With new HDMI 2.1 receivers on the horizon, it’s only a matter of time before we change our opinion on this subject, but the best A/V receiver you can buy right now is the Anthem MRX 1120. It works with all the latest audio and video standards (and then some) and comes with neat wireless features, making it well-equipped for the ongoing 4K Ultra HD revolution.
There are hundreds of A/V receivers available, with many offering support for the latest audio and video standards for gaming, movies, and music, including 4K Ultra HD, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, and HDR10. But with so many to choose from, how do you separate the wheat from the chaff? You let the experts at Digital Trends help you, that’s how. With a combined four decades in consumer electronics, our team has racked up countless hours putting tons of A/V receivers through their paces.
If the Anthem MRX 1120 isn’t quite right for your particular setup (or budget), stick with us below the fold for suggestions on other great A/V receivers that are worth your consideration.
The best A/V receivers at a glance:
- The best A/V receiver: Anthem MRX 1120
- The best cheap A/V receiver: Onkyo TX-SR393
- The best A/V receiver with phono input: Yamaha RX-A680
- The best A/V receiver for music: Yamaha RX-A1080
Why you should buy this: It offers fantastic sound and every feature you could want.
Who it’s for: Anyone who places a premium on top-notch sound.
Why we picked the Anthem MRX 1120:
Anthem is a well-known name among those who demand 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. The MRX 1120 packs a massive Toroidal power supply, offering a claimed 140 watts of clean power per channel at 8 ohms. It 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. And that’s just for starters.
The MRX 1120 also offers wireless multiroom connectivity via DTS Play-Fi. This is bolstered by built-in support for a number of popular music-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 and makes good use of the receiver’s 32-bit/768 kHz differential-output digital-to-analog converters (DACs).
When it comes to video, the MRX 1120 naturally offers support for 4K and high dynamic range (HDR) content in both HDR10 and Dolby Vision formats, with support for 4:4:4 chroma and BT.2020 colorspace. A built-in upscaler is also included, bringing standard and high-definition signals up to 4K quality, independent of your 4K TV’s internal upscaler. A total of eight HDMI inputs are included, all of which support HDMI 2.0a (for the aforementioned 4K/HDR device connections) and HDCP 2.2. There are also two HDMI and three digital audio outputs.
Finally, the Anthem MRX 1120 makes setup a snap via Anthem Room Correction software, which is one of the best room-calibration systems out there. The company even includes a high-quality mic and stand for measuring your room’s acoustic properties right in the box.
Why you should buy this: It fits easily within most people’s budgets, yet the Onkyo TX-SR393 still provides nearly every feature found on much more expensive receivers.
Who it’s for: Those who want a full-fledged home theater system without spending thousands.
Why we picked the Onkyo TX-SR393:
When it comes to A/V receivers, reducing your budget invariably means reducing the number of features. The key is to preserve as many of the features that most people value. The Onkyo TX-SR393 manages to do this is stellar fashion by supporting all of the latest audio and video formats like 4K, HDR (HDR10, HLG, and Dolby Vision), plus Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. It comes with its own acoustic calibration circuitry, which takes the guesswork out of setting up your speakers to the right levels.
Despite its support for height-enabled formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, the TX-SR393 does not actually have the ability to run both rear-surround and height channels. Instead, it uses a flexible configuration, letting you choose between these two scenarios. When you choose to run the receiver in a traditional 5.1 arrangement, you can still get the feel of height-based content through a Dolby Atmos Height Virtualizer or DTS Virtual:X, both of which can simulate a 5.1.2 system through software.
Although it has Bluetooth for direct music streaming from a compatible smartphone or tablet, the Onkyo TX-SR393 isn’t internet-connected so you won’t be able to stream music without a Bluetooth device.
Surprisingly for a budget system, the TX-SR393 has outputs for two subwoofers instead of the usual single-sub arrangement, and it packs a set of powered USB ports so that you don’t have to go looking for a power outlet when using a streaming stick like the Roku Streaming Stick Plus.
You only get four HDMI inputs, and the Onkyo TX-SR393 won’t be powering any rock concerts, but it’s more than enough receiver for a very satisfying home theater experience.
Why you should buy this: It has a dizzying array of modern features like Dolby Atmos, 4K, HDR, and streaming services plus a rare phono input.
Who it’s for: Those who want the latest and greatest A/V receiver features, plus an easy way to kick it old-school with vinyl for when the mood strikes you.
Why we picked the Yamaha RX-A680:
There is no lack of capable models to choose from when it comes to mid-range A/V receivers. But when you start to ask which of those models can support a turntable without the use of a pre-amp? Well, it’s a much shorter list. Chief among them is the Yamaha RX-A680, a full-fledged 5.2.2 A/V receiver that also packs a phono-input, which simplifies your setup considerably.
Don’t let its vinyl-friendly jacks fool you: This receiver is blistering with modern, high-tech features like 4K, HDR (HDR10, HLG, and Dolby Vision), HDCP 2.2, Dolby Atmos, and DTS:X. It’s part of Yamaha’s Aventage lineup of products, which the company claims can achieve better sound through better components. We’re definitely fans of the flexibility that’s been built-in to the RX-A680. You can run the rear surround channels as classic rear surrounds, or as height channels for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, or you can run them as powered second-zone stereo speakers if you have another location you want to wire up. On the wireless side of things, it gets even better. Bluetooth is standard as is Wi-Fi, which gives the receiver AirPlay compatibility. Cleverly, its Bluetooth connection is two-way, which means you can stream to the RX-A680 from a tablet or smartphone, but it can also stream out to wireless headphones or speakers.
