power. Expect to see 100 watts per channel on that one.
See the Pioneer VSX-LX503
 

16. Onkyo TX-RZ830 ($1,069)

Onkyo TX-RZ830Channels: 9.2
Dolby Atmos: Yes
DTS:X: Yes
Wattage Per Channel: 180/8Ω, Two-Channels Driven
What We Like: Huge power, good number of channels.
What We Don't: Sound quality feels a little rough.

On the face of it, the Onkyo TX-RZ830 looks incredible. It offers a huge amount of power – 180 watts per channel (two channels driven) compared to the Denon AVR-X4400H, which only offers 130. That makes it a very affordable alternative to the monstrous Denon AVR-X8500H, and makes it excellent for large rooms. In addition, you get a wealth of features, including a phono preamp for turntables, and Play-Fi, so you can link with other wireless speakers.

The problem we have with it is that for all its features and power, the sound quality feels a little bit rough and unfinished. Not dramatically so – not enough to cause real problems. But compared to the Denon AVR-X4400H, and even smaller models like the Pioneer VSX-532, it just never felt like the receiver was living up to its full potential. The Pioneer VSX-LX503 is also a little cheaper, while offering much the same functionality. It's a good option, and an excellent one if you need nine channels, but it's not our first choice.
See the Onkyo TX-RZ830
 

17. Yamaha RX-V485 ($350)

Yamaha RX-V485Channels: 5.1
Dolby Atmos: Yes
DTS:X: No
Wattage Per Channel: 80/6Ω, Two-Channels Driven
What We Like: Wireless speaker functionality.
What We Don't: Ugly as sin, 5.1 only.

As an alternative to the excellent Pioneer VSX-532 budget receiver, the new Yamaha RX-V485 takes some beating. Its chief feature, which hasn't appeared before on Yamaha receivers, is the ability to run wireless speakers for its surround and subwoofer channels. This is an ability shared by the Yamaha RX-V585, which is our top pick for smaller rooms.

The reason that one beats this one is that the sound quality is better, and it's always good to have the option for height channels, no matter what size your space. With this being a 5.1 receiver, you don't get that option – and it doesn't help that it's butt-ugly, with looks that don't feel like they've evolved all. The new Yamaha range does offer good functionality and features, and very acceptable sound quality, but we don't think this is a first choice. If you want to get a budget receiver, try the excellent Pioneer VSX-532.
See the Yamaha RX-V485


Comparison Table

As Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are the dominant surround sound software programs available, that's what we've focused on when comparing A/V receivers. If you want a full list of each receiver's surround-sound programs, check out the table below our explanation of lesser-known ones.

Receiver Price Channels Dolby Atmos DTS:X Watt* Conn.**
Denon AVR-X4400H $1,599 9.2 Yes Yes 130/8Ω Blue./Wi-Fi
Onkyo TX-NR686 $549 7.2 Yes Yes 100/8Ω Blue./Wi-Fi
Pioneer VSX-532 $199 5.1 No No 80/8Ω Blue./Wi-Fi
Arcam AVR850 $6,000 7.2 Yes Yes 120/8Ω Blue./Wi-Fi
Denon AVR-X8500H $3,999 13.2 Yes Yes 150/8Ω Blue./Wi-Fi
Yamaha RX-V585 $500 7.2 Yes Yes 80/6Ω Blue./Wi-Fi
Sony STR-DN1080 $598 7.2 Yes Yes Unknown Blue./Wi-Fi
Denon AVR-S740H $479 7.2 Yes Yes 75/8Ω Blue./Wi-Fi
Onkyo TX-NR787 $649 9.2 Yes Yes 100/8Ω Blue./Wi-Fi
Yamaha RX-A880 Aventage $900 7.2 Yes Yes 100/8Ω Blue./Wi-Fi
NAD T 777 V3 $2,499 9.2 Yes No 160/8Ω Blue./Wi-Fi
Anthem MRX 1120 $3,599 11.2 Yes Yes 140/8Ω Wi-Fi
Rotel RAP-1580 $3,850 7.1.4 Yes Yes 150/8Ω Bluetooth
Marantz SR8012 $2,999 11.2 Yes Yes 140/8Ω Blue./Wi-Fi
Pioneer VSX-LX503 $999 9.2 Yes Yes 180/8Ω Blue./Wi-Fi
Onkyo TX-RZ830 $1,069 9.2 Yes Yes 180/8Ω Blue./Wi-Fi
Yamaha RX-V485 $350 5.1 Yes No 80/6Ω Blue./Wi-Fi

