There will come a day when we won’t need A/V receivers anymore. A new wireless speaker technology, already adopted by Bang & Olufsen and Klipsch, puts all the amplification hardware right inside the speakers, leaving only source switching and signal processing left to deal with — and you don’t need big black box for that. But that day is a ways off, so for now, the receiver remains the hub of a quality home theater system.
If you’re looking to upgrade, then research has probably led you to discover , somewhat frustratingly, that picking the right A/V receiver is kind of difficult. Even today’s entry-level models are packed with the sort of features that you had to pay a handsome premium for just five years ago. So, how do you tell which is the best anymore?
Since a receiver’s list of features isn’t the quality barometer it once was, the advice of professionals and friends has never been more valuable. Truth be told, most of the major manufacturers are turning out quality equipment at all price levels. What makes a receiver the right choice for you is a balanced blend of sound quality (and character), flexibility, and general user experience.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to shopping for a receiver, so we’ve assembled our favorites for this year below, cost no object. Rest assured that any of the receivers on this list are should more than fulfill your needs, some with a few more fun bells and whistles than others, but all of them great-sounding options.
Anthem MRX 710 ($2,000)
The Anthem MRX 710 is not a receiver to be trifled with. More like a set of high-end separates than a receiver, the MRX 710 delivers sound that is as musically satisfying as it is cinematically energizing. Expect eight HDMI inputs and dual HDMI outputs, along with 4K upscaling and pass-through. The 7.1-channel receiver also comes bundled with the Anthem Room Correction System, aka “ARC,” allowing you to professionally calibrate the receiver’s output using an independent USB microphone, microphone stand and a laptop computer. It’s even adorned with a slew of great speaker configuration options and a robust power supply that delivers 120 real-world watts per channel. While not compatible with Dolby Atmos, the MRX 710 remains one of the most sonically-satisfying receivers we’ve ever experienced. Hands on review
Available from: Anthem
Sony STR-DA5800ES ($2,100)
Sony’s STR-DA5800ES took the home theater world by storm at its introduction, and it’s been gathering up the accolades ever since. Though its front face is a little bit “busy” with buttons and little pedestrian in this modern age, what lies beneath all that black metal is a powerhouse of premium audio performance — easily the finest receiver Sony has made in years, and one of the best on the market today. Unique to this receiver is a four-port Ethernet hub, making a shared Internet connection with multiple devices a snap. On board are 8 HDMI inputs and three HDMI outputs. This Sony monster is capable of delivering up to 9.2-channels — each at 130 watts — with an array of distinct speaker configurations possible. 4K and 3D pass-through are also part of the package. Also unique to this receiver is its home automation capabilities, thanks to built-in support for Control4 systems. Want to dim the lights and close the curtains from your receiver? The DA5800ES can do exactly that. At this time, this receiver does not support Dolby Atmos.
Available from: Amazon
Pioneer Elite SC-89 ($3,000)
What separates Pioneer’s Elite SC-89 from most receivers on our roundup is its ability to decode and play back Dolby Atmos-encoded Bl-ray titles after a quick firmware update. In essence, the new technology adds another layer to surround sound, elevating the soundstage beyond the norm and imbuing it with a greater sense of precision and height. The receiver also boasts 9.2 channels which you can reconfigure 11 different ways, as well as seven HDMI inputs and two outputs. Perhaps most importantly, Pioneer’s MCACC auto-calibration system allows users to keep, modify, or discard entirely any of the resulting system settings, allowing for the perfect balance between time-aligned surround effects and musicality. With 850-watts of digital multi-channel power on board, you’ll not be wanting for headroom when the room-shaking scenes in your favorite flicks come around.
Available from: Amazon
Marantz SR7009 ($2,000)
Like the aforementioned Pioneer Elite SC-89, Marantz’s latest offering is ready for Dolby Atmos after a quick and easy update. 125 watts of 9-channel power are available in several configurations to support an Atmos setup. , it additionally comes equipped with 8 HDMI inputs and three HDMI outputs. For hardcore enthusiasts, a 13.2 channel pre-amp output makes the SR7009 a real option as a pre-amp controller for a seriously high-end system. High-res audio fans will appreciate outstanding onboard DACs capable of streaming DSD 2.8 Mhz files, as well as just about any other high-res file type. It’s outfitted with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (both add-on features with many receivers), so you can stream a bevy of content from various streaming services or your smartphone without having to worry about adding in dongles. Eight HDMI inputs should handle most compliments of devices, with 4K upscaling nicely rounding out the feature set. One of the warmest, most musical receivers on our list, Marantz is a favorite among those who demand a warm, musical sound, and is now a top choice for those who want every feature they can get their hands on.
NAD T787 ($4,000)
The appeal of the high-end NAD T787 is made of the stuff audiophiles love to drool over, like modular construction and dual, toroidal transformers that deliver separate power to both front and surround sound channels. The T787’s 120 watts of continuous power per channel rating is real-world power — enough for demanding speaker loads. Conectivity includes seven HDMI inputs and two HDMI outputs, in addition to an XM Satellite Radio input and a host of presets for customizing different sources or program material. The 7.1-channel analog input and preamp output make it a solid option for those with premium source components and external amplifiers too. For purists who love quality construction as much as they do real-world specs, there is no better choice on our list.
Available from: Audio Advisor
Denon AVR-S900W ($500)
Denon has been making some of the most desirable A/V receivers for the past decade, and this budget-friendly offering might be its most attractive yet. Offering a welcome selection of features for its mid-level price point, the S900W delivers 90-watts to 7 channels, offers Ultra-HD and 4K video pass-through, HDMI 2.0, and support for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Apple’s Airplay. With support of up to eight Bluetooth-enabled devices at once, you need not worry about sharing DJ duties among friends. For those looking for a power-packed punch that won’t drain the wallet, we can think of no more suitable choice.
Yamaha Aventage RX-A2040BL ($1,600)
In a nutshell, the RX-A2040 is an over-built 9.2-channel receiver which you can expand to 11.2 channels with the addition of an external amplifier. It supports the latest HDMI 2.0 standard, which enables Ultra-HD pass-through and up conversion to 60 fps, along with wireless functionality that allows you to tap into Pandora, Spotify, and a laundry list of streaming services. It also supplies 140-watts into nine separate channels, and though it doesn’t feature Dolby Atmos compatibility directly out of the box, you can update the firmware to reap the benefits of Atmos-enabled speakers, or discreet in-ceiling channels. It handles most high-resolution audio formats and file types, so you should have little concern when playing FLAC, WAV, or nearly any other file. Yamaha’s premium Aventage line offers a clean, clear sound with plenty of punch, and just a bit of extra sparkle up top — perfect for more laid back speaker systems.
Onkyo TX-NR838 ($1,200)
If there’s a feature this powerhouse receiver doesn’t have, then you probably don’t need it. It is both HDCP 2.2 and HDMI compatible, meaning it is prepared for the future of 4K UHD. Top-notch DACs offer on-board decoding for nearly any type of audio format you could possibly throw at it, including Dolby Atmos and DSD. Wi-FI and Bluetooth are both built right in, so it’s ready for streaming music right out of the box, and vinyl lovers will appreciate the built-in moving magnet phono input. Most importantly, Onkyo’s receivers are known for their potent, meaty sound that brings excitement to music and exhilaration to movies. Somehow, Onkyo manages to pull all of this off while keeping the price low. But don’t let the sub-$1,000 price fool you – this receiver will stand toe-to-toe with any other on this list.