Best AV receivers Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best home cinema amplifiers you can buy in 2022.
If you're even remotely serious about your home cinema, then there really is no greater single improvement you can make to your entertainment system than adding a set of surround sound speakers driven by a top-quality, well-paired AV receiver.
How to choose the best AV receiver for you
AV receivers have many different monikers: AVR, surround sound amp, home theater receiver, Dolby Atmos receiver - but all these names refer to a multichannel amplifier that can decode surround sound information while also acting as a video and streaming hub for AV input sources and output devices.
The home cinema amplifier is essentially the brains and power of any home theater system, and a high-quality model will ensure that your TV and films sound emphatic, detailed and dynamic and genuinely give you that immersive experience.
The most crucial thing to consider when buying an AVR is matching it to the size of your surround system and deciding whether to allow for expansion in the future. Plenty of AV receivers now include Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support for adding even more sound channels with the addition of height channel speakers. Sometimes, these channels can also be deployed as a second zone.
The number of HDMI inputs you need is another important factor. Most AVRs come with several HDMI inputs that can pass through 4K (and even 8K) and HDR video. Still, it's worth thinking about whether you'll benefit from the next-gen gaming specs of HDMI 2.1 or if you'll be using your home cinema primarily for film and TV, in which case, cheaper HDMI 2.0 ports will suffice.
With so much to consider, setting up an AVR yourself can be daunting, but many companies include a microphone and step-by-step sound to guide you through the optimisation process. Others go even further and can be enhanced by 3rd party calibration software for more in-depth tweaking. Whether you're getting your AVR installed by a professional or going it alone, make sure that you're comfortable with the interface's user-friendliness.
Modern AVRs have become real home entertainment hubs and can bring a host of features such as Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay, multi-room streaming and DAB to your system, making it truly versatile and multi-functional. But most of all, the best AV receivers deliver brilliant, room-filling sound. Below you'll find our pick of them, all tried, tested and star-rated in our dedicated testing rooms, along with an AVR FAQ at the bottom of the page.
- 22 of the best Dolby Atmos movie scenes to test your home cinema sound
- Want something smaller? See our pick of the best soundbars: budget to premium
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 2021 What Hi-Fi? Award-winning 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
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 its predecessor is quite surprisingly marked, which is why its retained its What Hi-Fi? Award in 2021.
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
Yamaha considers the RX-A6A the best-value AVR in its current line-up as it boasts a near-identical feature set to the flagship (and much more expensive) RX-A8A but with changes to its internal circuitry and two fewer channels of amplification.
The A6A boast processing for 11 channels and amplification for nine, but users looking to put together a 7.2.4 system can add a stereo amp using line-level outputs for either the main left-right pair or the rear height speakers.
Support for immersive formats includes Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Auro-3D, and upmixing technology such as Dolby Surround and DTS Neural:X. Meanwhile, there are options for those who don’t have the speakers for a complete surround system, including Dolby Atmos height virtualiser, Virtual Presence Speaker and Virtual Surround Back Speaker.
All of the A6A's seven input and three output ports are 40Gbps HDMI 2.1, capable of handling uncompressed 4K@120Hz and 8K@60Hz signals and HDR10+. As of August 2022, gaming features such as ALLM and VRR will also be supported, but there’s still no date for when QMS and QFT will be added.
For streaming options, there’s the Yamaha MusicCast app, AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth 4.2 (SBC / AAC) on board, as well as Google Assistant and Alexa compatibility for voice control and a DAB+ and FM/AM tuner for good measure. The A6A is particularly generous regarding its hardwired audio inputs, with three optical, two coaxial and five analogue inputs, including, unusually, XLR sockets, and another dedicated to phono.
The Yamaha RX-A6A is an impressively specced and versatile amp, but all that technology is backed up by a dynamic sonic performance packing sparklingly precise transients, crisp dialogue and a spacious, well-balanced soundstage. The A6A is one of the most responsive, clean and dynamic-sounding AVRs we’ve heard at this price.
Read the full Yamaha RX-A6A review
The latest iteration of Denon's award-winning 6000 series was released in 2020 with a slew of new next-gen features that will interest gamers. The AVC-X6700H boasts a new HDMI board with one of its eight inputs and two of its three outputs being HDMI 2.1-certified, enabling full support for 8K at up to 60Hz and 4K at 120Hz. The remaining seven HDMI 2.0 inputs also support 2.1 features such as VRR (Variable Refresh Rate), ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode), QMS (Quick Media Switching) and QFT (Quick Frame Transport). All inputs also support HDR10+ as well as HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision, and one of the outputs features eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel).
As well as 11 channels of power amplification (at a claimed 205W per channel) – and processing for 13, the AVC-X6700H affords 13 channels of DTS:X decoding and supports an arsenal of 3D formats, including Dolby Atmos, Atmos Height Virtualization, DTS:X, DTS Virtual:X, IMAX Enhanced and Auro-3D.
