Published On: November 13, 2020

HomeTheaterReview’s AV Receiver Buyer’s Guide (November 2020 Update)

Published On: November 13, 2020

HomeTheaterReview’s AV Receiver Buyer’s Guide (November 2020 Update)

Shopping for a new AV receiver? A little overwhelmed by the possibilities? You've come to the right place.

It’s an incredibly confusing time to be shopping for a new AV receiver. Of course, if you’re not a hardcore home theater enthusiast, it’s probably always a confusing time to be shopping for an AVR, but this particular moment in time is a bit of a head-scratcher for all of us. As such, we’re introducing an interim update to our buyer’s guide for AV receivers from a slightly different angle than previous updates.

Simply put, our best buying advice for new or upgrading home theater enthusiasts is that if you’re thinking about buying a new AVR right now, you may be better off either waiting another six months or so, or perhaps buying a 2019 model instead, for reasons we’ll discuss below. Or maybe not. Hopefully you’ll be able to answer that question for yourself by the end of this diatribe.

The number one reason why right now might not be the best time to buy a new receiver is simple: HDMI 2.1, the long-promised upgrade of the perennial digital audio and video interconnect protocol, is finally here. And we’re starting to see new AVRs with HDMI 2.1 connectivity at every price point roll out from many of the major brands.

But there’s a problem with most if not all of them. As it turns out, the chips used by these HDMI 2.1-compliant receivers aren’t actually compatible with at least some of the HDMI 2.1 sources on the market, like the Xbox Series X. While these receivers will pass through 4K/60 video just fine, they reportedly deliver nothing but a black screen if you attempt to pass through 4K/120 or 8K/60 video content. We’re not certain yet if these issues also affect the PS5 — we’re getting conflicting reports — nor do we know what the solution will be, but it almost certainly won’t be a software update.

Before I dig too much deeper, I’ll once again inject my standard caveat here at the giddy-up: If you’re a home theater enthusiast and a regular HomeTheaterReview.com reader, this guide is not for you. You probably already know what you’re looking for in a new AVR and you’re just waiting for reviews to confirm your suspicions. If the new AVR your heart desires isn’t the subject of a full review yet, it hopefully will be soon. Hold tight.

As always, this guide is for the burgeoning, new, or curious home theater shopper who feels overwhelmed by options, doesn’t have time to dig through all of the standalone reviews to find the right model, and probably doesn’t even know what all this HDMI 2.1 business is about.

We’ll start, as always, with a sort of Choose Your Own Adventure for AV shoppers, except that none of the choices is likely to result in your untimely demise.

First Question: Is now the right time to buy a receiver?

If you’re not a gamer? Absolutely. If you are, though… Well…

Since the advent of digital video, namely HDMI, prospective AV receiver shopper have had to struggle with the issue of whether a new purchase made today would be obsolete by this time next year. For the past few years, that’s hasn’t been quite as pressing a concern, but has become one once again. As a result of the pending release of HDMI 2.1, most AV manufacturers didn’t fully flesh out their 2019 model lineups as fully as they’ve done in the past.

So, as we stand here approaching the end of 2020, many of the most compelling AV receivers are actually 2018 models with a handful of features borrowed from the HDMI 2.1 specification tacked on. Namely, features like Enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC) and Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM).

The full spec, though, will also include support for up to 10,240 × 4,320 resolution video (“10K”) at refresh rates up to 120 frames per second, which your next TV and/or gaming console may support. But perhaps most importantly for video gamers, the HDMI 2.1 will also support Variable Refresh Rate, one of the most intriguing new features of the next-gen video game consoles. Again, though, only after the manufacturers get the issues with the current HDMI 2.1 hardware mentioned above sorted out.

Those of you who don’t dabble in video gaming may not be familiar with the concept of Variable Refresh Rate, but it’s been a thing in PC gaming for a while now. Simply put, the graphics processors built into video game consoles aren’t always capable of maintaining a constant refresh rate (or frame rate, if you will). When the action onscreen gets intense — when there are more baddies to battle or more complex architecture to explore or rapid changes to the scenery overall — the graphics processor gets bogged down a little and can’t render new images as consistently.

With VRR properly implemented, and supported by every relevant device in your signal chain (console, HDMI cables, AV receiver, display), the display will be able to sync with the graphics processor and avoid problems caused by a mismatch between the TV’s refresh rate and the video game console’s. It’s a lot more complex than that gross oversimplification would indicate, and we probably need to do an entire article soon on the workings and implications of Variable Refresh Rate. Just know that if you’re a gamer looking to purchase one of the next-gen consoles, and you’re pretty sure you’re going to buy a new TV in the next five years or so, you likely want to go  buy an AV receiver that fully supports HDMI 2.1. But again, just be aware that the current crop of HDMI 2.1-equipped receivers has problems.

If, on the other hand, you’re not a gamer at all and have no intention of ever being one, the question becomes a little simpler: Do you plan on buying an 8K TV in the next few years? If so, it definitely makes sense to hang onto whatever AVR you currently have and wait for a 2021 model equipped with corrected HDMI 2.1 hardware. If not, you may be safe buying one of our recommended AVRs below from 2018/2019. Just understand the consequences of doing so.

Either way, for now the only way to be certain you’ll get 4K/120 or 8K/60 video to your display while also enjoying surround or object-based sound from your receiver is to connect your source component directly to your 8K TV and then route audio from the TV to the receiver via eARC. And that’s true whether you have a 2019-model AV receiver or a 2020 model.