*All wattage ratings are for two channels driven, which is what manufacturers commonly list. If you’re running all channels, expect the wattage per channel to be a little lower!
*Conn. = Connectivity - whether something has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

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The Sony STR-DN1080 is an excellent mid-range receiver | The Master Switch
The Sony STR-DN1080 is an excellent mid-range receiver | The Master Switch

Buying Advice

What Does An A/V Receiver Do?

Got multiple speakers? Planning on a surround system? Then you need an A/V receiver. We used a quarterback analogy earlier, but perhaps a better one is air-traffic control. A receiver takes all the incoming audio and video signals, and reroutes to them their correct locations on the fly, sending audio out to your speakers and video from your games console (for example) to your TV. If it's a good receiver, it will sharpen and improve the signals before sending them on, using its converters and amplifiers to make things better.

A lot of the picks on this list don't actually look like much. They are fairly dull, bland boxes with a bunch of controls on them, and a bewildering array of inputs and outputs around the back. But without this box, your home theater setup is going nowhere. There are a few key components inside each box. There's a preamplifier and an amplifier, for handling audio signals, a set of video inputs to work out where to send the visuals, and a decoder to separate the two. In addition, there may be a separate surround sound decoder, which splices the audio into its different channels and makes sure they get to the correct speaker. And by the way, it's only functional if you have speakers to plug into it, or if you've got a full home theater system where the central component needs an upgrade. Good hunting!

Channels on a 9.2 receiver | The Master Switch
Channels on a 9.2 receiver | The Master Switch

A/V Receiver Channels Explained

You've probably noticed the numbers 5.1, 7.1, and 9.2 floating around this article. What's up with that? Well, this number refers to the amount and type of speakers in the setup: the first (5, 7, 9, whatever) refers to the number of high end and mid range speakers, while the second one (the .1, sometimes .2) refers to the subwoofer, or low-end speaker. Simply put, the more quality speakers there are, the more rich and dynamic your sound is likely to be. At the same time, you're likely to pay more the higher those numbers get.

5.1 and 7.1 are considered the standard - the basic number of channels which a given receiver might have. Any receiver above about $500 will almost always offer 7.2 channels, allowing for seven speakers and two subwoofers. Even cheaper models, like the Denon AVR-S740H, come with 7.2 speaker channels. A 5.1 system would include three front channels (a center speaker, designed to sit under your TV, and two bigger ones just off to the left and right), and two on either side of the listening position. A 7.1 would add two more, behind you. A 9.1 or 11.1 system is where you start adding height speakers - something only a few receivers can actually take, like the incredible Denon AVR-X8500H, which offers a massive thirteen channels. This kind of thing is usually undertaken when you have a large room, and don't mind doing some DIY to mount your speakers! Worth noting: the subwoofer channels (the .1 or .2) will require their own power, meaning you'll use a different connection to that from your speakers. We'll go into this in more detail below. And some receivers, like the cheaper Denon above, also allow you to expand your channel quota by adding more amps into the mix.

