Get High Quality Video With The Best AV Receivers
AV receivers (alternately, A/V receivers) act as an electronic gateway or organizer for your home entertainment system, and consolidate the function of multiple devices into a single box. Modern AV receivers offer several HDMI inputs and an ARC-capable output, with higher-end units featuring advanced video processing as well. Better AV receivers offer superior sound quality, which can immerse viewers in the "atmosphere" that movie directors intended. The best AV receivers in 2021 below offer excellent options for expanding your home audio or theater system, and we’ve also provided an AV Receiver buyer's guide below for your review.
Sony STR-DN1080 7.2 Channel Surround Sound AV Receiver
Yamaha RX-V685 7.2-Channel AV Receiver
Denon AVR-S750H 7.2 Channel AV Receiver
Sony STR-DH590 5.2 Channel AV Receiver
The Best AV Receiver Models of 2021 in Detail
If you think you've seen a similar-looking Sony receiver recommended here before, that's because the STR-DN1080 replaces our previous top pick, the STR-DN1050. Once again, Sony's top offering carries the just-right combination of features and performance, balanced by a reasonable price and widespread availability.
Outwardly, the STR-DN1080 looks entirely familiar. The cabinet is slightly smaller than before, but not much has changed with the front panel. The volume and input selector knobs taking up the right side, joined by a row of slim buttons that underline the LCD. As always, it's an understated look that doesn't draw undue attention to itself, while giving off a quietly premium air. The rear panel is more of the same; all of the ports are laid out in a logical manner and labeled clearly. Out back, there are 6 HDMI inputs and a pair of HDMI outputs for multi-room flexibility. As expected in 2019, analog connectivity is at a bare minimum, with two composite video inputs (joined by a single composite video output) and 4 individually marked RCA audio inputs. Each of the speaker terminals is compatible with banana plugs, including the dedicated set for the zone 2 output terminals.
As with its predecessors, wireless connectivity is a particular strong suit. The STR-DN1080 can connect to your home network via Ethernet or Wi-Fi, depending on your setup and proximity to networking equipment. Both Apple AirPlay and Google Chromecast are natively supported, and the STR-DN1080 goes one step further by offering Google Home connectivity to wirelessly control any other Sony audio product in your setup. Beyond that, there's the tried-and-true Bluetooth connection for easy playback with smartphones and tablets.
We've always been impressed with how Sony receivers sound, and the STR-DN1080 continues that trend. One of the biggest new additions to the STR-DN1080 is Dolby Atmos support, adding separate height channels to the sound stage. The built-in automatic speaker calibration system can adjust to include height channels, and is capable of tailoring the sound stage to your particular setup by compensating for imperfect speaker placement. Overall, the STR-DN1080 provides reliable output with accurate sound, though we've seen feedback from more critical users regarding an overly "cool" or "impersonal" sound with treble-heavy speakers. We feel that the STR-DN1080 is more than suitable for home theater usage, and holds its own with music playback as well.
The STR-DN1080 is Sony's top A/V receiver offering (not counting the custom installation line), and represents the best combination of features and performance. It's equipped with plenty of digital connectivity for most homes, and the Google Chromecast/Home/Assistant compatibitily makes it a great choice to integrate within a smart home as well. Between its solid construction and Sony's reputation for reliability, the STR-DN1080 earns our recommendation as the best A/V receiver overall.
Where most A/V receivers do their best to be all things to all people, Yamaha takes a different approach when building their units. As you would expect from a company that was created to produce musical instruments, Yamaha's upscale A/V receivers tend to focus on sound quality and flexibility around equipment that audio enthusiasts prize.
A/V receivers tend to carry a similar look due to their required equipment and functionality, but the RX-V685 manages to stand out with an instantly identifiable design. The front face carries an almost two-tone appearance, with the glossy top section dominated by the display and function buttons. The bottom section houses the important controls, with a prominent volume knob and input control buttons. It takes a minute to decipher each button, but the advantage is that there are no shared functions between them - each button performs a designated task.
