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 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.

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

Best AV receivers 2019: Brilliant home cinema amplifiers

1. Sony STR-DN1080

Best AV receiver in its class at the 2017 and 2018 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 AV receiver was best in class when we originally tested it at around £500, but now that it has dropped to £399 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 from home cinema amplifiers at this sort of price.

Read the full review: Sony STR-DN1080

Best AV receivers 2019: Brilliant home cinema amplifiers

2. Denon AVR-X3500H

The AVR-X3500H is a 2018 Award winner, with excellent 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 is a 7.2-channel home cinema amplifier with a fine spread of features, including Alexa Voice Control and Apple AirPlay2. Connectivity extends to eight HDMI inputs and there's even a phono stage for a turntable.

The fact it's comfortable driving our reference PMC Twenty5 package speaks volumes - it delivers the the rumbles and thumps of high-action thrillers, with added solidity felt across the board. Voices and soundtracks benefit from its authority and stability. If you're looking to make the step up from a budget amp, this is the way to go.

Read the full review: Denon AVR-X3500H

Best AV receivers 2019: Brilliant home cinema amplifiers

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 receivers 2019: Brilliant home cinema amplifiers

4. Denon AVC-X6500H

What Hi-Fi? Awards 2018 winner. Denon leads the way with this premium 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

Best AV receivers 2019: Brilliant home cinema amplifiers

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 felt (in many ways) worthy of its marginally loftier £650 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, at around £370, 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

(Image credit: Denon)

6. Denon AVR-X2600H

Another superb mid-range AV receiver from Denon.

SPECIFICATIONS

Power output: 150W | Channels: 7.2 | Video support: 4K HDR | Surround formats: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X | HDMI inputs: 8 | Wi-fi: Yes | Bluetooth: Yes | Features: DTS Virtual:X, Apple AirPlay 2, HEOS, Amazon Alexa supported | Dimensions: 16.7 x 43.4 x 33cm (HxWxD)

Reasons to Buy
Weighty and expressive sound
eARC HDMI support
Atmos 5.2.1 compatibility
Reasons to Avoid
Not the last word in subtlety

The Denon AVR-X2600H has extremely tough competition in Sony's Award-winning home cinema amp features above, but rises to its challenge admirably. As well as boasting updated features and a greater ensemble of connections, its sonic character is likely to be favourable to those seeking a weighty blockbuster experience.

It isn't just greater power that this Denon possesses, however: its performance is taut and punchy, with great handling of dynamics that'll make dialogue sing and scores come to life.

Read the full review: Denon AVR-X2600H

Best AV receivers 2019: Brilliant home cinema amplifiers

7. Yamaha RX-A1080

A fine 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