The best AV receivers are life-changing: upgrading to one of our picks will completely transform the way you experience movies, TV drama, music and games, turning your big-screen TV into a full home cinema setup. Some of the very best AV receivers are serious hardware for serious setups, but you can also get something really special without necessarily having to spend enormous amounts of money.
What is an AV receiver? It's a device that handles all your audio and video and makes it go to the right place – so it decodes surround sound such as Dolby Atmos and sends the appropriate audio to each speaker and subwoofer, and it sends video to the appropriate output, most likely your big-screen TV or projector. In most cases it can decode more audio and video formats than your TV can, so for example your TV might not support Dolby Atmos but an AV receiver could add it to your home entertainment setup, taking care of the surround sound and letting the TV concentrate on the visuals.
Although there are plenty of stereo AV receivers designed to deliver two-channel audio, the best ones deliver surround sound to fill your entire room – and that means if you share your home with others you may need to get buy-in from the people you live with, as surround sound requires extra speakers at the rear as well as traditional speakers at the front. And if you're going for a Dolby Atmos system you'll also need speakers that fire upwards from the front to give you that all-important vertical audio.
In addition to the price, there are a few other things to think about. The first and most important thing is to decide not just what you want your AV receiver to do now, but what you might want it to do in the future – so you might have a 5.1 speaker setup already, but it's wise to get an AV receiver that also supports Dolby Atmos so you can upgrade your speaker setup later. Similarly you might only need two HDMI ports now, but you might need more in the not too distant future.
Once you've decided on the big stuff, you can get into the details: the audio formats the AV receiver supports, whether it's compatible with next-gen gaming features, what kind of room calibration features it offers and so on. As with anything technical there's a lot of specifications to look at, but it's actually pretty simple when you know what you're looking for – and this guide is here to help you with exactly that.
If you're considering a new AV receiver as part of a wider home entertainment upgrade, we've also put together a guide to the best TVs – and if you want a simpler sound solution, we've also created a guide to the best soundbars for an instant audio upgrade.
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.
For a budget option, you want the Sony STR-DH790, which sound fantastic and can easily power either a 5.1 surround or 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos system, and is still packed with HDMI inputs.
The best AV receivers 2022: the list
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.