Best AV receivers 2022: excellent home cinema amplifiers for every budget

If you have even the slightest interest in home cinema, then you'll know already that there really is no more impactful single improvement you can make to your entertainment system than adding a set of surround sound speakers driven by a top-quality, well-paired AV receiver.

How to choose the best AV receiver for you

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AV receivers have many different monikers: AVR, surround sound amp, home theater receiver, Dolby Atmos receiver - but all these names refer to a multichannel amplifier that can decode surround sound information while also acting as a video and streaming hub for AV input sources and output devices. 

The home cinema amplifier is essentially the brains and power of any home theater system, and a high-quality model will ensure that your TV and films sound emphatic, detailed and dynamic and genuinely give you that immersive experience.

The most crucial thing to consider when buying an AVR is matching it to the size of your surround system and deciding whether to allow for expansion in the future. Plenty of AV receivers now include Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support for adding even more sound channels with the addition of height channel speakers. Sometimes, these channels can also be deployed as a second zone.

The number of HDMI inputs you need is another important factor. Most AVRs come with several HDMI inputs that can pass through 4K (and even 8K) and HDR video. Still, it's worth thinking about whether you'll benefit from the next-gen gaming specs of HDMI 2.1 or if you'll be using your home cinema primarily for film and TV, in which case, cheaper HDMI 2.0 ports will suffice.  

With so much to consider, setting up an AVR yourself can be daunting, but many companies include a microphone and step-by-step sound to guide you through the optimisation process. Others go even further and can be enhanced by 3rd party calibration software for more in-depth tweaking. Whether you're getting your AVR installed by a professional or going it alone, make sure that you're comfortable with the interface's user-friendliness.

Modern AVRs have become real home entertainment hubs and can bring a host of features such as Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay, multi-room streaming and DAB to your system, making it truly versatile and multi-functional. But most of all, the best AV receivers deliver brilliant, room-filling sound. Below you'll find our pick of them, all tried, tested and star-rated in our dedicated testing rooms, along with an AVR FAQ at the bottom of the page.

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 amplifictation
-
HDMI 2.1 upgrade costs 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 2022 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 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 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

An easy-going, mid-range AV receiver with flexible features

Specifications

Channels: 11.4 processing, 9 amplification
Video support: 8K60, 4K120, HDR10+, HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision
Audio formats: Dolby Atmos, Atmos Height Virtualization, DTS:X, DTS Virtual:X, Auro 3D, IMAX Enhanced, Sony 360 Reality Audio, MPEG-H
HDMI 2.1 inputs: 6
HDMI 2.1 outputs: 3 inc eARC
Streaming: AirPlay 2, HEOS, Spotify, Tidal, Deezer, Bluetooth, Roon
Voice assistants : Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri

Reasons to buy

+
Refined, warm sound
+
Choice of calibration software
+
Future-proofed connectivity

Reasons to avoid

-
Bland exterior
-
Some rivals have more sonic drive
-
Higher price than predecessor

A 2022 What Hi-Fi? award winner, the AVC-X3800H is a versatile, well-rounded mid-range amp that will appeal to customers looking for longevity and the capacity to adapt to their evolving systems.

It offers a considerable 11.4 channels of processing, and with nine channels of amplification as a single unit, it's suitable for configurations up to 5.4.4 out of the box but can be expanded to 7.4.4 with the addition of an external stereo amp. Users can also take advantage of a new selective pre-amplifier mode that allows each speaker pair to be assigned to ‘Pre-out only’ for use with an external power amp, so if you wish to upgrade the amplification of your front pair, for example, you can do so.

All of the AVC-X3800H's six HDMI inputs and three outputs are HDMI 2.1 ports rated to 40gbps capable of 8K@60Hz or 4K@120Hz video pass-through. They boast compatibility with every major HDR format (HDR10, HDR10+Dolby Vision and Hybrid Log Gamma), and there’s a raft of gamer-friendly technology supported, too, with VRRQFTALLM and FRL (Frame Rate Link) all on board.

There are plenty of ways to wirelessly connect to the AVC-X38000H, with Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Roon and HEOS, Denon’s multi-room software that integrates streaming services, including Tidal and Deezer and lets users stream to compatible products. 

The AVC-3800H is the most affordable model in Denon's X series to support Auro 3D, IMAX Enhanced, 360 Reality Audio and MPEG-H formats alongside Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. It’s also where support for Audyssey’s more advanced MultEQ XT32 room calibration software and Dirac Live (as a new, optional extra) begins.

