Buying an AV receiver can be surprisingly stressful, due to the remarkable number of features offered by these unassuming-looking metal boxes that have evolved over the years from relatively simple analog switching devices to the computation-centric, connected digital devices that define the category today. Our goal is to help you cut through the complexity to make an informed decision based on your needs.
Competition is good for innovation and there's plenty of it among the various AVR makers, you've got over a dozen brand to choose from. And these days, most AVRs are both Wi-Fi connected and able to handle Dolby Atmos sound to one degree or another.
If there's a "dividing line" between old and new AV receivers, these days it's support for HDMI 2.1 and the 8K/60 plus 4K/120 formats that go with it, along with features like eARC. HDMI 2.1 represents a huge bit of future-proofing that we consider so important here at Home Theater Review, it is required for inclusion on this list.
Similarly, the prevalence of support for Atmos and DTS:X on even entry-level AVRs (not to mention soundbars), as well as the wide availability of Atmos soundtracks, not only on disc but with streaming content, makes 3D immersive sound support a must-have feature for 2022.
Since AVRs are responsible for power, not just processing, it is prudent to ensure that the unit you choose satisfies the needs of the speakers you own. This can get a little bit complicated, but fundamentally you want and AV receivers that is compatible with the impedance of your speaker system, so if you have picked out 4-ohm speakers, for example, you’ll want to pick an AVR that explicitly supports it.
As for power output, it becomes difficult to ascertain how an AVR will respond under heavy load, powering a multichannel speaker system where the various speakers are at different distances and have different sensitivities. But what you’ll find is that there is not a huge gap between the power output of most AV receivers, nowhere near the range available when purchasing amplifiers.
Most AV receivers rate their power output in either one channel or two channels driven, which is a rating of the peak output of the amplifier module, not the capabilities of the power supply. And this is useful for one year using an AVR to listen to music in stereo, but at their core AVRs are multichannel surround-sound devices, and how they do when all channels are driven concurrently is a different specification that’s certainly useful if you can find it.
One of the defining functions of modern AV receivers is room correction, and the systems implemented by various manufacturers vary in effectiveness depending on both the model’s tier (entry-level AVRs tend to have simpler room correction systems) as well as by the type of room correction—some manufacturers have their own system, others use one of the two major brands that licensed the technology to AV receiver manufacturers.: Audyssey and Dirac.
The Marantz NR1510 is a 5.1-channel offering that takes up half the space of a normal AV receiver, making it a great option if big black boxes aren't your thing. The NR1710 ups the channel count to 7.1, which may be enticing if your room is a little deeper and there's plenty of space between your seat and the back wall. The NR1710 also supports Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization, which the NR1510 doesn't, so if you're interested in experiencing a subtler form of object-based surround sound without installing ceiling speakers or height modules, it may be the better pick. You can also upgrade the NR1710 to a true 5.1.2 object-based setup, should you decide to install overhead speakers or up-firing speaker modules.
The $499 Denon AVR-S750H. Yes, this 7.1-channel receiver supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X (in a 5.1.2-channel configuration--which, if you'll remember, means 5.1 plus two overhead speakers), but that doesn't mean you have to configure it as such. You can use it as a 7.1 or simple 5.1 receiver with no problems. If you do so, it also supports Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization Its 75 watts of power per channel means that it's a better choice than either of the slimline Marantz offerings if you have a mid-sized room or less sensitive speakers, but of course it does take up more space than either of those models.
With a total of six HDMI inputs (five 'round back, one up front), the AVR-S750H is a little limited in terms of connectivity, but if that's enough for you, have at it. Perhaps more importantly, though, it doesn't feature video upscaling, so if you watch a lot of 720p TV channels on a 75-inch 4K TV, you might instead step up to something like Denon's $599 AVR-S950H, even if you don't need as many HDMI ports as it provides (seven 'round back, one up front).
Another slight step up would be the $799 AVR-X2600H, which adds second-zone preamplifier outputs and a step up to Audyssey MultEQ XT room correction.
The next significant step up is Denon's $1,099 AVR-X3600H. This 9.2- (not 9.1-) channel receiver is where you start to get into independent measuring and setup of more than one subwoofer, which usually (although not always) results in smoother, more even bass response from seat to seat in your listening room. It also includes the best form of Audyssey room correction in MultEQ XT32. If you want to go Atmos and DTS:X, the AVR-X3600H is good for a 5.2.4 or 7.2.2 setup without additional amplification. Or you can simply rely on its Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization technology.
