Despite the growth of powered soundbars and sound bases (or stand speakers—whatever you want to call them) that have been replacing traditional surround sound speaker systems, the home theater receiver is still the master of the media room.
Home theater receivers, or AV receivers, range in price from under $200 all the way up to $2,000, but how much does the average movie lover need to spend to get a good-performing surround sound receiver?
We looked at a lot of receivers, compared their features and costs, and concluded that for the average users, $500 will usually get you a solid, reasonably-featured receiver. At that price you won’t get the most powerful—but you’ll have enough power for a typical 200-300 square foot living room or finished basement. You may find that price range only includes 5.1 systems, rather than 7.1, but for a small to medium sized room, 5.1 will fill your space nicely. It almost goes without saying that $500 won’t get you the latest Dolby Atmos processing, but you’ll get good Dolby TruHD and DTS HD Master Audio, plus a long list of other audio processes. Power will usually range from around 60- to 80-Watts per channel, all channels driven (at 8 Ohms), though some go a bit higher.
Many home theater receivers at that price include Wi-Fi, some built-in streaming services and maybe even high-resolution audio compatibility. If four to five HDMI inputs is enough for you, $500 should cover that as well.
What you often won’t get at that price is 4K compatibility, including HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2, though the receivers in this round up are better than average. You may or may not find that the product is certified for an advanced control system. The remote might be boring and unintuitive, but hopefully there’s a good app for your smart phone.
Want your shades lowered? Do it in seconds from a smartphone. Not sure if you locked the door when you left the house or left the garage door open? Again, it’s as easy as pressing a button on your smartphone.
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If your home theater receiver’s budget is limited, then check out our picks for the best AV receivers under $500.
This Onkyo receiver has a lot going for it for $499. It’s a 5.2 system (two subwoofers are always better than one) with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, a built-in room calibration feature, HDMI 2.0 and the ability to stream high-resolution audio from a networked or USB drive. $499
This Pioneer receiver give you 7.1 surround and 4K Ultra HD compatibility. It’s both Roku and Spotify ready, features a nice control app, second audio zone, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. $499
Another 7.1 model under $500 is this Sony receiver. Like the others, it includes Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and 4K video pass through. If you have lots of components, this is for you with it’s 6 HDMI inputs. Sony is really into high resolution audio these days, so this system supports 192k/24-bit WAV/FLAC files. $424
This Yamaha receiver includes Apple Airplay, making it a good choice for iPhone and Apple TV users who want to stream lossless music. It also includes HTC Connect for streaming music from an HTC Android phone. Both Spotify and Pandora are built in. This is a 5.1 channel system, so don’t get the second audio zone that comes with a 7.1 system, but that doesn’t seem like such a big trade off. $450
Denon’s under-$500 model offers 7.1 surround, Pandora, Spotify and SiriusXM, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. A second audio zone option and 4K pass through are also nice. It comes with the Audyssey Silver suite of advanced DSP audio algorithms, including MultEQ XT automatic room acoustic measurement and correction system. $499
If a receiver and surround sound system is too much for your room, read up on soundbars here.