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.
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.
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 last year’s model is quite surprisingly marked.
The energy of the performance is immediately striking. There’s greater muscle than before, but it is also even more lithe 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.
Read the full review: Denon AVC-X3700H
The fact that this was our Product of the Year for two years in a row – and picked up a fourth Award in 2020 – 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 6000 lineage was one of those Denon decided not to upgrade in 2019, waiting until this year to double down on those usually annual improvements. Returning, it has managed to eke out yet more performance and reassess – if not exactly redefine – what is achievable with a two-grand home cinema amp.
It is certainly a more powerful presentation than two years ago – not by a huge amount, but enough to notice when you’ve used the AVC-X6500H as much as we have – and this Denon wields that power with great verve and precision.
The balance is more bass-heavy than in previous generations too, and some might want to dial a little of that out from time to time, but any extra weight does not slow the AVC-X6700H down. It just makes this feel like a more controlled and grown-up performance, with that extra low end working to deliver full and realistic voices as much as it is able to box you around the room when allowed.
Read the full review: Denon AVC-X6700H
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.
Read the full review: Denon AVR-X2700H
Sometimes the differences between generations of Denon home cinema can appear minor. But that wasn't the case with the AVR-X3600H.
Rather than being merely an update on the 2018 Award-winning AVR-X3500H, it sat 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 tightened 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, it's only beaten by its successor above.
Read the full review: Denon AVR-X3600H
The AVR-X4500H is part of the same Denon Award-winning range as the X3500H, but unlike that model, which is now two generations old, the X4500H is only just being relieved from duty – so you can still get a decent deal.
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
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
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