Sonically it's well-balanced, quick and precise, with a more spacious sound field than its predecessor. With a laid-back approach, it handles a variety of content well and pairs well with a broad range of speakers producing a fluid, rhythmically coherent performance full of character. 

Read the full AVC-X3800H review

Denon's entry level model with new specs and a spacious new sound

Specifications

Channels: 7.1
Video support: 8K60, 4K120 HDR
Audio formats: Dolby Atmos, Atmos Height Virtualization, DTS:X, DTS Virtual:X
HDMI inputs: 6
HDMI outputs: 2 inc eARC
Streaming: AirPlay 2, HEOS, Spotify, Tidal, Deezer, Bluetooth, Roon Tested
Bluetooth: Yes
Voice assistants : Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent connectivity
+
Authoritative but spacious sound
+
User-friendly full-screen interface

Reasons to avoid

-
Appearance needs a refresh
-
Some might crave more bass weight
-
More expensive than previous model

The winner of the entry-level AVR price category in the 2022 What Hi-Fi? awards, the AVR-X2800H is one of the most affordable models in Denon's premium X range, sporting seven channels of amplification and 7.1ch of processing. It can be configured to drive a 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos or DTS:X system. But those without vertical channels can take advantage of its onboard DTS Virtual:X and Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization technologies.

Despite being an entry-level amp, the HDMI board on the AVR-X2800H has been upgraded from its predecessor to include three HDMI 2.1 ports capable of 8K@60Hz or 4K@120Hz video pass-through at up to 40Gbps. The three remaining HDMI 2.0 ports have a bandwidth of 18Gbps, but all inputs boast 4:4:4 chroma sub-sampling and compatibility with various HDR codecs, including HDR10, HDR10+Dolby Vision and Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG).

Gamers are well looked after, with VRRQFTALLM and FRL (Frame Rate Link) on board for a smoother playing experience. Elsewhere there’s also 8K upscaling offered on all inputs and eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel) to supply uncompressed audio via a single HDMI cable.

Released in 2022, the AVR-X2800H has had a sonic retune and offers users a more responsive, coherent and spacious sound than some of the brand's older models. It retains Denon’s signature authoritative weight but refines and balances it with a bolder top end that can do better justice to both music and movies. Its onboard room calibration software and modernised full-screen interface make it relatively easy to use and well-equipped.

Read the full review: Denon AVR-X2800H

A future-proofed AVR with sparkling sound

Specifications

HDMI inputs: 7
HDMI outputs : 3 (including eARC)
HDMI 2.1 : Yes inc VRR and ALLM
Processing: 11.2 channels
Amplification : 9 channels
Power : 150W (per channel) with two channels driven
HDR formats: HDR10+, HLG, Dolby Vision
Audio formats: Dolby Atmos, Dolby Atmos Height Virtualizer, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Surround, DTS:X, DTS-HD Master Audio, Auro 3D
Streaming: Ethernet, wi-fi, Bluetooth (SBC / AAC), Airplay 2, Yamaha MusicCast, Spotify Connect

Reasons to buy

+
Spacious but powerful sound
+
Rhythmically sharp
+
Extremely versatile functionality

Reasons to avoid

-
QMS and QFT still to come
-
Not the warmest sound
-
Almost excessive DSP options

Yamaha considers the RX-A6A the best-value AVR in its current line-up as it boasts a near-identical feature set to the flagship (and much more expensive) RX-A8A but with changes to its internal circuitry and two fewer channels of amplification.

The A6A boast processing for 11 channels and amplification for nine, but users looking to put together a 7.2.4 system can add a stereo amp using line-level outputs for either the main left-right pair or the rear height speakers. 

Support for immersive formats includes Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Auro-3D, and upmixing technology such as Dolby Surround and DTS Neural:X. Meanwhile, there are options for those who don’t have the speakers for a complete surround system, including Dolby Atmos height virtualiser, Virtual Presence Speaker and Virtual Surround Back Speaker. 

All of the A6A's seven input and three output ports are 40Gbps HDMI 2.1, capable of handling uncompressed 4K@120Hz and 8K@60Hz signals and HDR10+. There's also support for gaming features ALLM and VRR, while QMS and QFT are to be added via a firmware upgrade at some point in the future. 

