AV Receiver Guide – Home Theater

Check out some of the latest models with 4K Ultra HD compatibility now included in this AV Receiver Guide for Home Theater

 

The A/V Receiver… Some have referred to this device as “The “Heart of the Home Theater”. And for good reason; this one device is the central component of your entire system, controlling how each one is seen and heard by you and/or your audience based upon your input. This gives us good reason to put much thought in selecting one. As with my previous guides to choosing products that are “right for you”, I’ve gone through the paces of owning various brands and types of receivers, along with online and in-store research, summed up is what follows. Receivers range in price from a few hundred to many thousands of dollars. In the low price range, the differences are largely based upon their features. When it comes down to it, most higher-end receivers are packed with features most people would never need or use, or hear the difference. If you happen to be one of those who can distinguish the difference and know what you’re looking for, I’ve also included many technical specs.


For a bit of reference, I’ve been using A/V receivers, also called Home Theater Receivers for more than 30 years. From the early beginnings when they simply used two channels of sound input, extract and create a surround effect with Dolby Pro-Logic. I’ve had a chance to experience first-hand the improvements made over this time, while going through my fair share of disappointments in them as well. With this AV Receiver Guide my aim is to make your decision a bit simpler.

 

The Basics: What is an A/V receiver?

For those new to home theater, or not familiar, the purpose of an A/V receiver is to amplify sound from multiple audio sources as well as route video signals to the user’s TV(s) or home theater projectors from various sources. The user may program and configure the receiver to take inputs from devices such as a Blu-ray player MP3 player (iPod), cable/satellite box, game system etc. and easily select for which source he or she wants to route to their TV or home theater projector and have sound output.


How to use this guide:

The first portion of the guide will outline what features you should look for in a new receiver based upon your needs and the devices you already own. Subsequent guide sections will note how various leading, competing receivers stack up related to those features. For this guide I’ll be concentrating on four of the leading entry to mid-level receivers, while at the same time they score very high in both critical and user reviews. These receivers provide the biggest bang for the buck out there.

 

Inputs:


A/V Receivers available these days should include connections for multiple HDMI connected devices. The HDMI connection will transmit both audio and video streams to the receiver and through an output, out to your TV and/or projector. I recommend looking for a receiver that is compatible with HDMI 1.4 or higher as those signals become more available. This will allow the receiver to work with the newer 3D material, 4K Ultra-HD format as well as an audio return channel allowing your TV to send a signal back to the receiver if desired. A minimum of 4 HDMI inputs are recommended. It is a plus if the receiver includes 2 HDMI outputs which would allow you to connect to a secondary video display such as a projector, however a single output will also work as you can purchase a splitter if necessary due to cost. FYI: HDMI 1.4 will work with 1.3 and lower as it is backwards compatible.

You will want inputs for at least 4 devices. The more the better. Typical devices include: Blu-ray and/or DVD Player, CD player, Game and/or Media player (Roku, Apple TV), Phono (old style record players), and some receivers will have an input for an iPod. You may see inputs for optical digital connections such as Toslink. Some older devices include these connectors but not HDMI for digital sound.

 

Yamaha RX-V477 (5.1)  The RX-V577 adds Wifi on board

  • HDMI: 6 in – 1 out (4K Pass-Thru)
  • USB: 1 (front)
  • Network: 1
  • Digital Optical: 1
  • Digital Coaxial: 2
  • Analog Audio: 4 in (1 front) 2 out
  • Component Video: 2 in 1 out
  • Composite Video: 4 in (1 front) 1 out
  • Subwoofer out:: 1  (2 on the RX-V577)
  • Headphone: 1

 

Onkyo TX-NR525 (5.2)

  • HDMI: 6 in – 1 out
  • USB: 2 (1 front and iPod/iPhone compatible)
  • Network: 1 (also includes built-in wifi)
  • Digital Optical: 1
  • Digital Coaxial: 2
  • Analog Audio: 6
  • Component Video: 2 in – 1 out
  • Composite Video: 5 in – 1 out
  • Subwoofer out: 2
  • Headphone: 1

 

Denon AVR-E300 (5.1)

  • HDMI: 5 in – 1 out
  • USB: Yes
  • Network: 1 (wired ethernet only)
  • Digital Optical: 1
  • Digital Coaxial: 1
  • Analog Audio: 2 in – 1 out
  • Component Video:
  • Composite Video:  2 in – 1 out
  • Subwoofer out: 1
  • Headphone: 1

 

Harman Kardon AVR 1700 (5.1)

