Many people know that AV receivers should be a part of a sound and entertainment setup, but some are still unsure if these gadgets are very useful or just another nice-to-have. There’s also the debate around how much is too much to spend on one.
How much you should spend on an AV receiver should depend on the quality of your speakers and what you’re expecting to get from your sound setup. The cost of your AV receiver should at most be twice the cost of your speakers. This is the best way to avoid wasting receiver power.
The rest of the article will go into more detail on all you need to know before spending money on a receiver. Watch out for tips you should keep in mind to get the best value for money and a quick review of the best receivers you can find on the market at different price levels.
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Are AV Receivers Worth It?
An AV receiver is the central hub of your home entertainment system, and it’s arguably the most important part of it. It links all your input devices, connecting them to your output systems (speakers and TV). It also allows you to seamlessly switch between devices and can also amplify signals to enhance the overall quality of your entertainment experience.
An AV receiver can decode surround-sound formats. This is one of the characteristics that make it different from old stereo receivers. Most of them contain a minimum of five channels of amplification to provide power to a speaker system with surround sound.
Most AV receivers also come with a radio tuner, with some of them also incorporating satellite radio receivers for Sirius or XM radio. This means you can switch to satellite-exclusive programming easily—as long as you have a subscription. Additionally, you can find AV receivers with TV tuners, capable of connecting to select TV stations.
If you want the best sounds from your passive speakers, you’ll need a matching AV receiver.
How Long Do AV Receivers Last?
When thinking about how long an AV receiver lasts, the first thing you should consider is what you consider as the unit’s end. If you’re thinking about how long it will take until the system’s hardware starts to fail, it could take up to four or five decades—as long as you bought a quality product in the first place.
If your focus is on how long it will last before it becomes incompatible with the technological trends of a period, then the lifespan sharply falls under a decade, typically around 5-7 years.
Technology is advancing at a neck-breaking speed, so systems that were top of the line ten years ago are struggling to match the tech needs of today’s users. Think about the length of time it took for 4K to usurp HD as the media consumption standard. How long until 8K becomes the standard?
So, the biggest issue with your AV receiver’s longevity is compatibility with existing and new technologies. As long as you don’t introduce systems with technology too far ahead for the receiver into your entertainment setup, you should be able to use it for a long time.
Are Expensive AV Receivers Worth It?
In most cases, expensive AV receivers often equate to better amplification. However, you should always make sure to choose a receiver that matches your speakers. An expensive AV receiver is only worth the money spent if you’ve got speakers that are equally expensive and can take advantage of the AV receiver’s power. So, bigger and better speakers often require more expensive receivers.
However, you should keep in mind that the cost of a receiver isn’t enough indication of its power. You have to consider the grade of the components inside and the overall build quality of the system. You also need to consider factors like impedance, frequency range, and total harmonic distortion.
The highest-quality AV receivers tend to have a lower total harmonic distortion, a wider frequency range, and lower impedance. Other factors that can make an expensive receiver value for money include:
Strange as it may sound, some AV receivers cost a bit more due to their appearance. Of course, these systems have more enhanced internal compartmentalization and better circuitry, but some people are attracted by the appearance first.
So, if you’re looking for a system that will add to the glitz of your home, you should be willing to pay a bit more. These expensive but good-looking systems are made with better materials, and they have more polished finishes. You’ll also find the knobs, buttons, and displays looking more high-quality.
If you’re one of the audiophiles looking for a modern AV receiver with vintage looks, you should also be willing to pay a bit more. People love these vintage designs because of the retro look and the nostalgia, so manufacturers are going to great lengths to bring the looks back with modern innards—at a higher price.
More expensive AV receivers often provide more options. If you want all the whistles and bells like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, satellite radio connection, advanced streaming via Chromecast, Apple Airplay 2, and other such features, you’ll have to pay a bit more.
Some receivers come with space for connecting a turntable, a subwoofer output, and a preamp output. If you need these features in your system, the price of the receiver will most likely be justified.
How Much Should You Spend for an AV Receiver?
