Choosing the Best AV Receiver
Everybody wants the best. It’s no less obvious than when people ask me “Which is the best AV receiver?” To which I reply, “That depends. What’s your budget and what do you want to do with it?”
Budgeting for the Best AV Receiver
The best place to start when choosing an AV receiver is budget. How much you are able to spend determines how much receiver you can afford. Think of how silly it would be to walk onto a car lot saying “I want to buy a car!” What’s your budget? Are we talking luxury or economy?”
Budget is an important question. With that in mind there are several break points for AV receivers. An “entry level” model is anything from the $249 to $399 range. These will typically get the job done, providing plenty of HDMI inputs, enough amplifier power for smaller or more efficient speaker systems, and even the potential of network streaming services like Pandora. At around $600 or so, you get the ability to upconvert analogue video to HDMI. You also get additional amplifier flexibility for the Surround Back channels (like being able to assign them to a second discrete zone). At $999 AV receivers start to add more advanced features. They may have some video processing, additional zones, significantly greater amplifier power and additional functions like advanced network features and scaling.
Features That Matter
We hinted at many features above, but features matter. It does no good to buy a flagship AV receiver if it’s going to power an efficient set of satellite 5.1 speakers. Conversely, you don’t want to get an entry level model with HDMI video switching when what you really need is analogue video upconversion to handle a legacy piece of gear. It’s also a good idea to think about how many zones you want to run and if you want to enjoy features like Internet radio, Bluetooth, or streaming files from a networked PC or server.
Questions are your friend. They will help you decide what is truly needed. There are so many questions, in fact, that I’ve outlined a few key ones here which I hope will be helpful in selecting the right product for your needs.
- What is your budget?
- What size speakers are you planning on powering with this receiver (How much power do you need?)
- How many zones do you need?
- Do any of those zones need to be powered?
- Do you want to stream audio from a connected server or PC (via DLNA)? How about Internet radio?
- Do you want Bluetooth or Apple Airplay?
- How important is video upconversion? (Do you have legacy analogue video sources?)
- Do you need 4K support?
- What is your priority (audio quality, features, budget)?
- Do you need seven channels of amplification or just five?
- Do you need an MHL front input for sending photos and video from portable electronics?
- Do you want a USB audio input?
- Do you want THX certification (And does any of your other gear have THX certification)?
- Do you need two HDMI outputs? Do they need to be discrete?