While soundbars may be in vogue right now, nothing compares to the quality and functionality you will get from an AV receiver. However, if you are new to AV receivers, it may be tempting to buy the first one you see. But do not take for granted the details that will make or break your audio experience.
All RV receivers don’t exactly sound the same. System features, as well as home theater specs, impact sound quality. Researching what an AV receiver does is essential. Elements like your speaker system, what media you are consuming, receiver codecs, and amplification power will make a difference.
Read on to learn about AV receivers and the factors that will change their sound quality. If you would like some suggestions, keep reading for some expert recommendations.
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How Do AV Receivers Work?
If you want to expand your home theater experience, an AV receiver is essential. AV receivers are hubs that manage the many audio and video sources at your disposal. What’s more, they are high-quality products that enhance the viewing and listening experience.
In order to compare AV receivers, you should understand their uses first. Here is a quick review:
- Connecting and navigating audio sources: If your home is a theater, imagine an AV receiver as a stage manager of sorts. You can connect all of your audio sources to the receiver and switch between sources with the preamplifier.
- Connecting and managing video sources: AV receivers also manage video sources as well as audio. The video source links to the display device through the receiver. This connection makes switching between sources seamless. You may be concerned that using an AV receiver as a mediator may diminish picture quality. However, HD technology has improved so much that a receiver’s effects will be small, if any.
- Receiving radio: As the name suggests, AV receivers have a built-in tuner to receive radio signals. Plus, new models also feature satellite radio capabilities. Listening to satellite radio will require a paid subscription. Still, even if you decide to forgo satellite, you will have access to free HD radio.
- Translating surround sound formats: Unlike the old stereo receiver, AV receivers can read analog and digital surround sound formats. If you are looking for next-level digital sound, treat yourself to an AV receiver.
- Multiplying your speaker capacity: Modern AV receivers come with five amplification channels. That is enough to accommodate a speaker in each corner of your living room, plus a high-quality center speaker. Now that’s what I call surround-sound!
- Accessing a streamlined user interface: If all of this sounds intimidating to you, fear not! AV receivers have a user interface that features an LCD interface on the receiver and remote control for easy navigation. Some even provide an additional interface on your television.
Furthermore, an AV receiver and a stereo amp are not the same things. Stereo amps only support two speakers and a subwoofer. The amps are best for hi-fi systems. Surround sound requires a setup of at least five speakers. Only AV receivers have enough channels to support that many speakers.
Elements to Consider When Buying an AV Receiver
AV receivers are not one-size-fits-all. What may work well for someone else’s home theater may not be right for yours. There are a lot of considerations to make when shopping for an AV receiver. Here is what you need to know when comparing receivers:
Know the Size of Your Room
You will not know how much power or channels you will need until you measure the size of your room. There are multiple ways to accomplish this. You can tape measure the room’s length and width, then calculate the measurements to find the estimated square footage/meters. Or, you can refer to your home’s floor plan if you have one available.
There are no industry specifications for what constitutes a small, medium, or large room. However, tech blog, The Master Switch estimates:
“If it’s under 130 square feet [12.1 sq m.], it’s a small room. If it’s between 130 and 250 square feet [12.1 and 23.2 sq m.], it’s a medium room, and anything over 250 square feet [23.2 sq m] is large.”
Exact measurements are not required. You need only need a general idea.
Determine the Required Number of Channels
If you are unsure how many channels you need, ask yourself how many speakers instead. One channel supports one speaker, so once you know how many speakers you need to utilize, you know how many channels you need. There is no need to buy extra channels you will not use, just like there is no reason to use more speakers than what fits in a room.
This doesn’t just include physical space when it comes to speakers and wires. Too many speakers in a small area will create an overwhelming and crowded sound.
But how can you tell how many channels a receiver provides? The amount is a two-digit decimal number. The number to the left of the decimal indicates how many speaker channels a receiver supports. In contrast, the number to the right means subwoofer channels. Most units sport a 5.1 or 7.1 system. Anything more than 5.1 is too much for small to medium rooms. Conversely, large spaces can justify a seven-speaker system.
Did you know those receiver manufacturers advertise the power output amount to two channels rather than all five? If that sounds crazy to you, that is because it is. Modern AV receivers can easily support power output to all the speakers in a small to medium room. Otherwise, why would they provide channels they could not power? That is why being discerning in this regard is highly recommended.
Rather than looking for the most power possible, look for the least amount of energy you can reasonably run through your speakers. High wattages, like 110W for two channels, are unnecessary for an average-sized room. You will get the same amount of efficacy from 75W and save a lot of money. The only exception is when you are supplying a larger space. More space requires more volume, which runs on more power.
Best Sound Quality and Room Calibration Support
As a rule of thumb, you get what you pay for when it comes to an AV receiver’s sound quality. Pricier models will give you better sound, while cheap models may cut corners in sound components. Also, look for room calibration features. This feature reduces audio delay by using an external mic to familiarize your receiver with the room’s acoustics.
All AV receivers have HDMI inputs. The connection is a staple of home theaters, after all. However, more is not better in this case. Like power, there is no reason to buy a receiver with more receivers than you need, except for one or two more inputs for future upgrades and devices. However, if you are watching 4K content, you need a receiver with HDMI 2.0a or HDCP 2.2 certification.