The RX-V685 veers from its competition when it comes to connectivity, though the array of ports is relatively similar. It strikes us as somewhat odd that Yamaha would only include 5 HDMI inputs on the RX-V685 when most of its rivals offer 6 to 8, but those 5 inputs should cover the needs of the vast majority of home theater systems regardless. A pair of HDMI outputs is offered (HDMI 1 supports ARC) for multiple display options. Surprisingly, the RX-V685 includes a single component video input in addition to the composite video input - a rarity in today's increasingly HDMI-centric world. A dedicated phono input makes this receiver a great choice for turntable enthusiasts, and other analog audio components can be connected via the 2 stereo RCA inputs. There's also plenty of flexibility with speaker outputs - the RX-V685 can drive 7 channels in its standard arrangement, and two of the four rear channels can be diverted for height speakers (think Dolby Atmos) or to drive speakers in a different room. Two subwoofer pre-outs are included, and the front channel enjoys its own set of pre-outs if your system includes separately powered stereo speakers.
One of the characteristics that define Yamaha products is their audio performance, and the RX-V685 does not disappoint. Not only does this receiver pack plenty of power, it's clear that Yamaha's expertise in delivering a truer, lifelike sound is baked into this unit by default. The RX-V685 is most likely to appeal to picky audiophiles who are limited by space or budget, but anyone can enjoy how this receiver performs when paired with a decent set of speakers. Yamaha's YPAO acoustic calibration is present, and receives a notable upgrade via its R.S.C. technology that can compensate for reflections in the room. The RX-V685 is well-suited for home theater use and stereo listening alike, and the front-channel pre-outs are a deliberate nod towards enthusiasts who prefer to use a dedicated amplifier for critical listening instead.
The one major downside to the RX-V685 is its price - at $550 at the time of writing, it's one of the most expensive A/V receivers we're recommending, and pricier than its direct rivals. Then again, the RX-V685 comes with several enthusiast-centric features that are otherwise not available in this price range. Between its top sound quality and unique options to connect specialty equipment, the Yamaha RX-V685 is worth the reach if your priorities place sound quality and performance over having the most inputs or general affordability.
Denon has been a reliable presence in the A/V receiver market for decades, and plenty of their receivers have been featured on our pages. The AVR-S750H is the latest revision of Denon's 'goldilocks' receiver - outstanding audio quality and plenty of features balanced out by a palatable price tag. For this year, Denon kept the basic formula carried over from previous models, and added a sprinkling of technology updates to keep up with ever-evolving digital standards.
The AVR-S750H looks very much like its direct predecessor, the AVR-S740H. Even when placed side by side, the two units share the same overall design - right down to identical button placements. The AVR-S750H remains one of the few A/V receivers to retain a convenient front-mounted HDMI port, and the emphasis on easy access continues with the redundant input select buttons if you would prefer not to use the selector knob instead. Even the rear panel remains unchanged - you'll find 5 more HDMI inputs and a single HDMI output. Look closely, however; you'll see that the HDMI ports are now compatible with HDCP 2.3, and the output now supports eARC. They're ultimately subtle differences, but go a long way towards future-proofing your equipment. Analog video connectivity has been pared down to a mere 2 composite video inputs and one composite video output - anything requiring component video plugs will need to go through a converter. One nice surprise is the inclusion of a phono input, which remains unchanged from the AVR-S740H. Overall connectivity is competitive for the class, and should fit the vast majority of home theater systems.
While the design may not have changed much, the AVR-S750H is thoroughly modern when it comes to smart home integration. Denon's own HEOS streaming software is built in, and there's plenty of support for HEOS-enabled devices. Beyond the in-house support, the receiver can link with Alexa or Google Assistant for hands-free operation. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are also present; the former has been updated to enable Bluetooth playback to a connected device (as opposed to receive-only) such as a headset. Apple AirPlay is supported as well, and works with multi-room setups.
