An AV receiver is the nucleus of your home theater. It separates, organizes and enhances all of the incoming signals from your Blu-ray player, your TV, your media server and your streaming device. What happens next is the true magic of the receiver. It sends the video flawlessly to your TV or projector while providing rich sound to the speaker system of your preference. This process removes the hassles associated with having too many devices and not enough ports.
The best AV receiver will bring everything together and help you sort out the technology to get excellence out of your movies and music. With every component that you attach, you grow closer to the ultimate expression of home entertainment options – your very own home theater. To learn more about what these devices can do, read our articles on AV receivers.
All of the receivers we reviewed are representative of the product series they are from, and you'll find other models in each series, which have both high-end and low-end options for every budget. The models in our lineup provide a good baseline to help you decide if you want to purchase a product in that series. The Yamaha RX-V575, the Sony STR-DN1030 and the Marantz NR1603 are exceptional examples of high-performance, cost-efficient and capable receivers. While these receivers represent the best, they're not perfect for everyone, as tastes generally tend to vary from person to person when it comes to home theaters. Just remember to choose what's right for you.
AV Receivers: What to Look For
As with most electronics purchases, the key to getting the right AV receiver is finding one that fits you. You want a few basic things no matter what. For example, all of the products we looked at support a full range of audio technology from both Dolby and DTS because that's what you want – full variety. But aside from some basics, the features that suit you really come down to your choice. For that reason, we rated the products we reviewed based on how broad and functional they are. We looked for AV receivers around the same price point with similar options and capabilities that will therefore cater to the majority of people. They break down into the following categories.
One of the most common measurements of audio performance is SNR (signal-to-noise ratio), and it is a good indicator of the quality of the sound output. To get the highest sound quality, the higher the SNR, the better. When you look at the frequency response, it should be a nice broad range of at least 20Hz - 20kHz. Also pay attention to the THD (total harmonic distortion), which you want to be as low as possible. Although these measurements are not perfectly accurate due to variations in the ways manufacturers test their own products, the performance specs can help you determine if the audio quality is adequate according to industry standards. Don't forget to take into consideration the power output per channel and the overall power consumption of the AV receiver for comparing output to energy cost.
Look specifically for HDMI ports. They are generally convenient and popular, and most have advanced features like audio return channels or MHL compatibility. Internet connectivity via an Ethernet port or Wi-Fi is another connection you want to look for. After these basics, look for a variety of ports to accommodate your other devices. These other ports include component, optical, coaxial and composite connections as well as ports for multiple rooms and AM/FM antennas.
Many receivers offer little extras, like iPod compatibility, internet options and the ability to upscale standard definition video to HD at 1080p. Since these features aren't completely necessary, the bells and whistles only serve to sweeten the deal. Product dimensions are also included to help you know if you have the room for an AV receiver in your home theater.
Help & Support
Look to see if the manufacturer offers technical support via phone and email. User guides and FAQs are also a good thing to check out before you buy. Finally be sure to check the terms of the warranty, the longer the better.
As you begin the process of building your home theater, you'll want to find a great AV receiver. The receiver should have excellent performance, a variety of ports to suit your needs and a host of additional features according to your individual tastes. Together these make up the most important things to look for in an AV receiver.