AV receiver* buying advice is important to purchase the appropriate product for your own four home theater walls. The appropriate purchase of the multi chanel amplififer depends, among other things, on the requirements that the device should later meet. The home theater segment is characterized by numerous innovations, which is not least due to the abundance of different suppliers.What should I look for when buying? Does an AV receiver have to be state-of-the-art? These two questions of a possible buyer should be sufficiently answered at the end of this essay.
Table of contents
Buying advice for the AV receiver
Back of the AV receiver
An AV receiver is undoubtedly a visually appealing specimen, not least thanks to its classy, monochrome finish. The front shines with a manageable number of buttons and tuners, including a display, to contrast sharply with the back of the device. The primary distinguishing feature of AV receivers is the back. Depending on the device or price segment, this back can theoretically use every square inch of the back to be full of connections.
It tends to be the case that the more connections there are on the back, the more application possibilities the device has. However, quality is more important than quantity, because the right ports should be available in sufficient numbers.
Therefore, a closer look into necessary and additional hardware components is suitable. The secondary distinguishing feature of AV receivers is the software. Besides the hardware components, the concrete functionality is important, which is partly inseparable from the hardware.
Mandatory components represent elements whose absence in the AV receiver is likely to be problematic sooner or later. This buying guide for an AV receiver assumes its acquisition as a long-term investment. Thus, it would be more than a pity if basic features were missing that could not be easily expanded by a software update or cumbersomely by an adapter.
Ethernet/LAN enable the connection to local data networks. The functionality is equal to that of WLAN. A LAN connection is less subject to interference from obstacles, resulting in more robust data traffic. A wired connection is more secure than WLAN for now, with reasonable encryption compensating for this vulnerability.HDMI is of extremely important importance for an AV receiver. In some ways, HDMI connections represent its Achilles’ heel. First, a sufficient number of them is important. The credo here is: the more, the better. This is especially true if many peripherals are to be used in later use. Secondly, the quality of the ports is important. This is because the hardware components cannot be upgraded easily.
This fact is similar to how USB 3.0 works, so using this data transfer rate requires a suitable interface. Just like the USB 3.0, the HDMI can also be used in a backwards compatible way. The difference between HDMI-In and HDMI-Out is that, firstly, there are many more HDMI inputs than HDMI outputs. The input is for peripheral devices like game consoles, etc.
The output is for the AV receiver to send HDMI quality signals to the TV. For example, at least five HDMI inputs are already expected for a mid-range model around 500 $. For displaying content in 4K, you are well advised to use HDMI 2.0. In contrast, HDMI 1.4 can only support the resolution at 30 hertz, although it has to be 60 hertz. USB should be present in an AV receiver without any ifs and buts. The uncomplicated connection of USB sticks or other data carriers should not be a favor, but a matter of course in this day and age.
4K is a high-resolution image format with 3840 x 2160 pixels. Synonymous with 4K is the term UHD. A 4K AV receiver, which can output such a format, usually carry the designation 4K. This makes it clear that the column number 4000 can be processed completely. Apps for controlling AV receivers – The prerequisite for use is an app-enabled receiver, a smartphone and access to the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store. Automatic calibration makes it immensely easier to adjust the sound, taking into account central components of the home theater, the speakers, with the conditions of the room and the capabilities of the AV receiver. The function can be manufacturer-dependent or -independent.
Mandatory should be a minimum number of power amplifiers. There is basically the choice between 5.1 and 7.2 the former allows 5 power amplifiers and the latter 7 power amplifiers. In addition, there are also 9.2 and 11.2 or only 2.1.
The presence of a graphical user interface (GUI) makes sense. This greatly simplifies commissioning. In addition, high user-friendliness and good interaction are possible. For optimal contrast values, HDR (High Dynamic Range) and HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) are the standard of the future. (1) HDR provides the TV with information about maximum brightness values. In return, HDR cannot be updated. The way HDR works is to generate an HDR photo from a finite number of images. (2) HLG is backward compatible and saves capacities. Unlike (1) HDR, this feature is available through an update. The result is an authentic image that can be transmitted via cable or satellite. HLG is on the rise and will probably establish itself in the future. Necessary sound formats are Dolby Digital or DTS. (1) Dolby Digital refers to a multi-channel sound system and is a competitor to (2) DTS.
Bluetooth is a standard function in smartphones. The presence of this function in AV receivers should be just as natural. Connecting the cell phone and the AV receiver can be done comfortably from the couch using Bluetooth.
WLAN provides the option of receiving wireless data networks. This function is fundamental, for example, to be able to control the AV receiver with the help of an app on the cell phone.
Items presented in this section are left to free choice. They are mainly defined by the personal preferences of the owner. Nevertheless, their presentation belongs to the holistic purchase advice of an AV receiver.
A pre-out is a full amplifier output, which allows the connection of several, separate power amplifiers. This works by means of Cinch or XLR connection. Ultimately, the power amplifier takes over the amplification.
Auro-3D represents an immersive audio format. The structure is three-layered In addition to the base of 5.1 or 7.1, there is a sound layer at head level and additional one located on the ceiling of the room. The operation of a loudspeaker box with the help of at least two amplifier power amplifiers is called bi-amping. This is said to have a sound-enhancing effect.
However, the effectiveness of this technology is controversial because it is not backed by scientific research and is thus a polarizing topic. The Dolby Atmos sound format is a form of streaming that provides each speaker with an individual signal. The result is an even more authentic sound image because, for example, individual background noises in a movie, such as a gathering storm, appear authentic in isolation through a single speaker.
