Story by Caleb Denison, via our partner site, Digital Trends
You would think that buying an A/V receiver would be easy: find one that has the channels you need and the features you want — hopefully at a price you’re comfortable with — and call it a day. Unfortunately, that usually isn’t the case. From intentionally misleading specs to the explosion in available features, it’s harder than ever to pick a top receiver out of the seemingly ever-expanding lineup.
For one thing, you want to make sure you pick a receiver that is the most compatible with products you already own. Do you want support for Google Home? What about wireless multiroom? Do the speakers you already own support DTS Play-Fi, or was that FireConnect? Then, of course, there’s the actual audio quality and hi-res audio capabilities, which can’t be gauged from a list of specs.
Fortunately, we have had the chance to experience many of the top receivers available right now for ourselves. Combining our hands-on experience with our collected years of expertise, we’ve compiled a list of some of the absolute best models you can buy.
Our Pick for The Best A/V Receiver
Anthem MRX 1120
Why should you buy this: It offers fantastic sound and every feature you could want
Who’s it for: Anyone who places a premium on top-notch sound
How much will it cost: $3,500
Why we picked the Anthem MRX 1120:
Anthem is a well-known name among those who require top-tier sound quality in their A/V receivers, and the 11.2-channel MRX 1120 is the top dog of the company’s latest offerings. If features support for both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based surround sound, in either 7.1.4 or 5.1.4 configurations, depending on whether you want to leave channels free for a second zone for another room in your home.
The MRX 1120 features a massive Toroidal power supply, offering 140 watts of clean power across each channel at 8 ohms. Ultra HD pass-through, supports both 4K and high dynamic range (HDR) content, with support for 4:4:4 chroma and BT.2020 colorspace. A up-scaler is even included, bringing standard and high-definition signals up to 4K. A total of eight HDMI inputs are included, all of which support HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2, in addition to two HDMI outs and three digital audio outputs.
In addition to the wired multiroom functionality provided by the second zone, the MRX 1120 also offers wireless multiroom connectivity via DTS Play-Fi. This is backed up by built-in support for a number of streaming services, including Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Prime Music, Pandora, SiriusXM and internet radio. For those who value fidelity over convenience, hi-res audio support is included as well, which makes good use of the receiver’s 768kHz/32-bit differential-output DACs.
Finally, the Anthem MRX 1120 makes setting it up a snap with its Anthem Room Correction software, which is one of the best options out there. The company even includes a high-quality mic and stand for measuring your room’s acoustic properties right inside the box.
The Best Performance for the Money
Why should you buy this: You’d don’t often find this much power and features for the price
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a feature-packed receiver while keeping the price under $2,000
How much will it cost: $1,500
Why we picked the Onkyo TX-RZ810:
If the price tag on the Anthem model is a little too rich for your blood, the Onkyo TX-RZ810 lowers the price significantly without losing much in the way of features. This 7.2-channel model also supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and supports Ultra HD pass-through, including both 4K and HDR. This model is THX Select2 Plus-certified, so you can be sure that it will do your favorite movies justice.
The TX-RX810 offers 130 watts per channel at 8 ohms, and uses Onkyo’s Dynamic Audio Amplification with high-output transformers and customized capacitors to provide powerful, effortless sound. The receiver offers a total of eight HDMI outs, three of which support HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2, as well as 4:4:4 color and BT.2020. Two HDMI outs are included, with one meant to be used for a second zone.
Connectivity options are plentiful, with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and AirPlay all supported. Fireconnect wireless multiroom audio is built in, as is Chromecast, allowing you to easily play music and movies through the TX-RZ810 from a large variety of sources. Streaming services like Spotify, Tidal, Pandora, and Deezer are included, but so is hi-res audio, right up to DSD 5.6 MHz.
While it isn’t quite as top-notch as Anthem’s room correction, this model features Onkyo’s AccuEQ room correction, including AccuReflex, and does include a small microphone for measurement. Power users will benefit from a manual calibration, however.
