The best AV receivers


Top picks for your home theatre system.


From 16 models tested, the Yamaha RX-V685 is the best AV receiver for people looking to build or upgrade to a home theatre system compatible with the latest standards at a reasonable price. It offers excellent sound quality for surround or stereo and can support true wireless surround sound using wireless rear speakers. It includes five HDMI inputs compatible with current HDR standards plus built-in Bluetooth, AirPlay, and support for the major music streaming services.

After testing 16 models, the Yamaha RX-V685 has been selected as the best AV receiver for 2018 and the Yamaha RX-V485 as the budget pick.

About this guide

This guide was written by Chris Heinonen of Wirecutter (New York Times group) and republished by CHOICE. The products are independently selected. This test was conducted in the United States and was originally published on the Wirecutter website. You can read it here in its original version. Photo lead: Kyle Fitzgerald © 2019 The New York Times. © 2019 Wirecutter https://thewirecutter.com - Distributed by The New York Times Licensing Group

Top pick: Yamaha RX-V685

The Yamaha RX-V685 offers great sound and good streaming music support, and it can support wireless surround speakers.

The Yamaha RX-V685 home theatre receiver offers excellent sound quality, producing a wider soundstage and better midrange/treble detail than most of the competition. And if you can't run wires around your room, it can output true wireless surround sound using Yamaha MusicCast rear speakers.

This 7.2-channel receiver also supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks if you want to add the extra channels, or it can create a powered second zone for stereo speakers instead. Its five HDMI 2.0 inputs are enough for most systems, and its dual HDMI outputs are ideal if you use both a TV and projector.

Yamaha's built-in room correction feature effectively measures your speakers and makes adjustments automatically, and there's an optional app for easier setup. The RX-V685 supports Spotify Connect, Internet radio, Bluetooth, AirPlay, and other streaming services. A firmware update last year should provide support for eARC and AirPlay 2.

our pick

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald © 2019 The New York Times.

If you want to set up a home theatre system with full surround sound, the Yamaha RX-V685 is the AV receiver to get. It has great sound quality and accurate room correction, it supports streaming audio from a wide variety of sources, and it has five HDMI inputs that are compatible with all current HDR standards. It also supports wireless surround speakers, includes an app for easier setup, and has future support for AirPlay 2 and eARC.

Nothing else on an AV receiver matters if it doesn't sound good, and the Yamaha had the best sound quality of all the models in its price class. Compared with the competition, it offered more detail in the midrange and treble frequencies while still having good control over bass. It produced a wider soundstage than other receivers, making the music sound more open as opposed to trapped between the front speakers.

If you'd like to run wireless surround speakers, you'll need to use Yamaha's MusicCast speakers (like the MusicCast 20 shown here). Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald © 2019 The New York Times.

Streaming music through the Yamaha RX-V685 is easy, thanks to its support for Spotify Connect, Bluetooth, AirPlay (with AirPlay 2 coming soon), Internet radio, and Yamaha's own MusicCast system. If you use the Yamaha MusicCast app on your smartphone, you get direct support for Pandora, Tidal, Deezer, Napster, and SiriusXM. Testers had no issues playing back anything we wanted to listen to on the Yamaha.

The YPAO room correction on the RX-V685 works well, despite only measuring a single point in the room. The calibration process is straightforward, and unlike some of the other systems, you can make adjustments to it once the process is finished. You are able to preview the adjustments made to the speakers, but you can't adjust which frequencies are corrected (as you can with some more-advanced room correction systems).

av-receivers-yamaha-rx-v685-setup

Setting up the Yamaha RX-V685 is a fairly straightforward process, made easier if you use the optional app that Yamaha offers. When you initially power on the RX-V685, the on-screen interface will ask you to set up Wi-Fi (which is very easy to do if you have an iOS device), but it doesn't walk you through anything else. If you're new to home theatre systems, we recommend you download the Yamaha app because it will guide you through everything from setting up your speakers to connecting your devices, even down to what cables you need. The app then sends that information to the receiver. It isn't as easy as an on-screen guide, but it accomplishes the job just as well.

For people who want to enjoy real surround sound but either can't or don't want to run wires, the RX-V685 lets you use Yamaha's MusicCast 20 or MusicCast 50 wireless speakers as surrounds. Testers paired two of the MusicCast 20 speakers with the RX-V685 to use as surrounds, and they worked perfectly, even if the setup was a bit complex. If you can run wires, the Yamaha supports standard wired surround speakers, as well.

our pick3

The RX-V685 has five HDMI 2.0 inputs and two HDMI outputs. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald © 2019 The New York Times.