Second Question: How many speakers do you need?

So, let’s say you’ve dug through the previous wall of text and you’re still pretty set on buying an AV receiver. Read over the latest AVR reviews and you’d be led to believe that anything less than sixteen channels hardly counts as a proper home theater these days. Don’t feel beholden to this notion. Even if you want to build a full-blown object-based* Dolby Atmos/DTS:X sound system with speakers on every flat surface of your listening room, you might find that — depending on the depth of your room from back to front — you won’t necessarily hear an appreciable difference between four and six overhead speakers. Indeed, if you have a room that’s not all that deep, you may also find that it isn’t really worth it to go with seven speakers at ear level versus five.

(*For what it’s worth, I’ll be using “object-based” as a shorthand for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X throughout this guide. You don’t really need to understand what that means, but in case you’re curious: these 3D surround sound formats rely on audio objects to position sounds in three-dimensional space. Instead of a mixer saying, “This bullet moves from the front right speaker to the left rear surround,” he or she assigns the sound of the bullet to a virtual object that moves through 3D space. Your AV receiver or preamp then decides which speakers it should use to deliver that sound based on the layout of your speaker system.)

Atmos and DTS:X speaker setups follow the old convention of 5.1 and 7.1 channels, with the addition of an extra dot and an extra numeral: e.g., 5.1.2 would be a simple 5.1 system (five ear-level speakers and at least one subwoofer) with the addition of two height (or ceiling) speakers. 7.1.4 would be a 7.1 setup (5.1 plus two rear surrounds in most cases) plus four overhead speakers. Why didn’t they go with something easier to understand, like 7.1+4? Honestly, I don’t know.

Atmos_speaker_layout.jpg

At any rate, if you add up the first numeral and the last, and you know how many channels of amplification you need, since most subwoofers have their own built-in amps. For 5.1.2, you need seven amplified channels — the same as you’d need for a 7.1 setup. For 5.1.4 or 7.1.2, you need nine channels of amplification, and most AV receivers that are so-equipped can easily be configured for either setup.

Many such receivers also allow you to add some number of additional outboard amps to the equation if you want to expand even further. But if you’re willing to pay the price, you can easily find good mass-market AV receivers with 13 channels of amplification built in — enough for a 7.1.6-channel setup.

“But wait!” I hear you asking: “What about 7.2.6 channels?” Yes, you’ll often see receivers that use a 2 instead of a 1 in the second digit. This sometimes means that the receiver is capable of sending unique low-frequency signals to two independent subwoofers in your room, each of which can be EQ’d and delayed separately. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes it just means that the receiver has two subwoofer outputs that operate as if you took a single subwoofer output and stuck a y-splitter on it. That’s an important distinction that we’ll touch upon later, once we start to narrow down our choices.

And hey, if you don’t care about Atmos or DTS:X, that’s cool, too. Not everyone needs overhead speakers. In fact, when I’m reviewing an object-based receiver, I hang temporary ceiling speakers then pull them down when I’m done. For day-to-day listening, 5.2 or 7.2 works great for me. I find the aggressive mixes of most Atmos and DTS:X movies to be kitschy and distracting.

The good news is, if you feel the same way, there are still some really solid options for simple ear-level surround sound systems, even though object-based surround dominates the discussion. Or you can simply buy one of the fancier models and ignore the outputs you don’t want to use.

Or, as of late summer 2019, you can opt for a solution that’s somewhere in the middle. Many offerings from this year’s new slate of receivers feature a technology called Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization, which applies processing to your ear-level speakers to create the illusion of overhead speakers where none exist. Make no mistake about it: this processing is subtle. In other words, it’s not going to sound as if you have four in-ceiling speakers installed at precise locations overhead. But it does add a convincing height element to the mix, extending sound effects upward and overhead, just without any sort of pinpoint specificity and without any of the shifts in tonality and timbre that have plagued previous technologies that purportedly serve the same function, like DTS Virtual:X. For my in-depth impressions of this virtualization technology, check out my standalone review of Marantz’ SR6014 AV receiver.

Before you make any decisions about whether to go with (or forgo) a full-blown Dolby Atmos/DTS:X setup, though, you really should seek out a demo and hear the difference for yourself, since this is a very subjective consideration. It would be a shame to buy a 7.1-channel receiver now only to realize six months down the road that four overhead speakers really make your tasty bits tingle. You also may find the subtlety of Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization underwhelming, no matter how much I like it. The good news is, most AVRs that support this new height virtualization technology also feature enough amps and speaker connections to hook up a genuine object-based speaker setup.

Third Question: How many watts per channel do you need?

Figuring out how much power you need from an AV receiver is tough, partly because power ratings can be wholly misleading. You might find a great AVR that meets all of your other needs and see that it lists 200 watts per channel on the side of the box, only to read the fine print and discover that said 200 watts is only achievable if you connect a single speaker to it and play homebrewed recordings of Rainforest Pygmy chants at midnight on the summer solstice. I’m exaggerating a little, but not by much.

A more realistic example: you may find that an AV receiver that boasts 125 watts per channel on the side of the box only really delivers 55 watts of clean power per channel once you connect two speakers to it and feed it a full-frequency signal — and even less than that by the time you connect seven or nine or however many speakers.

