There is an ever-increasing number of sources of entertainment that we can bring into our homes via satellite, cable and the internet. Coming along with these are advances in audio/video technology that you can use to enhance your enjoyment of movies, music, and TV.
One of these products is an AV receiver. Used to optimize both the video and audio elements of your experience it is key to creating home theater surround sound. Now you could be forgiven for thinking that these products might cost thousands of dollars, and a few of the elite ones do, but you can actually find a great one for less than $500.
To help you do so, we are going to explain a few of the main features you should expect to find in an AV receiver. We will then review five of the best AV receivers under $500 so you can make an informed choice.
My Top Pick: Best Budget AV Receiver
For those that way to skip right to my top pick for best AV receiver under $500, it is hard to find any units at the price bracket better than the Sony STR-DH790. For starters it is a extremely high quality 7.2 channel surround sound system which incorporates modern enhanced features like Bluetooth and Digital Cinema Auto Calibration.
Best Budget AV Receiver Buyer's Guide
One of the reasons to use an AV receiver is to ensure that the image you see on your TV is clear, vibrant and vivid as can be. Achieving this will be heavily influenced by the receivers video specifications.
Currently, the standard is 4K Ultra HD which runs at 60 frames per second. This will operate in conjunction with video enhancement platforms such as Dolby Video and Hybrid Log-Gamma that are designed to maximize the clarity, color, and brightness of images.
To know if a AV receiver supports 4K Ultra HD, make sure the product states that it either has 4K Ultra HD Capabilities or that it is 4K Ready.
When purchasing an AV receiver for less than $500, it is important to make sure that it has Dolby Atmos audio decoding. This system is currently the industry standard and is a prerequisite if you wish to properly enjoy audio with a home theater system.
The effect of Dolby Atmos is to create sound spatially in the room, which many describe as 3D sound. It produces sounds that can fill rooms from ceiling to floor and wall to wall depending on surround sound speaker’s placement.
Another audio enhancement platform that you should seek out is DTS:X which is a codec that recreates immersive sounds in the room. It automatically adapts it to whatever surround sound speaker configuration you are using.
Surround Sound Channels
The term channels as it relates to home theater equipment refers to the number of individual sound channels that can be produced. For example, a 2.1 channel system would likely be two stereo speakers and a subwoofer speaker.
However, for a home theater, we want a lot more channels than that. With AV receivers you are likely to find that they have either 5.1 or 7.1 channels, with the 7.1 being the more desirable. You may sometime see these written as 5.2 and 7.2 which means a subwoofer has been added for enhanced deep bass sounds.
That is not to say 5.1 can’t produce excellent surround sound with a speaker configuration that has two front speakers (left and right), a center speaker and two rear speakers (left and right). However, with 7.1, the surround sound is taken to another level. In addition to the five speakers just mentioned you have two additional surround sound speakers on the left and right.
This can add further to feeling that sounds are enveloping the entire room and enhance further the whole home theater experience.
For the best home theater experience, the more options you have for what you can connect to your AV receiver the better. This applies to inputs and outputs.
With inputs the more connection options you have (both types of connection and the number of them) the more sources of entertainment you can enjoy. These include audio and video disc players, satellite and cable, internet sources and you will also hope to have an antenna for playing radio via your AV receiver.
One type of connection that you especially want more than one of is HDMI, as it via these that you can transmit 4D Ultra HD.
Obviously, the more output connections you have with respect to speakers, then the more chance you have of creating the best possible surround sound configuration which includes the 7.1 channel set up we mentioned previously.
Best AV Receivers under $500 - Reviews
First we look at this Denon Av receiver, an option which offers a plethora of features that will enhance all types of entertainment played through it.
Let’s start with the video where we have a number of features to enhance the pictures on your TV screen. The first of them is 4K Ultra HD which provides superb contrast as well as providing clear images. Dolby Vision adds vividness to those pictures, and HDR technology for awesome color and you have the best possible viewing experience.
For audio, Denon has ticked all the boxes here too with Dolby Atmos creating 3D sound, DTS:X which surrounds you with sound, and 7.2 channel configuration which gives you the ability to set up the most optimized surround sound speaker array possible.
Connectivity has been well-taken care of with respect to both input and output options. The outputs allow for the 7.2 speaker surround sound system, which you may remember includes a subwoofer for those deep sounds. As for input options they are aplenty with 6 HDMI inputs, multiple AV connections, digital audio inputs, a coaxial input for satellite or cable, a radio antenna input, and a data connection in order to connect your AV receiver to the internet.
Speaking of the internet this AV receiver can be connected to the internet wirelessly via Wi-Fi. This Wi-Fi capability means that you can transmit the output of the AV receiver to other rooms in the house, and this can also be achieved using its Bluetooth function too. One feature we must also mention is that some of its main controls, such as volume and track changing can be operated using voice control via Amazon Alexa.
