Three components are required to create a home theater system: a TV (or projector), speakers, and an AV (audio / video) receiver. An AV receiver is the piece that connects the source of your audio — a record player, for instance — to your speakers. This piece of equipment can also carry a video signal from a game console, Blu-ray player, or PC to your television.
What makes AV receivers special is they can handle both tasks at the same time. If you're playing a video game, the AV receiver can route audio to the speakers and video to your television without any lag. AV receivers may not get as much attention as a big-screen 4K TV or floor-standing speakers, but it's just as important, so don't skimp out when you get one. If you're setting up your first home theater system, or upgrading the one you already have, having the best AV receiver is a good place to start.
How We Picked the Best AV Receivers
Our AV receiver recommendations are based on a mix of research and hands-on testing. Below are the factors we considered most highly when deciding which AV Receivers to include in this buyer's guide.
Inputs: The amount of inputs an AV receiver has will determine how many components can be hooked up to it at the same time. Modern AV receivers are typically equipped with several HDMI ports, RCA (red, yellow, and white) ports, and ports that allow you to add a subwoofer to your system. You probably won't upgrade your AV receiver very often, so it's very important to choose one that has enough inputs to handle all of your gear.
Phono Amp: Some AV receivers have a built-in phono preamp, which means they can amplify the sound of a turntable to a listenable level. Many newly made record players have a built-in phono preamp, but many older ones don't. High-end turntables are specifically designed without a preamp because the companies are totally focused on making sure the table itself is as good as possible. The bottom line is that if you care about listening to records, you should get an AV receiver with a phono amp.
Wireless Connectivity: An AV receiver’s inputs are important, but we also like models that allow you to stream media to them wirelessly over Bluetooth or WiFi. Let's face it, it's convenient to stream music from your phone to your speakers, so you should think about getting an AV receiver that supports this feature.
Stereo or 5.1: The world of AV receivers can be broken down into two categories: Stereo and 5.1.
Stereo AV receivers can be connected to two speakers — and a subwoofer in many cases — and are a good option if you don't have a lot of space for speakers in your home theater. Stereo AV receivers are also a good choice if you're primarily going to listen to music, which is generally mixed in stereo only.
A 5.1 AV receiver can be connected to five speakers, plus a subwoofer, which allows you to listen to music, watch movies, and play games in surround sound. The media you're enjoying needs to have a surround-sound audio mix in order for you to take full advantage of all five speakers, and you'll need enough space for all that hardware, but we think it's worth the investment for serious movie lovers and gamers. The level of audio immersion you experience from a 5.1 surround-system is truly incredible, and getting the right AV receiver is key.
Maximum Video Resolution: An AV receiver can pass a video signal between your source component and TV, but make sure to get one that supports resolutions up to 4K for the best experience. If you get an AV receiver that only supports full HD video, you won't be able to watch 4K movies or play games in 4K on your 4K TV. The AV receiver will require you to lower your source component's video output resolution, which in turn will make whatever you're trying to enjoy look blurrier than it should on your TV.
Size: AV receivers can get very large, which is cumbersome if you're trying to set up a home theater system in a smaller space. We've done our best to find AV receivers of different sizes to help you find the one that best fits your area.
Best AV Receivers: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Marantz NR1711
Why It Made The Cut: In terms of performance, features, and industrial design, Marantz's NR1711 has no peers.
— Type: 5.1
— Phono Preamp: Yes
— Wireless Connectivity: Yes
— Compact size
— Support for 8K video passthrough and Dolby Atmos
— Smarthome support
— Cumbersome menu navigation
If not for its fairly steep (though totally justified) price, Marantz's NR1711 is the only AV receiver we'd recommend.
Marantz clearly took the time to study the most significant complaints people have with AV receivers, and addressed them. That starts with size: The NR1711 is an extremely compact piece of tech. In fact, it's the only model in this guide that would fit comfortably in the media console we typically use for testing. Other receivers would have to sit on the side of our system, but the NR1711 slid right onto the shelf.
Surprisingly, Marantz didn't have to cut any important features to achieve the NR1711's smaller footprint. It's outfitted with five HDMI ports, six sets of RCA ports, three sets of component inputs, a phono preamp, an Ethernet jack, and an antenna port to catch radio waves. We tested multiple inputs during our time with the NR1711, and it never let us down. Audio sounded clear through the HDMI and phono inputs, and 4K video was delivered to our TV without a hitch.
Our only complaint is that you'll likely need to jump through menus on your TV and this receiver if you want to play 4K games with HDR (high dynamic range) enabled. In our case, this capability required turning the HDMI ports on our TV to their "enhanced mode," and scrolling through the NR1711's barebones-but-usable user interface to make sure 4K/8K video passthrough was enabled. This is annoying, but if you have the correct cables and a little patience, it won't take very long.