The Marantz SR8012 offers a huge range of surround sound types | The Master Switch
The Marantz SR8012 offers a huge range of surround sound types | The Master Switch

Dolby Atmos vs. DTS:X vs. Auro-3D

Simply put: surround sound aims to deliver multi-dimensional sounds that move around in the same way as objects would in real life, by adding height to our aural perception. Surround systems rely on multiple speakers positioned in front of, behind, to the side and, sometimes, above your listening position. What makes surround sound possible are codecs: software code converting digital ones and zeros into an audible sound. They take the sound being sent into your A/V receiver, and tell it where to go and how to be reproduced. If you’re not into reading tech specs, you can think of an A/V receiver as a phone, and a surround sound codec as an app on that phone. There are many, many surround sound codecs, but there are the just three main ones you’ll need to worry about. Let’s break them down.

Let’s start with the DTS:X system. This is the easiest one out of the lot to integrate within an already existing 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound setup, and as such it’s perfect for beginners. If you’re just getting started in surround sound, and you already own some speakers or plan on getting a basic setup, this is the one to go for. DTS:X’s approach to improving the listener’s experience is by “freeing the audio content from specific speaker channels” and is purely software based - there are no physical requirements for the number of speakers or their locations when setting up the system. It’ll work with any conventional speaker setups, up to 32 speakers. 

With a DTS:X-enabled receiver connected, the rest of the setup is straightforward, really - the auto-calibration system optimizes all dialogue and sound effects feeds for you. The system’s menu also allows user-definable level adjustment, and can even boost hard-to-hear dialogue above the other sounds. Plus, older format movie and game soundtracks and even stereo music files can all be played through DTS:X - the conversion (from non-DTS:X sources) uplifts the content with an added spatial audio realism. For best results, it is recommended that you play content (Blu-ray discs or streaming Digital Media) optimised for DTS:X.

The Pioneer VSX-532 is an excellent budget receiver, but has no Dolby Atmos | The Master Switch
The Pioneer VSX-532 is an excellent budget receiver, but has no Dolby Atmos | The Master Switch

Then there’s Dolby Atmos. Where Dolby Atmos differs from conventional surround set-ups is by necessitating one, two or more extra pairs of ceiling speakers. Such elevated “reflecting” speakers will be positioned above your existing floor-level surround speakers, allowing for sounds to move between top and bottom. If starting from scratch, there are many Dolby Atmos enabled packages available to purchase, ready-in-a-box, including everything you need: A/V receiver, amplification, and speakers. If you’re upgrading an already existing home surround system, you would need a Dolby Atmos-compatible A/V Receiver. The biggest investment, though, would be for the additional elevated speakers - even for a minimal Dolby Atmos setup, you would need at least two ceiling speakers on top of a regular surround set, if not four. 

Now you’re probably thinking: really? Drilling holes in my ceiling? Fortunately, the guys who make Dolby are wicked smart, and they’ve come up with an alternative solution. Instead of installing speakers in or on the ceiling, you can add speakers on top of your existing towers, with drivers projecting upwards. Atmos-enabled speakers can come with such drivers already built-in, and you can buy Atmos-modules that will work with your existing speakers. Worth noting: These additional up-firing speakers have their own speaker terminals to make them into separate, dedicated channels. This of course increases the number of amp speaker outputs needed - you might have to invest in additional amplification if you've already used up all of your amp’s available speaker connections.

Dolby Atmos have their own way of naming their height-elevated setups, because surround sound systems weren’t confusing enough already. A 5.1.2 Atmos set-up would be like a traditional 5.1 surround system (in other words, five speakers and a subwoofer) but with an added pair of ceiling speakers (or Atmos modules): the '2' in 5.1.2. Similarly, a 7.1.4 Atmos set will be like a 7.1 conventional surround setup with two extra pairs of ceiling speakers or Atmos modules (hence the 4 in 7.1.4).

