Best AV receivers 2019: Brilliant home cinema amplifiers

If you really want the home cinema experience, you need a set of surround sound speakers and an AV receiver to drive them. The home cinema amp is the brains and brawn of any cinema system and will ensure your TV and films sound powerful, detailed and dynamic and truly give you that immersive experience.

AV receivers now include Dolby Atmos and DTS:X for adding even more channels of sound, with the addition of height channel speakers, or can play it simple with 5.1-channels of audio. Expect HDMI inputs that can pass through 4K and HDR video, compatibility with voice assistants and Bluetooth wireless audio. But most of all, you'll get brilliant, room-filling sound.

Best AV receiver under £500

1. Sony STR-DN1080

This home cinema amplifier from Sony ticks so many boxes we deemed it the best AV receiver in its class in 2017 and 2018 at the What Hi-Fi? Awards. A superb piece of kit.

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: 15.6 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 has been our Product of the Year for two years in a row tells you all you need to know. This hugely talented home cinema amplifier was best in class when we originally tested it at around £500, but now that it has dropped to £430 it is 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 at this sort of price.

Read the full review: Sony STR-DN1080

Best AV receiver under £1000

2. Denon AVR-X3500H

The AVR-X3500H is a 2018 Award winner, with added features and even more powerful performance.

SPECIFICATIONS

Power output: 180W | Channels: 7.2 | HDMI inputs: 8 | HDMI outputs: 3 | Video support: 4K, HDR | Surround formats: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, DTS Virtual:X | Dimensions: 43.4 x 16.7 x 39.1cm (HxWxD)

Reasons to Buy
More powerful than its predecessor
Detailed, full bodied and musical
Alexa voice control
Reasons to Avoid
Nothing at this price

The Denon AVR-X3500H takes a step forward from its already class-leading predecessor (above) and will bring notable benefits if you're happy to pay the extra.

It is comfortable driving our reference PMC Twenty5 package through the rumbles and thumps of a high-action thriller, with the added solidity felt across the board as voices and soundtracks benefit from its authority and stability.

With the addition of Alexa Voice Control and Apple AirPlay2 this latest model has everything you could need. It makes a great upgrade from a budget amp.

Read the full review: Denon AVR-X3500H

3. Denon AVR-X4500H

Another talented AV amp from Denon’s excellent range

SPECIFICATIONS

Power output: 125W | Channels: 7.2 | HDMI inputs: 8 | HDMI outputs: 3 | Video support: 4K, HDR | Surround formats: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, DTS Virtual:X | Features: AirPlay 2, Siri, optional Alexa and Google Assistant | Dimensions: 17 x 43 x 38cm (HxWxD)

Reasons to Buy
Has power and presence
Expressive and punchy
Lots of features
Reasons to Avoid
Nothing at this price

The AVR-X4500H is part of the same Denon Award-winning range as the X3500H above but unlike that model, which is nearing the end of its life, the X4500H won't be relieved from duty until 2020. 

This amp boasts 125W of amplification (into 8ohms with two channels driven) across each of its nine channels, giving you native access to Dolby Atmos and DTS:X speaker configurations up to 7.2.2 or 5.2.4, while the 11.2-channel processing means you can go right up to 7.2.4 if you're prepared to add an extra two-channel amplifier. And just about every spec and feature you could possibly want on a modern AV amp.

But it's all about the sound. There's a heck of a lot of power here, which is keenly shown by the meaty bottom end that delivers punch and weight without ever muddying the clean, evenly-balanced sound. Timing and dynamics are class-leading ensuring even music sounds decent for a surround sound amp. But surround sound is this amp's forte, and if you have the money, you can't get much better.

Read the full review: Denon AVR-X4500H

Best AV receiver under £2500

4. Denon AVC-X6500H

What Hi-Fi? Awards 2018 winner. Denon leads the way with another awesome home cinema amp.

SPECIFICATIONS

Power output: 140W | Channels: 11 | Video support: 4K HDR | Surround formats: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Dolby Vision | HDMI inputs: 8 | Wi-fi: Yes | Bluetooth: Yes | Dimensions: 16.7 x 43.4 x 3cm (HxWxD)

Reasons to Buy
Powerful and detailed sound
Times well with music and films
Fine list of features
Reasons to Avoid
Nothing of note

Despite the tweak to the model name, this is essentially a refreshing of last year's Award-winning AVR-X6400H. 

We could simply have reposted our AVR-X6400H review and headed it with a note saying ‘imagine this, but better’. That wouldn’t of course have taken into account the addition of Alexa Voice Control and Apple AirPlay2 to Denon’s features arsenal, but would still be a decent summation of the AVC-X6500H’s sonic capabilities.

It's proof again - as if it were needed - that Denon refuses to rest on its laurels when it comes to leading the market in home cinema amplification.

Read the full review: Denon AVC-X6500H

5. Onkyo TX-NR686

This Onkyo is a nice-sounding amplifier, with a nice discount

SPECIFICATIONS

Power output: 165W | Channels: 7.2 | Video support: 4K HDR | Surround formats: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X | HDMI inputs: 7 | Wi-fi: Yes | Bluetooth: Yes | Features: Chromecast, Google Assistant, DTS Play-Fi, THX-certified | Dimensions: 26 x 54 x 45cm (HxWxD)

Reasons to Buy
Big, full-bodied sound
Decent detail levels
Extra channels for stereo zone
Reasons to Avoid
Lacks punch and dynamics

Though originally competing with home cinema amplifiers costing around £500, this Onkyo feels (in many ways) worthy of its marginally loftier price tag - and it definitely hasn’t shirked its responsibility when it comes to features. Now that you can find it for well under the original price, it's definitely worthy of consideration if you want an easy to get along with AV amplifier.

It delivers a full-bodied, well-balanced sound, with no brightness or boomy bass. Our only issue is that this Onkyo plays it a little too safe. It’s all a little too polite, too nice. While overall its presentation is an easy, pleasurable listen, it lacks the punch and dynamic range to really draw us into what we’re watching or fully compete with the Denons or Sonys. But at this sort of money, we can't argue too much.

Read the full review: Onkyo TX-NR686

6. Yamaha RX-A1080

A fine premium AV receiver for the money

SPECIFICATIONS

Power output: 170W | Channels: 7.2 | Video support: 4K HDR | Surround formats: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X | HDMI inputs: 7 | Wi-fi: Yes | Bluetooth: Yes | Dimensions: 18.2 x 43.5 x 43.9cm (HWD)

Reasons to Buy
Huge sound
Plenty of detail
Lots of features
Reasons to Avoid
Rivals better for timing

There are usually a number of safe bets when it comes to Yamaha's premium AV receivers: the build will at least match its price tag; it’ll have a whopping great soundfield; and there will be more features than a Sunday newspaper. And the RX-A1080 delivers on that front.

As well as its range of digital and analogue inputs for music sources, Yamaha has endowed the RX-A1080 with built-in streaming services such as Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz and Deezer, as well as providing support for the amp to be controlled by Alexa Voice Control.

The performance is even and well rounded, offering the same character to an effect that switches across speakers, beginning behind our right shoulder and settling at the front left. It does, however, find itself a step behind the Denon range when it comes to organisation, timing and dynamics. Not light years, but behind. Still, if you value a really big sound and generally enjoy Yamaha's sonic signature, it's worth an audition.

Read the full review: Yamaha RX-A1080