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Best AV receivers: The most complete Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and multiroom AV receivers you can buy

Smart speakers and soundbars can pull off amazing feats of surround-sound trickery, but the best AV receivers are capable of so much more. For truly immersive home cinema, a top-notch AV receiver partnered with a bundle of speakers can make you feel like you’re right in the centre of the action, with sounds soaring around your living room.

An AV receiver (AVR) is the foundation of any great home cinema system. It processes the surround-sound data, powers the speakers, and acts as a switching hub for all your AV sources: Blu-ray players, set-top-boxes, media streamers and games consoles.

So which AVR is best for you? Read on and our buying guide will show you what you need to look out for and help you decide how much to spend. And if you’re specifically wondering about whether you should make the jump to an 8K AVR, head on down to our section on the 8K HDMI bug fiasco.

READ NEXT: The best soundbars and soundbases

Best AV receiver: At a glance

How to choose the best AV receiver for you

How much should I spend on an AV receiver?

Cheaper models will have fewer surround channels and less powerful amplifiers, so will generally be suited to smaller rooms that don’t have the space for large numbers of speakers, and which don’t need vast reserves of amplifier power to reach acceptable volumes.

As you spend more, AV receivers will come equipped with more powerful amplifiers and have the ability to connect more speakers to take full advantage of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks.

Do I need Dolby Atmos and DTS:X?

The latest Dolby Atmos and DTS:X surround-sound standards create a fully three-dimensional soundscape that allows sounds to move over and around you. Even some music is now being mixed or remastered to take advantage of this capability. If your AV receiver supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and you have height channels connected, you’ll hear the difference right away – it’s a big step up from standard 5.1 surround sound.

Dolby Atmos is the more widely supported of the two standards, and you’ll find it everywhere from blockbuster 4K Blu-ray movies to the latest hit shows from Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus. By comparison, DTS:X is limited to 4K Blu-ray discs at the moment.

How many channels do I need?

Entry-level Dolby Atmos AV receivers typically have seven channels of amplification: five for standard left/centre/right and two rear speakers for surround sound, plus two for front height duties. This is known as a 5.1.2 layout (the .1 is the dedicated subwoofer channel). Higher-end AV receivers may offer nine or even 11 channels of amplification, increasing the number of height and rear options (so 5.1.4 or 7.1.4).

Increasingly, only entry-level AVRs come without Atmos support – and they can still deliver incredible 5.1 surround sound. But we reckon Atmos is worth the step upwards even if you can’t house a full 5.1.2 or 7.1.2 setup in your lounge. There are an increasing number of compact Atmos speakers on the market, so an Atmos setup doesn’t need to completely dominate your living room – unless you want it to.

How important is power? How many watts per channel do I need?

For smaller rooms, it’s not worth worrying too much about how many watts per channel an AV receiver can produce, but bigger rooms will need serious wattage to reach wall-shaking volumes. For that, you’ll need to be looking at larger, pricier AV receivers that can cleanly pump out lots of power to all the speakers you have connected.

We quote the manufacturer’s claimed power figures under every review, but our advice is to take them with a pinch of salt: the numbers are hardly ever comparable, thanks to manufacturers using different measuring methodologies. For instance, some brands quote the maximum power output while driving only one speaker, which is hardly a representative measurement for a surround-sound system. Whatever you do, make sure you read the small print.

READ NEXT: The best TVs for next-gen gaming

How many HDMI inputs and outputs do I need?

Entry-level models will most likely have four inputs, while higher-end models will have at least double that. More is always better. Don’t forget to check the number of HDMI outputs an AV receiver has, too. If a receiver has two, you can connect both a TV and a projector simultaneously.

It’s also worth remembering that all AV receivers support ARC (Audio Return Channel) or the newer eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel) standard. A single HDMI cable connected to the ARC-enabled HDMI sockets on your TV and AV receiver can carry audio and video back and forth as required. So, if you have several sources connected directly to the HDMI inputs on your TV, the audio will play through your AV receiver (provided your TV also supports an ARC connection).

What other features should I look out for?

HDMI eARC is an enhanced version of the older ARC standard and ups the ante by supporting lossless audio passthrough, which allows it to carry all the latest audio formats, including Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. It also offers a more robust synchronisation between audio and video signals – the older ARC standard caused irritating lip-sync issues for many users.

If you want to take advantage of a TV’s high frame rate abilities for gaming (or any future video content), then 4K HFR (High Frame Rate) support is essential.

The HDMI 2.1 standard also supports a range of technologies that are useful for next-generation game consoles. Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) prevents the screen-tearing effects sometimes seen when games can’t match the refresh rate of the screen, and Quick Frame Transport (QFT) helps to reduce latency. Auto Low-Latency Mode (ALLM) isn’t quite so fundamental, but it’s a welcome time-saver – it automatically activates your TV’s dedicated gaming mode when it detects a signal from a compatible console.

Pricier AV receivers will also feature progressively more advanced room correction or room EQ technologies, such as those from Audyssey or Dirac. These use a microphone to listen to test signals in your room and process the results to balance the different channels and optimise the sound quality to suit your home. These can have a dramatic effect on sound quality.