And if for some reason you find that its 105 watts per channel of amplification isn't enough for you (if, say, you move it to a bigger room), the AVR-X3600H has 7.2-channel preamp outputs, meaning you can add your own external seven-channel amp to the equation and just use the receiver as a preamplifier. A total of eight HDMI inputs (seven around back, one up front) mean that most people will have a little bit of headroom in terms of digital AV connectivity. Just know that this product's successor is already slated for a July 15 release date.
For the semi-equivalent Marantz offering, I really like the $999 SR5014. Unlike the aforementioned NR1509 and NR1609, this one does feature Marantz's own proprietary amp circuitry, so you'll likely find that its sound is dynamic and more musical to your ears than that of the Denon AVR-X3600H. It does offer slightly less power per channel, though, at 100 watts, and is limited to seven amplified channels, not nine.
Otherwise, their feature sets are pretty comparable: both offer Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization, AirPlay 2 and HEOS multiroom streaming, along with support for all of the current AV standards. The Denon offers a second-zone HDMI output, which the SR5014 lacks. Also, the SR5014 lacks a feature from last year's Marantz offering at this level, the SR5013: multi-channel analog inputs. This may be important if you have an audiophile Blu-ray or UHD Blu-ray player with DVD-Audio and/or SACD playback capabilities. If you want the multichannel analog inputs from last year, plus the Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization from this year, you'll need to step up to the $1,499 SR6014, which also ups the output to 110 watts per channel and the amplified channel count up to nine.
I mentioned in the updated intro to this guide that the summer/autumn 2019 offerings from most AVR manufacturers weren't as fully fleshed out as in previous years due to the impeding release of HDMI 2.1, which are still rolling out as we speak.
As of this writing, the two AVRs with HDMI 2.1 capabilities that we can recommend with some reservations are the Denon AVR-X4700H ($1699) and AVR-X6700H ($2499).
The AVR-X4700H features nine channels of amplification with dynamic power rated at 125 watts per channel and can function as an 11.2-channel preamplifier if you want to bring your own amps to the party. The X4000H level is the most popular model in any given year amongst HomeTheaterReview readers, and for good reason: it may not feature the absolute max in terms of output and channel count, but it's a hell of a bargain in terms of output for the price.
The AVR-X6700H, meanwhile, features eleven amplified channels (with dynamic power rated at 140 watts per channel), meaning you don't need additional amps for a 7.2.4 setup. Connect an extra stereo amp, though, and the X6700H will be able to process up to 13.2 channels of DTS:X Pro audio via a future firmware update.
Both the AVR-X4700H and AVR-X6700H deliver a whole host of features new to this year's lineup, including:
Denon's AVR-X8500H 13.2-Channel AV Receiver is a beast of a machine. For Dolby Atmos, it can be configured for 7.2.6- or 9.2.4-channel listening, although with DTS:X material its limited to decoding of 7.1.4 or 5.1.6 channels for now. And with 150 watts per channel of output, it's plenty powerful enough for most rooms and most speaker systems. It's also eligible for upgrades down the road, although we've heard no official word yet about when an HDMI 2.1 upgrade will be available (the rumor mill has it at early 2021). You can read our review of the AVR-X8500H for a complete rundown of its features and capabilities.
You might want to wait until Anthem's new lineup starts to roll out in December. Just to reiterate the deciding factors mentioned above: they have more robust amplification than most mass-market receivers, and their Anthem Room Correction system is absolutely aces. Could you get better results with an AV receiver equipped with Dirac room correction? Maybe. If you really understand room acoustics and know what you're doing.
If that's the case, you might instead opt for NAD's newer T 778 AV receiver, which not only boasts the latest version of Dirac, but also a beast of an amplification section and support for Bluesound, which is -- in my opinion -- a much better wireless multiroom music system than Chromecast, which the Anthems support.
The Anthem MRX 740 is a better choice if your room is a little bigger or you want to up the channel count to 7.2. The MRX 720 also features 11.2-channel preamp outputs if you want to go full-blown Atmos/DTS:X and don't mind bringing your own amps to the party.
If you want the biggest, most speaker-packed all-in-one audiophile Dolby Atmos/DTS:X solution without adding amps, the MRX 1140 is where it's at. It offers 11 amplified channels and 15.2-channel preamp outputs. If you'd like to audition any of these Anthem receivers to hear if the difference is worth it for you, you can find your nearest dealership by following this link.
And if you want something in between the MRX 740 and MRX 1140 in terms of channel count, with a somewhat more intricate room correction system, the NAD T 778 may be right up your alley. It offers nine amplified channels, but with 11.2 channels of preamplification (if you're willing to add your own outboard amplification). The one major drawback of the NAD, though, is that even if you're fine settling for HDMI 2.0 for a while, it only features five back-panel HDMI inputs, which may or may not be enough for your home theater system. If you'd like to audition the T 778 to hear it for yourself, you can find your nearest dealership here.