Having a receiver as part of your entertainment center is a great way to give your content a great surround sound experience. But like with anything that runs on electricity, some are curious about how much power their devices are using. Receivers have multiple channels with their wattage rating – but how many watts per channel do you need?
You only need 70-100 watts per channel due to how loud this range is. Once you go into higher-end receivers, you will find this number increasing because the more powerful sound is demanded of AV receivers that cost thousands of dollars.
We will be going more in-depth on how much power a typical receiver uses and how much this matters in sound quality. Read further if you'd like to learn more!
What Does a Receiver Do? Do You Need One?
Many people's entertainment centers consist of a TV and a soundbar. Still, for those who are after true surround sound, they opt for dedicated stereo speakers who generally produce better quality sound than a soundbar overall.
But there are two types of speakers in general that have a very important difference: powered and passive.
Powered speakers make up most of the market and are generally targeted towards the general consumer who just wants a simple speaker to set up and use. They are also less expensive a lot of the time because audiophiles who are looking for the best sound possible aren't the target demographic.
What separates a powered speaker from a passive one is that a powered speaker has an amplifier built-in, meaning you can connect directly to the source without worrying about buying a discrete amplifier. An amplifier gives a speaker its sound, and without one, you just have a paperweight on your hands.
While many powered speakers sound genuinely good, their built-in amplifiers usually aren't going to hold a candle to an amplifier you buy separately and set up. This is why an audiophile's entertainment center/home theater will generally include passive stereo speakers with either an amplifier or a receiver.
This leads us to the main topic: receivers.
What Exactly Is a Receiver?
A receiver is essentially an amplifier and a video processor in one convenient box. They are generally meant for entertainment centers with a surround sound setup consisting of multiple passive speakers and can vary in the number of channels they support.
These channels dictate how many speakers and subwoofers they can natively support and make the most of them. For example, a receiver that supports two channels will work best with two speakers. But keep in mind that you can usually pair more than one speaker per channel – 2 will usually suffice as long as each channel is sufficiently powerful.
The video processing part of a receiver will route the video back to the TV, usually producing a superior image quality overall.
But today, we want to focus on the audio part of a receiver, namely the sound channels and the power they produce and need.
Channels and Watts
Each channel that an AV receiver supports will need the power to run. The more channels you have, the more power-hungry the receiver will be if you choose to make full use of its capabilities.
Most receivers are equipped at least for a 5.1 surround sound setup and have six channels. These channels are meant to support different areas where the sound is coming from:
The final channel is meant to be dedicated to a subwoofer. In the ideal scenario, you would have a center speaker with two speakers off to the side and two more speakers behind you with a subwoofer to deliver bass and “oomph” to your sound.
Many receivers can deliver 100 watts of power per channel, which is plenty for many people. Watts indicates how powerful of a sound an amplifier can produce. Keep in mind that this isn't a direct indicator of audio quality – well, to a degree, that is.
A more powerful amplifier won't take low-quality audio files and suddenly turn them into the best things you've ever heard. Instead, they can produce a louder sound with distortion and crackling. Especially powerful amplifiers are great for group gatherings where you want the sound to travel far while sounding great.
You may also want powerful sound channels for a theater-like sound experience. Once you've heard a properly set up home theater, it is pure bliss, and you may find yourself skipping going out more often!
How to Determine How Many Watts per Channel You Need
As we stated earlier, 100 watts per channel is plenty for most people. If you crank the volume up to the max, likely, it would honestly be TOO loud for many people's entertainment centers – especially if you live in an apartment where others will likely hear your super loud movie/video game session.
Many people can make do with just 70 watts per channel and be perfectly happy. This Denon AVR-S540BT budget AV receiver is rated 70 watts per channel and produces excellent sound for the price. The manufacturer rating for this specific receiver does claim 140 watts per channel, though, which is a discussion we will lead into later. For now, let's focus on getting a general idea of what you might need for your use case and demands.