We tested the NR1711 by listening to audio in stereo (two speakers), 5.1 surround-sound (six speakers), and Dolby Atmos (eight speakers), and never had any issues. The receiver immediately noticed what audio was being sent from the source, and played it without any futzing around. The AV receiver's front display would broadcast what type of audio was playing, so it was easy to see if we were accidentally playing the stereo version of a song that was available in the Dolby Atmos format. In every case, music, movies, and video game soundtracks sounded incredible. This is due, in part, to the Q-Acoustics speakers we were using, but the NR1711 did a lot of the heavy lifting. Again, our only frustration was having to navigate through the settings menu before playing games.
This AV receiver supports both Bluetooth and AirPlay 2, a WiFi media streaming technology that allows you to directly connect Apple products — the iPhone, iPad, or Mac — to your TV, speaker, or other device. In our experience, both technologies are implemented well here. We had no trouble finding, selecting, and streaming both audio and video to the NR1711 from an iPhone and iPad. Wireless streaming will always be a nice-to-have feature, especially if this AV receiver is located in your living room, where you may want to relax with some music after a long day, or entertain friends. On that note: If you like vinyl, you'll be happy to hear the NR1711 has a phono preamp built in, so you can connect your turntable directly with no additional components necessary.
We like that Marantz took the time to design the NR1711 with support for 8K video passthrough and Dolby Atmos, two cutting-edge technologies you can read a little more about later in this guide. Neither of these audio and video standards are mainstream right now, but they will be over time, and it's a smart idea to invest in an AV receiver that supports both to avoid the hassle of upgrading.
We couldn't find any significant faults with the NR1711 in the several months we've had to extensively test it, but this level of performance does come at a fairly steep cost. Its price tag is totally justified based on what the NR1711 has to offer — this may end up being the only AV receiver you have to buy, frankly — but something to keep in mind. If price isn't your top priority run, don't walk, to pick one up.
Best Budget: Sony STRDH190
Why It Made The Cut: The Sony STRDH190 offers more than you'd expect from a budget-priced AV receiver, and comes with both speaker cables and banana plugs.
— Type: Stereo
— Phono Amp: Yes
— Wireless Connectivity: Yes
— Bluetooth support
— Built-in phono preamp
— Comes bundled with accessories
— No HDMI ports
— No video passthrough
If all you want to do with your AV receiver is listen to music, which was the original idea for this type of device, look no further than the Sony STRDH190. This receiver has a phono input, four sets of RCA inputs, and an antenna port. It can't pass video from your source components to your TV, but that's not what this AV receiver was designed to do.
The STRDH190's inputs are complemented by a phono input, so you can easily use it with a record player, and support for Bluetooth, so you can stream music to it wirelessly from any device. These aren't features you'll find in many budget-priced AV receivers, so it was nice to see them here. Another nicety is that Sony includes both speaker cable and banana plug (a type of connector that makes it easy to connect speakers to the AV receiver).
This AV receiver can only play music in stereo, which is the dominant way music is mixed, or mono if you're listening to music from the 1960s and 1970s. If you like listening to surround-sound mixes of select albums, you'll have to look elsewhere. Yes, the STRDH190 is a little barebones, but we felt it was important to recommend an AV receiver that's budget priced and specifically designed to meet the needs of music lovers. This AV receiver absolutely deserves a place in your living room or music listening room of choice.
Best for Gaming: Pioneer Elite VSX-LX105
Why It Made The Cut: If you want to play the highest-fidelity games in surround sound, the Pioneer Elite VSX-LX105 should be a core component of your setup.
— Type: 5.1
— Phono Amp: Yes
— Wireless Connectivity: Yes
— A wide range of inputs
— Up to 8K video passthrough
— Support for Dolby Atmos
— Large size
If not for its big size, Pioneer's Elite VSX-LX105 would have been a big contender for our best overall pick in our guide.
It's packed to the gills with inputs: six HDMI ports, four sets of RCA inputs, a phono preamp, one optical audio input, and an Ethernet jack. The HDMI ports can pass through both 4K and 8K inputs, so the latest PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X games should look phenomenal on your TV, with no loss in quality from the system to your set.
The Elite VSX-LX105's video capabilities are complemented by support for every form of surround sound, including Dolby Atmos for the best-possible experience. We like that Pioneer clearly labeled which speaker inputs to use for each speaker (right, left, surround, height, etc.) so you know you'll be setting it up properly. If you like wireless audio and video streaming, the Pioneer Elite VSX-LX105 should be the first AV receiver you should consider. It supports Bluetooth, AirPlay 2, and has a built-in Chromecast, which allows you to easily stream audio and video directly from an Android device.
This is the only AV receiver we're recommending that has support for a smart assistant — in this case the Google Assistant — built right into the device. This allows you to stream audio and video from any major service totally hands free. You can also use the Google Assistant to change the AV receiver's current input, or adjust settings like volume without having to reach for the remote. Little convenience features like this help the Elite VSX-LX105 stand out, and you may find yourself relying on them more often than you'd think.