The bottom line is this: how much power you need really depends on how big your room is and the specific characteristics of the speakers you’re installing in it. If you want to understand more about the relationship between speakers and amps, you can read my primer on the topic: How to Pick the Right Amp for Your Speakers (or Vice Versa).

Fourth Question: How many HDMI inputs do you need?

Whatever answer you come up with, add at least one to the total, just to be safe. The good news is, most AV receivers these days offer seven HDMI inputs. The bad news is, that’s exactly how many HDMI inputs I need for my main media room (Roku Ultra media streamer + Control4 home automation controller + UHD Blu-ray player + Apple TV 4K (mostly just for Twitch, which Roku lacks) + Kaleidescape movie server + PlayStation 4 + Nintendo Switch), with no room to grow. Who really needs an Xbox anyway, though?

Ultimately, this consideration can keep otherwise great receivers out of the equation, even if you only need a simple speaker setup without a ton of power. The simple fact of the matter is that, as mentioned above, you can leave speaker outputs unused, and even drive small speakers with huge amps with no problem. But if you have more HDMI sources than you have HDMI inputs, adding an external HDMI switcher can make your AV system unnecessarily complicated to control.

HDMI_inputs.jpg

Fifth Question: Do you want a fancy audiophile brand or something you can buy at Amazon or Best Buy?

You may be asking right now: “What’s the difference?” That’s not an easy question to answer, but you’ll often find that most of the AV receivers you’ll find at your local big-box store sound remarkably similar, as long as you ignore their room correction software and assuming they deliver equal power. And I mean actual equal power, not the number on the side of the box.

Step up to an audiophile offering, though, and you’ll likely find that you get better, more robust amps with more realistic power ratings, so you have a better idea of how the receiver will perform in your room. You may not get quite as many features as you will on the current crop of big-box-brand receivers, mind you, but it’s up to you to decide how important those features are.

arc-genesis-screens.jpg

What you’ll also find is that stepping up to an audiophile brand likely gets you better room correction, which is really the number one differentiator between most receivers, at least in terms of how they sound. If you want to understand the differences between the most common room correction systems, read my updated primer on the topic: Room Correction Revisited.

Sixth Question: Stop asking me questions and just tell me what to buy!

That’s not a question, but I hear you.

A lot of people will likely disagree with this advice (pop a bowl of popcorn before dipping into the comments section, because this is going to lead to some Real Housewives-level drama), but most people who want a mass-market receiver should just buy the Denon or Marantz model that checks off all the right boxes in terms of HDMI inputs, speaker outputs, amplification ratings, and price (in pretty much exactly that order of priority).

That’s not to say that other mass-market manufacturers don’t make receivers with a lot of compelling features. If you’re already invested in Yamaha’s MusicCast multiroom streaming ecosystem, a Yamaha might make more sense for you. If Sony’s five-year warranty sparks joy in your heart, sure thing — get a Sony. But remember: if you already knew those things, this guide isn’t really for you.

For most people, a Denon or Marantz offers the right mix of features, performance, reliability, and — most importantly — ease of setup. Their setup wizard holds your hand through the entire setup process in a really intuitive way.

What’s more, while most AV receiver manufacturers rely on their own proprietary (and often lacking) room correction systems, Denon and Marantz use Audyssey, which I didn’t really dig just a few years ago, but which has developed into a very respectable room correction and auto-speaker calibration system in recent years. (Compare my original primer on room correction to the updated guide to see just how much Audyssey advanced recently.)

In case you didn’t know already, Denon and Marantz are sister companies. The main differences between them these days mostly boil down to their amplification and a resulting subtle difference in sound. If you tend to use your AV receiver mostly for movies, Denon may be your better pick. If you do a lot of music listening, you might prefer Marantz’s HDAM (Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Module) circuitry, which contributes to a sound that many people describe as more musical.

If you want an audiophile receiver, my advice used to be simple: just get an Anthem. Anthem Room Correction is one of the three best room correction systems on the market (the other two being Dirac and Trinnov, the latter of which is limited to super-expensive preamp/processors).

But we’re also starting to see new AVRs from brands like NAD come out with a new implementation of Dirac that’s seriously enticing. The NAD T 778, for example, is a fantastic high-end receiver. But it does ask a lot of you in terms of setup, making it less than ideal for the home theater novice.

The bigger problem, though — with the NAD and Anthem receivers alike — is their reliance on older HDMI 2.0b technology. Anthem has yet to make any firm commitments to a timeline for HDMI 2.1. The NAD, on the other hand, does benefit from modular construction, which means that it should be eligible for an HDMI 2.1 board upgrade at some point without having to replace the entire AVR. But there’s no indication yet of how much that may cost (previous NAD HDMI upgrade boards have ranged in price from $299 to $699).

On the buying advice…

With all of that said, if you desperately need a new AV receiver right this very now and you simply cannot wait for all of the new HDMI 2.1 models to start rolling out so we can give this guide a proper 2020 update, here are our favorites as of June 2020.

Our Favorites

Let’s start with the simplest AV receivers and work our way up from there.

