An Audio/Video (A/V) Receiver is, if you’ll forgive a slightly clunky analogy, 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 it has a profound effect on the quality of the system. If it isn’t up to the task of handling the vast amount of data that get’s thrown it at, then you could have the best speakers on earth and still get bad results. The market is a crowded one, so we’ve picked out some of the best A/V receivers for this year, ranging from sub-$300 budget options to monster units that will cost you a few grand.
 


How We Choose:

A/V receivers don’t get major game-changing updates that often - home theater companies are more than likely to bring out a new bigger (or smaller/entry-level) variation of their existing models. Receiver tech is tried and tested these days, so there are plenty of familiar faces here. We compare receivers from dozens of different manufacturers, taking into account everything: whether they have 4K capability, their wattage, what their connectivity is like, price and more. 

Our experience in home audio lets us pick out the best receivers - there are dozens available, and these are the absolute best around. We also take care to point out what each receiver is best for. Agree? Disagree? Be sure to let us in know in the comments, or on Facebook or Twitter.
 

Our A/V Receiver Picks:

1. Yamaha Aventage RX-A3070BL ($2,000)

RX-A3070BLChannels: 9.2 (Expandable to 11.2)
Surround Sound: Dolby (Various), DTS:X, DTS-HD
Wattage Per Channel: 150/8Ω, 2ch Driven
What We Like: Huge power, full 11.2 functionality.
What We Don’t: Overkill for small systems, no Auro-3D.

For quite a while, this model’s predecessor - the 3060 – was at the top of this list, and with good reason. For most people, it was quite simply the best receiver available, able to handle just about any circumstances. This is the newest version, and after having a listen, we’re sold: it deserves to remain in its spot. Compared to models from Arcam, Integra and Anthem, the value-for-money and feature set is just extraordinary. It’s a clear winner.

It adds a huge range of features: Tidal and Deezer streaming, 4K Ultra HD, and Hybrid Log-Gamma (a new type of visual standard for enhanced picture) are just three of the ones that we can think of off the top of our head. Added to that, it packs in built-in WiFi and Bluetooth, as well as full compatibility with almost all the latest audio codecs, with the exception of Auro-3D. Hopefully that’s something that Yamaha will add in an update further down the line, but for now, this is absolutely the one to go for. The crazy thing is, the original 3060 is still available – at the exact same price! In other words, there’s no reason not to buy this one, although if you don’t have the budget and do want to wait a bit, the 3060 is almost certain to undergo a price drop.
See the Yamaha Aventage RX-A3070BL


2. Anthem MRX 1120 ($3,599)

Anthem MRX1120Channels: 11.2
Surround Sound: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X
Wattage Per Channel: 140/8Ω, 2ch Driven
What We Like: Unbelievable sound quality, killer room correction.
What We Don’t: Quite expensive, limited codec support.

One thing that sets Anthem apart from the others: 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 Yamaha above, 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.
See the Anthem MRX 1120


3. Integra DRX-4 ($1,000)

Integra DRX-4Channels: 7.2
Surround Tech: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X
Wattage Per Channel: 110/8Ω, 2ch Driven
What We Like: Incredible value - probably the best budget option (although you can get cheaper options!)
What We Don’t: Ugly interface

In our opinion, this is not only one of the best receivers available to buy right now, but one of the best receivers, period. It offers much of what more expensive ones offer, and its sound is very hard to top, delivering extraordinary quality for the money you pay. With 7.2 channels to play with, a ton of connectivity options, and full support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X (including an ability to up-mix non-Dolby content) you get an awful lot for your money here. The Arcam AVR850 (below) may offer more raw power and more surround codec options, but honestly, this is the one we pick. For most people, it’s an easy choice.

The downside? Aside from the fact that you can’t really go higher than 7.2, it must be said that the interface of the DRX-4 is very, very ugly indeed. It feels clunky and a little bit difficult to use, which is a bit of a black mark. All the same, we think this deserves its spot in the higher echelons of this list, and we think it’s going to be here for a long time to come. A fantastic amplifier, and a brilliant budget pick.
See the Integra DRX-4
 

4. Arcam AVR850 ($6,000)

Arcam AVR850Channels: 7.1.4
Surround Tech: Dolby (Various), DTS:X (Various)
Wattage Per Channel: 130/8Ω, 2ch Driven
What We Like: Superlative build and design.
What We Don’t: Can be hard to find, very expensive.

