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Best AV receivers 2021: brilliant home cinema amplifiers

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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.

Best AVR: Denon AVC-X3700H

(Image credit: Future)

1. Denon AVC-X3700H

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

Specifications
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

Best AVR: JBL Synthesis SDR-35

(Image credit: Future)

2. JBL Synthesis SDR-35

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

Specifications
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, HLGDolby Vision and HDR10+ all offered on the video side, and Dolby AtmosDTS: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 BluetoothApple 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 TidalDeezer and Qobuz, plus tracks stored on your own network.

Read the full review: JBL Synthesis SDR-35

Best AVR: Denon AVC-X6700H

(Image credit: Future)

3. Denon AVC-X6700H

A powerful amp that was worth the wait.

Specifications
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, HLGDolby Vision and HDR10+ all offered on the video side, and Dolby AtmosDTS: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 BluetoothApple 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 TidalDeezer and Qobuz, plus tracks stored on your own network.

Read the full review: JBL Synthesis SDR-35

Best AVR: Sony STR-DN1080

4. Sony STR-DN1080

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

Specifications
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

Best AVR: Denon AVR-X2700H

(Image credit: Denon)

5. Denon AVR-X2700H

Another entry-level AVR belter from Denon.

Specifications
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

Best AVR: Denon AVR-X3600H

(Image credit: Denon)

6. Denon AVR-X3600H

A former Award winner that still packs a punch.

Specifications
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

Best AVR: Yamaha RX-A2A

(Image credit: Yamaha)

7. Yamaha RX-A2A

An AV receiver with bold sound to match its bold looks

Specifications
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?

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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  • lacuna
    Why is the 3600 still in this list?
    Reply
  • TooOftenDrunk
    Very good question, also it's at a crazy price £2550.00!!!!

    Same could also be asked about the Sony model as this doesn't seem to be available anywhere.
    Reply
  • lacuna said:
    Why is the 3600 still in this list?
    Golden oldy I presume.
    Reply
  • lacuna
    gel said:
    Golden oldy I presume.

    More like a lazy copy and paste of the 2019 article I suspect
    Reply
  • lacuna said:
    More like a lazy copy and paste of the 2019 article I suspect
    Still available to buy, even if it’s B stock:

    https://www.hyperfi.co.uk/av-receivers/denon-avrx3600-network-av-receiver-avrx3600h-black-dolby-atmos-amp-heos
    Reply
  • toymotor
    Not one Marantz in this list. I can understand they are a bit pricey but having had Sony and Denon in the past, with my SR1705 I now know what immersive sound is as well as proper bass.
    Reply