It should all come down to three things:
- Your speaker-quality (the most important)
- The features you need
- Your budget
If you have a set of truly high-end speakers, then you should be willing to go as high as your budget allows. Remember, our tip above recommends spending no more than twice the cost of your speakers if you want value for money.
So, if you spent around $1000 on a set of high-quality speakers, you should have no problems going with an AV receiver that costs up to $2000. If you have a 5.1 surround speaker system or spent around $300 on a set of speakers from your local store, you don’t need to spend more than $500-$600 on an AV receiver. Such lower-end speakers can work fine with receivers under $500. An expensive receiver will be wasted on them.
These numbers provide a rough guide that isn’t set in stone. Think of it as a base to work with. With the numerous variables that can influence your decision to choose a specific AV receiver, you may well end up spending a bit more than two times the cost of your speakers. However, for most people, these estimates will work.
Signs That It’s Time to Buy a New AV Receiver
As we’ve seen above, quality home receivers can last a long time. However, there are a few signs that should tell you it’s time to swap your old AV receiver for something newer. Below are some of these signs:
You’ve Run Out of Connections
Running out of connection ports for your current gadgets is a top sign that you should get a new AV receiver. If you got your receiver when HD technology was still becoming popular, you might only have a couple of HDMI inputs on it. Modern receivers will have around 4-5 slots, which would give you enough coverage for all your gadgets.
Of course, you can solve the problem with a switcher if you don’t have an AV receiver in your budget yet. Still, it’s a perfect sign that your receiver is now old.
You Need Higher-Quality Sound
We’ve seen some great improvement in sound technology over the last few years. Today, some AV receivers allow automatic calibration and setup, while others come with different preset listening modes, making it easier for you to get the best out of your speakers.
There’s also some improvement in surround sound formatting with DTS:X and Dolby Atmos. These are cutting-edge immersive surround sound technologies that are typically worth the investment for true audiophiles. You’ll get Dolby Atmos automatically on AV receivers that support at least seven channels.
You Need Better Connectivity Solutions
The improved connectivity found on modern AV receivers is enough to make you desire an upgrade. On newer systems, you can connect to the internet directly, streaming music from sources like Spotify. Some of them also come with technologies like Apple Airplay.
You Want Better Remote Control Features
If you’ve seen other people controlling their AV receivers from a mobile phone app, you’ll most likely want that level of control. Such systems come with more control layers than you’d get from a standard external remote stick. You can control everything from the volume to the equalizers on your system on one app, making everything as easy as possible.
Picking a New AV Receiver
After you’ve made up your mind that it’s time to draw the curtains on your AV receiver, it’s time to decide on which products to go for. There’s no better time to get a new AV receiver than now as the technology has improved a great deal over the last few years.
Some features you’d ordinarily find in highest-end models before now have trickled down to cheaper options due to technological advancements. 4K technology is one of the areas where we’ve seen a price drop.
So, now is a good time to pick up a receiver that will remain compatible with the existing technology for the bulk of the next decade. Here are a few things you should watch out for when making your decision:
- Look at the connections. It sounds like a given, but some people underestimate what they truly need when checking connections, while others assume that a new product should have everything sorted on that front. Check everything from HDMI ports to wireless connectivity.
- Confirm compatibility with your existing HD technology. If the receiver has at least one normal HDMI input, you shouldn’t have a problem using it with slightly older technology.
- Look for automatic setup. Unless you’re an experienced musical head that can quickly set up your sound, you should go with AV receivers that come with automatic speaker setup functionality. With this, you only need to connect the speakers, turn on the receiver, and it will set up your speaker sound configurations automatically—saving you a lot of time.
- Check for 3D support. Do you consume a lot of 3D content? Then it’s a good idea to make sure your new AV receiver has the functionality for this. You should check for an HDMI 1.4a connection.
- Look for wireless connectivity. Most modern AV receivers come with Bluetooth connectivity, which will allow you to play music from your mobile device or computer. Others go one better by allowing a Wi-Fi connection to the internet to grab your Apple or Spotify playlist. Pay attention to the options on the device you’re looking at to ensure it matches your exact needs.