For mid- to high-end setups, you may want to look at AV receivers that provide pre-out connections, as these allow you to route the different surround channels to an external power amplifier – or connect directly to active speakers. This will allow you to relieve the load on your AV receiver, allowing it to drive fewer speakers more cleanly; and it may make it possible to add extra height or surround channels to AV receivers that have a limited number of internal amplifiers.

READ NEXT: The best 4K HDR TVs out right now

The best AV receivers to buy in 2021

1. Sony STR-DH790: The best entry-level AVR

Price: £299 | Buy now from Amazon

The SRT-DH790 feels like a cut-down STR-DN1080 in more ways than one; sitting just over an inch lower than its bigger brother, it will be an easier fit into many AV setups. Otherwise, the crucial differences include a lower power output (145W to 165W), fewer HDMI inputs and outputs (4 and 1 instead of 6 and 2) and the use of spring clip terminals for the centre, surround and rear/height speakers instead of the more versatile banana plug sockets. There’s also no built-in networking support. In short, you get the kind of cutbacks you might expect for an entry-level amp.

Key specs – Dolby Atmos: Yes, 5.1.2; Power output: 7 x 145W; HDMIs: 4-in 1-out; Dimensions: 430 x 297 x 133mm (WDH); Weight: 7.4kg

2. Denon AVR-X2700H: The best mid-range Atmos receiver

Price: £679 | Buy now from Electric Shop

With support for 8K screens and video sources, 4K at 120fps and variable refresh rate, the Denon AVR-X2700H is ready for anything the future might throw at it, including the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles or 8K streaming services. Only one of the ports is HDMI 2.1 certified, but the others still support VRR, ALLM and QFT, while the HDMI outputs support eARC. With Dolby Atmos (including Atmos Height Virtualization), DTS:X (with DTS Virtual:X) and all four major HDR formats also covered, there’s very little that this AVR won’t play with.

Just as importantly, it makes all this seem easy, thanks to Denon’s superb auto-calibration process, which configures your speakers and sets the levels for you, and a very straightforward interface you can use on your TV.

Feed it some good material, and you’ll be amazed at the sound produced. Switch from 4K Blu-rays like Blade Runner 2049 and Avengers: Endgame to Star Wars: Rise of the Skywalker on Disney+, and there’s a real authority to output, and fantastic, precise steering of sound effects, putting you right in the centre of the action. You won’t get a better experience of Hamilton on Disney+ without sitting in the theatre. The virtual speaker effects are convincing enough that you don’t desperately need Atmos speakers, though the output is even more convincing with at least one set plugged in.

Music sounds great as well, though it’s worth switching through the different sound modes to find what works best in your room. Throw in built-in Wi-Fi music streaming and multiroom features, controlled through Denon’s HEOS app, and you have a fantastic AVR that will support your home cinema for years to come.

Key specs – Dolby Atmos: Yes, 5.1.2; Power output: 7 x 150W; HDMIs: 6-in 2-out; Dimensions: 433 x 330 x 167mm (WDH); Weight: 9.5kg

Buy now from Electric Shop

3. Marantz NR-1711: The best slimline AV receiver

Price: £749 | Buy now from Electric Shop

The Marantz NR-1711 shares many of the same advantages of the Denon AVR-X2700H, only packed into a much more compact chassis standing just over 10cm high. One of the HDMI inputs supports 8K at 60Hz or 4K at 120Hz, along with VRR, ALLM and QFT. Meanwhile, the HDMI out supports all that along with eARC. Throw in HDR10, HDR10+, HLG and Dolby Vision and you’ve got an amp that should have all your AV needs covered for the next decade.

The advantage with this one is that it’s a very easy AVR to work with – slim enough to fit into most setups and very easy to set up. While it’s at its best with a full 5.1.2 Atmos setup, it works brilliantly with a more basic 5.1 setup, thanks to some exceptionally good height virtualisation, and the Audyssey auto-configuration process works as well here as it does on the AVR-X2700H.

In terms of performance, the NR-1711 is rated to deliver up to 90 watts, but that figure is measured with only one speaker connected. That drops down to 70 watts with two speakers, and you can expect significantly less power once all seven channels are hooked up. Be in no doubt, though, there’s plenty of power for smaller living rooms. Across 4K Blu-ray movies, Xbox One X games and Atmos streaming content, the sound is incredibly absorbing, detail-rich and energetic. But the NR-1711 is also a superb AVR for music, handling high-resolution material from streaming services with vibrancy and warmth, making for some fantastic listening.

Like the AVR-X2700H, it has built-in Wi-Fi networking and support for Denon’s HEOS ecosystem for streaming and multiroom control. It’s the kind of amp that would be perfect at powering a compact speaker system, but don’t rule it out if you’ve got a larger living room – it’s the king of the slimline AVRs.

Key specs – Dolby Atmos: Yes, 5.1.2; Power output: 90W into 1 channel; 70W in stereo; HDMIs: 6-in, 1-out; Dimensions: 440 x 378 x 105mm (WDH); Weight: 8.3kg

Buy now from Electric Shop

4. Marantz SR6015: The best receiver for nuanced sound

Price: £1299 | Buy now from Electric Shop

The SR6015 is cookie-cutter Marantz – in a good way. With its characteristic porthole display (slightly too small to be read from distance) and distinctive curved fascia, the look is classy and timeless. Beneath the lid, components have been chosen more for nuance than muscle, with the brand’s Hyper Dynamic Amplification Module (HDAM) circuitry ensuring this AVR retains its distinctive Marantz musicality. With effortless control and spatial awareness, there’s no doubting its Hi-Fi chops.