The Yamaha RX-V685 offers five HDMI inputs that are all full-bandwidth HDMI 2.0 with support for HDR10, HLG, and Dolby Vision. The HDMI output is also going to be compatible with eARC in a future firmware update, which means that TVs using eARC can send a lossless surround sound signal (like DTS:X or Dolby Atmos) back to the receiver over HDMI. Current ARC is limited to a compressed, lossy Dolby Digital signal. The RX-V685 also has dual HDMI outputs for people with both a TV and a projector in their system. 

Renaming inputs on the Yamaha is easy, as it reads the EDID information over HDMI to change the input name automatically. During testing, the receiver automatically renamed the HDMI inputs to the proper components like Apple TV, Fire TV, and Panasonic BD to correspond to those devices. For non-HDMI devices, you'll need to rename them in the settings menu, but that was easy to accomplish.

our pick4

The Yamaha RX-V685 remote is larger than average, and it doesn't have the most intuitive button layout. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald © 2019 The New York Times.

With seven amplifier channels, the RX-V685 has support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio in a 5.1.2 configuration. With a pair of Atmos modules on the front channels, you can even do Atmos and DTS:X without any surround wires and still get the full benefits of object-based audio. You can also use the extra two channels of the amplifier for a second zone of stereo audio, or for the "presence speakers" that Yamaha supports through its DSP modes.

A Moving Magnet compatible phono input lets you connect a turntable, even one without an integrated preamp, to the RX-V685 without needing extra hardware.

The Zone 2 output lets you play back both external analog sources and internal digital sources, while many other receivers only allow analog playback. So, if you want to stream Spotify, Bluetooth audio, or any analog device to Zone 2 while the main zone is in use, you can easily do that. You can also play the main zone audio in Zone 2 at the same time, even if that audio comes from an HDMI source.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

If you don't use the free Yamaha set-up app, the RX-V685 isn't as easy to set up as the models from Denon. The only on-screen prompt you get when you first turn on the receiver is to set up the networking function, and the interface doesn't tell you that there is an app for doing the rest of the configuration, including room correction and sources. Providing on-screen setup, as opposed to it being available only in an app, would help in the future, as would a notice that an app is available.

The YPAO room correction isn't as robust in the subwoofer channel as it could be. It only provides five bands of EQ, and most of those are above the 80 Hz crossover that is typically recommended for a subwoofer.

The RX-V685 lacks support for automatic low latency mode, which prompts your TV to automatically switch into game mode when you are playing a video game. Right now the only TVs that support this feature are 2018 models from Samsung, and only with the PS4 Pro and Xbox One—so it isn't a big deal, although more support is likely to come in the future. Plus, you can still manually enable the TV's game mode when needed.

A front HDMI input would also be nice if you want to connect a PC, digital camera, or game system to the receiver for occasional use.

Top pick

The Yamaha RX-V685 offers great sound and good streaming music support, and it can support wireless surround speakers. The Yamaha RX-V685 home theatre receiver offers excellent sound quality, producing a wider soundstage and better midrange/treble detail than most of the competition. 

Budget pick: Yamaha RX-V485

The Yamaha RX-V485 delivers solid performance and supports wireless surround speakers, but it offers fewer features and connection options.

If you're looking for a basic five-channel home theater receiver, the Yamaha RX-V485 offers more features than you'll find on most budget AV receivers for only a small step up in price. 

It offers many of the features of our main pick, including the option to use wireless surround speakers and built-in Wi-Fi to stream audio directly from Spotify and other online sources. 

But the RX-V485 has fewer HDMI inputs, its room correction isn't as good as the version on the main pick, it doesn't have a phono input, and it doesn't support Dolby Atmos or a second powered audio zone.

Yamaha RX-V485 Runner up

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald © 2019 The New York Times.

The Yamaha RX-V485 trims some of the features from the main pick, but it's still a good basic 5.1-channel AV receiver. You only get four HDMI inputs instead of five, and the YPAO room correction isn't as good as the version on the main pick, so the sound quality suffers slightly – although it still sounds good. It has built-in Wi-Fi and support for AirPlay, Spotify Connect, Bluetooth, and MusicCast. And you still get the option to use wireless surrounds.

