Who should get this
If you have an older receiver without HDMI support, now is a good time to upgrade. All the new models we tested support HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2, which means they'll work with Ultra HD 4K displays and sources. If you already have an HDMI receiver but want to buy a 4K TV and want to be able to switch between 4K sources now (or soon), upgrading makes sense.
Wireless audio streaming has become much easier on newer receivers, as well. Our top pick offers AirPlay, Bluetooth, Pandora, and Spotify Connect support, along with the ability to directly connect to Internet radio stations and local DLNA servers. If you're still hooking your tablet or smartphone directly to your receiver instead of streaming, upgrading will make listening to that audio much easier.
New models also usually support Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, but as those audio technologies require more speakers, this isn't a major reason to upgrade (for most people, anyway).
If you already own an HDMI receiver and don't plan to use 4K sources or don't need to stream wirelessly, you can hold off for now. In most cases new receiver models won't sound any better than what you have; they'll just offer more features and futureproofing.
How we picked and tested
Photo: Chris Heinonen
In 2014, we surveyed Wirecutter readers to see what they wanted in a receiver. (Though we conducted that survey two years ago, in that period of time there have been no new surround-sound formats or HDMI versions that would significantly change what to buy.) We wanted to know how many speakers our readers used, how they listened to music and watched video, and what they expected from a receiver. Close to 1,000 people responded to the survey and helped us define the criteria we would look for in our choices.
Knowing what our readers wanted based on our survey, as well as keeping an eye on what features would be needed in the near future (as best as anyone can, that is), we narrowed our research and testing focus to receivers with:
- Five or more channels of audio
- Five or more HDMI inputs (along with a few analog-video inputs)
- Ability to decode Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio
- Access to online content, with emphasis on Pandora and Spotify support
- A way to stream music wirelessly, either Bluetooth or AirPlay
- A built-in phono stage (a bonus)
- Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support (a bonus)
This year, after all our research we brought in and tested six receivers that matched our criteria: the Anthem MRX 520, the Denon AVR-S720W, the Onkyo TX-NR555, the Pioneer VSX-1131, the Sony STR-DN1070, and the Yamaha RX-V481. See our full guide for more on how we established our criteria for how we picked and tested.
We tested the receivers in a 25 by 12 by 7½-foot home theater and in a 13 by 11 by 8-foot home theater using KEF R300 speakers for fronts and surrounds, a KEF R600C center channel, and an SVS PB-1000 subwoofer. We performed Atmos testing using KEF R50 Atmos modules. The KEF speakers are 8-ohm nominal loads and 88-decibel efficient (claimed), so a receiver should be able to drive them without too much effort.
Photo: Chris Heinonen
The Denon AVR-S710W is the best receiver for most people because it is the easiest to set up and has every feature most people will need. In our tests it sounded very good and didn't distort even at high volume levels. It supports important wireless streaming standards, has enough inputs for most people, and supports future standards in case you decide to upgrade.
The hard truth is that most receivers will sound almost identical at this price range because they use similar-quality amplifiers and digital-to-analog converters (DACs), so the major differentiator in sound quality will be your speakers. Because of this fact, features and price become more important when you're selecting a receiver.
A receiver is the most complex AV device most people will ever buy. Everything in your system has to run through it, so once you've gotten everything hooked up, it looks like a giant wire Cthulhu. Even for experienced AV enthusiasts, setting up a receiver, with its dozens of buttons and options, can be daunting.
However, our pick (along with the other Denon models) sets itself apart from the moment you turn it on, with its easy setup guide. It makes the process as painless as possible, running you through the setup step by step, helping you do everything necessary to get the receiver running—and we mean everything. For example, it guides you through hooking up your speakers, from stripping the wire to determining which ones are connected and then confirming that they're on the correct terminals.
Photo: Chris Heinonen
If the Denon AVR-S720W is unavailable, the Pioneer VSX-1131 is a good choice. It has most of the same features as our top pick, plus an additional HDMI input for seven in total. Like the AVR-S720W, the VSX-1131 has AirPlay, Bluetooth, Spotify Connect, Dolby Atmos, and integrated Wi-Fi support. It will convert an analog video signal to HDMI, too, so you need to run only a single cable to your TV. It even offers the component-video and phono inputs that the Denon model lacks, though it will accept only 480i over component, so you can't have your older Wii console or other device set to 480p mode. It also features Chromecast Audio support, which we really like to see.
Unlike the Denon AVR-S720W, which supports HDCP 2.2 on all six of its HDMI inputs as well as its output, only three of the Pioneer VSX-1131's seven HDMI inputs support HDCP 2.2, so it can't work with as many Ultra HD devices. The room-correction system is Pioneer's own MCACC, which in our tests didn't perform as well for us as the licensed Audyssey system on the top-pick Denon model.
Photo: Chris Heinonen
If you're concerned only about sound and don't need streaming features integrated into your receiver, the Anthem MRX 520 offers the best audio quality. The main reason you might want a model from the Anthem MRX series is because of the company's more advanced and powerful room correction (better than the one in our Denon pick, which is good for its class). In our tests, we ran all of the receivers through their integrated setup routines, and the Anthem was the only one to accurately detect and configure all of our speakers with a proper crossover. Anthem now offers an iOS version of its ARC app, as well, so you no longer need a PC to run the audio setup.
This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.
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