A nine-channel design, it can be configured for 7.1.2 or 5.1.4, and with Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization and Virtual DTS: X you don’t have to crowd your room with physical speakers if you don’t want to. The inclusion of IMAX Enhanced certification is a nice touch; the SR6015 can automatically alter bass management, dropping deeper when it recognises IMAX flagged content. There’s also support for Alexa and Google Assistant, as well as AirPlay 2. Meanwhile, Room EQ is handled by Audyssey Multi EQ XT32.

There are seven HDMI inputs on the rear, with three outputs. One of the inputs is HDMI 2.1, but remember to buy the latest production run (with a serial number ending 70001 up) to ensure full functionality. An additional HDMI input is provided behind a flap on the front cover. The HDMI board is Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HLG compatible, and as is the way with this level of kit, low-resolution sources can be upscaled to UHD.

Key specs – Dolby Atmos: Yes, 7.1.2 or 5.1.4; Power output: 9 x 100W; HDMIs: 8-in, 3-out; Dimensions: 440 x 388 x 161mm (WDH); Weight: 12.8kg

Buy now from Electric Shop

5. Denon AVC-X4700H: The best receiver for high-impact audio

Price: £1,549 | Buy now from Denon

A fantastically dynamic performer, the Denon AVR-X4700 offers a huge sonic attack. It deploys its 125 watt per channel reserves with clinical precision – but there’s subtle nuance and musicality here too. With nine channels of amplification, you have the option of a 7.1.2 or 5.1.4 Atmos setup, which you can upgrade further with a stereo amp if you felt the need, as the model can actually process 11.2 channels.

HDMI provision is good, although of the eight inputs only one is designated 8K/4K 120fps-compatible. There are three outputs on the AVR-X4700, all with eARC support, and it offers support for Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HDR10 and HLG, plus eARC and a phono input for vinyl enthusiasts. To optimise performance in your room there’s also advanced Audyssey calibration in the shape of MultEQ XT32.

All the key audio formats are on board: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, DTS Virtual:X, Auro-3D and Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization. The latter is useful if you’re unable to implement physical height speakers, or Dolby-enabled up-firers. The X4700H also has the IMAX Enhanced certification, although, with a paucity of compatible software, this has limited appeal.

Additional treats include Apple AirPlay 2, Roon Tested certification and Heos multiroom support built in. The icing on the cake is Bluetooth connectivity, which covers transmission to headphones, useful for late-night personal listening.

While first-generation AVR-X4700H models suffered from the 8K HDMI bug (more on that later), all models produced since May 2021 use a revised chipset. However, you’ll need to check the series number to ensure you’re getting a bug-free version. New model serial numbers end from 70001 upwards. Note that the UK/EU version of the X4700H feature here is an AVC, that’s to say it’s an amplifier without an FM tuner. The USA version is a standard AVR, with FM radio. Apart from that, they’re pretty much identical.

Key specs – Dolby Atmos: Yes, 7.1.2 or 5.1.4; Power output: 9 x 125W; HDMIs: 8-in, 3-out; Dimensions: 434 x 379 x 167 mm (WDH); Weight: 13.7kg

Buy now from Denon

6. Yamaha RX-A6A: The best 8K 120fps-ready receiver

Price: £2,299 | Buy now from AV Online

The most eagerly anticipated Yamaha AVR in years, the RX-A6A is effectively the entry point for a new trio of Aventage-class receivers (although you could hardly call it budget). The A6A has the most ambitious HDMI provision of any 2021 model in its price range, with all seven of its HDMI inputs claiming to be 8K/4K 120fps-ready, pending a firmware update – and there’s an assurance from Yamaha that none are unduly affected by the HDMI 2.1 bug.

A nine-channel model, it can be configured as either 5.1.4 or 7.1.2 for Dolby Atmos, depending on what speakers you have to hand. If you’ve yet to invest in Dolby Atmos height speakers, Height Virtualization can create a faux canopy of sound. The HDMI spec is also Dolby Vision and HDR10+ compatible, with support for Auto Low-Latency Mode (ALLM), Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), quick frame transport (QFT) and quick media switching (QMS).

Yamaha has been a pioneer when it comes to DSP audio processing over the years, offering presets that mimic the acoustic properties of real venues, as well as genre-style sound mixes. Here we get Surround AI, a new approach that dynamically optimises individual sound elements, including dialogue, background music and sound effects in real time based on content.

Room calibration comes via Yamaha’s multi-talented Parametric room Acoustic Optimizer (YPAO), and multiroom setup can be accessed through the brand’s MusicCast network. You can even use MusicCast 20 or 50 wireless speakers in a multichannel layout.

Home theatre receivers rarely embrace cosmetic niceties, but this model looks more fashionable than most, thanks to a simplified fascia design, centred volume knob, rotary jog dial, high-res LCD display and touch-sensitive buttons. As an added bonus, the A6A’s design incorporates a revamped version of Yamaha’s signature fifth foot, which is actually an anti-resonance wedge designed to disperse chassis vibration.

