UPDATED! 5 Tips for Receiver Shopping 2021
We’ve already told you that buying a receiver right now is a bad idea. Production delays, global trade disruptions, a new HDMI standard, and a pandemic have all worked against us. While we hope this will get better soon, we truly think it will be at least 2022 before we will start recommending shopping for a receiver again. But your receiver broke and you need a new one. What do you do? Here are 5 tips for shopping for a new receiver in the coming years.
Author’s Note: Update 5/27/2021: We’ve Updated the last recommendation based on recent information surrounding Yamaha and Denon/Marantz HDMI fixes.
Tip 1: Match Your Sources and Speakers
Before you start shopping for your new receiver, you need to know what you have and how they connect. If you have legacy gear, that might actually cause you to buy a more expensive receiver. But if all your gear is newer, and can be connected by HDMI, then even entry-level receivers should work. But there are things you must know. The number of sources, how they connect, and how many speakers you have.
If you are simply replacing an older receiver, you’ll find that the entry-level models have more amps than you need. If you’ve upgraded recently, you may need to match the number of channels with the number of speakers you own. More importantly, however, is making sure you have enough HDMI and other inputs on the back of your receiver. Once you ensure you have enough physical connections, you need to worry about type.
Tip 2: Take a Close Look at your Display
Did you buy a new display recently? It is 4k and has Dolby Vision and HDR? Did you buy the newest Xbox and PlayStation consoles? If you want to experience the full abilities of these consoles and your display, you’ll need the latest HDMI functionality. Unfortunately, that is in woefully short supply. Most displays these days have HDMI 2.1 input(s). Not sure about your TV? Check this list. Right now, only the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 (and some computers) support the full HDMI 2.1 feature set. If you have both of these consoles, shopping for a receiver just got harder. But, for now, you just need to know how many connections you need of each type (making sure to note the HDMI 2.1 connections separate from other HDMI connections).
Author’s Note: Don’t assume that just because your display touts 4k, it can do all the things. Many older 4k displays don’t support all the HDMI 2.1 spec and features such as variable refresh rate and 4k/120fps. Make sure you know for sure what each component you own can do before you start shopping for your new receiver. If your components don’t support the feature, it doesn’t make sense to buy a receiver that does. Don’t assume!
Tip 3: What Features are Important to You?
Next, you need to know which features in a receiver are important to you. Do you need full Atmos support? Are you streaming content directly from your receiver? How important is room correction to you? As you compare receivers, you’ll quickly find that they are in a big rush to increase the list of features they support. They’ll stream services you’ve never heard of. They’ll have DSP modes that’ll make your system sound like the inside of an empty auditorium. Heck, they’ll list nearly anything knowing that some customers will equate the length of the list to quality.
Don’t be that person. One of the best tips, when you are looking at a receiver, is to make sure you shop the features you will actually use. Sure, it might be able to stream every service under the sun, but if you didn’t stream to your receiver before, you are unlikely to do so. But if you did use a feature, such as AirPlay, then make sure you are only considering receivers that support that feature.
And yes, you are going to end up with a receiver with functionality you’ll never use. That’s just the way it is. You don’t care about those features. Just the ones you’ll actually use.
Tip 4: What Features Can You Live Without?
Our most difficult tip is to be wary of the temptation when shopping for a new receiver of buying one because it supports a feature you are interested in, but are unlikely to actually use. Atmos is the poster boy for this. People see Atmos and think, “I might someday put speakers on my ceiling.” No, you won’t. If you say “might” and “someday” in the same sentence, you should just tell yourself that you’ll buy a new receiver at that point. While you might end up with a receiver that can do some level of Atmos (or other features) because of features you’ll actually use, don’t overbuy thinking you might as well since it is only X dollars more and you might use it someday. No, you won’t. And you know it. You might as well flush that money down the toilet.
Tip 5: Plan for the Future?
Futureproofing a home theater is hard at the best of times. Right now is not the best of times. Receivers are notorious for becoming “obsolete” in a couple of years. We put obsolete in quotes because, while the features in receivers change, our systems don’t. So if you follow our tip above, you’ll realize you can shop for a receiver that works with your system now and not in some unforeseen future. If you know it is only a matter of time before you buy the latest game console(s), well, you should plan for that. But if that is the case…
Updated Conclusion: Still Wait
Sound United has announced a fix for their HDMI 2.1 woes, as has Yamaha. In short, if you own or buy a 2020 model receiver from Denon or Marantz (owned by Sound United) with a bad HDMI 2.1 board, you can get a separate box shipped to you that has a fixed HDMI port. Yamaha, on the other hand, has promised that you can send in your faulty receiver for an HDMI board swap. Neither of these programs has started as of yet. We initially thought the Yamaha receiver would be the better option because we’d hoped they’d be able to sort it out with a firmware update. As you’ll have to send in your receiver (something that Yamaha is vehemently suggesting you don’t need to do in their press release), we don’t think this is a great solution. The Denon/Marantz solution is better, but it still only gives you one HDMI 2.1 port. That simply isn’t enough.
Lastly, Yamaha has announced their 2021 lineup of Aventage receivers with multiple HDMI 2.1 ports. But, again, they say that these will need a firmware update to be fully functional. If you are serious about getting a receiver that you know will work with future HDMI 2.1 devices and support all the features, we wouldn’t buy anything until something works out of the box.
Conclusion: Buy A Yamaha
As of this writing, Yamaha is the only manufacturer that is offering multiple HDMI 2.1 inputs on their receivers. You can find offerings at Costco and Best Buy occasionally (they go out of stock constantly so check often). They range in price from $450-$600 depending on sales. If you see one, you should probably snatch it up. If you are only going to buy a single next-gen game console, you can expand your search to Denon and Marantz offerings (here’s a great option from Accessories4Less). They only have a single HDMI 2.1 input so be warned.
As a Tip 5.5, please realize that none of the above receivers can currently do all the HDMI 2.1 stuff correctly. There have been reports of issues with 4k/120fps, HDR, and others. All the manufacturers have promised fixes and some have come through. We expect that these will all be worked out, but we can’t promise. It is still a good time to wait. But if we were on the market, we’d pick up one of these.