For streaming options, there’s the Yamaha MusicCast app, AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth 4.2 (SBC / AAC) on board, as well as Google Assistant and Alexa compatibility for voice control and a DAB+ and FM/AM tuner for good measure. The A6A is particularly generous regarding its hardwired audio inputs, with three optical, two coaxial and five analogue inputs, including, unusually, XLR sockets, and another dedicated to phono. 

The Yamaha RX-A6A is an impressively specced and versatile amp, but all that technology is backed up by a dynamic sonic performance packing sparklingly precise transients, crisp dialogue and a spacious, well-balanced soundstage. The A6A is one of the most responsive, clean and dynamic-sounding AVRs we’ve heard at this price.

Read the full Yamaha RX-A6A review

Simply sublime home cinema sound

Specifications

HDMI inputs: x7
HDMI outputs: x3 (including eARC)
HDMI 2.1?: Yes inc VRR, ALLM
Processing : 16 channels
Amplification : 7 channels
Power : 120W (8 ohms, 20Hz - 20kHz) with two channels driven

Reasons to buy

+
Sleek build with colour display
+
Clean open sound
+
HDMI 2.1 connectivity

Reasons to avoid

-
Only seven amplified channels
-
Dirac Bass control costs extra

The AVR31 sits at the top of Arcam's four-strong 2022 range, and is an equivalent premium model to the What Hi-Fi? award-winning Synthesis SDR35 from sister brand, JBL. Like JBL, Arcam only offers seven ways of amplification across the board, but with up to 16 channels of decoding, the AVR31 is capable of processing audio for systems up to 9.1.6 and is well placed to be enhanced with the addition of a separate power amplifier.

The seven channels of power on-board the AVR31 are Class G, a variation of A/B amplification that uses voltage rail switching to help maximise the amplifier's efficiency. This is the only AV receiver in Arcam’s new line-up that benefits from class-G to deliver a claimed 100W per channel with all channels driven, as well as an over-engineered toroidal transformer to help reduce noise. 

It offers wide-ranging audio format decoding, including Dolby AtmosDTS:XIMAX Enhanced and Auro-3D, as well as Dolby Virtual Height, DTS Neural:X and DTS Virtual:X for systems without height speakers. Support and a basic licence for Dirac Live’s advanced room correction software is included along with a calibration microphone.

There's a a healthy connectivity spec too that will appeal to movie fans and gamers alike, with seven HDMI 2.1 inputs and three outputs. All of these HDMI ports can handle 8K video signals at 60fps and 4K at 120fps with support for VRRALLMDolby Vision and HDR10+. Users can also stream content wirelessly using Apple AirPlay 2Bluetooth aptX HDGoogle ChromecastSpotify ConnectRoon and Tidal Connect.

When casting to the AVR31, album artwork is displayed on the generous full-colour display. This, along with a sophisticated grey finish, tactile silver volume dial and uncluttered design, lends it a sophisticated appearance befitting of its spec and sound.

Sonically the AVR31 puts in a lustrous performance with a clean, controlled clarity that unearths nuance and depth in film soundtracks and music alike. If future-proofed features are equally as important to you as having the very best sound quality, and your pockets are deep enough, then the AVR31 is an ideal choice for your home cinema.

Read the full AVR31 review

Another entry-level AVR belter from Denon.

Specifications

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

-
Less advanced Audyssey calibration tech

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.

The AVR-X2700H has now been replaced by the AVR-X2800H, but while retailers still have it in stock, it is certainly worth consideration, especially given the price increase of its successor. 

Read the full review: Denon AVR-X2700H

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

-
Incremental upgrade on its predecessor
-
HDMI 2.1 bug on pre-May 2021 models

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.

The AVC-X3700H has now been replaced by the AVC-X3800H, but some retailers still have it in stock. Despite this, if you can get your hands on one, it's still an excellent AVR and worth consideration, especially given the higher price of its successor. 

Read the full review: Denon AVC-X3700H

Arcam's entry-level AVR prioritises sound over features

Specifications

HDMI inputs: 7
HDMI outputs: HDMI outputs 2 (including eARC)
HDMI 2.1 : No
Processing: 7.1.4 channels
Amplification: 7 channels @ 60 Watts
Power: 86W (per channel) with two channels driven
HDR formats : HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision
Audio formats: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Dolby Digital, DD+, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Surround, Dolby Virtual Height, DTS Neural:X, DTS Virtual:X
Connectivity : Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Airplay 2, Chromecast

Reasons to buy

+
Agile and rhythmic
+
Full, clear delivery
+
Dynamically authoritative

Reasons to avoid

-
Lacks inbuilt calibration
-
HDMI 2.1 costs extra
-
Only seven channels of amplification

Arcam is so confident in the sound of the AVR5, its entry-level AVR, that it has removed features found in its more premium products that don’t have mass appeal to bring a hi-fi sensibility to its most affordable home cinema amp. 