Yamaha RX-V485 Runner up2

Our budget Yamaha pick only offers four HDMI 2.0 inputs and one HDMI output. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald © 2019 The New York Times.

All four HDMI inputs are HDMI 2.0 and compatible with all the major HDR formats, but you only get a single HDMI output instead of the dual outputs, which is fine for most people. You also can't do Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, or a second powered zone of audio, but not everyone needs these features. The RX-V485 uses the same set-up app that the RX-V685 uses, but it doesn't offer much on-screen help at all when you first turn it on.

Yamaha RX-V485 Runner up3

The Yamaha RX-V485 remote isn't backlit, and the buttons are very tiny. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald © 2019 The New York Times.

You can find AV receivers that sell for even less than the RX-V485, but they rely solely on Bluetooth to stream audio. Spending $100 to $300 more to get the RX-V485's integrated Wi-Fi and ability to do wireless surrounds is worth it.

Budget pick

The Yamaha RX-V485 delivers solid performance and supports wireless surround speakers, but it offers fewer features and connection options.

Upgrade pick: Denon AVR-X3500H

The Denon AVR-X3500H has the most advanced room correction of any receiver in this test plus a generous eight HDMI inputs to accommodate more sources.

If you have a large system that needs more than five HDMI inputs and/or you want to run multiple subwoofers that need to be individually calibrated in the room correction system, the Denon AVR-X3500H has you covered.

It uses Audyssey XT32, the most advanced room correction system we tested this year (and the system with the best overall audio quality). With more HDMI inputs, this receiver can accommodate larger systems, and it has pre-outs if you want to add external amplification (and thus more speakers) down the road.

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald © 2019 The New York Times.

The Denon AVR-X3500H comes packed with eight HDMI 2.0 inputs and the more powerful Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room correction system that can even support dual independent subwoofers. It also lets you play separate HDMI sources in a second zone, converts your analog video sources to 4K HDMI, and supports more control platforms for better integration into a whole-home control system. It is the best sounding receiver in this test overall, but that improvement, on its own, may not be noticeable enough to merit the step up in price for some people.

Upgrade pick Denon AVR-X3500H2

The AVR-X3500H has a lot more connection options, including eight HDMI 2.0 inputs and dual subwoofer outputs that can be set up independently. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald © 2019 The New York Times.

The 7.2-channel AVR-X3500H offers other improvements over the Yamaha RX-V685, including higher-resolution on-screen graphics and menus, a more powerful amplifier section if you're using less-efficient speakers and pre-outs if you want to upgrade to an external amplifier down the road.

Upgrade pick: Denon AVR-X3500H

The Denon AVR-X3500H has the most advanced room correction of any receiver in this test plus a generous eight HDMI inputs to accommodate more sources.

Should I get an AV receiver?

A home theatre receiver is for the person whose AV needs extend beyond a TV and a soundbar. It allows you to create a true surround sound experience and lets you connect and easily switch between a lot more AV sources. If you have an older AV receiver that lacks 4K/HDR video support (or lacks HDMI connections altogether), now is a good time to upgrade. All the new models we tested support HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 copy protection, which means they'll work with Ultra HD 4K displays and sources. So, if you plan to buy a 4K TV and want your AV receiver to be able to switch between 4K sources, consider upgrading.

Wireless audio streaming has become much easier on newer receivers, as well. The top pick offers AirPlay, Bluetooth, Pandora, Spotify Connect, Tidal, Sirius XM, and more, along with the ability to directly connect to Internet radio stations and local DLNA servers. If you're still connecting your tablet or smartphone directly to your receiver instead of streaming the audio wirelessly, an upgrade will make listening to that audio much easier.

Many new models support Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks (which add overhead effects to sound even more immersive), but since those audio technologies require more speakers, this isn't a major reason to upgrade (for most people, anyway). Dolby Atmos does give you the option to use Atmos-enabled front speakers, or Atmos modules, to handle the surround channels without running wires to put speakers around the room. It's not perfect, but it's very good and something you can't do without Atmos support built into your receiver.

If you already own an HDMI receiver and don't plan to use 4K sources, or if you don't need to stream audio sources wirelessly, you can hold off on buying a new receiver for now. In most cases, new receiver models won't sound any better than what you have; they'll just offer more features and future-proofing.

The competition

These are the models that were considered/tested for this 2018 update:

Denon AVR-S740H: Originally second top under the Yamaha RX-V685, but not available in Australia. The Denon AVR-S740H is a full-featured receiver that's very easy to set up, but its sound quality doesn't stand out, and it can't support wireless surrounds.