In short, if you just need a receiver to power a surround sound setup and will be playing at around 70 dB, you can get by with a receiver that is rated for 70-100 watts per channel. You will be able to get a nice sound, and most importantly, you won't be shelling out an arm and a leg for a receiver you won't fully utilize.
Another thing to consider is that a receiver should be bought based on the other equipment you have, namely the speakers and subwoofer. It is very important to remember that a receiver won't make lower-quality speakers suddenly sound amazing. A receiver is meant to get the most out of a speaker, not magically make it a much better device than it is.
For example, suppose you have a $300 receiver and a $4000 surround sound setup. In that case, that budget AV receiver will not be enough to make full use of your expensive setup, and you should be looking into receivers with more watts per channel and a higher frequency range with as little distortion as possible.
Always check the maximum wattage of your speakers' support before deciding on a receiver. Additionally, consider what receivers will benefit your speakers the most.
Are More Watts Always Better in Receivers?
While more expensive receivers generally offer more watts per channel, this isn't an automatic quality indicator. As we previously established, more watts offer powerful sound and can prevent distortion at higher volumes. But there is more to audio quality than how loud you can make something.
You can have two receivers rated for the same wattage per channel with the same amount of channels, but one can be more expensive than the other because it can produce better quality sound overall. What does “better sound” mean exactly? We mentioned above how a wider frequency range is a part of sound quality, but a smooth frequency response is not even more important. Higher quality receivers also have less distortion making for a clear, natural sound.
This video explains this subject very well, and we recommend giving it a watch if you are doubting or wondering if you really need to pass any receiver that has watts per channel rating of under 100w:
Room Size Matters
Keep in mind that the smaller your room is, the less of a powerful sound you need. You'll face diminishing returns pretty quickly if you are using a 200w sound channel in a small bedroom, for example. If you are planning a bedroom setup, there's a good chance you can easily get away with buying a less expensive AV receiver. You'll still benefit from features such as Dolby Atmos, but the smaller your space is, the less time it takes for sound to travel and dissipate.
You can still benefit if you watch many movies and play a lot of games by going with a higher per channel wattage. Because movies and games tend to have a high dynamic range of sound, the more powerful the amplifier is, the more “oomph” there will be when something loud happens, such as an explosion.
The difference can be noticeable when comparing 70 vs. 100 watts because the receiver with more watts per channel has a larger power reserve and can handle sudden bursts of loud noise.
Weaker amplifiers may distort these sounds, creating an experience that can be difficult to diagnose if you don't know where to look.
But note that you probably don't need a $3000, 300w per channel amplifier for a 100 square foot bedroom.
Can You Use a Powerful Amplifier With Weaker Speakers?
Speakers are rated to handle a certain amount of watts, which is oftentimes found on the back. If you have an amplifier that outputs 100 watts, but your speaker is rated to handle up to 70 watts, you can still use the amplifier, but you'll have to ensure the volume isn't cranked up all the way, or you risk breaking the speakers. Luckily, speakers will begin to distort their sound, letting you know to turn the volume down before it's too late.
Be Careful About Manufacturer Wattage Ratings
How do you find out what watts per channel a receiver has? You look at the product description or spec sheet, right? While this can indicate what it is aiming for, it is important to know that these ratings aren't a true indicator of how much power they can put out at a continuous rate or even through all of your speakers.
A lot of times, a manufacturer will put a relatively high watt per channel rating in the product description but fail to indicate that it is only capable of that power output for about a second or two or that it only applies to using one channel at a time.
Remember the Denon speaker we mentioned earlier? It is one of our favorite budget AV receivers, but the 140 watts per channel claim is more of a “technically true” thing. It can go that high for short bursts, but it isn't capable of sustaining that. Great for explosions, not so great when you are expecting to listen to 140 watt-level sound continuously.