Very few receivers have Auro-3D, which is only a problem if you have thirteen speakers! | The Master Switch
Very few receivers have Auro-3D, which is only a problem if you have thirteen speakers! | The Master Switch

Auro-3D is kind of a dark horse here. Dolby has a huge market share, and DTS:X is gaining fans fast, but Auro-3D’s technological requirements have seen it struggle, despite the fact that it’s pretty incredible. It requires two extra height levels added to the conventional surround experience: wall mounted height speakers installed on the sides, as well as a single main ceiling speaker- the awesomely-named Voice Of God speaker. Found in 9.1, 11.1 and 13.1 configurations, Auro-3D is surprisingly flexible. For example, if you are already using a 5.1 you can start your upgrade to an Auro 9.1 setup by adding four wall speakers - two above your two main speakers, and two above your two surrounds. If upgrading a 7.1 surround set to an Auro 3D layout you’d need an additional speaker above each surround and center speaker plus the added single ceiling channel.

We need to point out that an Auro-3D installation (or an upgrade from a regular surround system) can be a bit tricky due to the very specific positions, heights and angles of the additional Auro-3D overhead layers and wall speakers. This plays a major role in achieving the best possible audio quality. And unless you’re rich enough to have two home theater rooms, you aren’t going to be combining an Atmos system with an Auro-3D one. Similarly, Auro-3D won’t be happy with multiple ceiling speakers or up-firing drivers. If all that sounds splendid, then take a look at a receiver like the Marantz SR8012 which, for a small fee, will allow you to upgrade to Auro-3D functionality.

There are plenty of surround types beyond Atmos and DTS:X | The Master Switch
There are plenty of surround types beyond Atmos and DTS:X | The Master Switch

Less-Common Surround Sound Software Explained: Dolby TrueHD vs Dolby Digital Plus vs DTS: Neural X

We've already detailed the three main surround sound types you can and should expect to see in your receiver: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and Auro-3D. But as you will have noticed from looking at the comparison table, above, there are dozens of other surround sound types. Some are pieces of legacy software, some have very specific applications, and some are just there because…we don't know. Hardly anybody has ever used them. While we aren't going to break down every single one (we'd be here all day, trust us) it's worth touching on a few. You might never need to know what DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete is - honestly, we have to look it up every time we come across it - but it's definitely worth knowing what Dolby TrueHD and DTS Neural:X are.

Dolby TrueHD is the surround sound program used when your receiver isn't quite cool enough to have Dolby Atmos. If your source is Atmos-capable – like, for example, a Blu-ray disc – but your receiver isn't, the mix will be output as Dolby TrueHD. It's an eight channel mix, which is still good, but not nearly as good as Atmos. It's in direct competition with DTS-HD Master Audio. As you can imagine, this does much the same thing, but for sources decoded with the DTS:X format. Essentially, if you see either of these, it means that your receiver will still be able to take a Dolby Atmos or DTS:X mix and do something with it, even if it is incapable of those high-end surround sound programs. Our top budget receiver, the Pioneer VSX-532 has DTS-HD Master Audio.

DTS Neural:X is a little bit trickier. Let's say you have a source that only offers 2.1, 5.1, or 7.1 audio – in other words, audio that has been mixed for speakers at ear-level. Let us also say that you have a system with height speakers. That's when DTS Neural:X would kick in, extrapolating height information from the mix, and playing it through those speakers. It's not nearly as efficient as DTS:X, or is common, but it's definitely useful in certain circumstances. You'll find it in plenty of receivers, including the $549 Onkyo TX-NR686.

Finally, let's talk about Dolby Digital Plus. This is what you'll be using if your system doesn't have height speakers, but you still wish to use a Dolby audio mix. It's not always a good idea to do this, especially when DTS:X it's so good, but some receivers don't have that, and so Dolby Digital Plus is worth knowing about. Put simply, it's the standard non-Atmos Dolby software, and will give you surround sound without the height elements.

For reference, here is a list of our A/V receiver picks, with every surround sound program they offer.