Meet the beast. Arcam’s $6K monster may not be for everyone, but if you demand the absolute pinnacle of A/V receivers, then this one is hard to beat – although you could hardly accuse it of being affordable!

It’s absolutely ideal for those who want to add height speakers to the mix. While it isn’t compliant with Auro3D, it does offer 7.1.4 right out of the box, and includes full support for not only Dolby Atmos and Surround, but also DTS:X, DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS Neural:X and a whole host of other DTS codecs. Add that to some thumping, powerful sound (courtesy of the monstrous Class G amplifier inside it), some terrific room correction from Dirac Live, and good usability, and you’ve got something that deserves to be top five. The downsides? It can be a little tricky to track down stateside, and six grand is a lot to pay for a receiver. The good news is that Arcam do offer smaller models if you need them, so don’t be afraid to shop around.
See the Arcam AVR850


5. McIntosh MX122 ($7,000)

McIntosh MX122Channels: 11.2
Surround Tech: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Auro-3D
Wattage Per Channel: Unknown
What We Like: One of the best receivers available…
What We Don’t: At an absolutely stupendous cost.

$7,000 is way, way more than anyone should pay for an A/V receiver. But if you absolutely must have the legendary blue Mac meters in your living room, then get out your chequebook. The fact that it’s beaten out by the Arcam and the Yamaha models (which we think are far more reasonably-priced) keep it from the top spot, but we’d be crazy not to put it in the top five.

And you get a huge amount for your money - and not just sound that will destroy your mind. Full compatibility with Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Auro-3D? Check. 11.2 channels? Check. 4K, Bluetooth, WiFi…do you even have to ask? If you must have absolutely everything in a receiver, then get this one. The rest of us will be perfectly satisfied with the RX-A3070BL above, but boy, what a monster.
See the McIntosh MX122
 

6. Cambridge Audio CXR200 ($2,000)

Cambridge Audio CXR200 Channels: 7.2 (Expandable to 7.4)
Surround Tech: Dolby, DTS
Wattage Per Channel: 170/8Ω, 2ch Driven
What We Like: Terrific detail and treble, great design.
What We Don’t: Low-end doesn’t wow - and it doesn’t offer anything hugely special.

This is Cambridge Audio’s flagship receiver, and while we think it’s very good – enough to put it into the top five – it doesn’t really have one killer feature that would put it over the top. If it came down to a shootout between this and the Yamaha RX-A3070BL, we’d go for the Yamaha. No question. They are the same price, and we believe the Yamaha is a superior product. Feel free to fight us in the comments if you disagree!

That’s not to say this is a bad product. Far from it. It does have a lot to offer, including some absolutely brilliant top end, with fantastic detail. It’s a shame the bottom end doesn’t quite measure up. But it gets the job done, and the amp does deliver quite a bit more power than other models. Go for this one if you can’t find the Yamaha, and don’t want to spend $3,500 on an Anthem.
See the Cambridge Audio CXR200
 

7. Marantz SR7012 ($2,199)

SR7012Channels: 9.2 (Expandable to 11.2)
Surround Tech: Dolby (Various), DTS (Various), Auro-3D (Via upgrade)
Wattage Per Channel: 110/8Ω, 2ch Driven
What We Like: Arguably one of the best receiver designs out there.
What We Don’t: Not enough of an upgrade on the 7011 - and the 8012 is just around the corner!

At CEDIA 2017, Marantz unveiled their 8012 receiver, which promises to incorporate Amazon Alexa and HEOS multi-room functionality into what is an already fantastic product. At the time of writing, that one isn't out yet, and the flagship is the 7012. We loved the 7011, which Marantz sent us for review a little while back, and while we think that the overall design is one of the best out there, we’re not sure the 7012 is enough of a leap to justify the extra expense.