Cheap vs. Expensive AV Receivers
We briefly went over that watt ratings aren't an indicator of quality, rather it is how powerful of a sound a receiver can output. If that is your main goal, there are plenty of reasonably priced AV receivers out there that can offer booming sound without getting too high in price. Still, if you are curious about how much you should be spending, we will be going over this topic to give you an idea of what to look for.
What Price Do AV Receivers Start At? How Much Power Can You Expect?
AV receivers, in general, are sophisticated, and so most of the time, they will at least cost you the amount of money you'd pay for a game console or a UHD Blu-Ray player. Good budget AV receivers can start at $250 if you catch sales but usually sit at $280-$300.
In this price range, you are looking at 5.1 or 5.2 ch. Surround sound with anywhere between 70-90 watts of continuous power per channel with approximately 145 watts in bursts.
They will also support 4K HDR video as long as you aren't looking at a too old model, meaning if you have a TV that supports 4K, you can enjoy the benefits of a superior image overall.
Unfortunately, cuts have to be made somewhere, and <$300 receivers will usually lack features such as Dolby Atmos, Wi-Fi and you won't see 7.2 or 9.2 ch. Surround sound.
This is a good place to start because it can get your foot in the door in making a great entertainment center setup. If you start from scratch, you can save some serious money by building a setup around these budget speakers. Heck, if you shop smart, you can get yourself an AV receiver, speakers, and a 4K HDR TV for under $800, which is what some people pay just for a receiver alone.
If you can spend slightly more cash, we recommend picking up this Sony STR-DH790. You get Dolby Atmos support and 7.2 ch. For under $380, it is at a really good price, and it often drops to $350. In terms of value for what you get, this is one of the best on the market.
But perhaps you want more; in this case, let's explore the mid-range!
What Do You Get Paying More?
The next step up isn't too far off from budget territory, and you will be rewarded for spending the extra cash.
Once you get into the $500 – $750 range, you start seeing features that most tech reviewers recommend having, such as Dolby Atmos support + DTS: X Wi-Fi, more watts per channel, more port selections, and features such as voice control and streaming applications. 7.2 Ch is pretty much standard at this price point, so you can add more speakers and equipment.
You will also start seeing slightly more watts per channel at the low-mid range than what you get out of budget receivers, and as you go higher, the difference becomes more significant.
Additionally, better components start to get used, which improves audio and build quality. You'll notice that the knobs and buttons feel more premium, and the receivers will have a “classier” look to them overall. If you are spending around $750 for a receiver, the chances are that you are pretty darn serious about your audio.
Look into this price range if you try to replicate a movie theater sound experience in your home and want quality life features such as Wi-Fi. Look into the upper-midrange if you would like a step up in build quality and have relatively high-end speakers to take advantage of the superior audio quality they deliver.
But before we top things off, we still need to explore the Rolls Royces of AV receivers because a lot of you are probably curious why an AV receiver can cost $1000-$5000.
What Do You Get for Paying a Lot More?
Most consumers cap out at $750 – $900, and even then, that is a more niche market than the $300 – $500 receivers. Big jumps in price mean you also need to start spending a lot more on speakers to take advantage of improved amplifiers, and it's not often that an average joe is dropping $2000 on an audio setup alone.
But if you want to go beyond and demand the best. You are looking at over $1500 for an AV receiver. What does this hefty price get you? You will generally see a huge spike in watts per channel, anywhere between 200-300w, depending on how high you go. The components will also be especially premium and well put together to offer the best sound possible.
You'll also see support for even more channels (9.2 Ch – 13.2 Ch) as well as support for 8K TVs and 3D audio.
Build quality will also skyrocket as you'd expect when spending money on the top-of-the-line receivers, and you'll notice that even more care is put into these machines than the upper mid-range models.
You will also get a monstrous port selection to ensure that any audiophiles' needs are covered when hooking up other audio and HDMI devices.
