This year has signified a shifting tide in the world of home cinema receivers, as mainstay players such as Denon and JBL have been succeeded by Sony and Arcam. In a market rocked by fluctuating prices and competing technology, manufacturers were required to be daring and step up their sonic game. And two most certainly did.
So what made the Sony and Arcam so good? And what did these two models do better than their competition? Here's the full lowdown.
Let's start with the Sony TA-AN1000, which has earned itself the prestigious title of "Best home cinema amplifier under £1500". Truthfully, we had an inkling that this AV amplifier was a candidate for this Award back in April when we first tested it. Still, consolidated this with further testing against competitors from the likes of Yamaha and Denon, and it turns out we were right.
This is actually the first Awards list not to feature a Denon AV receiver since 2015, which just goes to show how the brand has dominated the category over the best part of a decade and how special the Sony is to oust it from the entry-level award. The Sony is pricier than the Denon AVR-X2800H albeit cheaper than the AVC-X3800H while also outperforming both. Therefore, we deemed it to be the sweet spot between these two five-star home cinema amplifiers, thus eliminating both.
It's also the first time since Sony has been on this coveted list since 2020, as that year signified the end of the legendary Sony STR-DN1080's prolific run on in our yearly Awards lists. Bear in mind that the legendary AVR launched in 2017, meaning the DN1080 spent four years at the top of our home cinema receiver list. This also means that the TA-AN1000 was nearly seven years in the making, and there was an agonising three-year wait for a successor when the DN1080 went out of production.
So was the wait worth it? Unequivocally, our answer is yes. The TA-AN1000 is a sonic marvel, with weighty, impactful dynamics and crisp, detailed and precise sound that only gets better the more we use it. Pair that with a host of streaming smarts, HDMI 2.1 with 4K/120Hz capability and support for HDR in the Dolby Vision, HLG and HDR10 formats, and we have a feature set to match the formidable sound.
But the Sony isn't the only inspiring tale on our Home Cinema Amplifiers Awards list, as Arcam enjoys success with its AVR31 (pictured below). Launching last year and narrowly missing out to the JBL Synthesis SDR-35 in our 2022 Awards, the Arcam finally sees its time to shine.
The two AVRs were so closely matched in our testing last year, but after a tough call, the JBL edged out the Arcam due to the slightly better sound and minor price disparity. However, the SDR-35 has just been phased out for a nearly identically sounding and considerably more expensive model, meaning we struggled to justify the marginal sonic improvements this time around.
That's not to say that the Arcam is the default winner that was only chosen for this reason, as the AVR31 won its well-deserved 'Best Home Cinema Amplifier over £1500' Award on its own merit. In our five-star review, we praised its clean and spacious sound, HDMI 2.1 connectivity for gamers and eye-catching build, making it a stunning premium option for those looking to power their home cinema speaker system.
Capable of delivering up to 16 channels of processing over seven channels of amplification, the AVR31 has practically every feature you'll need including support for Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, IMAX Enhanced and Auro-3D, as well as Dolby Virtual Height, DTS Neural:X and DTS Virtual:X for systems without height speakers. You'll also find HDR in all of the current formats (Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HDR10, HLG) as well as VRR and ALLM for satisfying gamers playing on the latest-generation consoles. This is also a streaming-savvy AVR, with support for streaming via Google Chromecast built-in, Apple AirPlay 2, Bluetooth aptX HD, Free MusicLife, supports MQA, Roon Ready, Tidal Connect and Spotify Connect – catch all that?
So what has the What Hi-Fi? Awards Best Home Cinema Amplifier category taught us this year? We suppose it's that good things come to those who wait, as both Sony and Arcam can bask in the limelight after biding their time and perfecting their craft. Both are excellent options if you're looking to drive cinematic sound in your home theatre or living room setup.
Read our full Sony TA-AN1000 review
And our full Acram AVR31 review
Here's our full list of What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023 winners
And check out our picks for the best home cinema amplifiers