Forget soundbars, if you really want to achieve the ultimate home theater experience, you really need a powerful AV receiver partnered to a multi-channel speaker package. With this sort of setup you can get up to 9 discrete channels of sound and effective digital signal processing to achieve the most tangible and immersive effect from the latest surround sound formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS: X, along with 8K capability and HDMI eARC.
Although we’ve not covered the AV receivers in this roundup individually, they’ve all been tested by our home theater expert in a domestic situation with a big-screen TV — such as one of our best 75-inch TVs — just as you would experience them in your own home. Our pick of the best AV receivers will help you do home cinema right.
Top 3 best AV receivers
The Denon AVR-X47000H sits at the top of our best receivers list for several reasons. For starters, the construction on this bad boy is elite. It supports nearly every audio format imaginable, plus it comes with an audio calibration system to ensure the highest accuracy possible. Furthermore, this 9-channel amp produces rich, layered sound that immerses you into films, sports events, soundtracks, or whatever else is playing on the TV screen. Consider the Denon AVR-X4700H if you fancy a louder-sounding alternative for a little extra.
The runner-up Marantz NR1711 is a 7-channel Dolby Atmos receiver that is ideal for smaller spaces, but can fill up rooms with spacious, dynamic audio. Listeners can connect to almost any type of audio source; it even comes with Bluetooth headphone support for private listening. We also love the slimline chassis that gives the receiver a luxe look.
Representing great value, the Denon AVR-X2700H provides an affordable jumping on point for the brand’s 2021 X-series AV receivers. The price tag hints at budget components, but in a smaller viewing room (rather than a cavernous theater), it defies expectations.
Take a look at our top picks for the best AV receivers.
The best AV receivers you can buy right now
A sonic tour de force, the X4700H is a jaw-dropping AV receiver with a class leading specification for movies and gaming. HDMI provision covers eight inputs, one of which is designated 8K. Generously, there are three outputs, with eARC support.
Advanced Audyssey calibration is very effective, sounding great in our testing room, and once optimised should give equally stunning results in pretty much any listening room. The X4700H is fantastically dynamic, able to cope with dramatic transients like a boss. Bass is tight and there’s a superbly articulate upper-midrange. Unfortunately it does suffer from an HDMI 2.1 bug when connected to the Xbox Series X, but you can order a device which fixes it. More on this below.
Marantz hasn’t changed the look of its half-height lifestyle NR AVR range for the best part of a decade, but we’re good with that because beneath the hood, there’s been constant evolution. The sonic signature is largely unchanged and it has a warm sound, rather than clinically precise. It’s perhaps a fraction less musical than some of its siblings further up the chain, but it’s undeniably fun to listen to.
You can run a 5.1.2 Atmos setup with a uniform 50W delivered across all 7 channels. There are six HDMI inputs, one labelled 8K, which supports 4K/120fps and 8K 60Hz. There’s only one HDMI output though, but the feature niceties include HEOS multiroom and AirPlay 2. If you don’t have a full multiroom speaker setup you can also use Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization and DTS:X Virtual to roughly emulate a 3D listening experience.
Denon’s AVR-X2700H provides an affordable jumping on point for the brand’s 2021 X-series AV receivers. The price tag hints at budget components, but in a smaller viewing room (rather than a cavernous theater), it defies expectations.
In our listening tests it gave a punchy delivery and has no problem with action-orientated soundtracks, plus it’s nuanced enough to portray subtle ambiance too. Power output is rated at 150W for multichannel, which is generous and it’ll support a 5.1.2 channel configuration or conventional 7.1 surround (depending on how you’ve set up your loudspeakers). There’s also 8K support, albeit via a single HDMI 2.1 input.
There’s something enduringly elegant about Marantz’s AV component design. The curved fascia with small porthole display speaks of legacy and old-school musicality. But don’t let that fool you, this AV receiver is also a movie beast on the cutting edge. We found its audio performance to be sublime, with effortless control of the soundstage. Never feeling under pressure, sonic placement is always precise.
A 9 channel model, it can be configured for 7.1.2. There’s also Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization and Virtual DTS: X, plus IMAX Enhanced certification, which means it’ll automatically change bass management handling for deeper bass when it recognises flagged content. The receiver has a single 8K-capable HDMI 2.1 input, while smart support covers Alexa and Google Assistant, as well as AirPlay 2.
Arcam is often cited as the connoisseur’s choice when it comes to home theatre. In addition to the usual list of immersive codecs, this high performing receiver comes with both Auro-3D compatibility and IMAX Enhanced certification. And, while the AVR30 is a 7-channel receiver, there’s processing headroom for 16 channels if you’re prepared to stack up extra amplification.