  • If you just need a simple 5.1 or 7.1 receiver without all the fuss and muss and 8K or next-gen gaming isn’t even on your radar…

Marantz has a pair of really compelling slimline receivers that may be perfect for your needs, assuming what you need is straightforward simplicity and a chassis that’s a little less obtrusive than most.If you just want five ear-level speakers, the NR1510 is a 5.1-channel offering that takes up half the space of a normal AV receiver, making it a great option if big black boxes aren’t your thing. The NR1710 ups the channel count to 7.1, which may be enticing if your room is a little deeper and there’s plenty of space between your seat and the back wall. The NR1710 also supports Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization, which the NR1510 doesn’t, so if you’re interested in experiencing a subtler form of object-based surround sound without installing ceiling speakers or height modules, it may be the better pick. You can also upgrade the NR1710 to a true 5.1.2 object-based setup, should you decide to install overhead speakers or up-firing speaker modules.

Since you’re getting so many features in such a slim package, there are potential downsides. Neither of these relies on Marantz’s HDAM circuitry (so ignore what I said above about the general sonic differences between Denon and Marantz), and output is limited to 50 watts per channel. The NR1510 also only has five back-panel HDMI inputs (and one around front), so if you have a lot of HDMI sources, the NR1710 would be the better pick (it has seven HDMI inputs on the back and one up front).

The NR1710 will also scale video from your HDMI-connected source devices up to 4K, whereas the NR1509 offers no video scaling. That’s an important consideration, even if you don’t need the two extra channels of amplification. In short, between the two I think the NR1710 is the better pick for most people, even if your speaker system is limited to 5.1 and even if you don’t care about Height Virtualization.

If, on the other hand, you don’t mind installing a full-sized receiver, and you’re looking for something cheap and reliable, I really like the $499 Denon AVR-S750H. Yes, this 7.1-channel receiver supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X (in a 5.1.2-channel configuration–which, if you’ll remember, means 5.1 plus two overhead speakers), but that doesn’t mean you have to configure it as such. You can use it as a 7.1 or simple 5.1 receiver with no problems. If you do so, it also supports Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization Its 75 watts of power per channel means that it’s a better choice than either of the slimline Marantz offerings if you have a mid-sized room or less sensitive speakers, but of course it does take up more space than either of those models.

One other significant advantage over the slim Marantz models is that you can use the Audyssey MultEQ Editor App (an extra $19.99 purchase) to tweak the settings of its room correction to deliver better results in your room. With a total of six HDMI inputs (five ’round back, one up front), the AVR-S750H is a little limited in terms of connectivity, but if that’s enough for you, have at it. Perhaps more importantly, though, it doesn’t feature video upscaling, so if you watch a lot of 720p TV channels on a 75-inch 4K TV, you might instead step up to something like Denon’s $599 AVR-S950H, even if you don’t need as many HDMI ports as it provides (seven ’round back, one up front).

Another slight step up would be the $799 AVR-X2600H, which adds second-zone preamplifier outputs and a step up to Audyssey MultEQ XT room correction.

  • If you’re willing and able to spend a little more for better performance and more flexibility but don’t need 8K…

The next significant step up is Denon’s $1,099 AVR-X3600H. This 9.2– (not 9.1-) channel receiver is where you start to get into independent measuring and setup of more than one subwoofer, which usually (although not always) results in smoother, more even bass response from seat to seat in your listening room. It also includes the best form of Audyssey room correction in MultEQ XT32. If you want to go Atmos and DTS:X, the AVR-X3600H is good for a 5.2.4 or 7.2.2 setup without additional amplification. Or you can simply rely on its Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization technology.

And if for some reason you find that its 105 watts per channel of amplification isn’t enough for you (if, say, you move it to a bigger room), the AVR-X3600H has 7.2-channel preamp outputs, meaning you can add your own external seven-channel amp to the equation and just use the receiver as a preamplifier. A total of eight HDMI inputs (seven around back, one up front) mean that most people will have a little bit of headroom in terms of digital AV connectivity. Just know that this product’s successor is already slated for a July 15 release date.

For the semi-equivalent Marantz offering, I really like the $999 SR5014. Unlike the aforementioned NR1509 and NR1609, this one does feature Marantz’s own proprietary amp circuitry, so you’ll likely find that its sound is dynamic and more musical to your ears than that of the Denon AVR-X3600H. It does offer slightly less power per channel, though, at 100 watts, and is limited to seven amplified channels, not nine.

Otherwise, their feature sets are pretty comparable: both offer Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization, AirPlay 2 and HEOS multiroom streaming, along with support for all of the current AV standards. The Denon offers a second-zone HDMI output, which the SR5014 lacks. Also, the SR5014 lacks a feature from last year’s Marantz offering at this level, the SR5013: multi-channel analog inputs. This may be important if you have an audiophile Blu-ray or UHD Blu-ray player with DVD-Audio and/or SACD playback capabilities. If you want the multichannel analog inputs from last year, plus the Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization from this year, you’ll need to step up to the $1,499 SR6014, which also ups the output to 110 watts per channel and the amplified channel count up to nine.

  • If you need a bit more power and aren’t a gamer…

I mentioned in the updated intro to this guide that the summer/autumn 2019 offerings from most AVR manufacturers weren’t as fully fleshed out as in previous years due to the impeding release of HDMI 2.1, which are still rolling out as we speak.

As of this writing, the two AVRs with HDMI 2.1 capabilities that we can recommend with some reservations are the Denon AVR-X4700H ($1699) and AVR-X6700H ($2499).

The AVR-X4700H features nine channels of amplification with dynamic power rated at 125 watts per channel and can function as an 11.2-channel preamplifier if you want to bring your own amps to the party. The X4000H level is the most popular model in any given year amongst HomeTheaterReview readers, and for good reason: it may not feature the absolute max in terms of output and channel count, but it’s a hell of a bargain in terms of output for the price.