Key specs – Dolby Atmos: Yes, 5.1.4; Power output: 9 x 110W; HDMIs: 7-in, 3-out; Dimensions: 435 x 192 x 442 mm (WDH); Weight: 20.3kg

Buy now from AV Online

7. Arcam AVR10: The best high-performance AV Receiver

Price: £2,499 | Buy now from Richer Sounds

If you judge your AV kit by the weight, then expect to be impressed by the Arcam AVR10; this hulking receiver weighs in at a whopping 16.5kg. Still, you’re getting the spec to match, with a high-end Class A/B power amplifier, a 60W 7.1 channel output plus support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. It even offers IMAX Enhanced, IMAX’s variant of DTS:X with deeper bass and more dynamic range. What’s more, this amp can decode more channels than it outputs, taking you up to 7.1.4 with additional power amplifiers if you’d like to add more height or surround speakers.

With incredible levels of customisation, the AVR10 is heaven for audio tweakers, with options to adjust for different speaker sizes, different distances and different EQ preferences, along with Dirac Live automated room calibration and correction to attune the sound to your specific space. You can also connect the receiver to your Wi-Fi network and use its built-in Chromecast receiver or stream music from your phone using Arcam’s dedicated app. The only downside of all this sophistication is that this is a complex device to set up and control, with little of the handholding found on the Marantz and Denon amps we’ve tested. Even with a web-based UI instead of fearsome-looking menus, getting everything perfect takes some work.

Still, it’s worth it because the sound is spectacularly good. Movie soundtracks have weight and an incredible dynamic range, delivering everything from the hardest-hitting action sound effects to the most subtle details. The opening space battle from Star Wars: The Last Jedi is so immersive that when the cannons start firing, you have to restrain the urge to duck. The Arcam is a dab hand with music too, particularly warm, rich and detail-heavy high-res tracks. It’s a shame that the HDMI connections are stuck at 2.0b, so no 8K/60, 4K/120 or VRR here, but with the right speakers the AVR10 can take your audio to another level – if you’re willing to pay that hefty price.

Key specs – Dolby Atmos: Yes, 5.1.2; Power output: 7 x 60W; HDMIs: 7-in, 2-out; Dimensions: 433 x 425 x 171mm (WDH); Weight: 16.5kg

Buy now from Richer Sounds

The 8K HDMI bug fiasco

AV receivers tend to enjoy a long, dusty lifetime of use. Once bought and configured, it rarely seems worth the bother of upgrading – until a new AV standard comes along, that is. It takes a catalyst like Dolby Atmos, which offers a more immersive listening experience for movie fans than regular 5.1 surround, to goad buyers into action.

Today, the arrival of next-gen games consoles with 4K 120fps capability, alongside the more distant promise of 8K resolution video, has enthusiasts once more looking to upgrade, specifically to an HDMI 2.1 AVR with compatible passthrough.

Unfortunately, the roll-out of HDMI 2.1-capable AV receivers has been fraught with problems. Shortly after they appeared, a compatibility issue surfaced that meant some new 8K/4K source devices (notably Xbox Series X consoles) did not always successfully pass the video signal through to the display.

AVR manufacturers Denon, Marantz and Yamaha had to scramble to come up with a solution for early adopters who brought afflicted first-generation receivers. The answer wasn’t a firmware update, but an additional piece of kit.

Denon offers the SPK618, an HDMI adapter box, supplied free of charge to owners of the affected Denon and Marantz kits. It’s positioned between the games console and AV receiver, correcting HDMI data so that it will display correctly.

READ NEXT: The best streaming sticks from Amazon, Roku and more

There is a more simple workaround. Owners can always connect their console directly to a 4K/120fps compatible TV and then route audio back to the AVR using eARC. Or they could forgo high frame rates altogether and run their console at 4K/60fps resolution.

Of course, if you didn’t buy an early iteration of these 8K-capable receivers, you might not need a breakout box at all. Denon and Marantz have updated their production runs of relevant receivers with an entirely new, bug-free, HDMI board. Yamaha has moved quickly to usher in new problem-free models.

If you own an 8K-capable AV receiver from Denon or Marantz, you can even increase the number of 4K 120fps and 8K devices connected by adding an HDMI 2.1 switcher. The brands have launched two (identical) models, the AVS-3 and VS3003, each featuring three HDMI inputs and one output.

HDMI CEC-compatible, these boxes connect to the (usually) single 8K input on your AVR, effectively adding two more options (which should please gamers with both an Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5). Available from October, they sell for £179.


Best AV receivers 2021: brilliant home cinema amplifiers

Best AV receivers Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best home cinema amplifiers you can buy in 2021.

If you're serious about home cinema then there really is no substitute for a set of surround sound speakers powered by an AV receiver.

The home cinema amplifier is the brains and brawn of any home cinema system and will ensure your TV and films sound powerful, detailed and dynamic and truly give you that immersive experience.

The majority of AV receivers now include Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support for adding even more sound channels, with the addition of height channel speakers, or they can, of course, play vanilla 5.1 surround sound. Expect HDMI inputs that can pass through 4K (and even 8K) and HDR video, with voice assistant support, Bluetooth wireless audio and Apple AirPlay extras on a fair number of models these days. 

But most of all, the best AV receivers deliver brilliant, room-filling sound. And these are our pick of them, all tried, tested and star-rated in our dedicated testing rooms.