Denon AVR-S640H: Very similar to the Denon AVR-S740H, the lower-priced five-channel AVR-S640H lacks Dolby Atmos/DTS:X and Zone 2 support, and it has no front HDMI input.

Onkyo TX-NR585: This receiver offered more HDMI inputs than the competition, but the room correction was continually off in detecting speakers, and the resulting sound was worse than the competition because of it. It also made an amp/relay clicking sound while in use that was annoying.

Pioneer VSX-933: The sound was almost indistinguishable from the Denon AVR-S740H, but the setup wasn't as easy, the physical layout can make accessing some connections harder than with competitors, and there was no support for AirPlay 2.

Sony STR-DN1080: The on-screen GUI makes the Sony easy to use and is a feature the competition would be wise to copy, but the automatic speaker setup wasn't terribly accurate, and the bass in music was lacking impact and detail compared with the Yamaha and Denon models.

Yamaha RX-A1080: This receiver also supports the wireless speakers that the RX-V685 does, but the room-correction quality was behind that of upgrade pick, the Denon AVR-X3500H.

Anthem MRX-520: This was the upgrade pick for the past two years, but without integrated streaming audio and only 5.1 channels of sound, it lacks the features we expect at this price point (despite sounding great).

Yamaha RX-V585: This falls between the main pick and the budget pick, and there's not much reason to pick it over one of those two.

Onkyo TX-RZ730: The room correction here was not as good as that in other upgrade models tested, so it didn't sound as good. The "Works with Sonos" function is a nice idea in theory, but in reality you can't control the volume of the receiver inside the Sonos app, even though it turns on automatically when you start playing to it inside the app.

Yamaha RX-V385: This is Yamaha's entry-level Bluetooth-only model. It's worth paying extra for the RX-V485 to get the option of wireless surrounds, and to play music directly over Wi-Fi instead of relying on Bluetooth. Wi-Fi also provides easier firmware updates, which is more and more important with issues involving HDR over HDMI.

Sony STR-DH590: The room correction wasn't as accurate in detecting our speakers compared with other systems. This is a Bluetooth-only model, and models with Wi-Fi were not much more expensive.

Sony STR-DH790: This is the cheapest receiver tested that supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, but it doesn't support network audio streaming, only Bluetooth. More people will benefit from better streaming support than from Dolby Atmos support.

Pioneer VSX-LX503: This receiver also made a clicking/relay sound like the Onkyo TX-NR585 for no apparent reason. It was very distracting when watching or listening to something, and models that are not from Onkyo/Pioneer (Onkyo bought Pioneer several years ago) didn't exhibit this behaviour.

The research

This guide was written by the editorial staff of Wirecutter (New York Times group) and republished by CHOICE. The products are independently selected. This test was conducted in the United States and was originally published on the Wirecutter website. You can read it here in its original version.

Chris Heinonen has been writing reviews of AV equipment for over a decade for various publications and has listened to countless receivers, processors, preamps, and amplifiers in that time. In 2018 he spent over 15 hours doing research into AV receivers before bringing in 16 different models to test. He spent over 100 hours setting them all up, running listening tests, and directly comparing models to each other.

In order to whittle down the number of receivers to test to a reasonable amount, testers set some requirements for what they thought the best AV receiver must have. The receiver needs to support 5.1 audio; support for 7.1 or more channels is nice but not mandatory. The receiver needs to have at least five HDMI 2.0 inputs so that it can handle today's 4K HDR signals and be reasonably future-proof. It also needs support for streaming audio, both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, since that's how most people listen to music now – even people with extensive physical media collections. A receiver needs to have room correction that can run automatically to correctly integrate a subwoofer with speakers and account for the sonic issues that a room presents.

Testers brought in 16 different receivers to test in a 5.1- or 5.1.2-channel system to see how they compare in features, ease of use, sound quality, and more. For the standard 5.1 setup, they used a speaker system from Q Acoustics, the pick at the time for the best bookshelf speaker, which they've found to be both great sounding and easy enough to drive with a standard receiver. When they used 5.1.2 channels to reproduce Atmos soundtracks, they used the KEF Ci200RR in-ceiling speakers that they have installed in their home theater room for the height channels.

At the end, they did blind A/B testing between receivers using an ABX test box from Audio by Van Alstine to determine which sounded best, with and without room correction enabled.


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