Nothing beats a movie theater for its stunning picture and immersive sound, but it isn’t always convenient to catch the latest blockbusters on the big screen. Fortunately, with an AV receiver, you can bring a bit of the movie theater experience right to your living room. The best models offer 8K video, Dolby Atmos and Wi-Fi music streaming, but with detailed specs and hardware, shopping for one can be a bit intimidating. CNET is here to help, and we’ve rounded up the best AV receivers you can buy right now.
If you divide your time between watching TV and listening to music, there are several models which can do both well, including two excellent Onkyo receivers in the TX-NR6100 and TX-RZ50. The recently reviewed Sony STR-AN1000 is also a strong competitor under $1,000, though it costs slightly more than the rest.
So how do you know which is the best AV receiver for you? I’ve tested the most popular models between $500 and $2,000 to help you find the best AV receivers 2023 has to offer.
Which receiver should I buy?
If you’re spending under $1,000, there are four main receivers to choose from — the Sony STR-AN1000, the Yamaha RX-V6A, the Onkyo TX-NR6100 and the Denon AVR-960H. All offer excellent performance, so the short answer about which to buy is whichever is available for the lowest price. At the moment, that is either the Denon or the Onkyo, which are both on sale for under $600 as I type this. I especially recommend the Onkyo TX-NR6100 for its combination of excellent performance and connectivity. The Onkyo offers easy setup, excellent usability, solid looks and useful features, including the best streaming suite alongside Sony. As an added plus, the Onkyo was never prone to the 4K issue that plagued early versions of the Yamaha RX-V6A.
Meanwhile, the step-up Onkyo TX-RZ50 is an excellent receiver if you’re looking for the next level of features and a performance bump over sub-$1,000 models. It offers an excellent, if slightly scary, calibration routine from Dirac Live and the best number of streaming features on the market. It sounds great with music and movies alike.
Lastly, if it’s home theater thrills you’re after, the Yamaha RX-A4A offers crisp, dynamic sound and fantastic build quality for $1,300.
How CNET tests
At CNET I test audio equipment from compact soundbars though to surround sound systems, but regardless of the device my methodology is essentially the same. I always compare products against one or more reference devices that offer the best performance at a similar price.
When it comes to receivers I want to see how well a system performs with music and movies, as most people will want to do both. I watch some test scenes from 4K Blu-ray or streamed from a 4K streaming service (Vudu, for example) and evaluate aspects such as Dolby Atmos surround performance and dialog clarity. I also use several test music tracks and evaluate streaming features such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Systems that can perform well with both types of entertainment inevitably score the highest.
Check out CNET’s receiver buying guide for more about the features and things you should consider when looking for a new system.
Other AV receivers I’ve tested
- Denon AVR-S960H ($499, save $350): The Denon may not be as glittering and shiny as the Yamaha RX-V6A, but it still offers excellent sound quality. The receiver is laid-back, blends well with forward-sounding speakers and replays music beautifully. It’s not quite as good as the Yamaha RX-V6A or the Onkyo TX-NR6100 as it has neither the former’s home theater chops nor the latter’s streaming options. It’s currently on sale, though, which does make it an excellent value. Read CNET’s Denon AVR-S960H review.
- Yamaha RX-V6A ($599, save $150): This Yamaha RX-V6A offers a fresh look at AV receiver design, with its futuristic edges and simple controls, while maximizing sound quality. The Yamaha might even make you forget about visiting a cinema ever again, and it’s no slouch with music, either. It offers plenty of connectivity with Wi-Fi bringing AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Bluetooth and Yamaha’s MusicCast system for streaming from your devices. Notably, the TSR-700 is identical — it’s an exclusive model for some outlets — and you can find it for $550 here at Amazon. Find out more in CNET’s Yamaha RX-V6A review.
- Marantz SR6015 ($1,599, save $600): The Marantz SR6015 does everything you’d expect — Dolby Atmos, music streaming, 4K/120Hz throughput — and with a good deal of aplomb. It sounds great, but it’s not as flexible as the best receivers here — for instance, you can’t watch a video source while listening to music, like the Onkyos can, and neither can you ask a Google Nest to play a song on it. The Marantz SR6015 has been replaced by the Cinema 500 but as it is selling out for its original price it’s a good deal.
AV receiver FAQs
Other features to look for in an AV receiver
AV receivers are notoriously complex, with reams of features and confusing technical specifications. (For example, what’s 4K/120Hz anyway?) Yet, what are the things that really matter when buying a new model? I’m going to sum up the most important ones right here.
- HDMI inputs: With most TVs and set-top boxes supporting HDMI, you should buy a receiver that has as many of these HDMI input ports and outputs as possible. Front-mounted HDMI ports are kind of like an appendix — unneeded, because most users don’t hot-plug HDMI devices — making the number of rear inputs what’s most important. (How else are you going to connect your Roku, Blu-ray player, Nintendo Switch and all your other devices?) The Onkyo TX-NR6100 has six rear-mounted HDMI inputs, while the Denon AVR-S960H and Yamaha RX-V6A go one better with seven. If you want to connect two different displays — a TV and a projector, for example — all but the Yamaha offer a second HDMI output. You should also be sure you have an extra HDMI cable or two on hand — these things are like the second sock of a pair in that you can never find them when you need them.
- Dolby Atmos capability: Most receivers in the $500-and-above price range include Dolby Atmos capability and DTS:X, but the effect they have on your home theater movie-watching can be subtle, or in most movies, nonexistent. In other words, don’t worry about missing out on these formats if you don’t install an extra height speaker or two. Mounting your rear surround speakers high on the wall will get you halfway there in terms of quality, immersive sound.
- Wi-Fi music streaming: Most midrange receivers have onboard Wi-Fi network connectivity for wireless music streaming through your speaker system. There are plenty of standards for wireless streaming services, but the most universal are Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 1 and 2 and Google 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 three flavors to aim for. Onkyo and Sony are the only devices to support all three. The Denon receiver model lacks wireless streaming via Chromecast, but ups the ante to AirPlay 2 and the proprietary HEOS system. Meanwhile, Yamaha has its own MusicCast system.
For more general information on what you should be looking for, check out this AV receiver buying guide.