Yes, it offers full 4K functionality, and the ability to use the Auro-3D codec, but we’re not sure that’s worth the extra cash when you could pick up a 7011, or even a 7010, for about the same amount of money. All the same, this is still a very good receiver, with some excellent features and absolutely superlative sound that will blow your windows off. We’ve got high hopes for the 8012, and we think it will be able to leapfrog right back to the top of the list when it’s released. In the meantime, do check out this range – but be aware of what you’re paying for.
See the Marantz SR7012
 

8. Denon AVR-X7200WA ($2,999)

Denon AVR-X7200WAChannels: 9.2 (Expandable to 11.2)
Surround Tech: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Auro-3D (Via upgrade)
Wattage Per Channel: 150/8Ω, 2ch Driven
What We Like: Excellent workhorse receiver, with good power.
What We Don’t: Currently overpriced.

Normally, when something is more expensive, it tends to rank higher on our list – for better or worse, more money does equal better quality of the audio world. That’s not the case here. While the 7200WA is an excellent receiver, there’s no real reason to choose it above the Marantz SR7012 – something that is only going to be reinforced when the 8012 comes out.

That’s definitely not enough to disqualify it from this list, however. Despite it being overpriced for what you get, what you get is some very good stuff. You get full Dolby and DTS:X functionality, as well as the ability to upgrade to Auro-3D, allowing you to make use of that speaker you’ve (obviously) got installed in your ceiling. And at 150 watts of power per channel (two channels driven) the Denon is no slouch in the audio department, delivering great power with excellent detail. While it lacks the killer feature to really boost it into the upper reaches of this list, it's still an excellent workhorse A/V receiver, and we are excited to see what Denon has planned.
See the Denon AVR-X7200WA
 

9. Sony STR-ZA3100ES ($1,698)

Sony STR-ZA3100ESChannels: 7.2
Surround Tech: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X,
Wattage Per Channel: 110/8Ω, 2ch Driven
What We Like: Some interesting features - especially for small rooms.
What We Don’t: A touch underpowered?

It’s actually quite rare to find an A/V receiver with innovative features. For the most part, this is a product category that is used to progressive, small iterations on existing tech. But with Sony’s STR-ZA3100ES, they’ve come up with something genuinely interesting: so-called phantom channels. Essentially, this is a software solution that replicates the feel of a full 7.1 setup while only having 5.1 channels connected, meaning that you can deploy this receiver in smaller rooms without the additional two speakers, and still get a similar effect.

Granted, it’s not going to be a patch on actual 7.1 or above, but it’s good to see a company innovating. And if you are into object-based surround systems, you’ll be pleased to hear that this receiver is fully compatible with both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. It sounds good, looks great, and while being a tad underpowered, delivers solid sound. It’s arguably a tiny bit overpriced, but then again, how often do innovations come along in this space?
See the Sony STR-ZA3100ES
 

10. Onkyo TX-NR838 ($550)

Onkyo TX-NR838Channels: 7.2
Surround Tech: Dolby Atmos
Wattage Per Channel: 130/8Ω, 2ch Driven
What We Like: A great budget 7.2 receiver.
What We Don’t: No DTS:X, somewhat boring design.

$600 and up is where you start seeing stuff that's more suitable for bigger home theater setups. Perfect example: the Onkyo TX-NR838. It has a whopping eight HDMI inputs, including one on the front, and it comes absolutely rammed with features. 

It has most of the streaming capacity of the Marantz 7012, as well as Dolby Atmos sound that turns an already very good receiver into an essential one - although as far as we can tell, there’s no DTS:X functionality. Even if you couldn’t care less about the different sound technologies, you’ll be getting a big black box with some mind blowing sound. Careful: the price fluctuates, as does its availability. If you’re in the market for something now, and don’t see this at around the price listed above, it may be worth your while to wait a bit! If you do decide to buy, however, you’ll snag yourself a very, very good system.
See the Onkyo TX-NR838
 

11. Yamaha RX-V483 ($400)

Yamaha RX-V483BLChannels: 5.1
Surround Tech: Dolby True HD and DTS-HD
Wattage Per Channel: 80/8Ω, 2ch Driven
What We Like: Arguably the best pure 5.1 receiver on this list.
What We Don’t: Definitely doesn’t trouble the big boys!