1. Denon AVC-X3700H

Denon raises the bar again for what is achievable for less than a grand.


Video support: 8K HDR

Surround formats: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, IMAX Enhanced

HDMI inputs: 7

Hi-res audio: 24-bit/192kHz & DSD

Bluetooth: Yes

Streaming services: Spotify, Tidal. Qobuz, AirPlay, YouTube

Audio channels: 9.2

Dimensions: 17 x 43 x 38cm (HxWxD)

Reasons to buy

+Wonderfully clear and detailed+Dynamic and engaging+HDMI 2.1 and 8K

Reasons to avoid

-Nothing at this price

When you listen to class-leading products as often as we do, you know immediately when a new standard has been set. That said, sometimes it takes until you have a direct comparison with another superb product to comprehend just how high the bar has been lifted.

That is the case with the new 8K-ready Denon AVC-X3700H home cinema amplifier. While there may be a small part of us that would delight in the Japanese company messing up one of these amps – purely so we would have something different to write – the sonic improvement it has made on its predecessor is quite surprisingly marked, which is why its retained its What Hi-Fi? Award in 2021.

The energy of the performance is immediately striking. There’s greater muscle than before, but it is also even lither and better defined. It’s a combination of solid dynamic expression, which enthuses each vocal line as much as differentiating one gunshot from another, a sharper punch and greater clarity that allows you to get deeper inside the soundtrack and become more immersed.

If you have the system to match it with, the AVC-X3700H is another Denon effort that will happily last you many years.

Read the full review: Denon AVC-X3700H

2. JBL Synthesis SDR-35

JBL’s classy SDR-35 is a clear cut above the AVR norm


Video support: 4K HDR

Surround formats: Dolby Atmos, Atmos Height Virtualization, DTS:X, DTS Virtual:X, Auro 3D, IMAX Enhanced

HDMI inputs: 7

High res audio: 24Bit / 192kHz

Bluetooth: Yes

Streaming Services: Chromecast, AirPlay 2, aptX HD Bluetooth, Roon Ready

Dimensions: 171 x 433 x 425 x mm (H x W x D)

Reasons to buy

+Supremely clean, clear sound+Thrilling mix of subtlety and scale+Substantial format support

Reasons to avoid

-Only seven channels of power-HDMI 2.1 upgrade will cost extra

When hunting for an AV receiver or amplifier, it can be hard not to get caught up in the battle of the tech specs and those who become too focused on comparing spec sheets may well overlook the 2021 What Hi-Fi? Award-winning JBL Synthesis SDR-35.

While its format support is thorough, its amplification for just seven channels and current lack of HDMI 2.1 connections (all of the sockets are 18gbps HDMI 2.0s but a hardware upgrade to HDMI 2.1 will be offered towards the end of 2021) are trumped by Denon receivers costing around a sixth of its price tag.

In terms of sound quality though, this JBL is in a whole different league, delivering music and movies with a truly rare maturity and sophistication and if we were building a high-end home cinema from scratch, it would be the first component on the shortlist.

The range of supported HDR types is exemplary, with HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision and HDR10+ all offered on the video side, and Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Auro 3D and even IMAX Enhanced for audio. There's also Dolby Height Virtualisation and DTS Virtual:X on board for those who want to simulate height effects without the use of physical ceiling or up-firing speakers.

As well as a substantial selection of physical connections, there are plenty of ways to wirelessly get your content to the SDR-35 too with aptX HD Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay 2 and Google Chromecast on board. It also works with Harman’s MusicLife app, which allows for streaming of music from the likes of Tidal, Deezer and Qobuz, plus tracks stored on your own network.

Read the full review: JBL Synthesis SDR-35

3. Denon AVC-X6700H

A powerful amp that was worth the wait.


Power output: 205W

Channels: 11.2

Video support: 8K HDR

Surround formats: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, IMAX Enhanced

HDMI inputs: 8

Wi-fi: Yes

Bluetooth: Yes

Dimensions: 17 x 43 x 38cm (HxWxD)

Reasons to buy

+Impressive scale and authority+Improved detail and expression+8K support

Reasons to avoid

-Some may want to dial back bass

When hunting for an AV receiver or amplifier, it can be hard not to get caught up in the battle of the tech specs and those who become too focused on comparing spec sheets may well overlook the 2021 What Hi-Fi? Award-inning JBL Synthesis SDR-35.

While its format support is thorough, its amplification for just seven channels and current lack of HDMI 2.1 connections (all of the sockets are 18gbps HDMI 2.0s but a hardware upgrade to HDMI 2.1 will be offered towards the end of 2021) are trumped by Denon receivers costing around a sixth of its price tag.

In terms of sound quality though, this JBL is in a whole different league, delivering music and movies with a truly rare maturity and sophistication and if we were building a high-end home cinema from scratch, it would be the first component on the shortlist.

The range of supported HDR types is exemplary, with HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision and HDR10+ all offered on the video side, and Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Auro 3D and even IMAX Enhanced for audio. There's also Dolby Height Virtualisation and DTS Virtual:X on board for those who want to simulate height effects without the use of physical ceiling or up-firing speakers.