The 2019 AVR-S750H sounds similar to the AVR-S740H, which is to say natural, lifelike, and not overly processed. The two rear channels can be reassigned to support a true Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 setup; if those speakers are used in a 7-channel setup instead, the AVR-S750H now supports Height Virtualization Technology to create a similar effect without requiring additional speakers. Rather than bring things in-house, Denon continues to utilize Audyssey's MultEQ calibration suite; this setup works especially well if you're unable to physically move some of your speakers, as it can compensate for response times to create a truer soundstage.
The AVR-S750H is - just like the models it replaces - a solid midrange A/V receiver with a well thought-out design and excellent performance. There's plenty of room for accommodating most home theater systems, and the intuitive controls and up-to-date compatibility make the AVR-S750H a great option for just about anyone. Better still, it's reasonably priced considering its capabilities, and Denon's immense retailer network means finding the AVR-S750H online or in stores is never a problem.
Building a home theater setup from scratch is always a pricey proposition, and the cost alone will turn newcomers away in favor of a sound bar. Sony offers an enticing solution to this issue with the STR-DH590, a solid 5.2-channel A/V receiver that focuses solely on quality and performance without tacking on price-bloating features.
The STR-DH590 looks much like the rest of Sony's A/V receiver lineup. The front panel is sleek and unobtrusive, relying on a simple display and a pair of large knobs to control the volume and input selection. Out back, there's a total of 4 HDMI inputs and a single HDMI output with full ARC support. There's no analog video connectivity here, so older video game consoles and DVD players will need to be hooked up directly to the TV instead. The front left and right channel speakers can be wired via banana plugs, but the center and rear surround channels are relegated to spring clips only - disappointing, but not entirely surprising given the budget-friendly price. On the other hand, the STR-DH590 is equipped with two subwoofer pre-outs, allowing the use of a pair of powered subwoofers without having to daisy-chain them instead. One feature Sony opted to include is Bluetooth audio, making it easier to pair a phone or tablet for music playback without messing with wires.
The main draw of the STR-DH590 lies with its performance. The STR-DH590 packs enough power to drive just about any speaker setup; even with just a pair of front channels, the Virtual Front Surround feature utilizes sound processing to create a surround-like sound stage. Despite being an entry-level model, Sony includes an auto calibration tool that can compensate for imperfect speaker placement and extract the most performance out of the whole setup. With a $250 price tag (often lower when on sale), the STR-DH590 leaves breathing room in your budget to build the rest of your system.
AV Receiver Buyer's Guide
An AV receiver (AVR) is popularly considered the brain behind the home theater system. It is the processor of all the audio and video components and signals. An AVR is the hub where everything is organized and routed to the various sound and video outputs for your entertainment pleasure.
A good quality AV receiver is essential to any home theater system. With so many brands, models, and functions available, knowing which one is best can be tricky. In this guide, we’ll help you pick the best AVR for your needs.
How to Choose the Best AV Receiver for Your Home Theater
Consider the following key factors as a starting point in choosing an AV receiver.
Type of Receiver
Before you even start looking, determine whether your receiver is for music only or television (or both). If you are connecting the receiver to stereo speakers for music only, what you're looking for is a stereo receiver. For home theater system surround sound, or for dual-purpose music and movies, make sure it is an AV (audio/video) receiver.
Receivers can be bulky and need enough ventilation space to prevent overheating. AVRs are much larger than stereo receivers due to the increased number of components they house. Allow 20 inches for depth when considering where you are going to place the receiver. Keep in mind that you will need a sturdy shelf or cabinet. A plastic or fragile glass shelf won’t cut it.
It is recommended to leave at least 6 inches above the receiver for ventilation. Keeping it cool will extend its lifespan. If you are tight on space you can additionally get a fan kit to keep the air circulation optimal.
Simply put, the more connectivity your receiver offers, the better. Not only do you want to be able to connect all the gadgets you have now, but you want to future-proof your home theater equipment.
New devices and gadgets will eventually be added to your home theater system functions. You want to make sure there is space and functionality for them. A minimum of 4 HDMI inputs is highly recommended. This way you can connect a cable box, game console, Blu-ray player, and another input for future additions.
