AV receivers are combined amplifiers and input selectors, an essential component of a home theater system. . They switch between all your HiFi and TV components, control your surround speakers and send the video signal to your TV. That’s it — they are the centerpiece of all your AV equipment. However, there is a huge range of receivers on the market, so the choice can be a bit overwhelming. What exactly should you look for in a new AV receiver?

This article is aimed at the average Joe — if you’re a music lover who cares about a precise DAC chipset, you’re probably splattered at various points. Please do not think that this article is aimed at you!


It’s very easy to underestimate the amount of input you’ll need. While your needs may not be as ridiculous as our esteemed game editor Dave Leclerc and his hundreds of retro game consoles, you might be surprised at how quickly these inputs get used, so always buy a model with more than you need. for further expansion. Five of my HDMI inputs are already in use.

Start by making a list of all the equipment you need to connect to the receiver and the type of connections they need — older equipment may have:

  • Component audio and video (5 RCA connectors)
  • SCART (mostly European)
  • Stereo audio (2 RCA plugs or just 3.5mm single jack)
  • Composite audio and video (3 RCA plugs — red/white/yellow)
  • TOSLINK optical sound

Most receivers will be able to accommodate perhaps one or two legacy devices, but the main number you find advertised will refer to the number of HDMI inputs.


A wonderful set of sockets awaits you on the back of the AV receiver!

It’s safe to say that any extension you need will be in the form of HDMI. HDMI is the modern standard for transmitting digital audio and video signals — one cable to control them all. Even previous generation game consoles use HDMI, and most computers now have HDMI outputs. When calculating how many inputs you need, add a few to account for future HDMI devices.

Higher-end models may also support more than one HDMI output so you can choose between a TV or a projector. for example. You won’t find this on budget models, so a simple external HDMI switch/matrix can be used instead.

There is one caveat worth paying attention to: 3D equipment and AV receivers don’t play well due to differences in HDMI standards. Unless you buy a receiver specifically designed to handle 3D signals, you may be stuck connecting your 3D devices directly to your TV or projector. This won’t affect most of you, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

4K pass-through and upscaling

The newest video standard coming out in the next few years is «Ultra HD», or 4K — if you want your receiver to be compatible, make sure it supports 4K transmission . Of course, you will need a TV capable of displaying this too. Matt Smith’s advice for now is to basically avoid 4K TVs. television .

Upscaling means your receiver is converting a lower resolution video source to a higher resolution — 1080p or even 4K on very high end hardware. If you don’t have money to burn and are particularly attached to a very old device, forget about scaling, you don’t need it — and your TV will probably do a better job of it.

Surround channels and power

Surround settings range from 5.1, 6.1, 7.1, 9.1 to a rather ridiculous 11.1 speaker system. «.1» refers to the subwoofer responsible for bass roar; You can even search for «.2» which means it supports two subwoofers like the Onkyo TX-NR616. A good 5.1 setting is more than enough for the average living room, but some Blu-ray movies are encoded for 7.1 if you’re aiming for absolute excellence.

Dolby Surround

Discussion of audio decoders such as Pro Logic is a bit beyond the scope of this article — suffice it to say that your receiver should at least handle DTS and Dolby Digital (used for movie soundtracks), as well as Dolby Pro Logic II (which can handle a stereo source). ). for 5.1 channels).

Power refers to the audio power per channel—typically 50 to 150 watts. The speakers you buy should be of the same wattage for best performance. Large rooms require more power. The physical size of a speaker is largely aesthetic and has nothing to do with the quality of the sound it makes, so don’t just think «bigger is better».

You can save money by purchasing an AV receiver and a surround speaker kit, and you won’t have to worry about matching power ratings or impedances.

Communication and additional functions

Many receivers will now add additional connectivity to computers, mobile devices, or network storage. Here are some keywords to search for:

  • DLNA — Digital Living Network Alliance — so you can stream photos, videos, and music from compatible sources. If you buy a compatible player, here are 6 DLNA sources you can try.
  • Wireless or network connection — if the receiver offers DLNA, it needs to somehow connect to your network.
  • Internet radio — for connecting to services such as Spotify .
  • Airplay — for iPhone or iPad to easily output audio and video.
  • Smartphone Control — In addition to the regular IR remote, your receiver may have iOS or Android apps to control it.

If you have a computer, media center, Smart TV, or game console, most of these features are already available, so don’t worry about these added features. If you have them, that’s fine, but don’t pay extra, of course — these features tend to go out of date pretty quickly as new services come out.



Budget AV receiver kits start at around $300 for a complete package and really offer great value for money. On the top end, one AV receiver can cost $2,500. Onkyo, Denon and Yamaha are all reliable brands — don’t take nameless imports. It’s always a good idea to actually visit the showroom and listen to the system first.

Do you have any more tips for buying an AV receiver? Where did you buy yours and are you happy with it?

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