The AVR-X6700H, meanwhile, features eleven amplified channels (with dynamic power rated at 140 watts per channel), meaning you don’t need additional amps for a 7.2.4 setup. Connect an extra stereo amp, though, and the X6700H will be able to process up to 13.2 channels of DTS:X Pro audio via a future firmware update.

Bot the AVR-X4700H and AVR-X6700H deliver a whole host of features new to this year’s lineup, including:

    • 8K passthrough and upscaling.*
    • 4K/120Hz.*
    • Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) for reduced lag, stutter, and frame tearing when gaming via next-gen consoles.
    • HDR10+ pass-through capabilities.
    • Quick Media Switching (QMS).
    • Quick Frame Transport (QFT).

But as I mentioned above, the HDMI chips used by these AVRs have exhibited problems delivering the top two features with HDMI 2.1 sources like computer video cards and at least one of the next-gen consoles. So if that’s why you’re planning on buying them, you should hold off for now and maybe wait for next year’s equivalents, or possibly a rolling fix from Denon.

  • If you want to go big and go home with Atmos and DTS:X (and can wait a bit for HDMI 2.1 functionality)…

It’s highly unlikely that someone looking for this sort of shopping advice would need or want anything more than the products mentioned above. But on the off-chance that you have a good reason to expand beyond four overhead speakers (maybe you have a couple of rows of seating in your media room, for example), Denon’s AVR-X8500H 13.2-Channel AV Receiver is a beast of a machine. For Dolby Atmos, it can be configured for 7.2.6- or 9.2.4-channel listening, although with DTS:X material its limited to decoding of 7.1.4 or 5.1.6 channels for now. And with 150 watts per channel of output, it’s plenty powerful enough for most rooms and most speaker systems. It’s also eligible for upgrades down the road, although we’ve heard no official word yet about when an HDMI 2.1 upgrade will be available (the rumor mill has it at early 2021). You can read our review of the AVR-X8500H for a complete rundown of its features and capabilities.

  • If you’re interested in one of those audiophile offerings mentioned above…

You might want to wait until Anthem’s new lineup starts to roll out in December. Just to reiterate the deciding factors mentioned above: they have more robust amplification than most mass-market receivers, and their Anthem Room Correction system is absolutely aces. Could you get better results with an AV receiver equipped with Dirac room correction? Maybe. If you really understand room acoustics and know what you’re doing.

NAD_T_778.jpgIf that’s the case, you might instead opt for NAD’s newer T 778 AV receiver, which not only boasts the latest version of Dirac, but also a beast of an amplification section and support for Bluesound, which is — in my opinion — a much better wireless multiroom music system than Chromecast, which the Anthems support.

In either case, you have to consider that audiophile receivers rarely follow the same yearly update cycle as mass-market receivers do, and their manufacturers rarely buy in the same volume as mass-market AVR makers, so these boutique brands don’t have HDMI 2.1 capabilities yet. But they do feature upgradable hardware and will benefit from HDMI 2.1 replacement boards when the chipsets are available and fully tested. In an interesting turn of events, it’s looking as if this circuitous route to the new HDMI standard will actually prove to be the better choice. Yes, you’ll have to wait a little longer, but at least you’ll know you’re getting HDMI 2.1 switching and passthrough that actually works.

Unfortunately, Anthem’s new AVRs as well as NAD’s lack 7.1-channel analog inputs, so if you need those your shopping options are a little more complicated. Why would you need those? If, for example, you have a fancy audiophile universal disc player with its own internal DAC that you prefer. But if that’s the case, chances are pretty slim that you’re reading an AVR buyer’s guide, so you go do you, Boo.

If none of the above gives you concern, you may still be left wondering which specific model is right for you.

In short: The Anthem MRX 540 if you just want a 5.1- or 5.2-channel sound system and have a relatively small room.

The Anthem MRX 740 is a better choice if your room is a little bigger or you want to up the channel count to 7.2. The MRX 720 also features 11.2-channel preamp outputs if you want to go full-blown Atmos/DTS:X and don’t mind bringing your own amps to the party.

If you want the biggest, most speaker-packed all-in-one audiophile Dolby Atmos/DTS:X solution without adding amps, the MRX 1140 is where it’s at. It offers 11 amplified channels and 15.2-channel preamp outputs. If you’d like to audition any of these Anthem receivers to hear if the difference is worth it for you, you can find your nearest dealership by following this link.

And if you want something in between the MRX 740 and MRX 1140 in terms of channel count, with a somewhat more intricate room correction system, the NAD T 778 may be right up your alley. It offers nine amplified channels, but with 11.2 channels of preamplification (if you’re willing to add your own outboard amplification). The one major drawback of the NAD, though, is that even if you’re fine settling for HDMI 2.0 for a while, it only features five back-panel HDMI inputs, which may or may not be enough for your home theater system. If you’d like to audition the T 778 to hear it for yourself, you can find your nearest dealership here.

Wait, I have a few more questions…

  • Are you leaving anything out?

Lots of stuff. Like Auro3D (another 3D surround sound format with limited distribution). And oodles of considerations in terms of multi-zone AV distribution. And advanced control systems. And wireless music streaming. And so on.