- Check for high-res audio and video upscaling. The best AV receivers today support high-res audio. Think of this as super HD sound. Similarly, video upscaling means the receiver can improve the images displayed a great deal. It won’t turn your 720p content into 4K, but you will see a sharp difference when watching 720p content through an AV receiver with video upscaling functionality compared to one that doesn’t have it.
These are just some of the things you should watch out for. The list of what is necessary and what isn’t will vary from one person to another. Think about how you currently use your AV receiver to make a list of features that are most important to you. Then, seek improvements or additions to what you’ve already considered as necessary. This way, your chosen AV receiver will be more future proof (As a PC power user, I hate this term. The result of buying a high-end AV receiver is apt, however.).
What Is the Right AV Receiver for You?
If you’re still not sure about what is necessary for you and what isn’t, there are a few questions you can answer right away that will bring you closer. They include the following:
What Devices Will You Connect?
Will you use your entertainment system for music and sound alone, or does it incorporate a TV? If you are going to connect a TV, you need a quality AV receiver that is compatible with your current TV technology. If you have a 4K TV or intend to buy one soon, you should go for a receiver that supports the technology.
It’s also at this point that you should look at wireless connectivity and devices you’d want to use with your AV receiver. If you are a vinyl enthusiast, you should check for a port for phono input.
How Many Channels Do You Typically Use?
Remember, every channel connects one speaker. For a surround sound setup, you need a minimum of five channels, while a standard stereo sound system will require two channels. Again, you should think ahead at this point if you intend to upgrade your speaker setup soon.
Will You Connect Multiple Rooms?
This is a very important question to ask yourself when looking for the right AV receiver. If you want to use one receiver to control your music hub in one room and your entertainment in the living room, you should go for a multi-room receiver that has this functionality.
What Are Your Video Sources?
You should go with a receiver that can handle your video inputs. 4K is great, but it doesn’t hurt to ensure backward compatibility and ensure expanded support for all your current video sources.
If you still feel overwhelmed when deciding on what you need, do some more research or talk to your local dealership’s sales rep. Some of the features you need may only be available on higher-end receivers that may be too costly for your speakers. At this point, you’ll have to decide what’s more important to you: getting all the features you need or getting the best value for your money?
Top AV Receivers in the Market at Various Price Brackets
To make your selection process a bit easier, we’ve collected some top AV receiver picks at various price levels. You can choose one of these or use them as a benchmark for range pricing:
Pricey Option – Denon AVR-X4500H
If you’re willing to spend up to $2000 on an AV receiver, you’re looking at the really luxurious side of the spectrum. You should expect to get a product that delivers excellent picture and sound and provide support for all your devices. If you’re building your dream sound setup, receivers in this range are where you should be looking.
The Denon AVR-X4500H is a true powerhouse that can take virtually every device you’d want to hook up to it. It has support for both new and older devices, and you also get a phono jack if you’d also like to hook up your turntable.
The sound quality is super impressive, especially when paired with very powerful speakers that can take full advantage of the signal being delivered by the unit. The AVR-X4500H has eight HDMI inputs and three outputs, and it has all kinds of audio and video connectors and also supports a wide range of apps. You’ll get multi-room video and audio support and high-res digital audio support.
For connectivity, the device supports AirPlay 2, Wi-Fi, HEOS, and Bluetooth. With 125 watts delivered to each leg of the 9.2 channels, you can create a large surround system with this unit or choose to use the extra surround inputs to deliver your audio and video to another two rooms.
One of the most talked-about features of the AVR-X4500H is the Audyssey MultEQ XT32 technology. It’s the company’s unique take on room measurement and EQ calibration, which is designed to dynamically optimize speakers to match your listening needs. With this system, the surround sound performance is greatly improved, and whispers and surges are eliminated.
When the volume is reduced, the system modifies your surround channel levels, improves your bass response, and improves your dialogue. What you’ll have is exquisite all-around audio that dusts the competition in its price range.