The Best Price/Feature Balance
Why should you buy this: If you want to keep the price low without sacrificing features
Who’s it for: Anyone who doesn’t need the extra features or power of other receivers on this list
How much will it cost: $800
Why we picked the Onkyo TX-NR757:
A younger sibling of sorts to the other Onkyo model on this list, the 7.2-channel TX-NR757 may not offer all the features of the larger model, but it also costs just over half the price. One thing it isn’t lacking in is power, with a claimed 180 watts per channel at 6 ohms. This model also features the same THX Select2 Plus certification as the TX-RZ810.
Like its bigger, more expensive sibling, the TX-NR757 easily handles modern formats with Ultra HD pass-though, including 4K and HDR, as well as the 4:4:4 color space. Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are also supported, though depending on whether your model was updated before it was shipped, you might need a firmware update to enable DTS:X support. Eight HDMI inputs and two HDMI outputs are included, with three inputs supporting HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2.
The same connectivity options featured in the TX-RX810 are also included here, including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and AirPlay. Fireconnect wireless multiroom functionality is included as well, along with support for a number of streaming services and Chromecast built-in, which was added via a firmware update. Hi-res audio is also here, up to DSD 5.6 MHz.
Like the other Onkyo model, AccuEQ room correction including AccuReflex is also here, making calibrating the receiver and speakers a breeze for beginners.
The Best for the Space-Conscious Buyer
Why should you buy this: You want a quality receiver that doesn’t dominate the room
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a feature-packed receiver with a slim footprint
How much will it cost: $700
Why we picked the Marantz NR1607:
A/V receivers are often the largest piece of gear sitting under your TV, and while this isn’t an issue for most people, that doesn’t mean everyone is happy with it. The Marantz NR1607 offers top-notch sound and many of the same features of other receivers on this list, but has a slimmer build and smaller footprint, making it a better option for those who don’t have much space or simply find a small build more aesthetically pleasing.
This 7.2-channel model is rated at 50 watts per channel at 8 ohms — not exactly a powerhouse compared to some of the other models on this list, but still more than enough for the home theater needs of many. This model features eight HDMI inputs, all of which support HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2, along with 4:4:4 color 4K 50/60 and BT.2020 – about as future-proof as you could hope for right now.
Both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are supported out of the box, and an optional upgrade adds Auro3D, a similar 3D surround technology that has actually been around longer than the other two. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are included for wireless connectivity, and so is hi-res audio, with support up to DSD 2.8 MHz and 5.6 MHz in addition to standard PCM hi-res formats.
This model also features software for setup and room correction by way of Audyssey MultEQ, the system favored by Marantz and Denon
The Best Under $500
Why should you buy this: Price matters to you, but you still want the best you can get
Who’s it for: Anyone willing to trade features like Dolby Atmos for premium sound quality
How much will it cost: $500
Why we picked the Sony STR-DN1070:
The other models on this list aim to cram in as many features as possible, and while that’s great for some people, others will happily give up a few features in exchange for a rock-solid product at a lower price. In the case of Sony’s STR-DN1070, the receiver offers plenty of power and a good variety of features in exchange for one notable sacrifice: this model lacks support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based surround sound.
Like many of the models on this list, the STR-DN1070 is a 7.2-channel model, and this one offers 50 watts per channel at 8 ohms. The 1070 sports six HDMI inputs and two HDMI outputs, with every single one featuring support for HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2. Both 4:4:4 chroma and BT.2020 color space are supported as well. Hi-res audio is also supported, including DSD at both 2.8 MHz and 5.6 MHz.
This model’s connectivity mainly comes in the form of Chromecast built-in and Spotify connect, but it also supports a few features missing from the other items on this list. Google Home support is included, meaning the STR-DN1070 can function as part of your smart home system. LDAC support is also included, which can wirelessly stream audio with more than three times the data of Bluetooth, enabling near hi-res sound quality.
The Best for Beginners
Why should you buy this: You value ease of use and quick setup over mile-long feature lists
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a receiver that you don’t need to memorize the manual to set up
How much will it cost: $480
Why we picked the Denon AVR-S720W:
This final model is aimed at those who want something that is not only affordable, but easy to set up. The 7.2-channel Denon AVR-S720 fulfills both of those requirements, while still bringing plenty of power and features along for the ride.