As well as a substantial selection of physical connections, there are plenty of ways to wirelessly get your content to the SDR-35 too with aptX HD Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay 2 and Google Chromecast on board. It also works with Harman’s MusicLife app, which allows for streaming of music from the likes of Tidal, Deezer and Qobuz, plus tracks stored on your own network.

Read the full review: JBL Synthesis SDR-35

4. Sony STR-DN1080

Best AV receiver in its class. A superb piece of kit for the money.


Video support: 4K HDR

Surround formats: Dolby Atmos & DTS:X

HDMI inputs: 6

Hi-res audio: 24-bit/192kHz & DSD

Bluetooth: Yes

Streaming services: Spotify, Tidal. Qobuz, AirPlay, YouTube

Audio channels: 7.2

Dimensions: 16 x 43 x 33cm (HxWxD)

Reasons to buy

+Punchy, agile and precise+Enjoyable and dynamic performance+Exhaustive features

Reasons to avoid

-A backlit remote would be nice

The fact that this was our Product of the Year for two years in a row – and picked up a fourth Award in 2020 – tells you all you need to know. This hugely talented AV receiver was best in class when we originally tested it and remains sensational value for money.

And as for the sound it makes... well, let's just say you'll have to spend an awful lot more cash to get better performance. The feature-packed Sony STR-DN1080 sounds fantastic, reaching deep into its reserves to deliver a performance packed with punch, dynamism and authority in a way we haven’t heard from home cinema amplifiers at this sort of price.

There's an incredible amount of detail from natural, expressive voices to layers of insight and depth surrounding each sound effect. Dynamically speaking, it's a fun and exciting listen, equally at home rendering tranquil, quiet moments as it is huge, wall-shuddering explosions - in a word, enthralling.

Sony has unfortunately discontinued the STR-DN1080 and it's now almost impossible to buy a new one in the UK. It's worth considering a second-hand unit, though, and there's still decent availability in the US – for now.

Read the full review: Sony STR-DN1080

5. Denon AVR-X2700H

Another entry-level AVR belter from Denon.


Power output: 150W

Channels: 7.1

Video support: 8K HDR

Surround formats: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, IMAX Enhanced

HDMI inputs: 7

Wi-fi: Yes

Bluetooth: Yes

Dimensions: 17 x 43 x 33cm (HxWxD)

Reasons to buy

+Superb spatial control+Excellent sense of rhythm+HDMI 2.1 and 8K

Reasons to avoid

-Nothing at this price

If we had to use one word to describe the sound of this receiver, it would be ‘confident’. The AVR-X2700H doesn’t try too hard to impress, as a nervously underpowered budget amp might. 

It’s bigger, better and more cultured than that. It has even greater authority than last year’s model, and it never strains to exert it. The two subwoofers in our 7.2 set-up growl with control whenever called upon, never once detracting from the crystal clarity of the music in the soundtrack, the voices or surround effects.

It’s an easy and effective listen. No matter how hectic the action becomes, this Denon never misses a beat. It passes the laser blasts from speaker to speaker in a wonderfully coherent manner and, no matter the scene, creates a genuine sense of place.

Read the full review: Denon AVR-X2700H

6. Denon AVR-X3600H

A former Award winner that still packs a punch.


Power output: 180W

Channels: 9

Video support: 4K HDR

Surround formats: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Dolby Vision

HDMI inputs: 8

Wi-fi: Yes

Bluetooth: Yes

Dimensions: 17 x 44 x 3cm (HxWxD)

Reasons to buy

+Added amplification channels+More power than its predecessor+Gains worthwhile technologies

Reasons to avoid

-Nothing at this price

Sometimes the differences between generations of Denon home cinema can appear minor. But that wasn't the case with the AVR-X3600H.

Rather than merely updating the 2018 Award-winning AVR-X3500H, Denon added two amp channels and processing power for a further pair, upgraded power supply and power transformer and extruded aluminium heatsink.

Most importantly, though, it tightened up the sound to a truly impressive degree. Its predecessor had muscle, but this amp is even more clearly defined and at full fighting fitness.

It isn’t so much the fact that this is an altogether more powerful amplifier than the Award-winning AVR-X3500H – already a mighty receiver in its own right – but its muscle feels leaner, and punches tend to sting more.

Truly, this is a heavyweight in every sense of the word. That's why we named it our AV receiver Product of the Year for 2019. For pound-per-performance value, it's only beaten by its successor above.

Read the full review: Denon AVR-X3600H

7. Yamaha RX-A2A

An AV receiver with bold sound to match its bold looks


HDR support: HDR10, Dolby Vision, HDR10+ (via future update)

Surround formats: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization

HDMI inputs: 7

High res audio: ALAC: up to 96 kHz / 24-bit, FLAC: up to 384 kHz / 24-bit, WAV / AIFF: up to 384 kHz / 32-bit

Bluetooth: Yes (SBC / AAC)

Streaming: MusicCast, AirPlay 2

WiFi: 2.4/5GHz

Dimensions: 17 x 44 x 37cm (HxWxD)

Reasons to buy

+Agile and responsive+Spacious but focused presentation+Exciting character

Reasons to avoid

-Lacks authority-HDMI 2.1 features require updates

Part of Yamaha's premium Aventage range, the RX-A2A is the beneficiary of a glossy aesthetic revamp as well as an injection of next-generation connectivity that will future proof it for the coming years.