Small room? Just a few speakers? Dipping your toe into surround sound? Check this one out. Yamaha’s entry at the top of this list may be too much for some people, but their legendary quality bleed through into this one: a much smaller unit that sacrifices advanced features and additional channels for some very good quality delivered into a smaller package. If you’ve only got a small living room to fill, this will be a huge upgrade to your existing setup.

It offers basic surround sound functionality, and delivers some excellent sound quality, with deep bass and detail highs. You’ve got full Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity, 4K Ultra-HD passthrough, and reasonably intelligent (albeit slightly rough) front end. There are a lot of budget receivers on this list – we do like to cater for everyone, not just the custom-install crowd – but we think this is the pick of the bunch.
See the Yamaha RX-V483
 

12. Pioneer VSX-1131 ($500)

Pioneer VSX-1131Channels: 7.2
Surround Tech: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X
Wattage Per Channel: 100/8Ω, 2Ch Driven
What We Like: Increased HDMI ports, room correction.
What We Don’t: Doesn’t do anything special.

This is a good, solid all-round system; although it doesn’t do anything particularly special, it’s one of the more reliable units out there. It’s a slightly cheaper alternative to the Denon S920W, and offers much the same features, albeit for slightly diminished sound quality. It’s a 7.2 system that works equally as well as a 5.2.2 or 5.1.2 channel system, making it pretty versatile.

We do like the increased HDMI ports, and we really enjoyed the room correction system, which calibrated the system nicely. It’s called the Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration System (MCACC), and it works rather well. Outside of that, you do get a good range of features, including connections to all your favorite streaming services. We also like the emphasis that Pioneer have placed on the DAC, which helps convert those digital ones and zeros into analogue audio that you can actually hear. While it’s not a patch on some of the other models on this list, the conversion is clean and clear.
See the Pioneer VSX-1131
 

13. Sony STRDN1080 ($498)

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

We loved the STRDN1060, which we reviewed in full some time back. This is a superb update, with excellent sound quality for the price, and which adds in a slew of useful features. While it doesn’t compete with models like the Onkyo TX-NR838, which have a little more oomph, it does offer some very good incitements to buy. If you’ve got around $500 to spend, this is the one you should go for.

We love Sony’s interface, which continues from the one present on 1060, and which is very easy to use. We love the great sound quality - far better than we’d expect from a budget unit - and we love the fact that it not only has Dolby Atmos and DTS:X functionality (not a given at this price range) but also DSD functionality, meaning it can play ultra-high-resolution audio files. A nice touch, and not one you see often. Not quite a top ten model, but boy, does it get the job done. Here’s to the…1090? 1100? What we wouldn’t give for some original receiver names…
See the Sony STRDN1080
 

14. Denon AVR-S730H ($479)

Denon AVRS730HChannels: 7.2
Surround Tech: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X
Wattage Per Channel: 75/8Ω, 2ch Driven
What We Like: Superb value, terrific auto-calibration.
What We Don’t: HEOS is nothing to write home about, the Sony model above sounds better.

While there’s plenty to love about Denon’s 730H model - its fantastic room calibration, great set of features (including 4K, Dolby Atmos and DTS compatibility, and more) and decent power, it doesn’t quite do enough to reach the upper echelons of this list. We know Denon is capable of greatness, so it’s a shame to see them fall just short here.

For starts, we don’t think it sounds nearly as good as the Sony STRDN1080 above, which costs only a fraction more and offers far better sound. There’s also no denying that Denon’s HEOS functionality just isn’t quite as good as SONOS, for example, which offers much better multiroom sound. However: there’s no denying the value of this receiver, and if those two negatives don’t mean much to you, you’ll love the sheer amount of bang you get for your buck here. Overall, this is a very good receiver that, while not the best, gets the job done.
See the Denon AVR-S730H
 

15. Denon AVRX2300W ($394)

Integra DRX-4Channels: 7.2
Surround Tech: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X
Wattage Per Channel: 125/6Ω, 2ch Driven
What We Like: Solid sound for the price.
What We Don’t: Terrible control app.