  • HDMI: 6 in – 1 out
  • USB: Yes
  • Network: Ethernet
  • Digital Optical: 2
  • Digital Coaxial: 1
  • Analog Audio: 4 in – 2 out
  • Component Video: 1
  • Composite Video:  2 in – 2 out
  • Subwoofer out: 1
  • Headphone: 1

 

Number of channels:

For the home theater experience you want at least 5.1 channels of sound. This means you will have front left, center and right speakers along with left and right surround speakers and a subwoofer. There are also 7.1 and 7.2 channel systems adding another pair of surround back speakers (see diagram below) and another subwoofer channel (the .1 or .2 in some instances). Typically these will also operate at the 5.1 setting as well if you don’t have the room or want that many speakers in your room. You may only want to have 2 stereo speakers in your listening room. If this is the case, I still recommend considering a 5.1 channel receiver because they typically offer a way to use the extra channels to power a second set of speakers you may want to use in another room. It’s always good to have options down the road. I’ve used a 5.1 system and it provides a great immersive experience.

AV Receiver Guide,A/V Receiver Guide,Home Theater

Yamaha RX-V477 (5.1)

  • 5.1 (note: the similar RX-V577 includes 7.2 channels)

 

Onkyo TX-NR525 (5.2)

  • 5.2 (note: the similar TX-NR626 includes 7.2 channels)

 

Denon AVR-E300 (5.1)

  • 5.1 (the AVR-E400 with added features includes 7.1 channels)

 

Harman Kardon AVR 1700 (5.1)

  • 5.1 (The AVR-3650 with added features and inputs includes 7.1 channels)

Digital Sound Formats:

A bit more information on the various digital sound formats, including some that many of us enthusiasts may not be aware of: Note that all of the receivers compared here are compatible with these formats.

 AV Receiver Guide,A/V Receiver Guide,Home Theater

DTS-HD Master Audio is its non-redundant structure, which in turn allows for more streamlined production. DTS-HD Master Audio technology carries one encode and one QC pass versus two for competing technologies, allowing quicker workflow and better quality. This may be why many DTS tracks take up more space than the competitors.

Up to 7.1 discrete channels at 96 kHz and up to 5.1 channels at 192 kHz. Interesting with a lower kHz rate with additional channels. I’ve not heard the acoustic different with my ears though.

DTS-HD Master Audio is an industry standard and the only “one-stream” surround audio solution for Blu-ray disc, making it the overwhelming choice of the major studios and content providers worldwide.

Learn more about DTS-HD Master Audio directly from DTS’ site here, and see why it’s included on 85% of Blu-rays. There’s a great PDF available highlighting DTS-HD Master Audio for Blu-rays here and one for the codec overview.

 AV Receiver Guide,A/V Receiver Guide,Home Theater

Dolby TrueHD is a lossless compression audio format that enables bit-rate efficiencies (disc and transmission) for a file size that is half that of uncompressed pulse-code modulation (PCM), while simultaneously delivering a studio master–quality reproduction of the original audio performance.

Includes user-selectable dynamic range control, enabling reduced peak volume levels without loss of overall sound quality—ideal for listening late at night without disturbing others. I’ve used this feature often, although some receivers have a “dynamic” control for the DTS format as well.

Gives the Blu-ray content creator the ability to include a companion Dolby Digital (640 kbps) 5.1-channel theatrical mix that complements a 7.1-channel Dolby TrueHD theatrical presentation

Learn more about Dolby TrueHD on their site here.

 

Power:

When it comes to amplifier power you may be inclined to think “the more the better!” This is one subject that isn’t always true. Keep in mind that a 100 watt provides just double 10 watts, not 10x as you may think. To actually hear a slight difference in volume, you would need to double the amplifier power, so a few Watts difference in rating isn’t really important. See the chart below showing that from 80 to 100 watts there is barely a 1 decibel difference. The quality of the amplifier is more important than the rated power itself. An amplifier with 10% distortion at full volume (and most likely at lower as well) will be virtually unlistenable to most people. Distortion rated at .01% would allow for amazing sound at all levels. Typically this low a value is found only on receivers with a very high price tag. Distortion levels measured are listed as THD (Total Harmonic Distortion). The lower, the better.

And while we are on the subject of power, please be sure your equipment is connected to a surge protection device of some sort. You just never know when a power surge may occur and damage your valuable components. It’s a small price to pay for what you get. At the higher end of surge protection are devices that also assist with conditioning the power such as those by Panamax (our review here).



The next item to consider is the S/N (Signal to Noise Ratio) rating which is expressed in decibels. Here, the larger the ratio number the better, thus 70db is better than 50db.