The AVR5 sports seven channels of amplification with decoding for 12 channels of Dolby Atmos audio (up to 7.1.4) as well as rival immersive format DTS-X though any system larger than 5.1.2 will require the use of a separate power amplifier.

There are seven HDMI inputs and two outputs with 4K passthrough and HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision all supported. But the AVR5’s HDMI ports only support HDMI 2.0, with eARC being the only nod towards next-gen HDMI features. This means that those connecting a gaming PC, a PS5 or an Xbox Series X console won’t be able to take advantage of features such as 4K@120Hz gameplay, VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) or ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode). However it is possible to retroactively upgrade the AVR5 to HDMI 2.1 by sending the unit to an authorised Arcam service centre and paying an unconfirmed additional cost. 

Aside from HDMI, there’s also connectivity for wireless streaming courtesy of Apple AirPlay 2, Bluetooth aptX HD, Google Chromecast, and Spotify Connect. With support for MQA audio, subscribers to Tidal HiFi can listen to the highest available audio quality from Tidal Master recordings, while Roon users can slot it into existing multi-brand set-ups.

The AVR5 doesn't include automated room calibration but it is compatible with Dirac Live Room Correction providing upgradeable access at an additional cost – and it isn't cheap. Dirac’s licence tiers start at £247 / $259 / AU$366, but it isn't essential. You can calibrate the system manually using a Sound Pressure Level (SPL) meter
or a decent SPL app and a tape measure, and the AVR5’s main menu includes an internal test tone and options to assign speaker distances, levels, filter slope and crossover points.

Sonically the AVR5 delivers on its promise with a nimble but surefooted character, sparkling clarity and encompassing dynamic range. There are more affordable AVRs available with a higher on-paper spec, but with its transparency and agility, the AVR5 makes for an engaging listen across both movies and music.

Read the full review: Arcam AVR5

A powerful amp that was worth the wait.

Specifications

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

The latest iteration of Denon's award-winning 6000 series was released in 2020 with a slew of new next-gen features that will interest gamers. The AVC-X6700H boasts a new HDMI board with one of its eight inputs and two of its three outputs being HDMI 2.1-certified, enabling full support for 8K at up to 60Hz and 4K at 120Hz. The remaining seven HDMI 2.0  inputs also support 2.1 features such as VRR (Variable Refresh Rate), ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode), QMS (Quick Media Switching) and QFT (Quick Frame Transport). All inputs also support HDR10+ as well as HDR10HLG and Dolby Vision, and one of the outputs features eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel).

As well as 11 channels of power amplification (at a claimed 205W per channel) – and processing for 13, the AVC-X6700H affords 13 channels of DTS:X decoding and supports an arsenal of 3D formats, including Dolby Atmos, Atmos Height Virtualization, DTS:X, DTS Virtual:X, IMAX Enhanced and Auro-3D. 

If its wide-ranging, forward-thinking feature set wasn't enough, the AVC-X67000H delivers an impressive sound performance that has earned it a What Hi-Fi? award two years in a row. It has a more powerful presentation than its predecessor and the balance is more bass-heavy than in previous generations too. But any extra weight does not slow the AVC-X6700H down; it gives it gravitas for a more controlled and grown-up performance, with full and realistic voices,  detail and dynamic expression.

Prospective buyers should note that AVC-X67000H models manufactured before May 2021 contain a faulty HDMI 2.1 chip that prevents support of 4K gaming at 120Hz via the Xbox Series X.  But rest assured, models with serial numbers that end with 70001 onwards should be bug-free, and the issue can be remedied in older models with Sound United's external HDMI adaptor.  

Read the full AVC-X67000H review

An AV receiver with bold sound to match its bold looks

Specifications

Outputs: 7.1
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

-
Can lack 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

AV receiver FAQ

How much should I spend on a home theater receiver?

The size of the speaker system you have (or hope to expand to) will typically dictate the price point of the AV receiver that you consider, as brands will tend to decrease the number of channels with each step-down model. More expensive AVRs will have more power and be able to drive more speakers for larger Dolby Atmos and DTS:X set-ups or speakers in additional zones.

