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Best AV receivers 2019: brilliant home cinema amplifiers

Naturally, soundbars are available in their mass to boost the sound performance of your TV. But if you really want the proper 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. 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 was our Product of the Year for two years in a row – and picked up a third Award in 2019 – 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 £429 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

(Image credit: Denon)

2. Denon AVR-X3600H

A powerful upgrade on the Award-winning AVR-X3500H.

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: 16.7 x 43.4 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’s not the case with the AVR-X3600H.

Rather than being merely an update on the Award-winning AVR-X3500H, it now sits closer to the next model up, with two added amp channels and processing power for a further pair, upgraded power supply and power transformer and extruded aluminium heatsink.

Most importantly though, it tightens up the sound to a truly impressive degree. Its predecessor had muscle, but this Denon is even more clearly defined and at full fighting fitness. That's why we named it our AV receiver Product of the Year for 2019.

Read the full review: Denon AVR-X3600H

Best AV receivers 2019: Brilliant home cinema amplifiers

3. Denon AVR-X3500H

The AVR-X3500H was 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 a fine way to go.

Read the full review: Denon AVR-X3500H

Best AV receivers 2019: Brilliant home cinema amplifiers

4. 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

5. 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

6. 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)

7. 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

(Image credit: Future)

8. Marantz SR5014

A well-connected amp with pleasant character all of its own.

SPECIFICATIONS

Power output: 180W | Channels: 7.2 | Video support: 4K HDR | Surround formats: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X | HDMI inputs: 8 | Wi-fi: Yes | Bluetooth: Yes | Dimensions: 18 x 44 x 34cm (HWD)

Reasons to Buy

Powerful and full-bodied
No coarseness or sharp edges
Full complement of connections and tech

Reasons to Avoid

Lacks precision and dynamic expression

The SR5014 is more than a Denon amp in a Marantz mask, but it is unmistakably a close relative. You need only look to the rear of the chassis to find a board of connections near identical in breadth and layout to the former company's outgoing AVR-X3500H receiver shown above.

With the latest version of that model, the AVR-X3600H, raising the bar in terms of channels, and also its price, this Marantz SR5014 immediately sets out its stall as being the way to achieve a 180W-per-channel, 7.2 system for only £849.

It might not reach the same heights in terms of precision or dynamic range, but few do, and it makes up for it with a powerful and warm presentation that is very easy on the ear. For those seeking a powerful and smooth 7.2-channel amplifier for under a grand, it has to be near the top of the list. What it does well, it does very well indeed.

Read the full review: Marantz SR5014

Best AV receivers 2019: Brilliant home cinema amplifiers

9. 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