The Elite VSX-LX105 doesn't have any significant downsides, but its fairly large size may be an issue in smaller spaces. That’s understandable, considering how much technology Pioneer fit inside this receiver, but it may cause an issue depending on the size of your media console. This stereo receiver is also fairly expensive, but again, you're getting quite a lot for your money, so it's a fair deal.
If you want a smart AV receiver that's built to handle the latest games, Pioneer's Elite VSX-LX105 is a rock solid choice.
Best For Streaming: Onkyo TX-8270
Why It Made The Cut: Onkyo's TX-8270 mix of wired and wireless connectivity options make it a great option for anyone who wants to stream their media and doesn't mind listening in stereo.
— Type: Stereo
— Phono Amp: Yes
— Wireless Connectivity: Yes
— Support for every wireless audio streaming technology
— 4K video passthrough
— Built-in Chromecast
— Stereo only, which may be bothersome to gamers
Onkyo's TX-8270 supports the same set of wireless streaming technologies as our other premium AV receiver recommendations, but at a far lower price.
While we're recommending the Onkyo TX-8270 for its wireless streaming abilities, it's still got a bunch of physical inputs. This AV receiver has four HDMI inputs, a phone input, three AV inputs, one Ethernet jack and two optical audio inputs. This means you can easily hook up all of your main audio and video components to the Onkyo TX-8270 and likely have one or two left over.
Now it's onto the main event: wireless media streaming. The Onkyo TX-8270 supports Bluetooth, AirPlay 2, and has a built-in Chromecast. It doesn't matter what device you have, or which streaming service you prefer using, the Onkyo TX-8270 will be able to work with it. Because this AV receiver can pass through audio and video in 4K, you shouldn't lose any quality when streaming media from your devices.
The main difference between the Onkyo TX-8270 and, say, the Marantz NR1711 is that this is a stereo-only AV receiver. If you're short on space, or don't care about surround sound at all, this won't be an issue. If you like to play games, however, you may miss the lack of 5.1 or Dolby Atmos support. You should also consider the fact that the Onkyo TX-8270 doesn't support 8K video passthrough. Again, this limitation doesn't matter right now, but could be an issue down the line. If you don't mind the fact that the Onkyo TX-8270 isn't totally future proof, that shouldn't be an issue.
If you're in the market for a stereo AV receiver that's designed for the wireless world, and compact enough to fit into most media consoles, the Onkyo TX-8270 is an outstanding choice.
Things to Consider Before Buying an AV Receiver
Here are the features you’ll want to weight when making your decision:
8K Video Passthrough: We're just getting to the point where it's easy to find true 4K videos on streaming services and discs, but 8K TVs have already started appearing on the market. If you want to live on the bleeding edge, consider getting an AV receiver that can pass through 8K video without any reduction in video quality. This won't be necessary today, but could help extend the life of your AV receiver.
Dolby Atmos: This audio technology can be considered the next generation of surround sound. Instead of mixing audio to come through a specific speaker, engineers can program sound in a 3D space. A Dolby Atmos audio setup requires you to invest in speakers that point upward (or downward if they're installed in a ceiling), so sound can hit your ears from in front of you, behind you, and above you.
When done well, a Dolby Atmos audio mix can sound far more realistic than a 5.1 audio mix. If this sounds interesting to you, or you plan on building a Dolby Atmos setup speaker by speaker, you need to get an AV receiver that supports this feature.
Q: Can an AV receiver work with a mix of speakers from different companies?
Yes. You can select whichever speakers you want when deciding how to build your home audio system, and connect them to any AV receiver you get. If you upgrade your receiver, you'll be able to keep the speakers, and vice versa.
Q: How do I responsibly dispose of my old AV Receiver?
If you're replacing an old AV receiver, we recommend reading our guide on how to responsibly dispose of e-waste.
Q: Do I need special cables to play 4K video through an AV Receiver?
Yes. To successfully play 4K video through an AV receiver, you'll need to get HDMI 2.1 cables. Frustratingly, these cables are physically identical to the older ones you may currently be using. We've had luck using these HDMI 2.1 cables during our AV receiver testing, and recommend replacing your old cords to ensure you have the best experience.
Final Thoughts on AV Receivers
AV receivers are an overlooked electronic device to most people, but they fill so many important functions if you're setting up a home theater. The ability to connect all of your source components to a single device, and control your whole setup with one remote, is very gratifying once you take the time to hook everything up. We're also happy to recommend AV receivers because they don't need to be upgraded very often — or, frankly, at all for most people — which is something of a rarity in the world of electronics.
We'll be honest, it'll probably take you a full afternoon to fully configure your AV receiver, especially if you just got an entirely new set of speakers, but the extra effort will be totally worthwhile. If you're setting up a home theater, you're probably prepared to spend a pretty penny on a nice TV and great-sounding speakers, but don't skimp on the AV receiver. One weak link in your setup will bring down the quality of the entire entertainment system.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.