With seven full-range channels of power, each rated at 100W into eight ohms in stereo conditions, plus two subwoofer outputs, the RX-A2A can handle up to 7.1 speaker configurations or, if using the supported Dolby Atmos and DTS:X decoding, a 5.1.2 set-up. 

Sonically it's impressive and incredibly responsive, delivering punchy transients, spacious surround sound and plenty of musical drive.

For streaming, there's Yamaha’s MusicCast app, which allows for high-res and lossless music formats including Apple Lossless (ALAC) up to 96kHz, WAV, FLAC or AIFF up to 192kHz as well as playback from services including Spotify and Tidal. There’s also AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth (SBC / AAC) on board and Google Assistant/Alexa compatibility for voice control, not to mention a DAB+ and FM/AM tuner.

There are several planned upgrades that Yamaha will make to the RX-A2A to get it up to full spec, but it will eventually support up to 4K at 120Hz (both with and without display screen compression) and 8K at 60Hz (with display screen compression) through three of its seven HDMI inputs. 

These features, along with other next-gen HDMI updates and HDR10+, will only become available thanks to a series of firmware updates beginning this Autumn. A free hardware upgrade will also be available to make it fully compatible with 4K at 120Hz signals from an Xbox Series X or Nvidia RTX30-series graphics card. 

But the lack of these features out of the box will probably only matter if you're a hardcore gamer. For films, the RX-A2A handles 4K signals at up to 60 frames per second, which no source currently goes beyond, and supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision video formats.

Read the full review: Yamaha RX-A2A

What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.

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Want to find the best AV receiver for the money? I've tested some of the most popular big-black-box options from the major brands in the $500 to $700 range, and the feature sets, connectivity and performance levels are impressively high. From Dolby Atmos to Wi-Fi music streaming to voice control -- and high-quality audio -- these modern home cinema receivers offer everything a home theater enthusiast needs. 

There's one thing to take into consideration, though, especially if you're a gamer. Until recently 8K-compatible receivers have had issues displaying video from certain types of PCs and gaming consoles. So, there's one brand in particular you should be wary of in the short term. However, if you don't care about using the Xbox Series X or simply can't wait, these are the best models available right now.

Now playing:Watch this: How to buy an affordable AV receiver


Which receiver should I buy?

If you can live without the latest features -- HDMI 2.1, 8K, VRR -- then the 2019 Onkyo TX-NR696is the receiver to get. The Onkyo is an excellent performer and offers easy setup, excellent usability, solid looks and useful features, including the best streaming suite. The TX-NR696 retails for more than $500, but it is regularly on sale for under that. Even at its regular price of $599 the TX-NR696 is a great deal. Be aware that it's about to be replaced by a new model, but it will cost a whole $200 more.

Until the 4K/120Hz bug reared its head -- more on that shortly -- the Yamaha RX-V6A was my favorite receiver of the last 12 months. It offers striking looks and the performance chops to match. On the other hand, the Sony STR-DN1080 may be getting super old at this point but it still offers 4K HDR throughput, streaming capabilities and top-notch sound. (Note: It is currently marked as being discontinued on many shopping sites, but Sony has confirmed to CNET that it remains a current model.)

Why should I wait?

I would advise caution on buying a Yamaha receiver in particular right now, especially if future-proofing is something you're interested in. You see, all of the newest, 8K-compatible receivers were susceptible to a bug preventing them from displaying variable refresh rate video, and from the Xbox Series X in particular. While Denon, Marantz and Yamaha announced fixes for existing models, if you buy a Yamaha RX-V6A right now it could mean sending your new receiver in to get a mainboard replaced. Yamaha says new compliant receivers won't be available on shelves until fall.

Meanwhile Sound United, which produces Denon and Marantz receivers, says any models sold after April 2021 should be 4K/120Hz compliant. The spokesperson said that if customers are unsure whether their model is compliant or not they should contact their dealer or customer support. Older, noncompliant models are able to be rectified with a free adapter, but the company advises these dongles are now out of stock for the next five months. 

Competitor Onkyo released its $599 TX-NR5100 in mid-July 2021, and while I found it could pass 4K/120Hz I believe it's not as recommendable as the older, more capable TX-NR696 for the same money.

But is 4K/120Hz support even a big deal? There are a small handful of games that you can put into this mode -- Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War and so on -- but the advantages of 4K/120Hz over 60Hz are minimal as far as we've seen so far. Future games and even video sources may make the differences clearer, and that's why you'd want a receiver that's fully compatible.

If you do buy an older receiver, don't care about the Xbox Series X, or don't want to send your 8K model to the shop, you can always hook a fancy new console directly to the TV, then use eARC to get audio to the receiver. Despite the mess AV receiver manufacturers find themselves in right now, there is one thing the following models have in common: great performance.

Best receiver overall

Onkyo TX-NR696

Sarah Tew/CNET

Nov 2019

The Onkyo TX-NR696 is the best AV home theater receiver for those looking for a budget-ish option. This receiver was released in 2019 with a wealth of connectivity that supports multiple audio formats and gives a big, bold sound. It isn't the direct replacement to my favorite receiver of 2018, the TX-NR585, but this step-up AV receiver model offers a number of improvements, including a bump in power (80 to 100 watts) and a front-mounted HDMI port, in addition to the six HDMI inputs on the back. This video and audio receiver offers streaming protocols, including built-in Chromecast, DTS Play-Fi, Spotify Connect, AirPlay and Bluetooth. If you can find the TX-NR696 under $500, that's great, but if you can't it's still worth the extra coin.