Calibration is best in class, thanks to Dirac Live, which does a first class job of optimising the AVR’s output to suit your listening room. Less exceptional is the lack of 2.1 compatibility; Arcam is offering a complete board swap, but this is a prohibitively expensive fix. Still, what the AVR30 lacks in mod cons, it makes up for in performance, proving capable of instantaneous highs, and solid plunging lows. Wireless support covers Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, with Google Chromecast and AirPlay 2 talents too.
How to choose the best AV receiver for you
Buying something as complex and multi-talented as an AV receiver can be overwhelming to a casual consumer, so if you’re serious about transforming your sound output into something more theater-like, start educating yourself on the necessities by familiarizing yourself with the things to consider.
Something to know right out of the gate is that most seven-channel AV receivers support a speaker configuration of 5.1.2, which is the standard 5.1 surround layout with two additional height/up-firing speakers. Models that feature nine channels of amplification can be used for either 5.1 with four Dolby height speakers (5.1.4) or 7.1 surround with two height channels (7.1.2). Speaker models such as those in the new Klipsch Reference series could make a great partnership for a home cinema setup, and has several upward-firing height speakers to meet Dolby Amos requirements.
Finding the best AV receiver isn’t just about HDMI inputs. Sure we like plenty of inputs, but the number of outputs are important too, particularly if you plan on running both a flatscreen and a projector in the same room.
If you’re considering an AV receiver as a connectivity hub for a music system as well as movies, then be sure to check out our guide to the best turntables for any budget. Many of the receivers available today come with a built-in moving-magnet phono stage to enable vinyl playback from any of the record decks we’ve tested.
Resolution and frame rate support
Do you need 8K or High Frame Rate HDMIs? If your AV receiver is unlikely to have a games console connected then the answer is no. In which case there’s some great deals to be had on AVRs with regular HDMI 2.0 inputs.
Dolby Atmos compatibility is a given (and by default that means you’ll get DTS:X too), but how many channels do you need? Given the option, 9 channels always trump 7, because it opens up more speaker options such as 5.1.4 or 7.1.2, for example.
Don’t have a full Dolby Atmos home theatre loudspeaker set up? Look for a model that offers height virtualisation technology, so you can enjoy an immersive audio experience even when you don’t have a full set of physical speakers.
Power isn’t just about roof-raising volume, and even if you’re not lucky enough to have a dedicated movie room, a model with big amplification makes sense. A high power output means an AVR can deliver dynamic transients, and pressure load a space without clipping or strain.
8K AV receivers HMDI 2.1 bug explained
While 8K, or more likely 4K at 120fps from a next-gen games console, is a compelling reason to upgrade your dusty old AV receiver, there’s an elephant-sized HDMI bug in the room we need to address.
The first generation receivers with 8K HDMI 2.1 input/s you can buy right now are known to suffer a compatibility issue that means some new 8K/4K source devices that offer a 4K/120fps or 8K video resolution output (we’re looking at you Xbox Series X) do not always pass the video signal through to the display.
This has left the likes of Denon, Marantz and Yamaha scrambling to find a solution. Consequently, Denon is supplying buyers of affected Denon and Marantz AV receivers an HDMI adapter box free of charge. The SPK618 sits between your console and AV receiver, and corrects the HDMI data allowing it to pass. Inelegant perhaps, but effective.
An alternate workaround for owners of affected AVRs is to connect their console directly to their 4K/120fps capable TV, and then route audio back to the AVR using the eARC HDMI connection.
Alternatively, gamers can just output from their console at 4K/60fps resolution (effectively the default premium display option anyway) and all will be fine and dandy.
Then again, you could hang fire and wait for new models. Yamaha says its new RX-A8A, RX-A6A and RX-A4A receivers use a next generation HDMI board which isn’t so afflicted.
How we test AV receivers
When testing models for inclusion in our best AV receivers page, we play a range of media — including movies, music and games — in order to evaluate overall sound quality performance. We also test any companion software that may come with an AV receiver, and factor in how easy it is to set up and use each receiver with a reference speaker system.
Other features we consider include the different kinds of connectivity options, all of which determine how well it will work with your home entertainment setup. We also take into account power output, the number of supported audio channels and subwoofer outputs, and available processing software for decoding movie soundtracks as well as their ability to handle music sources — all factors that greatly affect how each speaker will sound in your living room.
Once we complete our testing, we rate each AV receiver based on our five-point system (1 = worst, 5 = best). If a product hits nearly every mark, it’s awarded an Editor’s Choice badge.