Do you need to spend $2000+ on an AV receiver? Not unless you have very expensive high-end speakers to go with it. You are getting diminishing returns once you step into the high-end audiophile-level AV receivers. These are made for people who demand the best and are willing to pay for it.
If you noticed throughout explaining the different tiers of AV receivers, the watts per channel you get don't change too much until you get to the very high end of the spectrum. This indicates that most manufacturers don't focus on this area because, as we mentioned before, pure wattage isn't an indicator of audio quality.
If you want over 100 watts of continuous power per channel, you will probably look at the mid-range market. This will give your movies and games powerful sound and will be able to keep up with continuous loud noise. Just make sure your speakers are rated to handle the maximum watts per channel that your receiver's amplifiers can output, or you risk distortion in your audio, or worse, blow out your speakers!
AV Receiver Recommendations
We went over the various pricing levels of AV receivers and what you can expect in each category, and after a lot of consideration, we think most people will be happy with the $350 – $600 range for long-term usage. You will get Dolby Atmos, 7.2 Ch. and plenty of watts per channel.
If you need to go less expensive, the Sony STRDHD590 sits at around $280 and will get the job done in a sleek, classy looking package.
Or perhaps you want to stretch your budget more and want something more future proof. The Denon AVR X2700H is a good choice, and it is perfect for gamers who have or plan on getting the PS5 or Xbox Series X/S due to the 4K 120hz support and 8K video. It should last you years to come!
Below you will see some top picks for AV receivers in the $350 – $600 range. If you are shopping in this price range, you've come to the right place!
You have seen the Sony STR-DH790 brought up earlier in this article. This is an incredible value for the money, and while it lacks Wi-Fi and voice control like other $380-$400 AV receivers, it punches above its weight by offering 7.2 Ch. surround sound and Dolby Atmos.
This seems to be a recurring theme with Sony's budget receivers in general. They tend to strip out bells and whistles to offer sound quality that more expensive receivers have. For example, in the stereo receiver market, their STRDH190 is shockingly cheap for what you get.
Sony claims that this receiver hits 145 watts per channel, but this, unfortunately, leads us back to the discussion of you can't fully trust the manufacturer's claims on this spec. It will hit 145 watts per channel as long as you are using one channel at a time. In reality, if you are using this receiver as intended, you are looking at 90 watts per channel, which is on par with many other receivers that are even more expensive than this one.
Do you have under $400 and don't care about built-in Wi-Fi and streaming applications? This is the AV receiver to get. You can go cheaper, but we think the extra cash is worth it to gain Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, as well as 7.2 Ch, surround sound.
The Yamaha RX-V685 is a complete receiver as expected for the price: 7.2 Ch. surround sound, Wi-Fi support, Dolby Atmos and DTS: X, 2 HDMI outputs, voice control, 4K HDR10, Dolby Vision, it's all here and is an easy recommendation – especially if you can catch it on sale for under $500.
The watts per channel powers in at 105W, which will be enough for most people's needs and is appropriate for the price point.
This is another receiver that offers tremendous value for the dollar and is an easy recommendation for those looking into the lower mid-range market. The MSRP is $600, but you can frequently find it.
Denon makes AV receivers in pretty much every price point you can think of. They are one of the go-to's for reliable receivers and audio equipment in general. The Denon AVR-S750H is everything right with a $500 receiver. You get the features you'd expect, such as 3D Dolby surround sound, Wi-Fi, voice commands, and 7.2 channel surround sound.
The 75 watts per channel may be low to some at the price it is at, but if you can live with that, this is a solid AV receiver that offers almost Everything you could ask for at its price.
You are likely not needing any more than 100 watts per channel out of an AV receiver unless you are shooting for a particularly high-end setup. Most budget receivers start at 70-75 watts per channel, which is enough for many entertainment centers and speaker setups.
The main benefit of 100 watts per channel is to take advantage of the high dynamic range that movies and video games have, which can give you a movie theater-like sound experience, but you don't need to sweat too much if your receiver falls below this power rating.