On the video side of things, the AVR-X4500H supports every technology you can throw at it. It comes with IMAX Enhanced certification and Auro-3D® to give you the best playback quality when you’re watching IMAX enhance content. The overall performance of this unit is seamless. It should be high on your list if you want an AV receiver that will clearly deliver all the nuance and little detail in every media file you play.
Mid-Range – Marantz SR5013
When you increase your budget to above $1000, you’ll get AV receivers that don’t focus only on sound. Here, you can expect to see some high-end video features, in addition to the smoothening of any audio quality issues you may find in cheaper models like those under $500.
The Marantz SR5013 is an excellent option if you want to spend a bit more on your AV receiver. It provides excellent sound quality, delivering excellent performance over its entire frequency spectrum.
The unit delivers powerful sound by pushing out 100 watts of power per channel. There’s support for a wide range of video technologies and excellent connectivity for all the devices you’d typically want to hook up to your home theater system.
The unit’s Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support is a big talking point, and for good reasons. In addition to the 7.2 surround sound functionality, you have an audio setup that will swell and blossom. The unit allows you to select your desired speaker configurations. You can stick to the standard 7.2 surround setup or use two channels to set up a 5.2.2 Dolby Atmos configuration.
If you want your front speakers to be more prominent, you can choose a standard 5.2 surround sound setup combined with an additional pair of stereo speakers elsewhere in the house. You also don’t have to hang speakers from the ceiling to get a real Atmos experience with the Marantz SR5013.
You can use the unit’s DTS Virtual:X support to create a quality 3D sound effect without the need for designated height speakers. The sound quality delivered doesn’t waver even at the highest volumes.
In terms of wireless support, this unit supports Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Apple AirPlay 2, and HEOS wireless. Streaming music to or from wireless devices is a breeze. The video side of things is very premium. You get eight HDMI inputs and two outputs so you can connect all your devices—including the projector—at the same time.
The HDMI ports included all support 4:4:4 Pure Color sub-sampling, Dolby Vision, HDCP 2.2, High Dynamic Range (HDR), Hybrid Log-Gamma, 3D, and 4K support at 60 Hz full-rate pass-through. All these features combine to make the Marantz’s SR5013 a powerful receiver for people that need AV receivers that perform well at this price point.
Lower End – Yamaha RX-V485BL
Most AV receivers on the market deliver decent results, so a system that costs $500 or less can still deliver good audio quality. Most of the cuts that keep the price low will happen in the inputs, outputs, and extra features range. If your entertainment setup isn’t too costly, an AV receiver at this price range is what you need. Not many of them in this range is better than the Yamaha RX-V485BL.
You’ll be impressed by the system’s versatility, the sound quality it delivers, and the list of features. Some of the main features you’ll find here are also selling points on more expensive models. If you’re looking for an excellent low-middle-end home theater receiver for your entertainment system, this Yamaha model holds up nicely against the competition.
The features on the RX-V485BL cover the basics, including HDMI input and output and 5.1 surround sound. You’ll also get connectivity options such as Apple AirPlay support, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. For video, the list of supported technologies is impressive for the price of this unit. You’ll get support for Hybrid Log-Gamma, HDR10, Dolby Vision, Dolby Audio, and 4K HDR.
You shouldn’t have a problem with the sound quality as the system delivers 80 watts of power to each channel. This is what you should expect as standard in this price range. The sound isn’t record-breaking—especially at high volumes—but it still does a good job. It is rich and immersive, and the dialogues are crisp and clear.
If you want some smart home functions, you’ll be happy to know that the unit has support for MusicCast multi-room and Amazon Alexa. There’s also a collection of all the usual music streaming sources, including Napster, Deezer, TIDAL, SiriusXM Internet Radio, Spotify, and Pandora.
AV receivers are the most important part of a home theater setup, so it’s often tempting to spend as much money as you can on them. However, as we’ve seen in this article, the receiver’s output is only as good as the speakers it’s been paired with.
If you have high-end speakers in your entertainment setup, you can go as high as your budget allows when buying a receiver. For lower-end speakers, a costly AV receiver will be severely underpowered. You’ll get better value with receivers within the price range of the speakers.