Receiver Price Channels Surround Sound
Denon AVR-X4400H $1,599 9.2 Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Surround, DTS HD Master, DTS:X, DTS Neural:X, DTS Neo:X, Auro-3D
Onkyo TX-NR686 $549 7.2 DTS:X, DTS Neural:X, Dolby Atmos
Pioneer VSX-532 $199 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus, DTS-HD Master Audio
Arcam AVR850 $6,000 7.2 Dolby Atmos, Dolby Surround, DTS:X, DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete, DTS-ES 6.1 Matrix, DTS 5.1, DTS Neural:X
Denon AVR-X8500H $3,999 13.2 Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Surround, DTS HD Master, DTS:X, DTS Neural:X, Auro-3D
Yamaha RX-V585 $500 7.2 Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Surround, DTS:X, DTS-HD Master Audio
Sony STR-DN1080 $598 7.2 Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital, Dolby Dual Mono, DTS: X, DTS HD MA, DTS HD HR, DTS, DTS-ES, DTS 96 / 24
Denon AVR-S740H $479 7.2 Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Surround, DTS:X, DTS Neural:X, DTS HD Master
Onkyo TX-NR787 $649 9.2 Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD, DTS:X, DTS Neural:X, DTS-HD Master Audio
Yamaha RX-A880 Aventage $900 7.2 Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Surround, DTS:X, DTS-HD Master Audio
NAD T 777 V3 $2,499 9.2 Dolby Atmos
Anthem MRX 1120 $3,599 11.2 Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Surround, DTS:X, DTS Neo:6
Rotel RAP-1580 $3,850 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos, Dolby Surround, Dolby TrueHD, DTS:X, DTS-HD Master Audio,
Marantz SR8012 $2,999 11.2 Dolby Atmos, Dolby Surround, Dolby TrueHD, DTS HD Master, DTS:X, DTS Neural:X
Pioneer VSX-LX503 $999 9.2 Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Surround, DTS:X, DTS-HD Master Audio
Onkyo TX-RZ830 $1,069 9.2 Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD, DTS:X
Yamaha RX-V485 $350 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS-HD Master Audio


Wattage Explained

This is the amount of power that the amp will push through to your speakers, and it can be as low as 30 watts (W) and as high as 500 watts. You’ll need to make sure your speakers can actually take this level of power, and again, there’s no point paying for power that is going to be overkill in the room (or which isn’t going to fill it up enough of it). You need to look at the wattage, which will give you an idea of how powerful your sound is going to be. We spent some time thinking about which stat to list here, and in the end, you'll see that for most of our amps, we list wattage for two channels driven - two channels being the minimum (we think) that a receiver takes.

The first thing you might be wondering is: if a receiver is 7.2, then why are they being rated for two channels of sound? That, my friend, is because the two channel ratings look better than the seven channel ones, which are considerably lower. However, almost all receivers will be able to deliver enough power, so don’t stress about it too much. It’s more important to match speakers well, and you can do that by looking at output specs. Here’s an example of a typical manufacturer stat: Rated Output Power (20Hz-20kHz, 2ch driven): 80 W (6 ohms, 0.09% THD). That’s for the Yamaha RX-V485, and what it means is that when two channels are receiving power with eight ohms of electrical resistance, between the ranges of 20Hz and 20kHz, you’ll be getting eighty watts of power with around 0.09% of distortion. And if that was gobbledegook, the only thing you need to pay attention to is the bit that says ‘eighty watts of power’. Find a speaker that can take that particular wattage at eight ohms, and you’re good to go. We explain it in a lot more detail here - don’t worry, it’s easy!

HDMI connections on a Denon AVR-S740H | The Master Switch
HDMI connections on a Denon AVR-S740H | The Master Switch

HDMI Explained

There are a huge number of connections on the back of any given unit, both analogue and digital, and we could spend quite a while going into all of them, and which ones you will need. By far the most important ones are the HDMI inputs. You'll want at least a few of these, as it's by far the most-common and most-utilized type of port. 

