The best AV receivers are a key part of turning your big-screen TV into a full home cinema experience. They're a serious option for serious setups, but that doesn't mean they have to cost huge amounts of money, either.
What is an AV receiver? In its simplest terms, all of your audio and video goes into it, and the receiver makes sure the right bit goes to the right place. An AVR or audio/video receiver is a surround sound processor integrated with a multi-channel amplifier, and is able to decode various audio formats.
It’s worth noting that to achieve genuine surround envelopment you have to position speakers around the room, so you’ll probably need a degree of buy-in from other members of the house. Once that done, it’s just a question of how many speakers, and in what configuration? We're not here to help you with that today – but we will make sure you can find an ideal AV receiver for whatever setup you have in mind.
When choosing an AV receiver there are a number of factors to consider – aside from the price of course. How many channels can it process? How many channels of amplification are built-in? Which audio formats does it support? How many HDMI inputs and outputs are there? Can it handle next-gen gaming features? What type of room correction software does it use?
Don’t panic if that all feels rather overwhelming, this guide will help you choose the best AV receiver for your particular needs and budget. Don't forget we've got our guide to the best TVs if you decide you need a visual upgrade too – and we've got a guide to the best soundbars, if you want a simpler sound solution.
What is the best AV receiver?
The Denon AVC-X3700H might not be the cheapest option, but no other AV receiver gives you this much bang for your buck. Put simply – it has the lot.
It can decode Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and IMAX Enhanced. It sports nine built-in channels of amplification, but can process up to eleven. It also has the latest HDMI 2.1 specs such as 8K/60Hz, 4K/120Hz, dynamic HDR, VRR, ALLM, and eARC support.
If that wasn’t enough, there’s Hi-Res Audio support, Wi-Fi, AirPlay 2, and Bluetooth, plus Denon’s HEOS multi-room system. There’s also Audyssey room correction to help create a cohesive multi-channel system, and crucially it sounds fantastic, with a big cinematic delivery.
The Denon AVC-X3700H sits squarely in the middle of the manufacturer’s range, and it’s perfectly balanced – offering all the features you’ll need at a price that won’t break the bank. This accomplished receiver not only decodes the main object-based audio formats like Dolby Atmos, it also includes enough powerful amplification to create a dynamic sense of immersion.
While the X3700H is capable of processing up to 11 channels, nine should be more than enough for most people, with a choice of 5.1.4 or 7.1.2 speaker configurations. You can even add dual subs, and the easy-to-use Audyssey room correction ensures the detailed and engaging delivery is combined into a cohesive and tonally balanced system with seamless steering of effects.
The X3700H is well-made, looks good, and boasts extensive connectivity, while HEOS adds multi-room and even the option of wireless rears and sub. It not only works with Alexa and Google Assistant, but also Siri thanks to the inclusion of AirPlay 2. There’s only one HDMI 2.1 input, which is bad news for those with both next-gen gaming consoles, but otherwise this AVR is hard to fault. Here's our full five-star Denon AVC-X3700H review.
The Sony STR-DH790 is hard to beat when it comes to delivering home cinema on a budget. The build quality could be better, and it’s limited to seven channels of amplification and processing, but this receiver includes everything you need to start building a surround sound system.
It’s a piece of cake to setup, and while Sony’s room correction is fairly basic, the results are impressive for the price point. The built-in amps are surprisingly punchy, the delivery energetic, and effects are steered with precision, resulting in immersive Atmos and DTS:X action.
There are six HDMI inputs with 4K/60Hz and Dolby Vision passthrough, but there’s no HDMI 2.1 support. However, thanks to eARC this limitation can be bypassed, and while there’s no Wi-F either, music fans can still enjoy lossless high-resolution audio support and even DSD decoding.
The Denon AVR-X2700H could easily have been the best budget AV receiver, were it not for the Sony’s ludicrously cheap asking price. But since it sports many of the features found on the X3700H and retains a similarly poised performance, it certainly ranks as the best affordable AVR.
All the main audio formats are covered, and while the X2700H is limited to seven channels, it enjoys a serious amount of grunt that ensures a spacious and controlled delivery. The placement of effects is also precise, and Audyssey brings everything together in a balanced soundstage.
While it inherits many of X3700’s strengths, it is also limited to a single HDMI 2.1 input. That minor complaint aside, this is a feature-packed receiver for the money with HEOS multi-room, hi-res audio support, AirPlay 2 and the ability to work with Alexa and Google Assistant.
The Yamaha RX-V6A is another value contender that would also be in the running for budget AV receiver, were it not for the Sony. However this particular model has the edge when it comes to next-gen gaming with its three HDMI 2.1 inputs. Some of these features have yet to be added via firmware updates, but eventually the V6A will support 4K/120Hz, VRR and ALLM.
