Best AV receivers Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best home cinema amplifiers you can buy in 2021.
If you have the space and budget there really is no substitute for a set of surround sound speakers powered by an AV receiver for a truly immersive home cinema experience.
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 sound channels, 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 even 8K) 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.
- The best Dolby Atmos movie scenes to test your home cinema sound
- Want something smaller? See our best soundbars
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 lither 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 and remains 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.
Sony has unfortunately discontinued the STR-DN1080 and it's now almost impossible to buy a new one in the UK It's worth considering a second-hand unit, though, and there's still decent availability in the US – for now.
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 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 well as occasionally boxing you around the room.
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
When hunting for an AV receiver or amplifier, it can be hard not to get caught up in the battle of the tech specs and those who become too focused on comparing spec sheets may well overlook the JBL Synthesis SDR-35.
While its format support is thorough, its amplification for just seven channels and current lack of HDMI 2.1 connections (all of the sockets are 18gbps HDMI 2.0s but a hardware upgrade to HDMI 2.1 will be offered towards the end of 2021) are trumped by Denon receivers costing around a sixth of its price tag.
In terms of sound quality though, this JBL is in a whole different league, delivering music and movies with a truly rare maturity and sophistication and if we were building a high-end home cinema from scratch, it would be the first component on the shortlist.
The range of supported HDR types is exemplary, with HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision and HDR10+ all offered on the video side, and Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Auro 3D and even IMAX Enhanced for audio. There's also Dolby Height Virtualisation and DTS Virtual:X on board for those who want to simulate height effects without the use of physical ceiling or up-firing speakers.
As well as a substantial selection of physical connections, there are plenty of ways to wirelessly get your content to the SDR-35 too with aptX HD Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay 2 and Google Chromecast on board. It also works with Harman’s MusicLife app, which allows for streaming of music from the likes of Tidal, Deezer and Qobuz, plus tracks stored on your own network.
Read the full review: JBL Synthesis SDR-35
Sometimes the differences between generations of Denon home cinema can appear minor. But that wasn't the case with the AVR-X3600H.
Rather than merely updating the 2018 Award-winning AVR-X3500H, Denon added two 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 amp 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