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. So 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), consider upgrading.
Wireless audio streaming has become much easier on newer receivers as well. Our top pick offers AirPlay, Bluetooth, Pandora, Amazon Prime Music, Spotify Connect, Tidal, iHeart Radio, SiriusXM, Rhapsody, and more, 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.
How we picked and tested
We previously polled our readers to see what they wanted in a receiver. This gave us a good baseline for what inputs people need and what features might not be necessary. Though the features offered by receivers have changed a bit in the time since we did this, the data is still useful in helping us narrow the list of what we want. This let us set out a criteria for what we are after in a receiver today:
- Five or more channels of audio. Readers were pretty well split on if they were running two channels, three channels, or five channels when we asked. What no one was doing was running seven channels of sound. This was pre-Atmos, but almost no one is going to run rear speakers in addition to surround speakers.
- Four or more HDMI inputs with HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 support (along with a few analog-video inputs). Every year that goes by, the number of analog inputs drops, but having plenty of HDMI inputs is very important. Beyond quantity of ports, it's important that most inputs support the latest standards: HDMI 2.0 full bandwidth (18.0 GB/sec) and HDCP 2.2 copy protection. Without these two features, you will not be able to view upcoming Ultra HD sources with HDR, including Ultra HD Blu-ray or the upcoming Microsoft and Sony consoles, at their full potential.
- A way to stream music wirelessly, either Bluetooth, AirPlay, or Chromecast. We listen to almost all of our music wirelessly now, and so do most people. You need to be able to easily get that music to the receiver, no matter if you have iOS or Android, or if you're that person with a Windows Phone.
- Access to online content, with emphasis on Pandora and Spotify support. Even better is when the streaming services are built into the receiver. Spotify Connect is the most common service supported, but others, including Tidal, Amazon Prime Music, and more are available on some models.
- Full-range room correction. Without room correction, all of the receivers we test are going to sound the same. Room correction is a built-in software application that uses microphones and algorithms to automatically measure and adjust the audio output to perform its best in your room.
- Easy setup. A receiver is the most complex piece of AV gear around today. HDMI has made it easier to set up, but receivers still have more inputs and outputs than any related equipment.
- Ability to decode Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. If you can't decode the most recent audio codecs, you should look for a better receiver.
We tested the receivers in a 13-by-11-by-8-foot home theater using a 5.1.4 KEF in-wall THX speaker system. We also performed testing with a pair of KEF Q150 bookshelf speakers and R50 Atmos modules for a smaller system. 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.
Finally, we compared the receivers directly with each other using an ABX switch from Audio by Van Alstine. This let us instantly switch between two receivers at once to compare the sound without knowing which we were listening to, for a true blind test.
Our pick: Denon AVR-S730H
We picked the Denon AVR-S730H as the best receiver for most people because it's the easiest to set up and has every feature most people will need (and many that are nice to have). These include built-in Wi-Fi, room correction, support for seven channels, both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X 3D audio support, and six HDMI 2.0 inputs. It consistently sounded very good during our listening tests and didn't distort, even at high volume levels. It supports important wireless streaming standards and has enough inputs for most people. Denon has made small improvements over last year's model by adding support for more streaming services and upcoming Alexa compatibility.
Above all else, the Denon's ease of setup sets it apart from the vast majority of receivers. Once connected to your TV, on-screen prompts explain how to prepare and connect your speakers, make sure your devices are connected to inputs correctly, and allow you to run the Audyssey room-correction system. Even setting up the Wi-Fi is very easy if you have an iOS device, as the Denon can copy the settings from it. Other receivers can help with some of this, but none are as easy to use or cover as much territory as the Denon.
Without room correction, all the receivers in this price range sound identical. With room correction enabled, the Denon sounded better than the other models tested. It produced better stereo imaging and improved clarity in the treble. Other receivers also sounded better after room correction, but not by as much as the Denon.
Though most people are unlikely to take full advantage of the Denon's 7.1 capabilities, packing seven channels of amplification gives you some flexibility in how you configure your speakers.
If you do choose to use all seven channels, your options expand even further: You can do a 5.1.2 (a standard surround system plus two height speakers), 7.1, or 5.1 system with a second, separately controlled zone of analog stereo audio—perfect for outdoor speakers on the patio or bookshelf speakers in an adjacent den.
Runner-up: Pioneer VSX-832
If the Denon isn't available, the Pioneer VSX-832 is the next best option. It came in just behind the Denon for sound quality, with a smaller soundstage when using room correction, and has even more ways to stream music from your devices with Bluetooth, Chromecast, AirPlay, and PlayFi. Though it is only a 5.1 unit, a future firmware update will let you use 3.1.2 Atmos and DTS:X to simulate surround channels.
Upgrade pick: Anthem MRX 520
The Anthem MRX 520 offers the best sound quality of any receiver we tested, and it packs eight HDMI inputs, dual HDMI outputs, and the most customization. Pre-outs let you use it with an external amplifier if you have demanding speakers, and RS232 and IP Control let it work with almost any universal remote or control system. The Anthem MRX 520 can be the central component of a pretty large system, offering seven HDMI 2.0 inputs with HDCP 2.2 plus dual HDMI outputs.
Budget pick: Onkyo TX-SR373
If you don't need streaming audio features (aside from Bluetooth), the Onkyo TX-SR373 makes a good budget choice because you still get five channels of amplification, HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2 on all four HDMI inputs, a smartly arranged back panel, and integrated room correction. Only one pair of the speaker connections uses banana plugs, and the spring clips on the others don't easily accept anything larger than 14-gauge wire, but the receiver generally works well and sounds good.
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