I also left a lot unsaid in terms of HDR10, Dolby Vision, Hybrid Log Gamma, and copy protection support, because all of last year’s offerings are pretty much on the same ground when it comes to all of that. Many have even stepped up the copy protection to HDCP 2.3 already. And needless to say, once the new HDMI 2.1-equipped receivers get their issues sorted out, all of them will, too.

  • Why are you leaving stuff out?

Mainly to keep this article from being 50,000 words long. But also, because this isn’t a guide for home theater enthusiasts, as I mentioned from the giddy-up. I’m focusing on the features and functionality that are most crucial to most normies.

  • Why didn’t you recommend the AV receiver that I love the most?

Because, again, if you already have an AV receiver that you love the most, this guide isn’t for you.

  • How much are these companies paying you to only recommend their products?

Exactly zero dollars. Although the former PR guy for Denon and Marantz did take me out to dinner two years ago when I was in San Diego, and it was pretty delicious. But he’s not with the company anymore.

  • What do you think of the new mid-engine Corvette?

I like it. It’s Zora Arkus-Duntov‘s lifelong dream finally realized, and I absolutely love the C8.R GT car. That said, it breaks my heart that they discontinued the Velocity Yellow Tintcoat finish . The new yellow metallic finish looks gaudy AF, and lacks the warmth and heritage of previous Corvette yellows.

  • Wait, what were we talking about?

I’ve honestly forgotten at this point.

Additional Resources
• Read Room Correction Revisited at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Read How to Pick the Right Amp for Your Speakers (or Vice Versa) at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• If you want more in-depth coverage of individual products, visit our AV Receiver category page.

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Far Middle

Announcement from Anthem https://www.youtube.com/post/UgztjtXgrcZ9z3gMGO94AaABCQ
Most relevantly, no ARC for 2021 models as of now due to COVID related delays:
“As a result, the alignment of final software and hardware was condensed into an unreasonably small timeframe to implement ARC and fully test it prior to shipping. Thus, we made the decision to not launch ARC on the new MRX and AVM models at day one.”

Stew Hanniford

Dennis, this is one of the best articles I’ve read on the subject…period. You hit on all the major points and hit them out of the park. You have a good eye and a great swing!

Could not agree more that too many speakers tends to be distracting. All this talk about immersive and life-like forgets that movies are an escape from reality. Please let me focus on the acting and the story. I can get all the surround sound I need with 5.1 and get fewer higher quality speakers instead of a a dozen less expensive speakers. This is a case where less is more…much more. And don’t get me going on Dolby Vision. Talk about distracting.

Reviewing the Anthem receivers is awesome. Still waiting on the release of the MRX 540 though, now pushed out to the end of February 2021. Once again you’re spot on that Bluesound is better than Chromecast, but Anthem has promised that their receivers will be Roon Ready and Roon has changed my life more than any other A/V device in my house, and I have a lot of expensive stuff all over the place.

Oh, and regarding the audio-in, why do I want my video going through a pre when it can go right to the TV and why do I want my sound to go through the TV before hitting the pre? Well, Apple TV leaves me no choice but that’s another story. For my Oppo UHD-205 my HDMI goes right to the TV and the audio goes through six Kimber Kable Hero RCA direct to the pre. If I buy new electronics today I have very few choices to do it this way. Thank you to Panasonic for keeping the love alive with their 4K disk player, the DP-UB9000. Call me old school but I love how it sounds. My audiologist has some concerns however.

Now while I’m not ready yet to toss my ancient Sunfire A/V equipment, I would like that room correction stuff. Nice that you touch on that. Your overall recommendations are spot on but as you mention pairings, what about the speakers? Should I get something in the Sonus Faber Olympica line, the Focal Kanta line, or will the Paradigm Persona line to go best with my new Anthem? An all Canadian option has some appeal but those Sonus Fabers are drop dead gorgeous. Yes, I do sometimes sit on my couch with everything turned off too just to stare. Creepy I know.

Its time to hit the links. No I don’t do golf, but you’ve provided a treasure trove of resources and I’ll start with “How to Pick the Right Amp for Your Speakers.” And, by the way, the tour in Bowling Green is the best value this side of the Mississippi and close enough to bourbon country to make it worth the trip. It’s kind of cute seeing the old dudes smiling ear to ear as they pick up their new toys. The riders in the passenger seat (I’m assuming their wife) are harder to judge but I think they’re contemplating on how they’ll even the deal.

jaybird100

My biggest beef with most of today’s AVR’s has more to do what they DON’T do, rather than what they do. Most DON’T provide multichannel analog inputs anymore. I enjoy watching movies, but music is probably the bigger part of my listening. I enjoy my music in multichannel, as well. I have an excellent DVD/DVD-A/SACD player that I wouldn’t be able to use with most new receivers. In addition, I have an Involve Audio Surround Master v.2 for playing my vast quadraphonic record collection through, as well as enhancing stereo music into a great multichannel experience. I know the purists are cringing at the thought, but I don’t give a damn what they think. I know what I like, and if I find myself needing a new receiver, it has to meet MY demands, not me meeting its capabilities. So my suggestion to receiver manufacturers is to bring back the multichannel inputs.

Kahuna

Hahahaha… “…play homebrewed recordings of Rainforest Pygmy chants at midnight on the summer solstice”. No you are not. You are not exaggerating in the slightest. It feels like most current generation of receivers are a swiss army knife of features without the most important backbone… sound quality. Unless you spend a gazilloin dollars of course, then its all sound quality and frustratingly minimal features. And even then, I can’t help but feel you’re paying for the badge.

