Are you looking for the best AV receiver for the money? You’ve come to the right place. I’ve tested most of the popular options from the major brands in the $500 to $800 range, and the connectivity, performance levels and feature sets are impressively high. From 8K video to Dolby Atmos to Wi-Fi music streaming — and high-quality audio — modern home cinema receivers offer everything a home theater enthusiast could need.
The latest such feature is 8K compatibility, which is available on many of the best models we’ve reviewed. Actual 8K video, and 8K TVs, are relatively scarce today, but 8K compatibility could still be important for future-proofing. That is, in case you get an 8K TV in the future — and for gamers with an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 who want the latest video features. Such gamers should be aware, however, that until fairly recently, 8K-compatible receivers had issues displaying video from certain types of gaming consoles and PCs.
We’ll explain all of that in-depth below, but first, here are our current picks for best AV receivers of 2021.
How to buy an affordable AV receiver
Which receiver should I buy?
The Yamaha RX-V6A is my favorite receiver of the last 12 months. It offers striking looks and the performance chops to match. It’s also one of the last models to resist raising prices in 2021 making it also the most affordable I can recommend. It’s worth noting that there may still be some non-4K/120Hz-compliant Yamaha models left on the shelves. The company is working on an online tool to determine which models are which, but so far no timetable for its rollout.
If you want to be on the safe side, the Onkyo TX-NR6100 is the receiver to get. The Onkyo is an excellent performer and offers easy setup, excellent usability, solid looks and useful features, including the best streaming suite. Meanwhile, the Denon AVR-S960H also offers 8K throughput and is especially good with music.
Lastly, the Sony STR-DN1080 is super-old at this point, but it still offers 4K HDR throughput, streaming capabilities and top-notch sound. (Note: It is currently marked as being discontinued on many shopping sites, but Sony confirmed to CNET that it was a current model as of Sept. 10.)
Best 8K receiver
This Yamaha AV receiver is the best 8K receiver I’ve tested, but it comes with a caveat. The early 2021 models are not compatible with 4K/120Hz, and we’re still waiting on the 8K board upgrade program to start. Video compliance aside, the Yamaha RX-V6A offers a fresh look at AV receiver design, with its futuristic edges and simple controls, and it also maximizes sound quality. The RX-V6A could even make you forget about visiting a cinema again, and it’s no slouch with music, either. This Yamaha receiver offers Wi-Fi connectivity, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Bluetooth and Yamaha’s MusicCast system for streaming from your devices.
Read our YAMAHA RX-V6A review.
$650 at Amazon
Best receiver for music streaming
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 performance for less.
$799 at Amazon
$799 at Crutchfield
$800 at Best Buy
Best for gamers, music fans
One of only two mainstream designs released in 2020, Denon’s AVR-S960H 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 has almost everything you need, including 8K video, voice control via both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant speakers, Dolby Atmos, and Apple AirPlay 2. While 2019’s excellent AVR-S750H is still available, if the price for the ‘960 is around $600 you might as well pay a bit more for the bump in features and power the S960 offers.
Be aware that versions of the Denon AVR-S960H bought before April 2021 are affected by the 4K/120Hz bug and owners should sign up for one of the free dongles.
Read our Denon AVR-S960H review.
$1,100 at Amazon
$749 at Crutchfield
$750 at Best Buy
Best for Android users (Update: Out of stock)
The Sony STR-DN1080 earned our Editors’ Choice Award back in 2017, and despite being pretty long in the tooth it’s still an excellent AV receiver package. Sound quality isn’t 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 Google Chromecast built-in wireless streaming, this is a great option. It even uses virtual speaker relocation technology to optimize sound in the room where you set it up. It’s still officially a current model but it’s perpetually out of stock. You’re much better off buying the Onkyo TX-NR6100 instead.
Read our Sony STR-DN1080 review.
Should you buy an 8K receiver?
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 HDR and Dolby Vision, and at least HDMI version 2.0 or better. All of these models support 4K and HDR video. 8K support is here, even if content is hard to find, and most recorded content is still going to be in 1080p or even SD anyway. If future-proofing is a concern for you, then everything save for the Sony STR-DN1080 on this list offers 8K and HDMI 2.1 compatibility as well.
That said, I would still advise caution when buying an 8K receiver, especially if future-proofing is something you’re interested in. All of 2020’s 8K-compatible receivers were susceptible to a bug preventing them from displaying variable refresh rate video, and from the Xbox Series X in particular. While Denon, Marantz and Yamaha have announced fixes for existing models, if you buy a Yamaha RX-V6A right now there is still a small chance it could need a mainboard replacement. A Yamaha spokesperson told me that compliant receivers began shipping in the summer, but there is no easy way to check compatibility yet (though there is an online tool forthcoming).
Sound United, which produces Denon and Marantz receivers, says any models sold after April 2021 should be 4K/120Hz compatible. The spokesperson said that if customers are unsure whether their model is compliant or not, they should contact their dealer or customer support. Older, noncompliant models are able to be rectified with a free adapter, but the company advises these dongles are now out of stock until early 2022.
Competitor Onkyo released its $599 TX-NR5100 in mid-July 2021, and while I found it could pass 4K/120Hz, I believe it’s not as recommendable as the older, more capable TX-NR696 for the same money. The $799 TX-NR6100 is its true replacement, but it is more expensive.
The Denon AVR-S960H
Is 4K/120Hz support a big deal?
As I write this, there are a small handful of games that you can put into this mode — Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, to name a couple — but the advantages of 4K/120Hz over 60Hz are minimal as far as we’ve seen at this point. Future games and even video sources may make the differences clearer, and that’s why you’d 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. Despite the mess that AV receiver manufacturers have found themselves in, there is one thing the aforementioned models have in common: great performance.
Other features to look for in sub-$1K 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.
The rear panel of the TX-NR6100 offers 6 HDMI inputs and 2 outputs
HDMI inputs: As many as you can get
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 Sony and Onkyo in this roundup both have six rear-mounted HDMI ports, while the Denon and Yamaha 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.
You don’t really need Dolby Atmos ‘height’ speakers
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 two devices that 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.
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