Surround Sound Codec
AV receivers use special programs called codecs to interpret surround sound. This program tells the receiver which sounds go to which speaker. There are two commonly known codecs available, DTS:X and Dolby Atmos. DTS:X is better suited for small rooms without height speakers. Dolby Atmos offers superior quality, but will only work for large rooms equipped with height speakers.
Wi-fi and Bluetooth technology are standard at this point. So unless you purchase a budget model, your AV receiver should have one. There are even models out there that exclusively use wireless connectivity between devices. Wireless connectivity is essential for receivers, especially if you wish to use Spotify or Pandora services with them. If a receiver does not offer wireless connectivity, give it a hard pass.
Some receivers on the market offer multi-zone functionality, but it is not a vital feature. First of all, the feature only works with 7.1 systems. Secondly, most multi-room systems cannot send digital audio into a second room. Plus, installing this system will require wiring in the wall between the rooms. You can get the same functionality with more ease from a wireless Bluetooth speaker.
Finding a suitable AV receiver does not require breaking the bank. You can purchase a fine-quality model for about $250. It is not recommended to spend less than that since models under $250 are either second-hand or cheaply made. High-quality models can cost between $1,000 and $2,000. More extravagant models can cost over $4,000.
How Do AV Receivers Affect Sound Quality?
So if a receiver’s job is to decode, amplify, and in theory, improve the sound, what factors will determine the quality of your sound system? As it turns out, many of the elements previously mentioned will directly affect your receiver’s sound quality.
The output of the sound is a simple place to start. For example, connecting your TV speakers to the receiver rather than a speaker system will negatively impact the sound. However, if you put the time, consideration, and money into a speaker system that suits your space, you are already off to a tremendous start!
Your decoding system also makes a difference. Remember the two different codecs mentioned earlier? DTS:X, while simpler, is better for small spaces without height speakers. On the other hand, if you use the same codec on a more advanced speaker system in a large room, you will notice a decrease in sound quality.
Now, what about power? Yes, investing in unnecessary power per channel is a waste. However, skimping on strength can cause severe sound problems. If you are working with a more extensive system, it is advised to aim for more substantial amplification capabilities. Running a vast system on low power per channel can damage your receiver and speakers.
Lastly, what you are listening to or watching will impact your receiver’s sound quality. If you watch media with 4K sound with a receiver that does not support Ultra HD or 4K sound, you will lose out. On the other hand, if the media you consume is not a high format, listening to it on a receiver that does support high formatted sound will not make a difference.
AV Receiver Recommendations
Even after learning what to look for and what factors affect an AV receiver’s sound quality, shopping for one is daunting! Check out some of these options below to get you started!
Starter Receiver: Sony STR-DN1080
If you are new to AV receivers, the Sony STR-DN1080 is an accessible system with fantastic sound quality. Its user interface is exceptionally approachable, sporting a color screen with pictured guides. The remote control itself is rather slim. The UI handles all of the complex features. Sony’s streamlined UI makes setup an absolute breeze compared to other companies.
Adding to the accessibility factor is the receiver’s Google Home support. This feature grants you unrivaled voice control. One can ask Google to play a specific song. The app will turn on the receiver and access the music through whatever service you have paired with the receiver. Sony’s Google support makes operation enjoyable, even for the technology-averse. One minor setback is that streaming apps must be phone-controlled, not remote-controlled.
Sound quality also stands out on this receiver. It is the first of its kind to include a Dolby Atmos codec. This model, compared to its predecessors, favors sound clarity over fullness. Therefore, if you are using cheaper speakers, the receiver will not be forgiving. Plus, like most receivers, take this system’s auto-setup with a fistful of salt. Therefore, a manual setup is recommended. The setup will take less time this way.
Best Receiver for Music: Denon AVR-S750H
The Denon AVR-S750H does not have as many audio formats available as the Onkyo. However, there are positive elements that are great for music. The system has Amazon Alexa support, which is excellent for voice command controls. The company also offers its voice control app for this receiver. Google support still lags a tad, with limited support for Google Assistant and no Chromecast support.
Limited features aside, the Denon offers a signature sound that is not replicated by any of its rivals. There is a warmth there that can mystically fill a room and embrace you in a lyrical hug. It also handles film and TV well. The Denon sound can be divisive, but it is the right choice if you like a warmer touch to your music.
Significant setbacks to acknowledge include Denon’s dated, black and white user interface and an auto lip-synch feature that rushes vocals (use the manual calibration instead).
Best All Around: Onkyo TX-NR696
The Onkyo TX-NR696 is one of the most flexible receivers on the market. It also retails at a competitive price point, usually just above $500. And for that reasonable price, the amount of features this option provides is enormous! As far as codecs are concerned, the Onkyo offers DTS: X and Dolby Atmos. Plus, the receiver sports six HDMI ports and Ultra HD/4K support. Its music features are massive, supporting CDs, music streamers, Bluetooth, plus vinyl records!
So how does its audio quality hold up? Extremely well. The Onkyo offers one of the most balanced audio experiences. Musically, it provides attention to details that will make you feel like you are right in the studio. Movies and TVs will pop as well.
The receiver has some small setbacks, like a chunky remote control. However, this is one of the best all-in-one boxes out there.
AV receivers differ in so many ways, and their sound quality is no different. External factors, like room size, speaker systems, and media quality, will influence the sound. Additionally, receiver-specific factors, like codecs and amplification power, will also impact performance. Fitting your receiver’s features to its external environment is critical. Since an AV receiver is your home theater’s management system, tailor it to your needs, not someone else’s.