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Best AV receiver of 2020 – CNET

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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, connectivity options and performance levels in a home cinema are impressively high in this middling price range. From Dolby Atmos to Wi-Fi music streaming to voice control — and, of course, high-quality audio — these models have everything a home theater enthusiast needs.

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How to buy an affordable AV receiver

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Which receiver comes out on top?

Of the current receiver models I’ve reviewed, the Onkyo TX-NR696 is my favorite pick for best AV receiver for a home theater system. The receiver offers easy setup, excellent usability, great surround sound with plenty of headroom, easy speaker setup, solid looks and, most important, plenty of up-to-date features essential to a stereo receiver. 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.

The Sony STR-DN1080 also puts in a good show despite being from 2017, as does the 2019 Denon AVR-S750, which offers 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 — your speaker system won’t be able to tell the difference.

Best receiver of 2020

Onkyo TX-NR696

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Onkyo TX-NR696 is the best AB home theater receiver for those looking for a budget-ish option. This receiver was 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 port (in addition to the six HDMI inputs on the back). This video and audio receiver offers streaming protocols, including built in Chromecast, DTS Play-Fi, Spotify Connect, AirPlay and Bluetooth. The only thing we didn’t like was the remote control (it was just a bit too much, even with all those connectivity options). If you can find the TX-NR696 under $500, that’s great, but it’s still worth the extra coin.

Read our Onkyo TX-NR696 review.

Best for music fans

Denon AVR-S750H

Sarah Tew/CNET

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 Apple AirPlay 2. It has an on-screen setup assistant that helps you connect your TV and optimize surround sound — whether it’s for an immersive audio experience your home theater (complete with ceiling speakers and a killer amplifier, of course) or flipping from channel to channel on your living room couch.

Read the Denon AVR-S750H review.

Best for beginners

Sony STR-DN1080

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Sony STR-DN1080 was our 2017 Editors’ Choice, and it’s still an excellent stereo receiver package, if getting long in the tooth. 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 optimize sound to the room where you setup. Don’t pay full price, though — it regularly goes on sale for between $400 and $500.

Read our Sony STR-DN1080 review.

Also consider

Wireless rear speaker option

Yamaha RX-V485

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Yamaha RX-V485 offers quality sound at an affordable price, as well as Wi-Fi connectivity, Airplay 2, Spotify Connect, Bluetooth and other music casting from your devices. It also has 4K Ultra HD with HDR10. For most people, though, it’s worth paying more for extra HDMI inputs and outputs and Dolby Atmos capability, available in all of the models above.

Read our Yamaha RX-V485 review.

What to look for in a $500-ish receiver

AV receivers are notoriously complex, with reams of features and confusing technical specifications (What’s ‘ultra HD’? How will that affect the sound quality? Why is setting up surround sound so complicated?). I’m going to sum up the most important ones right here.

4K HDR compatibility

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 (at least HDMI version 2.0 or better). All of these models support 4K and HDR video.

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The rear panel of the Onkyo TX-NR585 offers six HDMI inputs
Sarah Tew/CNET

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 of rear inputs what’s most important (how else are you going to connect your Blu-ray player, Nintendo Switch, sound bar and all your other devices. 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 should also be sure you have an extra HDMI cable or two on-hand — you don’t want an HDMI input to go to waste!

You don’t really need Dolby Atmos ‘height’ speakersThe Yamaha is the only model here that doesn’t support Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, but the effects 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 new formats if you don’t install an extra wireless speaker or two. Mounting rear wireless surround speakers high on the wall instead will get you half of the way in terms of quality immersive sound. Wi-Fi music streamingMost 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 Apple AirPlay and Google Chromecast (and sometimes Spotify Connect) 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 AirPlay 2. For more on what you should be looking for, check out my full AV receiver buying guide. More for those seeking great sound qualitySound bar vs. speakers: Which TV audio system sounds best in 2020?Best sound bars under $300
Best universal remotes of 2020
The best smart speakers of 2020
Best soundbars for 2020
Best Wi-Fi speakers and music systems of 2020
Best streaming device of 2020: Roku, Apple TV, Fire Stick, Chromecast and more
Originally published last year and updated periodically.
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