If there’s one limitation to be aware of, it’s the small selection of HDMI inputs — you only get four, which means you may need to supplement with an HDMI switcher in the future.
Why you should buy this: It hits the sweet spot with abundant audio and video options, plus a new A.I.-powered surround sound system.
Who it’s for: Those who want total control over their A/V environment.
Why we picked the Yamaha RX-A1080:
We’ve called the Yamaha RX-A1080 the best A/V receiver for music, and with its Yamaha MusiCast multiroom wireless audio system and discrete phono input, that’s certainly true. It’s a 7.2.2 unit but with a twist: If you crave more power for your main channels (front, center, and rears) you can choose to use the included pre-amp outputs for these speakers and use a dedicated amplifier, instead of the powered speaker terminals.
But we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out just how capable this unit is as a powerhouse video system. Naturally, it has support for all of the latest A/V technologies: 4K, HDR (HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision), Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and HDCP 2.2. It’s ready for HDMI-eARC (with a software upgrade) and is compatible with hi-res audio files up to 32-bit/192 kHz.
But you also get some truly advanced features, like its three-way HDMI outputs. These ports give you the option of watching two different video sources on two separate screens simultaneously or the same signal on two screens at once. At the same time, you can use the third port to send uncompressed audio to a soundbar — though why you would do that when you already have a 7.1.2 system at your disposal is anyone’s guess. With seven HDMI inputs, you’ll have lots of room for expansion before needing to look into an external HDMI switcher.
We’re also intrigued by Yamaha’s Surround A.I., a machine-learning system that analyzes your audio and video signals in real time and optimizes the sound based on what’s happening on-screen. The RX-A1080 is the least expensive A/V receiver in Yamaha’s lineup that offers Surround A.I., making it a great choice for those who want leading-edge tech at a still-affordable price.
Research and buying tips
- Are some A/V receivers better for music than movies?
- Do all A/V receivers support 4K?
- What about 8K?
- Can I easily use an A/V receiver with a turntable?
No. Most receivers do very well for movies as well as music, with performance scaling up in tandem as you move into premium models. However, music can be more revealing of sound quality and character than movie soundtracks, and those who value music listening may find one brand more sonically satisfying than another.
Yes. All of the models we highlight support 4K and most also support HDR as well.
While 8K is available in some form or another today, the technology is still new and prohibitive for most people. There aren’t any consumer A/V receivers on our list that support 8K as of this writing, as the technology is still in its nascent stage.
As long as it has a phono input, yes. If not, you’ll need a phono preamp which can be quite affordable for entry-level models.
How we test
Collectively, the A/V team at Digital Trends has been testing A/V receivers for just over 40 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 Streaming Stick+, 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, various smartphones, Spotify, Tidal, and Pandora. We also keep a Peachtree Nova 220 SE integrated amplifier nearby for reference.
Connected speakers include a rotating cast of speakers, including many Dolby Atmos-enabled models. Past test speakers include Pioneer Elite floor standing, bookshelf and center channel speakers, Aperion Audio Verus Grand, Bowers & Wilkins CM8 S2, Elac UB5, Paradigm Monitor 8 subwoofer, and GoldenEar technology SuperSub XXL, though our assortment of test speakers constantly rotates with new models.
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 instructions 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 see the future pass you by. 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 high-resolution audio, as even many of the above models don’t support everything possible yet, though that is quickly changing as well. If this is very important to you in a receiver, you may want to consider a separate digital-to-analog converter (DAC).
Something else worth noting: You won’t get HDMI 2.1 with any of these models. The updated spec adds 48 gigabits-per-second in bandwidth to support video signals up to 120fps and up to 10K resolution, among other benefits. As nice as that is, the reality is that HDMI 2.1 won’t be very relevant for all but the most enthusiastic (and rich) cinephiles for some time. Hardware and content support for that level of fidelity is still in the infant stages, and it could be a few more years before that stuff takes off. Only wait for a newer receiver if you absolutely need to be future-proofed for the 8K (and higher) resolution or you need incredibly high framerates for gaming. For everyone else, it’s a fairly safe bet that 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.
- HDMI 2.1: Not yet widely available, HDMI 2.1 supports higher frame rates and up to 8K resolution, among other key benefits you can read about right here.
- HDMI eARC: eARC — or “enhanced audio return channel” — is an upgrade to the standard HDMI ARC interface. The tech was designed to allow one-cable transmission of audio and information to and from the TV to simplify home theater setups, but the eARC upgrade also adds full support for hi-res surround sound formats.
- 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.
- HDMI ARC and eARC: What they are and why you should care
- The best soundbars for 2020
- How to know if you’re actually getting Dolby Atmos sound
- Dolby Atmos: Why it’s awesome, and how to get it
- Sony and Bose soundbars go on sale for up to $300 off