If its wide-ranging, forward-thinking feature set wasn't enough, the AVC-X67000H delivers an impressive sound performance that has earned it a What Hi-Fi? award two years in a row. It has a more powerful presentation than its predecessor and the balance is more bass-heavy than in previous generations too. But any extra weight does not slow the AVC-X6700H down; it gives it gravitas for a more controlled and grown-up performance, with full and realistic voices, detail and dynamic expression.
Prospective buyers should note that AVC-X67000H models manufactured before May 2021 contain a faulty HDMI 2.1 chip that prevents support of 4K gaming at 120Hz via the Xbox Series X. But rest assured, models with serial numbers that end with 70001 onwards should be bug-free, and the issue can be remedied in older models with Sound United's external HDMI adaptor.
Read the full AVC-X67000H review
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
Arcam is so confident in the sound of the AVR5, its entry-level AVR, that it has removed features found in its more premium products that don’t have mass appeal to bring a hi-fi sensibility to its most affordable home cinema amp.
The AVR5 sports seven channels of amplification with decoding for 12 channels of Dolby Atmos audio (up to 7.1.4) as well as rival immersive format DTS-X though any system larger than 5.1.2 will require the use of a separate power amplifier.
There are seven HDMI inputs and two outputs with 4K passthrough and HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision all supported. But the AVR5’s HDMI ports only support HDMI 2.0, with eARC being the only nod towards next-gen HDMI features. This means that those connecting a gaming PC, a PS5 or an Xbox Series X console won’t be able to take advantage of features such as 4K@120Hz gameplay, VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) or ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode). However it is possible to retroactively upgrade the AVR5 to HDMI 2.1 by sending the unit to an authorised Arcam service centre and paying an unconfirmed additional cost.
Aside from HDMI, there’s also connectivity for wireless streaming courtesy of Apple AirPlay 2, Bluetooth aptX HD, Google Chromecast, and Spotify Connect. With support for MQA audio, subscribers to Tidal HiFi can listen to the highest available audio quality from Tidal Master recordings, while Roon users can slot it into existing multi-brand set-ups.
The AVR5 doesn't include automated room calibration but it is compatible with Dirac Live Room Correction providing upgradeable access at an additional cost – and it isn't cheap. Dirac’s licence tiers start at £247 / $259 / AU$366, but it isn't essential. You can calibrate the system manually using a Sound Pressure Level (SPL) meter
or a decent SPL app and a tape measure, and the AVR5’s main menu includes an internal test tone and options to assign speaker distances, levels, filter slope and crossover points.
Sonically the AVR5 delivers on its promise with a nimble but surefooted character, sparkling clarity and encompassing dynamic range. There are more affordable AVRs available with a higher on-paper spec, but with its transparency and agility, the AVR5 makes for an engaging listen across both movies and music.
Read the full review: Arcam AVR5
Part of Yamaha's premium Aventage range, the RX-A2A is the beneficiary of a glossy aesthetic revamp as well as an injection of next-generation connectivity that will future-proof it for the coming years.
With seven full-range channels of power, each rated at 100W into eight ohms in stereo conditions, plus two subwoofer outputs, the RX-A2A can handle up to 7.1 speaker configurations or, if using the supported Dolby Atmos and DTS:X decoding, a 5.1.2 set-up.
Sonically it's impressive and incredibly responsive, delivering punchy transients, spacious surround sound and plenty of musical drive.
For streaming, there's Yamaha’s MusicCast app, which allows for high-res and lossless music formats including Apple Lossless (ALAC) up to 96kHz, WAV, FLAC or AIFF up to 192kHz as well as playback from services including Spotify and Tidal. There’s also AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth (SBC / AAC) on board and Google Assistant/Alexa compatibility for voice control, not to mention a DAB+ and FM/AM tuner.
There are several planned upgrades that Yamaha will make to the RX-A2A to get it up to full spec, but it will eventually support up to 4K at 120Hz (both with and without display screen compression) and 8K at 60Hz (with display screen compression) through three of its seven HDMI inputs.
These features, along with other next-gen HDMI updates and HDR10+, will only become available thanks to a series of firmware updates beginning this Autumn. A free hardware upgrade will also be available to make it fully compatible with 4K at 120Hz signals from an Xbox Series X or Nvidia RTX30-series graphics card.
But the lack of these features out of the box will probably only matter if you're a hardcore gamer. For films, the RX-A2A handles 4K signals at up to 60 frames per second, which no source currently goes beyond, and supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision video formats.
Read the full review: Yamaha RX-A2A
AV receiver FAQ
How much should I spend on a home theater receiver?
The size of the speaker system you have (or hope to expand to) will typically dictate the price point of the AV receiver that you consider, as brands will tend to decrease the number of channels with each step-down model. More expensive AVRs will have more power and be able to drive more speakers for larger Dolby Atmos and DTS:X set-ups or speakers in additional zones.
There is no hard and fast rule as to how much you should spend on each component in your surround sound system, but you’ll be doing your speakers a disservice if they cost 20 times the amount of your amplifier and vice versa. Usually, we’ll put a few pairing suggestions in our reviews, so that’s as good a place as any to get a broad idea of what will work, but as a rough rule of thumb, you should budget to spend around half as much on your amplifier as the cost of your speaker package.