When we say HDMI I/O, we mean HDMI Inputs/Outputs. Usually, there are more of the former than the latter, and depending on how many HDMI-capable gadgets you have, they could be super important. But do you actually need those seven HDMI ports? For most of us, three or four will be more than enough. So why are you going for a unit that has more than double what you need? You think those things come for free? No way. You pay for extra ports, so think carefully about how many pieces of equipment you're going to be using before you shell out your hard-earned. But on the other hand: these things last for quite a while. You will probably own yours for years. And over those years, you will collect new electronics, new gizmos, new devices...all of which will need a discrete HDMI port. Really, what you're going here is a balance: the number of ports you'll use now, plus one or two left over for the future.

The Denon AVR-S740H has full 4k capability | The Master Switch
The Denon AVR-S740H has full 4k capability | The Master Switch

4K Explained

4K, if you don't know, is a new standard of content with ridiculous visual fidelity and color sharpness. It sounds tricky, but all it is is a picture size: 3,840 by 2,160 pixels, to be precise. It means that no matter how big your actual TV, there will be 3,840 by 2,160 pixels packed onto it, making for a clearer picture. 4K is what a lot of receiver makers set their reputations by these days, and it's the thing you'll see featured most prominently. But several other receivers, like the Denon AVR-S740H, offer support for different video standards. It's probably a bit much for our purposes to go into here, but we do offer an explanation of the different types of video in our roundup of the best Blu-ray players.

On that note: there are plenty of 4K-ready TVs, and so many bits of A/V gear exist these days that you might fool yourself into thinking it's something you need to have. But, the problem is that not enough content is 4K yet, meaning most of what you'll see has been 'upscaled': translated to a 4K setting without actually being 4K. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. The good news is that all the picks on our list are 4K-ready. Even if you couldn't care, you're getting it anyway.

Wireless connectivity is essential, and Denon definitely delivers with its receivers | The Master Switch
Wireless connectivity is essential, and Denon definitely delivers with its receivers | The Master Switch

A/V Receiver Connectivity: Bluetooth vs. Wi-Fi

Something new to many A/V receivers in the last few years is the advent of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Long may it continue! Bluetooth streaming allows you to send audio from your phone or tablet out to your receiver, to be played by your surround speakers. It is easy and convenient, but even at higher encoding levels (like aptX, or Bluetooth 4.1, which allow more data to be sent faster) it isn’t a patch on wired sound, which is always going to be better.

Wi-Fi, on the other hand, is giving speaker wire a run for its money. Connecting a receiver to your home Wi-Fi network means you can play music or video from anything else connected to it, like your PC. It’s also less prone to dropouts than Bluetooth, and as we mentioned, it sounds better. The downside? It adds another device onto your home network, which we’re betting is probably already crawling with devices. One nifty Wi-Fi trick: some manufacturers, like Denon, have made their receivers compatible with their wireless multiroom speakers. That means you can set up complex wireless systems that allow you complete control of your music. If you have some of Yamaha's new receivers, like the RX-V585, you'll be able to use wireless speakers for your rear and subwoofer channels.

Don't worry - connecting an A/V receiver is easier than it looks! | The Master Switch
Don't worry - connecting an A/V receiver is easier than it looks! | The Master Switch

Connecting Your A/V Receiver

We actually have a full guide to this, explaining every single connection on that crazy-complicated rear of your receiver, and what to do with it. But here’s a very short version, if all you need is a quick reference. It covers one of the more common setups.

  1. Connect your Blu-ray player or console to one of your receiver’s HDMI In ports, using an HDMI cable.
  2. Using speaker wire of at least 16-gauge, connect your speakers to their individual channels. You do this by unscrewing the cap, and threading your stripped wire through the hole so the metal wire makes contact with the metal speaker port. Then screw the cap back on. 
  3. Each speaker has a red (+) connection, and a black (-) connection. Black to black, red to red. Always. A sharpie to color in the right split on the wire may be helpful.
  4. Connect your subwoofer to the Pre Out port, using a standard RCA cable.
  5. Connect your TV to the receiver’s HDMI Out port, using a standard HDMI cable.
  6. Plug in the receiver and subwoofer. Yes, we put this last for a reason. DO NOT DO ANY CONNECTING WITH YOUR RECEIVER PLUGGED IN. EVER.
  7. Turn on your TV and receiver. Switch to the relevant HDMI input using your TV remote. Follow the on-screen setup instructions.
To calibrate your receiver, you'll need a mic, like this one | The Master Switch
To calibrate your receiver, you'll need a mic, like this one | The Master Switch