AV Receiver Guide,A/V Receiver Guide,Home Theater

All of these receivers provide more than enough power to perform well in most home theaters and power virtually any speaker.

Yamaha RX-V477 (5.1)  Same spec for RX-V577 but with 7 channels

  • 80Wx5 channels
  • THD: 0.9%
  • S/N: 100dB

 

Onkyo TX-NR525 (5.2)

  • 80Wx5 channels
  • THD: 0.8%
  • S/N: 100dB

 

Denon AVR-E300 (5.1)

  • 75Wx5 channels
    • Note: Each of the AVR-E300′s five 75-watt channels is powered by its own discrete circuit. This allows the receiver to reproduce original sound more faithfully than conventional models, which use integrated circuits.
  • THD: .08%
  • S/N: 98dB

 

Harman Kardon AVR 1700 (5.1)

  • 100Wx5 channels
  • THD: .07%
  • S/N: 68dB

 Set-up:

On-Screen Display/User Interface. As all receivers are pretty complicated to set up just right an on-screen set-up is pretty much mandatory for most people. The GUI (graphic user interface) is fairly straightforward and you will find yourself messing with a setting here and there as you notice things you’d like to adjust. Without a GUI it would be much more difficult which is why I only recommend those that include one.

Sound levels and tone are affected by your listening room’s size and materials such as wall coverings, windows, flooring, and furniture. Many receivers available these days include an automated set-up for the levels of each channel. This automation typically means you use a provided microphone and following the on-screen prompts move the microphone to different locations while a series of tones are emitted from each speaker. The receiver then adjusts the level (and sometimes the tone) of each speaker based upon where you will be sitting, and eliminates the need to use an SPL meter or adjust it by your own ear. Audyssey is one software maker that excels in medium to higher class receivers.  Here is a link to a PDF indicating how this works and more specifics. I highly recommend choosing a receiver with this feature. You may need to do an additional small adjustment (usually with the subwoofer) but it’s well worth it.

 

Yamaha RX-V477 (5.1)

  • YPAO Sound Optimization

 

Onkyo TX-NR525 (5.2)

  • Audyssey MultiEQ

 

Denon AVR-E300 (5.1)

  • Audyssey Bronze wih Multi-EQ (6 points)

 

Harman Kardon AVR 1700 (5.1)

  • EzSet/EQ

Network capability:

bannerThe latest receivers available may include network capabilities. These receivers will connect to your home or other network (through wifi or Ethernet connection) allowing you to listen to Internet Radio and/or other Cloud Music Streaming Services such as Pandora. Some receivers will connect directly to Apple products with AirPlay which may appeal to you if you have a large iTunes library. DLNA support means you can connect directly to your home computer, laptop or compatible NAS (network attached storage) to stream music, video, or even photos. You may have this feature already within your TV or other device such as an Apple TV, Roku, or Blu-ray player however, if you want a quick, easy, and direct way of getting to this content, the convenience on having it available within the receiver is hard to beat.



Yamaha RX-V477 (5.1)

  • AirPlay
  • Free App for controlling with virtually any smartphone or tablet.
  • Pandora, Spotify, vTuner

 

Onkyo TX-NR525 (5.2)

  • Free App for controlling with virtually any smartphone or tablet.
  • Pandora, Spotify, Rhapsody, Sirius/XM, Slacker, last.fm, Aupeo!, TuneIn.
  • No AirPlay

 

Denon AVR-E300 (5.1)

  • AirPlay
  • SiriusXM Internet Radio, Pandora, and Spotify.

 

Harman Kardon AVR 1700 (5.1)

  • AirPlay
  • DLNA 1.5 enables the AVR to stream audio from compatible devices
  • vTuner Internet radio: Enjoy your favorite radio stations, podcasts and Internet-only programming from around the globe in outstanding surround sound on your AVR. Quick, easy access to your favorite online stations.

 

4K Passthrough What you need to know:

Lucky for us, many newer receivers are beginning to incorporate this compatibility. 4K is shorthand for 4,000 lines wide by 2,000 lines high, or roughly four times the resolution of a 1080p display. The term actually covers two formats, both supported in the HDMI 1.4 specification:

  • 3840 pixels wide by 2160 pixels high
  • 4096 pixels wide by 2160 pixels high

This graphic provides you an overview of just how much more detailed an image 4K can provide.

4K-24K displays will put high-end home theater systems roughly on a par with the state-of-the-art Digital Cinema projectors used in many commercial movie theaters. You’ve probably seen the preview image during your last theater visit. The  HDMI 1.4 standard can now support these systems with the extremely high bandwidth connectivity they will require.