Is your AV receiver Compatible?
There are important features to look for in your new AVR to ensure it works with television sets manufactured recently as well as future versions. You also want to make sure your video devices such as Apple TV, Roku, and game consoles are compatible. To do this, look for the following:
4K Video Switching
4K switching is about connecting multiple 4K-capable devices to one display through your AV receiver. Even if you don’t have a 4K TV now, you will most likely have one in the future. This will ensure you can hook up any video sources, like Apple TV and a Blu-ray player.
Dolby Atmos Compatibility
Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are surround sound formats designed to make your home theater audio more impressive and immersive by projecting sound upwards. Most new AVRs can play both formats, but you'll need a dedicated set of upward-firing speakers to take advantage of the effect.
HDR formats are high-dynamic-range video formats that offer more "pop" to the image through visual processing. This means you will have a larger brightness and color range than standard formats. You want to ensure your receiver is equipped to handle the major HDR formats: namely, HDR10 and Dolby Vision. This will, once again, help to future-proof your receiver for new technology.
As a side note: HDR10+ is often touted as a competitor to Dolby Vision, but this format is almost universally exclusive to Samsung TVs for the time being. As well, there's another HDR standard called HLG, but it's far from commonplace and is seen as a developing technology.
Connecting your system to your home network is what allows you to stream movies and watch YouTube on your television. If you are unable to run the necessary wires through walls for connectivity, going wireless is a fantastic and convenient alternative.
Check the Number of Channels
Think of one channel as one speaker. You want to ensure your receiver has plenty of channels for all the speakers you have and those you plan on adding. If you want surround sound, opt for a receiver with at least five to seven channels.
You may see the number of channels expressed as x.1 or x.2 in most cases. The "x" in this case represents the number of audio channels supported by the receiver, while the number after the decimal point represents how many subwoofers can be connected. For example, a 5.1-channel receiver means 5 channels (typically front left, front right, center, rear left, rear right) along with one subwoofer.
More recently, higher-end receivers feature channels expressed with three numbers such as 7.2.2. The first two digits are equivalent to a 7.2 system (7 channels, 2 subwoofers), but what's the third? It refers to the number of Dolby Atmos channels (upward-firing) supported by the receiver. In this case, this theoretical receiver offers a left and right upward firing component.
Bonus AV Receiver Features You Shouldn’t Miss
Multi-room AV Receiver
Some receivers allow you to watch two different shows on different TVs at the same time. You could also have your home theater on in one room while streaming music in several other rooms.
Multi-room (or multi-zone) AV receivers that come with their own built-in wireless capability are controllable through an app. Alternatively, you can add wireless capabilities to almost any sound system by connecting a small external device.
AV Controller App
This is an incredibly handy detail to check for. Many of the latest home theater receivers are equipped with a full function remote control App feature. This means you can have control of your entire system and the audio from your iPhone, tablet, or computer from any room in the house.
AV Receiver FAQ
Q: When should you upgrade an AV receiver?
A: If you have a home theater receiver older than 5 years, it is recommended that you upgrade. It might still work just fine, but once you experience the newest sound and video quality improvements you won’t regret it. You also want to upgrade your AV receiver if you get a new television. This way you can take full advantage of all the new audio, video, and control features.
Q: Does an AV receiver come with a warranty?
A: When you purchase your receiver from an authorized dealer, it generally comes with a 1- or 2-year warranty. You will get support from the manufacturer as well as phone and email support from the dealer. Check before you make the purchase that the seller is an authorized dealer of the product you are buying. It's tempting to save a few bucks up front, but purchasing from an unauthorized reseller will mean your warranty is invalid.
Q: Do more expensive AV receivers sound better?
A: In general, a better-quality receiver will cost you more. Better quality means a better power supply and more robust components, essentially resulting in better sound and less distortion. In some cases, more expensive AVRs use better parts which gives your product a longer lifespan. It is, however, always best to compare the specs in conjunction with the price before making your final decision.