Room Calibration Explained

You don’t play your music or movies in a vacuum. Your sound comes out in a room filled with things: couches, tables, bookshelves, children, the dog, glass windows, pictures on the walls. All of these things affect the sound. Calibrating your room - which your system will do by playing a test tone and then recapturing it through a special microphone before adjusting the sound accordingly - is a crucial part of the whole home theater experience, and will help you get the best out of your receiver, and indeed your whole system. Not every unit has this type of thing, but it can work really, really well when you use it.

Each receiver that includes it will usually include very detailed instructions about how to get this done, so it should be a fairly straightforward process - and if you have it, you’d be crazy not to do it. The receiver with the best room calibration on our list is probably the Anthem MRX 1120, which has astounding intelligence. Although at $3,500, it had better!
 

A/V Receiver Placement Explained

Something we saw far more often than we’d like: someone placing their A/V receiver in a crowded TV cabinet. Do not do this. A/V receivers can get really hot - especially after a few hours of operation. It won’t catch fire, but it may shut down, and you’re definitely shortening its lifespan. Give it some room. Two inches (at least) on the top, sides and rear should be more than enough to allow air to circulate. 

But - we hear you say - it’s an ugly machine! I want to hide it away! We get it. Receivers aren’t pretty, even at the top end of the price ranges. But hiding them away causes more problems than it solves, as it also means you may not be able to use your remote. If you have to put it in a cabinet, make sure it at least has enough space. You could also invest in a remote extender, which means you don’t need line-of-site to the receiver to control it. A better option would be to place the receiver in an open-face cabinet, or on the floor out of the way. Whatever you choose, just make sure you give it a little room, yes?

An Amazon Echo is a good way to control a receiver with your voice | The Master Switch
Yamaha receiver with Amazon Echo | The Master Switch

Smart Receivers: Controlling Your Receiver With Alexa Or Google Home

Receivers are, for the most part, big, clunky workhorses - it’s usually a struggle to get manufacturers to include technology that the rest of the audio world is already enjoying. Case in point: smart control. You might be able to tell Alexa to lower the volume on your SONOS ONE speaker, but good luck doing it with your home theater system. OK - that’s not quite fair. There are several receivers on our list which do include smart speaker control, usually using Amazon’s Alexa software. That means you will, in fact, be able to raise and lower volume, pause playback, and even adjust inputs merely by speaking loudly from your couch. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, it’s not nearly as simple or straightforward as it could be. For one, none of the receivers on our list have native Alexa integration – the virtual assistant isn’t actually installed on any of their systems. To use an assistant, you’ll need to connect your receiver to a compatible smart speaker, like an Amazon Echo Spot or a Google Home.

We won’t go into how to do that here – the methods differ between manufacturers – but the upshot of it is that you need your receiver and your smart speaker to be on the same Wi-Fi network. Connecting them shouldn’t be that tricky, but you do need to be aware of the limitations of using them. For example, you may struggle to issue voice commands while a movie or a series is playing at top volume. Ultimately, at this point, you shouldn’t let smart speaker integration sway you when deciding to buy a receiver. It’s nice to have, and can be helpful, but it’s often far more effective to simply use the included remote to get the job done – especially for everyday things like changing the volume or muting playback. We’ve highlighted the receivers that contain Alexa on this list – the best of the lot is the Denon AVR-X4400H, our number one pick. At its current price, the inclusion of smart speaker functionality is a nice added bonus.

Back To Our A/V Receiver Picks  Back To Our Comparison Table

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