It will also support all the HDR formats like HDR10+ and Dolby Vision, plus just about any lossless high-resolution audio format you throw in its direction. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and AirPlay 2 are all present and correct, plus there’s even a FM/AM and DAB+ tuner. You also get Yamaha’s superb MusicCast multi-room system, with the added bonus of support for wireless rears and sub.
While the built-in grunt is slightly lacking in the power department, Yamaha’s years of experience deliver a wonderful musicality. The Atmos and DTS:X performance is equally impressive, and while the processing is limited to seven channels, this receiver reveals a pleasing agility that responds to even the most dynamic soundtracks, resulting in an exciting overall performance.
The Arcam AVR30 is the AV receiver of choice for the well-heeled home cinema fan, with a full selection of object-based audio formats that includes Atmos, DTS:X, IMAX Enhanced, and even the esoteric Auro-3D. Perhaps more importantly, it delivers these formats with processing up to a staggeringly immersive 15.2 channels, which means you can run a full 9.2.6-channel system.
The AVR30 only has seven amplification channels built-in (meaning it can drive seven actual speakers, even though it can understand many more channels), so you’ll need to add more amplification channels for greater immersion, but these amps use Class G, resulting in a delivery that’s incredibly powerful and responsive, with plenty of headroom. The resulting sound field is precise, expansive and controlled, while dual sub support and class-leading Dirac Live room correction are the icing on the cake.
The AVR30 is also extremely well-made, with a full-colour LCD display on the front, and lossless high-resolution audio support to go with this receivers musical delivery. There are plenty of HDMI inputs that support HDR10+ and Dolby Vision passthrough, plus there’s eARC. However there’s currently no next-gen gaming support, although an HDMI 2.1 upgrade is in the works. Here's our full Arcam AVR30 review.
How to buy the best AV receiver for you
The obvious starting point is the number of built-in channels of amplification. If all you want is a basic surround system, then five channels (plus a subwoofer) will suffice. However you may as well go for seven channels, because then you can always add two more channels at the back or above using overhead or upward-firing speakers. If you’re planning to install more channels from the start, there are 9-, 11-, and even 13-channel AV receivers available.
You also need to consider how many channels the AV receiver can discreetly process. A basic seven-channel model should deliver 5.1, 7.1, or 5.1.2 speaker configurations - with the latter representing five ear-level channels, a subwoofer, and two overhead channels. However, there’s no harm in buying an AVR that can process more channels than it has built-in, because if you catch the immersive audio bug you can always add an extra power amplifier later.
Speaking of immersive audio, the ability to decode Dolby Atmos is crucial because it’s the dominant object-based format. DTS:X is nice to have, but unless you have a large Blu-ray disc collection it’s largely redundant. The same is true of IMAX Enhanced, and as for Auro-3D, there’s virtually no content, so you really don’t have to worry about that format.
An AVR may have a host of connections at the rear, but these days HDMI is what’s important. The more HDMI inputs the better, because you’ll be surprised how sources add up. An HDMI output that supports eARC is also useful, while another output for a second zone is always handy. It’s important that the HDMI ports can pass 4K/60Hz and HDR10, and ideally HLG, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision as well. If you’re a next-gen gamer you’ll also want the receiver to support 4K/120Hz, VRR and ALLM. As things stand, 8K support is less important due to a lack of native content.
Watching movies is probably your main incentive for buying an AV receiver, but there’s no reason it can’t also be used for listening to music. Multi-channel music remains popular, and a number of music streaming services now support Dolby Atmos, so if an AVR also supports lossless high-resolution audio, it can act as an effective Hi-Fi and surround sound entertainment hub.
A number of manufacturers also offer multi-room functionality, either through proprietary systems like Denon’s HEOS and Yamaha’s MusicCast, or via third-party solutions like Chromecast. Some of these systems even provide the capability to add wireless rear speakers and a wireless subwoofer, which makes things tidier. Other useful features include remote apps, smart assistants, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and AirPlay for Apple users.
The biggest impact on the sound quality of a system is the room itself. You can spend a fortune on speakers but they’ll still sound like a bag of spanners if the room is problematic. This issue is compounded when you start adding more and more speakers, and it’s where room correction comes in. It’s important that an AV receiver includes an effective and easy to use system. Some will also include the option of running dual subwoofers, which not only produces a more balanced low-end, but also allows you to fully appreciate bass-heavy Hollywood blockbusters.
Finally, a receiver is technically an integrated amplifier with a built-in radio tuner. Ironically, the profusion of internet radio stations has resulted in some manufacturers dropping traditional FM/AM and DAB+ tuners from their newer models, but the name AV receiver continues to be used.