There is no hard and fast rule as to how much you should spend on each component in your surround sound system, but you’ll be doing your speakers a disservice if they cost 20 times the amount of your amplifier and vice versa. Usually, we’ll put a few pairing suggestions in our reviews, so that’s as good a place as any to get a broad idea of what will work, but as a rough rule of thumb, you should budget to spend around half as much on your amplifier as the cost of your speaker package. 

How many channels do I need?

Is Dolby Atmos/DTS:X worth it?

Most entry-level AVRs from the past two years offer at least seven channels of amplification which means they can handle a traditional 7.1 configuration compromising full range left, centre, right, side left, side right, rear left and rear right speakers as well as a subwoofer (the .1 represents processing for dedicated active subwoofer). Or, if a receiver supports Dolby Atmos (which most do), those seven channels can be rearranged into a 5.1.2 layout with the rear speakers swapped to be front height channels.

More premium amps can handle power up to 11 channels for 7.1.4 layouts, but if that's beyond the scope of your current set-up, remember that the number of channels an AVR can process, even with budget models, is usually greater than the number of amplified channels they provide. This means that if down the line you do want to add that extra pair of height speakers, you will have the option of adding a stereo amplifier to your existing system. 

We're big fans of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and if it's within your budget, we'd certainly say it justifies the extra channels and speakers. However, if you're limited to 5.1 by space or budget, that's no bad thing, and there are some great options that can help you achieve a top-quality immersive system.

How many HDMI inputs do I need?

Is it worth paying more for HDMI 2.1?

Typically, home theater receivers sport at least seven HDMI inputs, which should cover the majority of a user's streaming sticks, consoles and Blu-ray players. If not though, more expensive models will sometimes offer one or two more, and if you'd like to hook up both a TV and a projector, make sure that there are at least two HDMI outputs.

HDMI 2.1 is the latest standard for HDMI connectivity, with a bandwidth of up to 48Gbps. It supports gaming features that PCs, PS5 and Xbox Series X consoles can take advantage of, such as 4K@120Hz gameplay, VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) , ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode) QFT (Quick Frame Transport) and QMS (Quick Media Switching).

While most home cinema receivers from the past two years will have at least one HDMI 2.1 output with eARC, some entry-level models only offer HDMI 2.0 input ports. But, unless you are a gamer, for most people, HDMI 2.0 will meet all their film-watching needs as it supports 4K signals at up to 60 frames per second, which no movie source currently goes beyond. 

How many Watts per channel do I need?

Manufacturers will recommend an amplifier power rating range in a speaker's specifications, and as with impedance, it's a good idea to check that this lines up with the average, or RMS power output, of an AVR. Sometimes this figure will only be given in relation to when only 2 channels are driven as its a higher (and more impressive) number, but the key here is to make sure that they are comparable, else your speakers may be underpowered and struggle to provide sufficient, impactful volume, or overdriven which may cause distortion and damage to speakers at high levels.

Do I need to impendence match my speakers to an AVR?

It's unlikely that you'll come across a AVR that won't be up to the task of driving a domestic speaker system or that will cause damage through incompatibility but it's still a good idea to check the specifications to try and get a good match. 

Most home cinema speakers will have an average impedance of 4 -8 Ohms which will be listed by the manufacturer in its specifications under 'nominal impendence'. This figure should ideally sit within the impendence range that an amplifier supports, because if a speaker has a particularly low impedance that an AVR is not designed to handle, it could potentially overload the power supply and cause damage.

Do I need room calibration software?

Some brands, such as Yamaha and Denon, include a step-by-step room calibration set-up and microphone with all their AVRs that will measure the response of your speakers with your room and apply an appropriate EQ that flattens any anomalies. 

Other brands, such as JBL and Arcam, offer third-party software Dirac with premium models, or as an optional upgrade for budget models.

If you purchase an AVR from a dealer that offers installation, calibration will likely be included. However, if you’re someone who likes fine-tuning or you’re likely to make changes to your set-up, it's important to bear in mind that you won't be able to make further adjustments.

However, optimization software is by no means essential, and you can still calibrate a system manually using a Sound Pressure Level (SPL) meter (there are now decent SPL apps that work fine if you've also got a good phone with a decent microphone, though a dedicated meter is still the way to go if possible) and a tape measure. Even budget AVRs include an internal test tone and options to assign speaker distances and levels. Those installing a home cinema in an unusually shaped space will benefit more from calibration software, but for typical usage, it's not vital.