We’ll start with the Onkyo TX-NR595’s audio capabilities and the first thing to point out is it has Dolby Atmos which provides a sound experience that often makes it feel the action is happening all around you.
That all-around sound is possible due to the 5.2 channel surround sound that this AV receiver can reproduce meaning not only do you have a true home theater, but it can handle loud bass sounds too, as you are able to add a subwoofer. If we also add into the mix DTS:X, your experience will be such that sounds will appear to move around the room from speaker to speaker.
Should you have an existing Sonos Home Sound System or are planning to get one, then this AV receiver is compatible with it. This means you can either pair it with the system and use the Sonos app to change inputs or alter the volume.
With regards to the image on the screen Onkyo have plenty of tricks up their sleeve to make that the best it can possibly be. First, it is 4k Ultra HD ready meaning that if any of the inputs that you connect to this AV receiver are broadcasting or playing that quality of picture, then they will be at that standard on the screen.
These quality images are possible thanks to Dolby Vision which as we know helps enhance picture clarity and HDR10 which will allow you to watch Blu-ray discs or Netflix Blu-ray movies in stunning clarity.
This Onkyo AV receiver also has a feature called Smart AV which lets you integrate it with a host of services including Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Prime and Deezer, to name but four. You can manage your music with Onkyo or Sonos apps, or with a voice activation service like Siri.
The Pioneer brand is one that is hugely respected with regards to audio-video technology and their Elite VSX-LX104 AV Receiver is the one we are going to review next.
As with the Onkyo AV receiver we have just reviewed, this one is also compatible with Sonos, giving you access to multiple music and audio sources with the ability to connect Sonos devices, and control it all with the Sonos app. Other services, where music can be accessed, include Apple Airplay whereby you can stream music directly to your speakers or by using the voice activation service Siri.
Any and all of those sounds will be optimized by Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. That means sounds will fill the room and you will be able to experience them as they surround you. The key benefit of this is that just as you can see objects and people move on a screen, with these enhancements you can literally feel the sounds move around too.
When it comes to that surround sound we have been talking about, this Pioneer system has a 7.2 channel network, therefore, you will be able to set up the optimum home theater, including deep bass.
As for what you see as opposed to what you can hear, this AV receiver is HDR 10 and 4k Ready and as with many systems of this type, it utilizes Dolby Vision. With no fewer than 6 HDMI inputs available the hardest part is going to be deciding what to watch given the huge choice that you will have.
With Yamaha’s exceptional reputation within the audio equipment manufacturing world, their RX-V485 was one we were keen to review. First, we noted that it has 5.1 channel but that can still recreate an excellent home theater environment.
The sound for that home theater is not going to be not only subject to Dolby technology but also to Yamaha’s very own proprietary sound technology. It created it by sampling multiple sound sources around the world such as clubs and concert halls. It then full analyzed them so that they could recreate as close to the real thing as possible.
The result is a more realistic and precise surround sound, which when coupled with Dolby’s and DTS’s ability to recreate sound in 3D form, then it makes for an outstanding audio experience.
It is not just your ears that get spoiled, your eyes will too when it sees the clarity and vividness of the 4k Ultra HD video at 60 frames per second. All the HDMI connections are in place too so that when you connect your 4k HD devices, you can watch the shows, movies or sports events in high definition with colors, brightness and contrast all optimized.
With wireless technology to the fore in today’s world, Yamaha has made sure its product takes advantage of that with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and Airplay 2 all possible. This allows you to stream or connect portable devices to the AV receiver.
We don’t always save our best for last, but the Sony STR-DH790 AV receiver has certainly taken that title.
For starters, it supports 7.2 channel surround sound so you can connect the maximum number of speakers for the full home theater experience. It can also recreate virtual surround should you only have two speakers, which is often the case in smaller rooms.
As you’d expect, Sony has both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X integrated into this AV receiver and that means your sound surrounds you 360°, meaning not only is it in front, behind, and to the side of you, it can be above you too.
Another sound enhancement feature is Digital Cinema Auto Calibration which thankfully we can abbreviate to DCAC. What this does is analyze the acoustics in the room and then align each speaker to take account of it so that everything is working in sync to create the best surround sound possible.
With all these great sound features, Sony hasn’t forgot about the visuals either, and here we have Dolby Vision and a 4K pass-through system that help to recreate a stunning Ultra HD image on the screen. This coupled with HDR means that contrast and brightness will be enhanced plus the color will be vivid too.
Lastly, we must mention Bluetooth, which this AV receiver has and allows you to stream music via your mobile devices to it, and you can even switch it on or off from your device too.
We trust that you found that by reading our buyer’s guide and our reviews of the best AV receivers under $500, that you now feel more able to differentiate the various AV receivers available and the features they offer.