How many channels do I need? Is Dolby Atmos/DTS:X worth it?
Most entry-level AVRs from the past two years offer at least seven channels of amplification which means they can handle a traditional 7.1 configuration compromising full range left, centre, right, side left, side right, rear left and rear right speakers as well as a subwoofer (the .1 represents processing for dedicated active subwoofer). Or, if a receiver supports Dolby Atmos (which most do), those seven channels can be rearranged into a 5.1.2 layout with the rear speakers swapped to be front height channels.
More premium amps can handle power up to 11 channels for 7.1.4 layouts, but if that's beyond the scope of your current set-up, remember that the number of channels an AVR can process, even with budget models, is usually greater than the number of amplified channels they provide. This means that if down the line you do want to add that extra pair of height speakers, you will have the option of adding a stereo amplifier to your existing system.
We're big fans of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and if it's within your budget, we'd certainly say it justifies the extra channels and speakers. However, if you're limited to 5.1 by space or budget, that's no bad thing, and there are some great options that can help you achieve a top-quality immersive system.
How many HDMI inputs do I need and is it worth paying more for HDMI 2.1?
Typically, home theater receivers sport at least seven HDMI inputs, which should cover the majority of a user's streaming sticks, consoles and Blu-ray players. If not though, more expensive models will sometimes offer one or two more, and if you'd like to hook up both a TV and a projector, make sure that there are at least two HDMI outputs.
HDMI 2.1 is the latest standard for HDMI connectivity, with a bandwidth of up to 48Gbps. It supports gaming features that PCs, PS5 and Xbox Series X consoles can take advantage of, such as 4K@120Hz gameplay, VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) , ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode) QFT (Quick Frame Transport) and QMS (Quick Media Switching).
While most home cinema receivers from the past two years will have at least one HDMI 2.1 output with eARC, some entry-level models only offer HDMI 2.0 input ports. But, unless you are a gamer, for most people, HDMI 2.0 will meet all their film-watching needs as it supports 4K signals at up to 60 frames per second, which no movie source currently goes beyond.
How many Watts per channel do I need?
Manufacturers will recommend an amplifier power rating range in a speaker's specifications, and as with impedance, it's a good idea to check that this lines up with the average, or RMS power output, of an AVR. Sometimes this figure will only be given in relation to when only 2 channels are driven as its a higher (and more impressive) number, but the key here is to make sure that they are comparable, else you speakers may be underpowered, and struggle to provide sufficient, impactful volume, or overdriven which may cause distortion and damage to speakers at high levels.
Do I need to impendence match my speakers to an AVR?
It's unlikely that you'll come across a AVR that won't be up to the task of driving a domestic speaker system or that will cause damage through incompatibility but it's still a good idea to check the specifications to try and get a good match.
Most home cinema speakers will have an average impedance of 4 -8 Ohms which will be listed by the manufacturer in its specifications under 'nominal impendence'. This figure should ideally sit within the impendence range that an amplifier supports, because if a speaker has a particularly low impedance that an AVR is not designed to handle, it could potentially overload the power supply and cause damage
Do I need room calibration software?
Some brands, such as Yamaha and Denon, include a step-by-step room calibration set-up and microphone with all their AVRs that will measure the response of your speakers with your room and apply an appropriate EQ that flattens any anomalies.
Other brands, such as JBL and Arcam, offer third-party software Dirac with premium models, or as an optional upgrade for budget models.
If you purchase an AVR from a dealer that offers installation, calibration will likely be included. However, if you’re someone who likes fine-tuning or you’re likely to make changes to your set-up, it's important to bear in mind that you won't be able to make further adjustments.
However, optimization software is by no means essential, and you can still calibrate a system manually using a Sound Pressure Level (SPL) meter (there are now decent SPL apps that work fine if you've also got a good phone with a decent microphone, though a dedicated meter is still the way to go if possible) and a tape measure. Even budget AVRs include an internal test tone and options to assign speaker distances and levels. Those installing a home cinema in an unusually shaped space will benefit more from calibration software, but for typical usage, it's not vital.
For more advice, check out our guide on how to set up your home cinema speaker system.
How we test AV receivers
We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London, Reading and Bath, where our team of experienced, in-house reviewers test the majority of hi-fi and AV kit that passes through our door.
Each AVR we test is paired with a reference level speaker package and is directly compared to the best in its price and features class – whether that's the current What Hi-Fi? award winner or a few of the latest models we've been impressed by in recent reviews. What Hi-Fi? is all about comparative testing, and we keep class-leading products in our stockrooms so we can easily compare new products to ones we know and love.
We are always impartial and do our best to make sure we're hearing every product at its very best, so we'll try plenty of different styles of films, and TV shows that show what each AVR is capable of with both advanced and standard audio formats. We'll check all the features on board, including music playback with a variety of genres and allow for plenty of listening time as well as running them in before we begin reviewing.
All review verdicts are agreed upon by the team rather than an individual reviewer to eliminate any personal preference and to make sure we're being as thorough as possible, too. There's no input from PR companies or our sales team when it comes to the verdict with What Hi-Fi? proud of having delivered honest, unbiased reviews for decades.