BladeRunner

@OptimusPrimate:disqus thank you for this great rundown.

I wanted to check in with you (as it’s been about 3-4 months since this guide went up), but do you see the state of AV Receivers with HDMI 2.1 still in the same place now (Oct 2020)? Looking at some of the big name brands (Denon, Yamaha), it looks like it’s still in the same place now (Yamaha’s RX-V6A / 4A) with 3 or 4 HDMI 2.1 inputs (although still waiting on a firmware update?); or the Denon X6700H with just 1 HDMI 2.1 input? 🙁

At this stage, is it best to just wait until next year (a full year) for the 2021 models to come out?

I’m in this weird state as I’m getting the Sony PlayStation 5 console soon, but still have an older Yamaha Receiver from years ago, so I’m not sure what to do.

Thanks!

m1nd7r1p

I will never own another Denon receiver, nor by extension, a Marantz (as they are the same company). My last Yamaha receiver had excellent sound and lasted 15 years–in fact it still works fine but I upgraded to an OLED tv and wanted 7.1 surround. I made the mistake of buying a Denon AVR-S930H. Sound quality is definitely great–when the unit works. It randomly goes into the “flashing red power light” error where it powers up for a few seconds, then powers down and flashes red, which signals a problem. Disconnecting all speakers and inputs, the problem persists. So I sent it in for warranty repair, paying $100+ for shipping both ways. I got the unit back *after a month at the repair shop*, and nothing was fixed. They said they couldn’t find a problem. Except it still continues, and the only way to get it working is to slam it on the ground. Literally. Pick it up and slam it down. Which suggests a bad connection somewhere. Oh, and the network card died within days of getting it back from the repair shop. Their build quality is absolute rubbish and the warranty “repair” was an absolute joke. Do a google search for “Denon receiver shuts down after a few seconds” and you will see this is an extremely common problem across multiple Denon receivers, all with the same symptoms. So please, do us all a favor and add build quality/reliability evaluations into your reviews. The best-sounding receivers are worthless expensive paperweights if manufacturers can’t get build quality right.

Charles Calkins

Thanks for the great information. I’m in the market for a new AV receiver hope I remember your advice when I buy one

Roger Far

A question that’s been bothering me a bit because I can’t find a good answer. I’m interested in getting Atmos, should I look for ceiling speakers or up pointing speakers? And if the latter, are those additional to the normal surround setup or in place of?

IamtheStig

Back with another comment… Arcam has some nice receivers out there (cough, i might have bought one, cough). The Arcam users manual is, in my opinion, terrible, but the Dirac is fantastic! I’m using it my place with 7 in ceiling Triad speakers and one sub. 2 of the in ceiling speakers are for heights, then I have LCR, and 2 surrounds. 1 SVS sub rounds things out and it’s a decent solution.

I have a dedicated 2 channel system for serious listening. This Arcam setup is just for TV and movies or background music fill.

Steve Hubbard

Dennis, thanks for the thorough review. I’ve had many Denons, the latest being the 6400H, and I’m considering switching to see if I hear the Marantz to be more musical, as you and some other reviewers have mentioned. I’d also think about the NAD because I do enjoy Bluesound. A couple of questions:
*Any idea when the Marantz with HDMI 2.1 and comparable to the Denon 6700H will come out?
*Since you’ve done a number of Audyssey setups, I’m curious if you have found the distance measures to sometimes be way off target. For instance, I’ve run it on the 6400H multiple times but typically it claims my SVS subwoofer, which is situated a few inches behind and to the left of my front left speaker, is 10 or more feet away. And it says the left, which is actually a little closer to me than the right front speaker, is a couple of feet further away. I end up adjusting these manually but sometimes I wonder if I should have, because Audyssey knows more about room correction than I do.

Dennis Burger

No news yet! I’m awaiting word just as patiently as you are. Looking into my crystal ball (and let’s keep in mind how reliable those things are), I would expect some September/October releases from Marantz. But that’s not written in stone.

So, as for the distances being off, it’s important to remember that those physical measurements in the UI don’t actually represent distance; they’re simply used to calculate delays. That’s why there’s often such a discrepancy between subwoofer measurements and speaker measurements. Given the active electronics in your sub, there’s likely to be some minor delay introduced by the DSP (if your sub has one), which is why the mic wants to set the distance so low. It’s effectively saying, “Hey, I need way less delay in the subwoofer than the rest of your speakers to compensate for the fact that the sub itself is a little pokey in delivering the signal I send to it.”

As for the differences in your left and right front speakers, that could be caused by some temporal shenanigans caused by reflections from your boundaries or objects within the room.

Or it could just be a goof-up on the part of your room correction system. I typically find that Audyssey and Dirac are dead-on-balls-accurate with delay settings, whereas Yamaha and others struggle to set the delays quickly. But that’s based on, like, the last two years of testing and doesn’t apply to older AVRs.

(That’s one of the downsides to being an AVR reviewer — I see dozens of new models in any given year, whereas you readers may only see a new AVR every five years or so. So it skews my perspective and often serves as a detriment when trying to remember how things things worked in the long, long bygone days of, like, 2017.)

