This article is a part of RS Recommends, an editorial series reviewing products in music and entertainment. Items are independently selected; Penske Media may earn a commission from purchases made from our links.
An A/V receiver is the hub of a home theater system. It is a main control point for audio and visual inputs and outputs, letting you switch between sources while driving your main images and sound systems. The best home theater receivers add power to speakers, can boost video dynamics via internal processors, and aggregate multiple sources to one central unit. Put simply: if you want to have a faster, cleaner, more powerful home theater system, you’ll want to pick up one of these popular home theater receivers.
Though many high-performance smart TVs and smart audio systems can operate without a receiver, there are many benefits to having one as part of your setup: convenience of grouping multiple sources, the ability to easily control multiple rooms, increased audio and video capabilities, and the opportunity to add auxiliary components such as turntables and other smart incapable devices to your system.
Picking a receiver is highly dependent on the system you want to build, or have built. A good place to start is to look at how many speakers are in, or will be in, the system. This will narrow the field of choice down slightly.
Maybe you’ve seen “5.1 surround sound” or another two-digit, decimal-pointed number. The number refers to the amount of speakers that can be connected to the system. The first number refers to speakers; the number after the decimal refers to subwoofers.
Our list focuses on home theater receivers that support three surround sound levels; 5.1, 7.2, and 9.2. A quick look at those numbers may spark the question, “Why would I need two subwoofers?” Don’t always think of a home theater receiver as only controlling one room; many premier audio companies have developed receivers capable of multi-room control via a single unit. With this in mind; an X.2 system could be a mixture of speakers and subwoofers for another room – for example, a 7.2 system could be five speakers and a subwoofer in the living room and two speakers and a subwoofer in the bedroom.
Ready to upgrade your home entertainment system? Here are some of the best home theater receivers to get.
1. Pioneer VSX-LX303 9.2 Receiver
Pioneer really jammed as many features as they could into the VSX-LX303. First and foremost, this receiver is Sonos-compatible; seamless integration and control through the Sonos app makes this receiver stand out amongst the pack, and is an asset booster for any Sonos system.
Second, the VSX-LX303 is a 9.2 surround system. With multiple room control all capable via a smartphone app, this receiver can power a living room-based system, while listening to music in the bedroom, all without sacrificing processing, power, or quality.
PROS: Sonos control is a true game changer. Dual zone audio control with different source playback makes this unit compete with significantly more expensive units.
CONS: Some users have mentioned difficulty with multi-room setup, but nothing a couple hours on a weekend can’t fix.
2. Yamaha RX-V683BL
Yamaha engineers equipment that is stunningly intuitive. The RX-V638BL showcases the capabilities of a home theater receiver when it is stacked with processing power. With 7.2 surround sound and multichannel processing, the RX-V638BL can play multi-source audio throughout various rooms. Add Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity and Yamaha has allowed for nearly every potential access point into this receiver. The ability to connect directly to a home’s WiFi router means simple and seamless integration for streaming services.
Unique to Yamaha is its “YPAO-R.S.C.” (Reflected Sound Control) Sound Optimization, while the company says its “YPAO Reflected Sound Control” will “analyze room acoustics and measure various speaker characteristics, then calibrates audio parameters to achieve optimum sound.”
PROS: Power-packed with apps and features. Internal microphone included.
CONS: Some users have commented on compatibility issues with multi channel HDMI sources.
3. Denon AVR-S540BT
The AVR-S540BT is built to be a main unit for a powerful home theater; at 5.2 surround sound, this receiver is built to push two subwoofers, plus with 140 watts per channel, connected speakers will hit harder and bigger than a number of competitors.
Think of this as the ideal hub for a system geared towards Michael Bay films, or live concert specials, or for shaking the walls with perfectly tuned audio. The Bluetooth-enabled receiver is easy to setup and controls are ready on the move with the Denon app for smartphones.
PROS: Tons of power and capability without crushing the wallet.
CONS: Great for powering a single room since the system lacks multi-room capability.