We admit: it was difficult to stop Denon dominating this particular part of the list. Reason being, they make several good-but-not-fantastic models, and at least one major model (the $2,999 X7200WA). If we’re talking a list of the best receivers, only a few companies are going to dominate, and they are one of them.

That being said: while this doesn’t touch other models, sound-wise, and has an awful control app, it does offer some goodies. You get eight HDMI ins (ideal for when you have a lot of sources), some decent power, and compatibility with Dolby and DTS. You also get 4K, and a decent number of channels. It’s something of a workmanlike receiver, but in the end, it’s ideal for smaller rooms, or those who want features over pinpoint sound quality. Check it out, or check the remaining Denon model further down in this list. They do make good receivers, although sometimes not very inspiring ones.
See the Denon AVRX2300W
 

16. Denon AVR-S920W ($457)

Denon AVR-S920WChannels: 7.2
Surround Tech: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X
Wattage Per Channel: 90/8Ω, 2ch Driven
What We Like: Good power and value.
What We Don’t: Doesn’t do anything special.

The story of receivers is often one of small, incremental updates, not to mention immensely boring names and feature lists that make your head spin - does anyone outside of the custom crowd actually use 12V trigger outputs? But this one – an update on the S720W, which adds 15W extra per channel and more HDMI ports - is very good. 

In this price range, it can often be very difficult to tell the difference between models, as they share many similar components. Nevertheless, we really feel that the S720W is one of the best available right now, hence its inclusion on this list. It offers truly magnificent sound for a sub-$500, and the setup is as basic as can be. We’d go so far as to say that the primary selling point: if you want zero hassle when you’re getting started, go for this one. It’s not Denon’s only entry here, and there’s a very good reason for that.
See the Denon AVR-S920W
 

17. Onkyo TX-NR575 ($382)

Onkyo TX-NR575Channels: 7.2
Surround Tech: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X
Wattage Per Channel: 80/8Ω, 2ch Driven
What We Like: One of the better sub-$400 receivers.
What We Don’t: Off-the-shelf components

This is a smaller version of Onkyo’s TX-NR838, higher on this list. If you can’t afford that one, which costs around $300 more at the time of writing, you may wish to look at this slightly smaller model. It loses quite a bit from its bigger brother, including the wireless connections and a few HDMI inputs, but if you aren’t concerned with those, this may be ideal - especially if you have a smaller room to deal with, or fewer speakers.

And you still get a decent amount for your money. 7.2 channels, the standard Dolby and DTS surround functions, and some good power. Don’t expect audio quality to be fantastic - at this price range, almost all components, from amps to digital-to-analogue converters, are off-the-shelf, meaning there’s less variance in audio style between brands. But it will still function as a good quarterback for your home theater, and we do still recommend it. 
See the Onkyo TX-NR575
 

And For When You Want To Get Really Serious:

18. Krell Foundation ($7,500)

Krell 4K Ultra HD ProcessorChannels: 7.1
Surround Tech: Dolby (Various), DTS:X (Various)
Wattage Per Channel: N/A
What We Like: The ultimate in home audio processing.
What We Don’t: Huge price tag, definitely not for conventional systems.

So this technically cheating. The Krell Foundation is a processor, rather than a receiver, which means it doesn't actually deliver amplification. You'll need a separate amplifier to power your speakers, as this is unable to do so, its purpose being solely to route audio and video signals. But oh my, what a mighty machine. And if you're upgrading your system to full separates, Krell is an excellent place to start.