All High Speed HDMI cables will support 4K functionality when connected to 4K devices.

For more information see our Complete Guide to 4K.

Additional features to consider/compare:

Yamaha RX-V477 (5.1)

  • Free App for controlling with virtually any smartphone or tablet.
  • Charging of iPod, iPhone and iPad via USB when AV Receiver is off. Should work with other USB powered devices as well.
  • Background Video feature (for Radio only)
  • 4k Pass-Through for the next generation high resolution images.
  • A USB port on the front panel allows you to connect your iPod/iPhone/iPad, which also charges them when connected. Because the digital signal from the iPod/iPhone/iPad is transmitted directly to the AV receiver, there is no signal loss or interference, so the sound quality is clear and cleaner. In addition, you can use the receiver’s remote control unit to operate the iPod/iPhone/iPad.
  • Standby HDMI though is featured.
  • Yamaha’s new ECO mode reduces power consumption by about 20%. It can be set from the top of the GUI menu. (I’ve not tested this option in comparison with other units).

 

Onkyo TX-NR525 (5.2)

  • The front-panel USB port lets you play MP3 and AAC stored in an iPod/iPhone, and MP3, WMA, AAC, and FLAC audio files stored on a USB stick. The receiver’s remote will then control all music. Your music will sound much clearer, as the audio signal is transported in digital rather than analog form through the direct digital connection.
  • Built-in wifi is convenient.
  • Hybrid Standby provides ‘HDMI through’ functionality while the receiver sleeps, so you don’t have to fully power up to watch a Blu-ray or play a game using just your TV’s sound.
  • 4k Passthrough provides you forward compatibility with this newer format.

 

Denon AVR-E300 (5.1)

  • Vibration-resistant construction suppresses the negative influence of vibration on sound quality. Power transformers are securely mounted on the receiver’s solid bottom chassis to minimize vibration.
  • Now includes both FM and AM tuners.

 

Harman Kardon AVR 1700 (5.1)

  • Very clean sound, see specs noted earlier that beat the competing models.
  • Lighter. Greener. Louder. This AVR uses a custom-designed digital power supply that delivers the amplifier power and superior sound that you expect from Harman Kardon products, without requiring hefty transformers. The result is the same power as conventional designs with a lower overall carbon footprint impact.
  • Clean and Dynamic, one-of-a-kind look makes a dramatic design statement in any room.
  • A free, downloadable app allows you to transform your smartphone or tablet into an easy-to-use remote control. Compatible with most iOS and Android™ devices, this high-definition graphical user interface gives you full control of your AVR.

 Conclusion:

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This AV Receiver Guide along with the included features has hopefully made your decision making easier in choosing which home theater receiver is right for you. As I stated earlier in this guide/review, I’ve had a lot of experience with these components and for me, the best receiver of the bunch when I take into consideration both cost and features, AND actual performance is the Onkyo TX-NR525. The on-board wifi and 4K passthrough are some of the latest desired features. BUT the undeniable sleek-polished look and extremely clean sound of the Harmon Kardon really tempt me (maybe for my office?). As you have read through the various differences between the receivers, you may have concluded a different receiver is right for you. This is why I’ve included my top four choices and when it comes to performance, each of them offers a great value from manufacturers with long standing great reputations. You really can’t go wrong with any of them.

 

Getting the best price tip! You can add an item to your cart on Amazon at any time and don’t have to purchase right away. Each time you visit your cart Amazon will note at the top any pricing changes. Your own personalized price-tracking tool. Makes it much easier to track what you want to buy later.

Where to Buy?

You can buy the Yamaha RX-V477 at Amazon. Currently they have what appears to be the best price available and if you consider the free shipping, it’s a great deal.  Click here to view on Amazon.

The RX-V577 7.2 channel receiver can be found here.

 

AV Receiver Guide,A/V Receiver Guide,Home TheaterYou can buy the Onkyo TX-NR525 at Amazon. Currently they also have what appears to be the best price available and if you consider the free shipping, it’s another great deal.  Click here to view on Amazon.

The Onkyo TX-NR626 7.2 channel receiver can be found here.

 


You can buy the Denon AVR-E300 at Amazon. And again, currently they also have what appears to be the best price available and if you consider the free shipping, it’s another great deal.  Click here to view on Amazon.

The Denon AVR-E400 7 channel receiver can be found here.

 


You can buy the Harman Kardon AVR 1700 at Amazon. And yes again, currently they also have what appears to be the best price available and if you consider the free shipping, it’s yet another great deal.  Click here to view on Amazon.

 

If you enjoyed this alternative style AV Receiver Guide, please take a look at my other reviews here.

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