The HDMI with eARC function is a kind of audio return channel, which becomes accessible via firmware updates. Using 3D sound via streaming requires this technology. Multiroom function allows using one AV receiver in multiple rooms. The use of this function requires additional peripherals, which of course cost money again first. If this function is available, the reception of music can be controlled by the receiver.
Some devices have a so-called phono input. This port is usually located on the front of the device and allows connecting a record player without a preamplifier. If there are no vinyl records in the music collection, this feature is not necessarily necessary. In other words, a picture resolution of more than 4K is not absolutely necessary. For the foreseeable future, 4K resolution will remain sufficient. In addition, an upscaling function of the AV receiver is not absolutely necessary, because the TV already has this function. The latter is capable of adjusting missing elements in the picture resolution. In contrast, the AV receiver is the expert for audio signals.
Video processing is suitable for an old TV set. Because then the AV receiver adjusts the picture resolution by upscaling. In addition, the other function is the conversion to half and full frames. For the use of a beamer, this technological feature is equally relevant, because under certain circumstances its computing power is not sufficient. This refers to the conversion of signals that reach the AV receiver and are output on the TV in high resolution.
Apple AirPlay, with which some devices are equipped ex works, simplifies the communication of Apple devices with the AV receiver. This eliminates the need for a cable and, at the same time, the need to stand in close proximity to the device. This feature is interesting for those who actually also have an iPhone, MacBook or similar. Otherwise, this feature is uninteresting.
Nice to have
Some brands bring the option of an automatic calibration into play. This technology calibrates the conditions of the home theater room in order to get the best sound from the speakers and the AVR itself. The prerequisite for this is an existing microphone within the device, which performs this optimization. This function can be very useful, because the calibration is automatically calculated by collecting several measurement points in the home theater room. Considering that many new devices now have up to 7 power amplifiers, it is not self-evident to get an adequate calibration.
Multiroom technology like MusicCast at Yamaha or HEOS at Denon simplify the use of AV receivers in everyday life. If there are speakers distributed in the household, individual devices can be activated via MusicCast, for example, which can call up suitable tracks from the library as needed. The fact that these systems are becoming more and more sophisticated can be seen, for example, in the expanding range of hardware products with this technology. For example, there are a large number of speakers from Yamaha that already have this hardware integrated.
Limits of an AV receiver
Not infrequently, enthusiasts or cineastes, as they are also called in the home theater segment, embrace the potential of the receiver. However, an AV receiver is not the only influencing factor on the final acoustics that can be received in the cinema room. Therefore, the quality of output audio and video signals depends not only on the device, but also on other components of the system. In other words, an optimal purchase advice for the AV receiver can not succeed without mentioning the technical limitations.
Quality of space
For this reason, the significance of the room with its specific characteristics is of significant importance. Therefore, the combination of a good room and a product from the lower price segment is preferable to that of a miserable room and a high-end product. The duration of the reverberation time within a room reduces its acoustic quality. In other words, unfurnished rooms or lack of curtains are bad for acoustics because they lack sufficient elements to absorb sound. The larger the home theater room, the more sound-absorbing elements must be present for good acoustics.
Importance of loudspeakers
Furthermore, the speakers themselves, as well as the adequate positioning of these are of crucial importance. The combination of an AV receiver from the mid-price segment and solid speakers is preferable to that of an expensive AV receiver and cheap speakers. However, there is a possibility to buy an expensive AV receiver and gradually over time add more reasonable speakers in the home theater room.
The advantage of loudspeakers is their timelessness, which is not characterized by constant technical innovations. Therefore, technically outstanding speakers are an investment in the future. Nevertheless, integrated connections for speakers are part of the standard repertoire of a receiver. This fact finds mention because there are more and more wireless speakers for AV receivers on the market, which can be controlled via Bluetooth or WLAN.
Summary of the buying guide
What do I have to pay attention to when buying?
Important for the purchase is the consideration of the mandatory components presented here. In addition, products in the mid-price segment already offer the possibility to use streaming offers. This includes Internet radio or Spotify etc., for example. Nevertheless, the price of the product should not be the deciding factor, but a solid basic equipment of essential features.
This represents a central statement for the purchase advice for an AV receiver. Specifically, such products are already available for a few hundred euros. It helps immensely to know in advance exactly for which purposes the AV receiver will later be used. In addition, an AV receiver must fit the other components of the home theater. If very powerful speakers are in the possession, then the AV receiver must be able to provide enough power.
If this is not the case, the AV receiver can get hot and possibly overheat. If you still want to use all the features, you are well served by buying a product from the premium segment. Especially since the quality of the music, i.e. the stereo quality, correlates with the price of the device, even though the difference between a 200 $ and 900 $ product should be greater than between a 1000 $ and 2000 $ product.
Does an AV receiver have to be state of the art?
This question can be answered with a no. After all, not every technology is a quantum leap and is highly noticeable in improved sound quality. Therefore, a good AV receiver does not have to have all the features available on the market. In addition, some deficits in functionality can be solved by suitable updates. Furthermore, an AV receiver is responsible for the sound, even if not in its entirety, and a TV for the output of the video signals. Consequently, this represents another adjusting screw in the quality of the cinema room.
Due to the complexity of the subject, it is advisable to seek advice and recommendations before purchasing an AV receiver.
Incidentally, the multi-faceted review within the comparative overview of 10 good AV receivers provides an extensive glossary, which highlights central components around the purchase of AV receivers. In addition to specific product presentations, the background information serves to facilitate a purchase decision of the multichannel amplifier.