If you’re a movie lover, but aren’t quite ready to go out to the cinema on a regular basis, then an AV receiver could be the best way to bring Hollywood to you. Modern AV receivers can bring up-to-date features such as 8K video, Dolby Atmos and Wi-Fi music streaming.
If you divide your time between TV watching and listening to music there are a number of models which can do both well, including the excellent Yamaha RX-V6A and Onkyo TX-RZ50. Another brand which tends to perform well in this area is Denon, and i look forward to testing the new AVR-X3800H very shortly.
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 2022 has to offer. One thing you should keep in mind, though, is that some of these products could be on backorder, so check back periodically.
This Yamaha RX-V6A offers a fresh look at AV receiver design, with its futuristic edges and simple controls, while also 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. However it does come with a small caveat: Early 2021 models are not compatible with 4K/120Hz video, and need to be returned to the manufacturer to perform a 8K board upgrade.
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Onkyo’s TX-RZ50 is a perfect step-up model for those looking to upgrade their systems for a set of better-quality speakers or to add a turntable. Like its budget-oriented label mate, the TX-NR6100, it’s stacked with features including the audiophile-level calibration called Dirac Live, as well as the best streaming suite offered in an AV receiver. On that point, being able to request songs directly from Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa is a real boon.
What improvements does the $1,400 TX-RZ50 offer over the $800 TX-NR6100? Firstly, it offers double the number of 8K compatible inputs (six versus three) plus it boasts more power (120 watts versus 80 watts). It also has two-way Bluetooth for streaming as well as listening on wireless headphones.
Performance was excellent whether listening to streamed music, or watching a movie: I hadn’t heard Dolby Atmos sound this convincing in a long time. The addition of Dirac Live adds its own complexities in setup — please, only use the Onkyo Controller mobile app in combination with the supplied microphone — but doing so rewards with a highly-involving performance.
Be aware the Onkyo may be out of stock at present, but as an alternative the Yamaha RX-A4 is even better with movies.
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I’m a big fan of the Yamaha RX-V6A, so I was curious to see what the step-up RX-A4A brings to the table. As it turns out, this Yamaha offers even better build quality and a huge cinematic sound.
Look through the fancy top grille and you’ll see neatly packed components and a distinguished, stamped transformer. The system is capable of a beefy 110 watts per channel (stereo) and has seven HDMI ports for your connectivity needs.
I tested the Yamaha A4A against the Onkyo RZ50 and the Denon X3700. The Yamaha’s sound quality tended toward the cinematic rather than the musical and offered a big, roomy sound perfect for blockbusters or moody conspiracy thrillers. What was surprising is that the onboard phono preamp was even better than the one on the rival Onkyo RZ50, so I can recommend it for people who don’t want a separate preamp for their turntable.
The Yamaha is great with movies but doesn’t sound as good with music streaming. Still, as the Onkyo offers balanced performance across both, it’s my current favorite.
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The TX-NR6100 is the follow-up to my favorite receiver of the past few years, the Onkyo TX-NR696. Like its predecessor, the NR6100 offers great sound and a wealth of connectivity, which now includes support for 4K/120Hz from gaming consoles. It also boasts the best selection of streaming formats, including Chromecast built in, DTS Play-Fi, Spotify Connect, AirPlay and Bluetooth. However, the NR6100 is not quite as good a deal as its predecessor because it now costs $150 more, and the Yamaha RX-V6A offers better sonic performance for less.
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Which receiver should I buy?
The Yamaha RX-V6A is CNET’s favorite receiver under $1,000 and offers striking looks with the performance chops to match. It also has plenty of connectivity options including a wealth of HDMI 2.1 ports for connecting the Xbox Series X and more. On that last point, it is worth noting that models produced before mid-2021 were susceptible to a bug making them non-4K/120Hz-compliant. However, the company says the receivers on the shelves should be compliant, but it also has fixes standing by for any older versions, as you’ll see below.
If the Yamaha is out of stock, which it often is, the Onkyo TX-NR6100 is the receiver to buy. The Onkyo is an excellent performer and offers easy setup, excellent usability, solid looks and useful features, including the best streaming suite. It was never prone to the 4K issue.
Meanwhile, the 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 $1,650.
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 largely the same. I always compare products against one or more reference devices which offer the best performance at a similar price.
When it comes to receivers I want to see how well a system performs with music as well as with movies, as most people will want to do both. I watch a handful of 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 a number of test music tracks and evaluate any streaming features such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. It’s systems that can perform well with both types of entertainment which 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 ($729): 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 either 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. Read CNET’s Denon AVR-S960H review.
- Marantz SR6015 ($2,199): 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. Add to that a recent $500 price hike and this receiver has sadly been pushed out of contention.
AV receiver FAQs
What is the difference between a stereo receiver and an AV receiver?
A stereo receiver is an audio-only, two-channel amplifier that includes source switching and an AM/FM tuner — if it lacks a tuner it’s called an integrated amp. An AV receiver is typically a surround sound amplifier that enables HDMI switching and playback of audio and video. Most also include tuners onboard as well. However, if you want, you can use an AV receiver simply as a stereo amp, or you can add as many speakers as you have — they’re pretty flexible.
Should I buy an 8K receiver?
Standards change all the time, but the bare minimum right now is support for HDR and Dolby Vision, and at least HDMI version 2.0 or better. All of these models support not only 4K and HDR video but 8K support as well, even if 8K content is hard to find.
Be aware that all 2020 8K-compatible receivers were prone to a bug preventing them from displaying variable refresh rate video, and from the Xbox Series X in particular. Denon, Marantz and Yamaha announced fixes for existing models, while compliant models from Yamaha RX-V6A began shipping in summer 2021 and Denon and Marantz receivers sold after April 2021 should be 4K/120Hz compatible. Yamaha users can check for 4K compatibility here while Denon and Marantz users should check with their dealer.
The $800 TX-NR6100 is the first receiver I tested that I found to both pass 4K/120Hz and which I would also recommend to new buyers.
How do I connect my TV to my AV receiver?
If you have a relatively new TV you should be able to use a single cable — an HDMI cable, to be exact — to connect your receiver to your television. If you have an HDMI port labeled ARC/eARC on the TV you can connect that to the main HDMI ARC output of the receiver. Doing so enables you to hear onboard Netflix from your TV when you set the receiver on the “TV” input, while also enabling video to be transmitted from your other AV sources.
If you have an older TV without an ARC-compliant port you will need to connect both an HDMI cable and an optical cable to the back of your TV. However, if you have a CRT or rear-projection TV with composite or component inputs you’ll need a $1,000-plus receiver like the Marantz SR6015 or Onkyo TX-RZ50. Many receivers no longer offer switching for these legacy connections.
Is 4K/120Hz support a big deal?
The short answer is: Only if you own an Xbox Series X, and a brand-new TV. As I write this, there is a growing number of Xbox Series X games that support this optional mode — Halo Infinite and Fortnite, to name a couple — but the advantages of 4K/120Hz over 60Hz are minimal as far as I’ve seen at this point. Future games and even video sources may make the differences clearer, and that’s why you may want a receiver that’s fully compatible.
If you do buy an older receiver, you don’t care about the Xbox Series X, or don’t want to send your 8K model to the shop, you can always hook a fancy new console directly to the TV, then use eARC to get audio to the receiver. However, despite the mess that AV receiver manufacturers have found themselves in over the last 12 months, there is one thing the aforementioned models have in common: great performance.
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 “Ultra HD” 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 is the only device that supports 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.