This model offers up 75 watts of power per channel at 8 ohms, as well as full 3D/4K/HDR pass-through. Unlike the Sony model above, this model even includes support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based surround sound. The AVR-S720 features six HDMI inputs and one output, all of which support HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2, as well as 4:4:4 Pure Color sub-sampling and BT.2020 color space.
Connectivity options are plentiful, including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Airplay, and the ability to stream from DLNA servers in your home. A fair number of streaming services are supported, as well as SiriusXM and internet radio. Hi-res audio support, including DSD at 2.8 MHz and 5.6 MHz in addition to standard formats, is also included.
Where the AVR-S720 really shines is in its setup, which uses Audessey MultEQ and graphical icons on the screen to offer one of the easiest to use interfaces on the market today.
How We Test
Collectively, the A/V team at Digital Trends has been testing A/V receivers for just over 30 years. Testing takes place both in a dedicated home theater lab at our headquarters in Portland, Oregon, as well as our individual home theater spaces.
Source equipment includes A Roku Ultra streaming set-top box, Oppo UDP-203 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player, Panasonic UBP900P 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player, Pioneer BDP-88FD Blu-ray player, U-turn Orbit turntable, iPhone 6S, Spotify, and Pandora. We also keep a Peachtree Nova 220 SE integrated amplifier nearby for reference.
Connected speakers include Dolby Atmos-enabled Pioneer Elite floorstanding, bookshelf and center channel speakers, Aperion Audio Verus Grand towers and center channel, Bowers & Wilkins CM8 S2 floorstanding speakers, Elac UB5, Paradigm Monitor 8 subwoofer, and GoldenEar technology SuperSub XXL,
Test material includes a wide array 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X surround encoding, Super Audio CDs, DVD-Audio discs, Redbook CDs, hi-res audio files, and Spotify’s high-quality (320 kbps) music streams.
While we routinely run any given receiver’s auto setup routine to gauge its accuracy and user experience, we ultimately perform a manual calibration using an analog SPL meter, carefully choosing crossover points for connected speakers based on in-room measured low frequency response. Surround speaker arrangements will vary between 7.2 and 5.2.4.
Receivers are tested for ease-of-use, with special attention paid to how easy it is to stream music to the receiver as well as direct-stream internet radio stations. We also pay attention to how clear on-screen guides and setup instruction will be for novice users.
Sound quality tests include analysis of dynamic expression, overall power, timbre, and tonality, speaker-to-speaker transitions of sound effects, and general soundstage quality.
Is Now a Good Time to Buy?
For some time, the rate at which features were being added made buying any A/V receiver a risky proposition if you didn’t want to be stuck with something that quickly went out of date. With 4K, HDR, HDMI, and HDCP seemingly having everything worked out for the 4K era, it’s much safer to buy a receiver now without worrying that you’ll quickly end up out of date. Dolby Atmos and DTS:X seem entrenched as the two major leaders in object-based surround sound — no surprise, given the lead both Dolby and DTS have generally had in surround sound technologies — so you should be safe there too.
The one area that could possibly change is hi-res audio, as even many of the above models don’t support everything possible. If this is very important to you in a receiver, you may want to consider a separate DAC. For everyone else, it’s a fairly safe bet than any of the above models should keep you happy for a long while.
- 4K: Higher resolution than HD (3840 x 2160). Quickly becoming the standard for new TVs.
- Dolby Atmos: One of the two most popular object-based surround formats, Atmos adds height information so sound can seem to come from above and all around you.
- DSD: Direct-Stream Digital. A hi-res audio file format alternative to .WAV, .AIFF, and others that aims to reduce distortion.
- DTS:X: The other most popular object-based audio format, DTS:X can be more flexible than Dolby Atmos when it comes to where speakers are placed and how many of them there are.
- HDCP 2.2: A form of copy protection, this version is required in order to play 4K content.
- HDMI 2.0a: While it isn’t the newest version of HDMI, this version is the first that allows HDR signals and 4K content at up to 60 frames per second.
- HDR: High Dynamic Range, offers better contrast and more color volume than standard dynamic range. Considered by some a bigger visual improvement than 4K resolution.