You get a smorgasbord of surround sound codecs, with the full gamut of Dolby and DTS variants (although no Auro-3D, which is surprising) as well as 7.1 channels of routing. The sound, as you can imagine, is out of this bloody world, with rich, sumptuous detail and head-pounding bass. It has a pricetag that will deter all but the most dedicated of receiver fans, but this is still one hell of a piece of kit. We even love the name. 
See the Krell Foundation


Comparison Table:

Receiver Price Channels Surround Watt** Conn.
Yamaha Aventage RX-A3070BL $2,000 9.2/11.2 Dolby V*, DTS:X, DTS-HD 150/8Ω Blue.WiFi
Anthem MRX 1120 $3,599 11.2 Dolby Atmos, DTS:X 140/8Ω WiFi
Integra DRX-4 $1,000 7.2 Dolby Atmos, DTS:X 110/8Ω Blue./WiFi
Arcam AVR850 $6,000 7.1.4 Dolby V*, DTS V* 130/8Ω WiFi
McIntosh MX122 $7,000 11.2 Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Auro-3D Unknown Blue./WiFi
Cambridge Audio CXR200 $2,000 7.2/7.4 Dolby, DTS 170/8Ω Blue./WiFi
Marantz SR7012 $2,199 9.2/11.2 Dolby V*, DTS V*, Auro-3D 110/8Ω Blue./WiFi
Denon AVR-X7200WA $2,999 9.2/11.2 Dolby V*, DTS V*, Auro-3D 150/8Ω Blue./WiFi
Sony STR-ZA3100ES $1,698 7.2 Dolby Atmos, DTS:X 110/8Ω None
Onkyo TX-NR838 $550 7.2 Dolby Atmos 130/8Ω Blue./WiFi
Yamaha RX-V483 $400 5,1 Dolby True HD, DTS-HD 80/8Ω Blue./WiFi
Pioneer VSX-1131 $500 7.2 Dolby Atmos, DTS:X 100/8Ω Blue./WiFi
Sony STRDN1080 $498 7.2 Dolby Atmos, DTS:X Unknown Blue./WiFi
Denon AVR-S730H $479 7.2 Dolby Atmos, DTS:X 75/8Ω Blue./WiFi
Denon AVRX2300W $394 7.2 Dolby Atmos, DTS:X 125/6Ω Blue./WiFi
Denon AVR-S920W $457 7.2 Dolby Atmos, DTS:X 90/8Ω Blue./WiFi
Onkyo TX-NR575 $382 7.2 Dolby Atmos, DTS:X 80/8Ω Blue./WiFi
Krell Foundation $7,500 7.1 Dolby V*, DTS V* N/A None

*V = Various versions of the surround codec in question - too many to list here, or it would break our table. See manufacturer sites for the full breakdown.
**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!

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Sony STR-DN1080 | 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 XBox (for example) to your widescreen 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!

Sony STR-DN1080 | The Master Switch

Channels Explained

You’ve probably noticed the numbers 5.1, 7.1 and 9.2 floating around this article. What’s up with that?

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 subwoofer. Even cheaper models, like the Denon AVR-S730H, 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 Yamaha Aventage RX-A3070BL, which offers 9.2 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!

Some further useful info. 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 Yahama above, also allow you to expand your channel quota by adding more amps into the mix. 

Sony STR-DN1080 | The Master Switch

Dolby Atmos vs. DTS:X vs. Auro3D

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.

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).

Marantz SR7012 | 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. You have to pick one or the other. Since only the Voice Of God speaker lives on the ceiling, an Auro-3D setup would leave an Atmos sounding far from its best. 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 SR7012 which, for a small fee, will allow you to upgrade to Auro-3D functionality.
 

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 (8 ohms, 0.09% THD). That’s for the Yamaha RX-V483, 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!

Cambridge Audio CRX200 | Cambridge Audio

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-utilised 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.
 

4K Explained

4K, if you don’t know, is a new standard of content with ridiculous visual fidelity and color sharpness. 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, so even if you couldn’t care, you’re getting it anyway. Congratulations!

If you want more info, there’s a great video explainer here.

Sony STR-DN1080 | The Master Switch

A/V Receiver Connectivity: Bluetooth vs. WiFi

Something new to many A/V receivers in the last few years is the advent of Bluetooth and WiFi. 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.

WiFi, on the other hand, is giving speaker wire a run for its money. Connecting a receiver to your home WiFi 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 WiFi 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 Denon’s HEOS speakers, you may want to pick up their AVR-S730H, which will slot right in.

Marantz SR7012 | 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.

Marantz SR7012 Room Calibration | 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?

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

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