Best AV receivers Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best home cinema amplifiers you can buy in 2020.
Naturally, soundbars are available in their masses to boost the sound performance of your TV. But if you really want the proper home cinema experience, there really is no substitute for a set of surround sound speakers and an AV receiver.
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. It might just be what you need while locked at home for the next few weeks.
The majority of 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 they can of course play vanilla 5.1 surround sound. Expect HDMI inputs that can pass through 4K and HDR video, with voice assistant support, Bluetooth wireless audio and Apple AirPlay extras on a fair number of models these days.
But most of all, the best AV receivers deliver brilliant, room-filling sound. And these are our pick of them, all tried, tested and star-rated in our dedicated testing rooms.
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.
It isn’t so much the fact that this is an altogether more powerful amplifier than the Award-winning AVR-X3500H – already a mighty receiver in its own right – but its muscle feels leaner and punches tend to sting more.
Truly, this is a heavyweight in every sense of the word. That's why we named it our AV receiver Product of the Year for 2019. For pound-per-performance value, this is the best of the best.
Read the full review: Denon AVR-X3600H
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/$650, but now that it has dropped in price 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.
There’s an incredible amount of detail, from natural, expressive voices to layers of insight and depth surrounding each sound effect. Dynamically-speaking, it's a fun and exciting listen, equally at home rendering tranquil, quiet moments as it is huge, wall-shuddering explosions. In a word, enthralling.
Read the full review: Sony STR-DN1080
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. Physical connections extend to eight HDMI inputs and three outputs, each capable of 4K HDR pass-through. Vinyl fan? Denon has you covered, thanks to the phono stage with which you can hook up a turntable.
The fact it's comfortable driving our reference PMC Twenty5 package speaks volumes – this is a serious piece of kit. It delivers all the rumbles and thumps of high-action thrillers, with added solidity felt across the board. Voices and soundtracks benefit from its authority and stability, which is helpful, as you'll stand a chance of actually making out what the actors are saying (not always easy during action flicks).
But crucially, it never sacrifices the low-end. With this much power at its disposal, it could easily become wearying, but the Denon never strays into that territory. Which is testament to its restraint.
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
The AVR-X4500H is part of the same Denon Award-winning range as the X3500H above (it sits above it), but unlike that model, which is nearing the end of its life, the X4500H won't be relieved from duty until later this year.
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
Despite the tweak to the model name, the 2018-launched AVC-X6500H is essentially a refreshing of 2017's Award-winning AVR-X6400H. So, it’s an 11-channel AV amplifier (Denon has removed the tuner section in favour of a tuner input, so refers to it as an AV amplifier rather than AV receiver) with all the nuts and bolts required for a serious home cinema system.
There are eight HDMI 2.2 inputs with eARC and 4K HDR support, compatibility with Dolby Atmos (7.1.4) and DTS:X and the ability to play hi-res music files and share them around the house via HEOS.
So how does it fare? Put it this way: 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
Though originally competing with home cinema amplifiers costing around £500, this Onkyo felt (in many ways) worthy of its 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 to speak of. Our only issue is that this Onkyo plays it a little too safe. It’s all a little too polite, too nice. Where are the risks? Where's the danger?
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. So it's more easy listening than hard rock. But at this sort of money, we can't argue too much.
Read the full review: Onkyo TX-NR686
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.
There's an immense sense of heft and grandeur to proceedings, which goes hand-in-glove with a superior scale and spaciousness. The result? A thrilling presentation that's always engrossing. Mark our words: this is the ideal partner to a throwabout summer blockbuster. Just add popcorn.
Pair it with a suitably gifted home speaker system, and your lounge will be transformed into a genuine home cinema.
It isn't just great 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.
This is a well-performing, feature-packed and future-proofed AV receiver for all your movie and music demands. Highly recommended.
Read the full review: Denon AVR-X2600H
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
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