For more advice, check out our guide on how to set up your home cinema speaker system.

What is the HDMI 2.1 bug and which AVRs are affected?

In 2020 several newly released gaming-friendly AV receivers were hit by a significant HDMI 2.1 bug that caused a black screen for users with next-gen consoles trying to play 4K games at 120Hz via an Xbox series X and Nvidia card. This problem may have only been an issue for a select group of users, but it was a significant blow for those who had eagerly purchased one of the latest and greatest AVRs for gaming set-up.

The glitch affects 2020-launched AV receivers from Denon, Marantz and Yamaha. We've listed the models below, but they all have one thing in common: the same HDMI 2.1 chip.

The impacted AV receivers include: Marantz's SR range (SR5015, SR6015, SR7015 and SR8015), Denon's X-series range (AVR-X2700H, AVC-X3700H, AVC-X4700H, AVC-X6700H) and Yamaha's RX-V4A, RX-V6A, RX-A2A, TSR-400 and TSR-700.

Sound United, the parent company for Denon and Marantz, "work[ed] tirelessly" to address this long-running HDMI issue. Since it was identified, all Denon and Marantz flagship receivers manufactured after May 2021 are officially glitch-free. This is because the latest units are fitted with a new HDMI 2.1 chip that doesn’t suffer the same flaws.

But how do you ensure you get one of the newer, glitch-free home cinema amplifiers? Denon has tweaked the serial number of the new models: numbers that end with serial numbers from 70001 onwards should be bug-free, as they will have been manufactured after May 2021 and boast the upgraded HDMI 2.1 chip.

If you have bought or are considering buying one of the earlier affected models, it's not all doom and gloom. You can get hold of Sound United's external HDMI adaptor, which contains the new chip and corrects the bug. Simply fill out the form on the Denon or Marantz website to get one for free. 

Meanwhile, Yamaha's most recent 2021 flagship AVRs (RX-A4A, RX-A6A and RX-A8A) are unaffected by the HDMI 2.1 glitch and have received a number of firmware upgrades to enable additional HDMI 2.1 features.

Regarding its older, affected models, Yamaha began a hardware upgrade programme, beginning in Autumn 2021, to update the HDMI board on select 2020 AV receivers to allow 4K/120Hz signal transmission for Xbox Series X and NVIDIA RTX30 GPU-based devices.

Yamaha advises owners of the RX-V4A, RX-V6A, RX-A2A, TSR-400 and TSR-700 AV receivers to register their devices with Yamaha to ensure that they receive direct communications on the programme and a 24-month complimentary upgrade offer.

At the time of the upgrade programme launch, Yamaha stressed that the update should only be used by those who are intending on using their AVR with high frame rate streams for gaming through the Xbox and Nvidia cards as the amps can still pass through 4K/60Hz signals with compatible HDR formats such as HDR10 and Dolby Vision, meaning that they are more than capable of handling film and TV formats.

How we test AV receivers

We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London, Reading and Bath, where our team of experienced, in-house reviewers test the majority of hi-fi and AV kit that passes through our door.

Each AVR we test is paired with a reference level speaker package and is directly compared to the best in its price and features class – whether that's the current What Hi-Fi? award winner or a few of the latest models we've been impressed by in recent reviews. What Hi-Fi? is all about comparative testing, and we keep class-leading products in our stockrooms so we can easily compare new products to ones we know and love.

We are always impartial and do our best to make sure we're hearing every product at its very best, so we'll try plenty of different styles of films, and TV shows that show what each AVR is capable of with both advanced and standard audio formats. We'll check all the features on board, including music playback with a variety of genres and allow for plenty of listening time as well as running them in before we begin reviewing.

All review verdicts are agreed upon by the team rather than an individual reviewer to eliminate any personal preference and to make sure we're being as thorough as possible, too. There's no input from PR companies or our sales team when it comes to the verdict with What Hi-Fi? proud of having delivered honest, unbiased reviews for decades.

Mary is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi? and has over a decade of experience working as a sound engineer mixing live events, music and theatre. Her mixing credits include productions at The National Theatre and in the West End, as well as original musicals composed by Mark Knopfler, Tori Amos, Guy Chambers, Howard Goodall and Dan Gillespie Sells. 

  • 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