Want to find the best AV receiver for the money? I’ve recently tested some of the most popular big black box options from the major brands, and the feature sets and performance levels are impeccably high in this middling price range. From to to , these models have everything a home theater enthusiast needs.
Which receiver comes out on top?
Of the current receiver models I’ve reviewed, the Onkyo TX-NR696 is my favorite. The receiver offers excellent usability, great surround sound with plenty of headroom, solid looks and, most important, plenty of up-to-date features. The Onkyo retails for more than $500 but it’s regularly on sale for under that. Even at $580 the TX-NR696 is a great deal.
Thealso puts in a good show despite being from 2017, as does the 2019 Denon AVR-S750 which offers an even more refined performance than the Sony and Onkyo. I rated all three as “excellent,” with just a little daylight separating their overall CNET ratings. They’re all great performers and, as prices fluctuate regularly, if you can find one that’s significantly less expensive than the others, go for it.
The Onkyo TX-NR696 is the best budget-ish receiver released in 2019 with a wealth of connectivity that supports multiple audio formats with a big, bold sound. It isn’t the direct replacement to my favorite receiver of 2018, the TX-NR585, but this step-up model offers a number of improvements including a bump in power (80W to 100W) and a front-mounted HDMI cable port. If you can find the TX-NR696 under $500 that’s great but it’s still worth the extra coin.
The Sony STR-DN1080 was our 2017 Editors’ Choice, and it’s still an excellent package. Sound quality is not quite as strong as those of the Denon and Onkyo, but they’re all very close. If you want a receiver that offers ease of use and integrates both AirPlay (but not AirPlay 2) and Chromecast built-in wireless streaming, this is a great option. Don’t pay full price, though — it regularly goes on sale for between $400 and $500.
The 2019 AVR-S750H replaces the excellent S740H, and while it’s been tweaked a little, it appears to be essentially the same receiver. It has everything you need, including voice control compatible via both Amazon Alexa and Google speakers, Atmos and AirPlay 2.
The Yamaha RX-V485 offers quality sound at an affordable price, but for most people, it’s worth paying more for extra HDMI inputs and outputs and Dolby Atmos capability, available in all of the models above.
What to look for in a $500-ish receiver
AV receivers are notoriously complex, with reams of features and confusing technical specifications. I’m going to sum up the most important ones right here.
You want to make sure your new receiver can keep up with the latest TVs and video gear. Standards do change all the time, but the bare minimum right now is support for(at least or better). All of these models support 4K and HDR video.
- At least four HDMI inputs
With most televisions and set-top boxes supporting HDMI, you should buy a receiver that has as many of these inputs and outputs as possible. Front-mounted HDMI ports are kind of like appendices — unneeded, because most users don’t do hot-plugging of HDMI devices — making the number rear ports what’s most important. The Yamaha has the least at four, while the Sony and Onkyo have the most, at six. The Sony also offers a second HDMI-out for Zone 2.
- You don’t really need Dolby Atmos “height” speakers
The Yamaha is the only model here that doesn’t supportand but the effects they have on your movie watching can be subtle, or in most movies: nonexistent. In other words, don’t worry about missing out on these new formats if you don’t install the extra speakers. Mounting rear surrounds high on the wall instead will get you half of the way in terms of quality immersive sound.
Most midrange receivers have onboard Wi-Fi network wireless streaming for music. There are plenty of standards for wireless streaming services, but the most universal are Apple and Chromecast built in. If you’re looking to build a multiroom system with a variety of AV systems and speakers with wireless connectivity, these are the two flavors to aim for. The Onkyo and Sony are the only two that support both. The Denon models lack wireless streaming via Chromecast but up the ante to .
For more on what you should be looking for, check out.