Note the forthcoming $749 TX-NR6100 has the 4K/120Hz and 8K compatibility which the NR696 lacks.

Read our Onkyo TX-NR696 review.

Best design

Yamaha RX-V6A (Update: Out of stock)

Ty Pendlebury/CNET

This Yamaha AV receiver is the best 8K receiver we've tested, but it's a pity about the lack of 4K/120Hz support right now. It's worth waiting for the newer versions to come out in the fall with VRR and Xbox Series X and PS5 compatibility. Video compatibility aside, the Yamaha RX-V6A offers a fresh look at AV receiver design with futuristic edges while also maximizing sound quality. The RX-V6A could make you forget about ever visiting a cinema again, and it's no slouch with music, either. This Yamaha receiver offers Wi-Fi connectivity, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Bluetooth and Yamaha's MusicCast system for streaming from your devices. Just wait a month or two till the updated models go on sale.

Read our YAMAHA RX-V6A review.

Best for gamers, music fans

Denon AVR-S960H

Sound United

One of only two mainstream designs released in 2020, Denon's AVR-S960H may not be as glittering and shiny as the Yamaha RX-V6A, but it still offers excellent sound quality. The receiver is laid-back, blends well with forward-sounding speakers and replays music beautifully. It has almost everything you need, including 8K video, voice control via both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant speakers, Dolby Atmos, and Apple AirPlay 2. While 2019's excellent AVR-S750H is still available, if the price for the '960 is around $600 you might as well pay a bit more for the bump in features and power the S960 offers.

Be aware that versions of the Denon AVR-S960H bought before April 2021 are affected by the 4K/120Hz bug and owners should sign up for one of the free dongles. 

Read our Denon AVR-S960H review.

Best for Android users

Sony STR-DN1080

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Sony STR-DN1080 earned our Editors' Choice Award back in 2017, and despite being pretty long in the tooth it's still an excellent AV receiver package. Sound quality isn't quite as strong as those of the Denon and Onkyo, but they're all very close. If you want a receiver that offers ease of use and integrates both AirPlay (but not AirPlay 2) and Google Chromecast built-in wireless streaming, this is a great option. It even uses virtual speaker relocation technology to optimize sound in the room where you set it up. Don't pay full price, though -- it has been on sale in the past for between $400 and $500.

Read our Sony STR-DN1080 review.

What to look for in a $500-ish receiver

AV receivers are notoriously complex, with reams of features and confusing technical specifications. (For example, what's "ultra HD"?) But what are the things that really matter when buying a new model? I'm going to sum up the most important ones right here.

4K HDR compatibility

You want to make sure your new receiver can keep up with the latest TVs and video gear. Standards do change all the time, but the bare minimum right now is support for HDR and Dolby Vision, at least HDMI version 2.0 or better. All of these models support 4K and HDR video. 8K is coming, slowly, but most recorded content is still going to be in 1080p or even SD for many, many years. If future-proofing is a concern for you, the Yamaha RX-V6A and Denon AVR-S960H offer 8K and HDMI 2.1 compatibility as well. 


As many HDMI inputs as you can afford

With most TVs and set-top boxes supporting HDMI, you should buy a receiver that has as many of these HDMI input ports and outputs as possible. Front-mounted HDMI ports are kind of like an appendix -- unneeded, because most users don't hot-plug HDMI devices -- making the number of rear inputs what's most important. (How else are you going to connect your Blu-ray player, Nintendo Switch, soundbar and all your other devices?) The Sony and Onkyo in this roundup both have six rear-mounted HDMI ports while the Denon and Yamaha go one better with seven. If you want to connect two different displays -- a TV and a projector for example -- all but the Yamaha offer a second HDMI output. You should also be sure you have an extra HDMI cable or two on hand -- these things are like the second sock of a pair in that you can never find them when you need them.

You don't really need Dolby Atmos 'height' speakers

Most receivers in the $500-and-above price range include Dolby Atmos capability and DTS:X, but the effect they have on your home theater movie-watching can be subtle, or in most movies nonexistent. In other words, don't worry about missing out on these formats if you don't install an extra height speaker or two. Mounting your rear surround speakers high on the wall will get you halfway there in terms of quality, immersive sound.

Wi-Fi music streaming

Most midrange receivers have onboard Wi-Fi network connectivity for wireless music streaming through your speaker system. There are plenty of standards for wireless streaming services, but the most universal are Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 1 and 2, and Google Chromecast built in. If you're looking to build a multiroom system with a variety of AV systems and speakers with wireless connectivity, these are the three flavors to aim for. The Onkyo and Sony are the only two devices that support all three. The Denon receiver model lacks wireless streaming via Chromecast, but ups the ante to AirPlay 2 and the proprietary HEOS system. Yamaha has its own MusicCast in the meantime.

For more general information on what you should be looking for, check out this AV receiver buying guide from 2016.

More for those seeking great sound quality

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Best AV Receiver With Dolby Atmos 2021

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