Steve Hubbard

Dennis, I really appreciate the thorough response. Sounds like I need to run Audyssey again. Or just wait until I upgrade again, likely by end of year 🙂

Sergio S

How’s it going everyone.

I’m a bit of a rookie at HT.

I was looking at upgrading from an Onkyo tx-nr777 to a Denon Avr x6500h. I was wondering if it was worth the price to wait on new X6700h or just get the x6500h.

Use is 95% HT 5% music
Room 14 ft wide 27 ft long
Set up
Klipsch
2x Rp-280FA front LR + Atmos
1x Rp-450c center
2x CDT-5650-cii over seats
2x R-28f rear LR

2x Svs elevation prime for rear LR Elevation(got them for $250 new might swap out for Klipsch rp-500 later)

1x HSU VTF-3 MK5 HP Sub

Dennis Burger

Keep your eyes peeled for my review of the 6700, coming soon! I hope to answer exactly this question.

Paully

I never pass my Video Signal of my $4000 TV through a $600 AVR, anymore..
Run you signal wires straight to your TV from your video source only..

Lidocaineus

Er, why would you spend $4000 on your TV then $600 on what is arguably even more important than the visual experience? Also, do you have a data backing up the assertion that the video is discernibly degraded going through your particular AVR? Even further, do you think people with multiple sources enjoy plugging them all into a TV and hoping (e)ARC works properly when everyone aside from those at the entry level pretty much hates it?

What a silly comment.

Paully

Many 1000’s of hours watching Japanimation buckaroo..

Lidocaineus

Excellent non-response.

datdude

Thanks for the update….I’m waiting to see what some of the other manufacturers offer regarding hdmi 2.1 as this is the year I’m upgrading my entire home theater setup…speakers, subs, receiver, television, cables, even the cabinet. I like the Denon and I would pull the trigger on it, but only having the one hdmi 2.1 port is giving me pause. I really wish they had included at least two hdmi 2.1 ports, but what can you do.

CSU Phil

This is a very useful article. I am in need of replacing my 13 year old Denon 2800ci. It is currently working but has some issues. Denon suggested sending it to one of their service centers but shipping and repairs will be a similar cost to replacement. Also, if I have to disassemble the system and wait for the repair, I might as well spend the money to take advantage of some of the new tech. I guess I’ll keep my fingers crossed and hope the old Denon lasts long enough for the manufacturers to launch their new lines.

I have a few questions:
1. Which manufacturer has the best service (repairs, warranty, manuals)?
2. Which manufacturer offers the highest quality componentry?
3. Is weight still a consideration? Back in the day, it was the heavier the better.
4. Will you add to this article when most of the brands are offering their HDMI 2.1 / 8k lineups?
5. When these AVR’s offer streaming services like spotify, is there better sound or other benefits as opposed to streaming through a connected device?
6. If 5.1 or 5.2 with quality sound for music is important, what route would you go?
7. Is spending a little more and going with an entry level processor (like the Outlaw 976 or Emotiva MC700) and seperate amp worth the extra money?
7. I saw my 1st mid engine vette this week. Pretty awesome. Do you think the new design will drive down the market on late model used?

Thanks for the advice and looking forward to you answers.

Dennis Burger

1. This is one of the downsides to being an AVR reviewer rather than a consumer. This is not an experience I have, unfortunately. Most AVRs last, at most, two months in my system before being replaced by something new. I guess I can speak to the issue of manuals, though: one of the reasons I picked Denon/Marantz as the mass-market manufacturer to dominate this guide is because I find their documentation to be excellent and easy to understand.
2. Depending on the price point, probably Yamaha.
3. Eh, it can be, but it’s not as important as you might think.
4. Oh, absolutely. I’m aiming for an August update given some information that I’m not allowed to talk about yet.
5. Not in my experience, unless you’re using analog connections.
6. Which route would I *personally* go? AV preamp/separates. But that’s not what this guide is about.
7. That depends! See this (slightly outdated) discussion of the topic. https://hometheaterreview.com/av-receivers-vs-av-separates-which-is-right-for-you/
7 again. I think you’re gonna see ’14 and ’15 models start to depreciate pretty quickly because of features more than anything. CarPlay was added in ’16, and a lot of people want that. ’16 was also, to the best of my knowledge, the first year where some of the features that were previously married to the Z51 package became standalone options. My dad and I have NPP exhaust in our ’16 despite the fact that it’s not a Z51. That adds to and helps it retain its value. We’ve also had more offers to buy Bluestreak since the release of the C8, mostly because for some folks the Corvette should be a Front-mid-engine/RWD car, so they consider the C7 to be the last “real” ‘Vette. That’s just my two cents.

mivenho

I’ve heard that both the SONY ES and Yamaha Aventage lines employ higher quality components than competing mid-level AVRs. Both brands should be more reliable as a result

choirboy

As an FYI regarding Yamaha reliability and support. I purchased an A-960 integrated amp in 1981. I was surprised to be contacted by Yamaha several years back to be advised of a potential issue with the power cord on these units. This was some 30 years after purchase. All in all, my experience with Yamaha products have been positive. My last purchases were a Yamaha LaserDisc player and DSP-A700 with processor. Still working after close to 40 years.
Not sure what the support is like on more entry-level product but for the their higher-end gear, it appears exceptional. Looking at Yamaha’s offerings at the higher-end (for them), the products look pretty interesting. If I was in the market, I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase given my experience.

© JRW Publishing Company, 2020
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