You work hard all week long, and after a long day on the job it sometimes feels best to plop yourself down on the sofa and fire up the home entertainment system. While your television set handles the visuals, your A/V receiver (also referred to as a home theater receiver) does much of the heavy lifting in both the audio and the video departments.
A/V receivers act as the audio and video hub of home entertainment systems. For example, you can connect the output of a Blu-ray Disc player to an A/V receiver, and the receiver will send the player’s sound to your speakers and its video to your TV or projector. The idea is to connect all of your various media players, set-top boxes and cable box to the A/V receiver. Besides inputting and outputting signals, A/V receivers also provide amplification for speakers, and many provide power for full 5.1 and 7.2 surround sound systems. Some models even offer special connections for mobile gadgets, as well as computer-network connectivity.
When it comes time to purchase a new A/V receiver, it can be difficult to figure out all of the differences between the numerous available options. A lot of unfamiliar technical terminology is thrown around to describe the various choices, and all of them have an extremely similar visual appearance: they pretty much all look like ambiguous black electronic boxes.
B&H has created this roundup article to help you—a comparison chart is also provided at the end to give you a way to quickly compare all of the models in this article. If you want to learn more about A/V receivers in a non-model and non-brand-specific fashion, be sure to read the B&H InDepth Buying Guide, Home Theater Receivers. There is useful information in that guide about the “ARC” functionality, which will help you better understand the rather complex world of home receivers. Here are some very nice units to get you started.
The Onkyo HT-RC360 has an iPod/iPhone USB port, easy on-screen interface, DSP gaming modes, Burr-Brown converters and Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD decoding and turns up the heat by expanding the HDMI inputs to six (one port is on the front), upping the speaker connections to support 7.2 surround, supplying a higher power output, and giving you additional connectivity features for streaming Internet radio. An Ethernet port allows you to connect the HT-RC360 to your network and access Web music services like Pandora, Spotify, Napster and Rhapsody. It’s DLNA certified for streaming digital media (sound and video) from a network-attached PC or storage device. A special Marvell Odeo video chip makes the HT-RC360 capable of up-scaling and processing 4K video. Plus, it’s compatible with Audyssey DSX and Dolby Pro Logic IIz surround sound formats.
The Onkyo TX-NR609 is THX Select2 Plus certified, meaning that it meets the standards required to supply a high-fidelity home theater experience in medium-sized rooms (up to 2,000 cubic feet). This model features a sleek appearance with its blue-backlit volume knob (if you’re not into it, this light can be turned off). The TX-NR609 shares many of the same features found in the HT-RC360 (Ethernet port, Internet radio streaming, easy on-screen interface, DLNA capable, 4K video equipped, Audyssey DSX and Dolby Pro Logic IIz decoding, iPod/iPhone USB port, six HDMI ports, 3D and ARC support, 7.2 surround, Burr-Brown converters, etc.). It also has a 15-pin D-sub connecter which allows you to connect the video output from a computer (so you can mirror your computer’s monitor on your HDMI-connected TV). A universal remote control is included so you can control your entire system in one shot. This Onkyo also has dual subwoofer pre-outs for enhanced bass setups.
All four of the HDMI ports on the Sony STR-DH520 can pass a 3D signal. You can connect a 3D Blu-ray Disc player or a PS3 game system (loaded with a 3D game) to this receiver and it will fill the room with rich sound and pass an unaltered 3D video signal to your TV. The STR-DH520 is a 7.1-channel system that can decode and output enhanced audio codecs, such as LPCM, Dolby TrueHD, ProLogic IIz and DTS-HD Master Audio. If you have other select Sony home entertainment components such as Blu-ray Disc players, BRAVIA TVs or Handycam camcorders, you can control them with a single remote, thanks to the BRAVIA Sync system. An easy to use, on-screen interface is displayed if you are connected to select BRAVIA TVs as well.
Harmon Kardon HK-3490
Not everyone wants surround sound. Some people prefer classic two-channel stereo, and the Harmon Kardon HK-3490 delivers exactly this with a juicy 120 watts of power per side. The HK-3490 has the admirable distinction of being the only A/V receiver in this roundup with a bona fide phono input, which means that you can connect a vintage record player and spin your favorite vinyl. This unit is compatible with the separately available Harmon Kardon Bridge II iPod Docking Station, which enables you to properly integrate your Apple device into your entertainment system (the Bridge II is compatible with iPhones as well). The HK-3490 features two speaker zones and a handy A/B speaker switch, and it has an input for an XM antenna module (sold separately). Unfortunately, you can’t hear the HK-3490 by reading the words in this article, but you can get a pretty good idea of its sonic performance by reading the heaps of praise for it in the Customer Reviews section on the B&H website.
iPod docks are cool, but what’s way cooler is being able to stream music wirelessly from your Apple device (or Mac computer) to your home entertainment system. This is possible if your A/V receiver has Apple’s AirPlay technology built in, and the Denon AVR-1913 is one model that has it. Besides the dreamy ease of AirPlay, the AVR-1913 boasts six HDMI inputs, one component HD input, and 7.1 surround with 90 watts per channel. It also features an Ethernet port, so you can connect the AVR-1913 to your home network and stream all kinds of digital entertainment, such as Pandora radio. A USB port is available on its front panel, which is compatible with Apple and other USB devices. This A/V receiver has a very user friendly on-screen interface that’s displayed on your TV. In addition to daily controls, the interface also helps you with the initial setup, which includes instructions for properly setting up surround sound speakers in your room with its included set-up microphone.
Having Apple’s AirPlay technology built in is cool, but what if one member of your household has an iPhone and another has a different kind of mobile device? The sweet Marantz SR5006 comes in handy in these situations because it features both Apple’s AirPlay and support for Bluetooth devices (however, the Bluetooth integration requires the separately available RX101 Bluetooth receiver). The SR5006 features an Ethernet port, so you can stream Pandora, Rhapsody and any network content you please. It also has a dedicated “v-tuner” for Internet radio stations. Its dual-zone functionality is also really impressive. If you set up speakers in another room, you can have different material playing in the two zones. Some folks can be watching a movie in the living room, and someone else can be listening to tunes in the kitchen, and everything will be coming from the slick-looking SR5006. This is a very well-equipped piece of equipment with 7.1 surround, six HDMI ports, support for Dolby TrueHD and many other modern formats, a front panel iPod/iPhone-compatible USB port and many more goodies.
Thanks for looking through this B&H InDepth roundup. Hopefully, from this sampling you have a better idea of some of the available models, and a clearer understanding of how A/V receivers work in general. If you have any further questions or comments, please share your thoughts by submitting a Comment below.