Which AV Receiver Should I Buy? Ask the Editors

av receiver

Q: I am looking to replace my 9-year-old Harman Kardon AVR 354 AV receiver. One of the most important things to me is future proofing. While Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are a must, I wonder about Dolby Vision? Some of the new AVRs support it, while others do not. Currently, I have a Pioneer Kuro 1080p plasma TV, but I will be upgrading to a new 4K HDR TV (possibly with Dolby Vision) in the next year or so. If my new receiver doesn’t support DV, will I be missing out in the future?

Most importantly, I currently run a 7.2 system, but I also just purchased a pair of Dolby Atmos-enabled upfiring front speakers. I would love to purchase a 9.2 or 11.2 receiver, but those are more expensive than I can afford right now, so I am looking at 7.2-channel receivers. Some offer nine speaker outputs, but only seven are powered at a time. In some cases, the extra outputs are strictly for zone 2 (which is not important to me), while others let you connect a 7.2 setup and a 5.2.2 setup using the extra speaker outputs and switch between them as needed.

This seems like the way to go so I can utilize my whole system depending on the content without having to disconnect and reconnect speakers. But is this really as important as I think it is? Or is a 5.2.2 system always be better than a 7.2 system, even if it’s regular surround upmixed to include the overhead channels? Is it a benefit to be able to easily switch between the two, or should I just give up on my rear surround speakers?

The receiver I am considering most is the Yamaha RX-V683, since it offers Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, Dolby Vision and HLG compatibility, and nine flexible speaker outputs so I can connect and switch between my 7.2 and 5.2.2 setups. Unfortunately, there are other things it lacks, but they don’t seem that important to me.

I am also considering the new Denon AVR-S930 that supports DV and HLG, but it has no extra speaker outputs for a dual setup. The Sony STR-DN1080 doesn’t support DV or HLG, nor would it let me connect all my speakers; it’s extra speaker outputs are zone 2 only. But it does have a lot of other good features (like phantom rear surround speakers) and good reviews. Lastly, the Pioneer VSX-1131 (or the yet-to-be announced 2017 model) offers speaker outputs for both set-ups, but no DV/HLG support.

I’m looking to spend $700 or less. Do you have a recommendation about one of the receivers I mentioned or possibly another one I haven’t looked into? While I may listen to music every now and again, the receiver will primarily be used for TV and movies, so features that improve that experience are most important to me.

– Austin Gessay (austing)

A: You’ve done some serious research already! Before I discuss your questions, I’d like to address a nomenclature issue. All movie and TV content includes only one subwoofer channel, so the content should be called 5.1, 7.1, or X.1.X for Dolby Atmos or DTS:X. However, speaker setups often include two subs—both of which play exactly the same signal—so they are called 5.2, 7.2, or X.2.X. (With three or four subs, use the appropriate number in these designations.) This is a point of much confusion, especially when talking about speaker systems and content in the same article.

Let’s start with the question about 7.2 versus 5.2.2. There are quite a few Blu-rays with native 7.1 soundtracks, and the only way to hear them as the content creator intended is with a 7.1 (or 7.2) system. In addition, there are quite a few Blu-rays and UHD Blu-rays with Dolby Atmos soundtracks, and the best way to experience them is with an Atmos speaker system—in your case, 5.2.2.

The Dolby Surround upmixer, which is part of the Dolby Atmos feature set in an AV receiver, can place sounds from a 5.1 or 7.1 soundtrack in the overhead speakers, and it works quite well. But I suspect that you’re like me—you want to hear (and see) things as the content creator intended. So, I like your idea of switching between 7.2 and 5.2.2 depending on the native soundtrack. Of course, you can always experiment with applying the Dolby Surround upmixer to 5.1 and 7.1 soundtracks and see what you think.

In order to make your purchase as future-proof as possible, it’s critical to get an AVR that supports Dolby Vision as well as HDR10—which means the AVR can pass those signals from the source device to the display. (Support for HLG could also be important, though there is currently no content that uses it, at least in the US.) As you correctly point out, not all AVRs support Dolby Vision, so be sure to get one that does.

BTW, I strongly recommend getting a TV that supports Dolby Vision as well. It’s used in some streaming content from Netflix, Vudu, and Amazon, and it’s now starting to appear on UHD Blu-rays. I think it provides the best HDR imagery available today and tomorrow.

Of the models you’ve identified, I think the Yamaha RX-V683 is your best bet. The Denon AVR-S930H can’t be configured for dual speaker setups, while the Pioneer VSX-1131 can, but it doesn’t support Dolby Vision or HLG. The Sony STR-DN1080 can do neither—though you’re right, it is very well reviewed.

I also looked at the Onkyo TX-NR676, which supports DV and HLG, but it looks like the Zone-2 speaker output is dedicated and can’t be used as you want. The Pioneer Elite VSX-LX302 does almost everything you want—support for two different speaker setups as well as Dolby Vision and HDR10 (HLG is not mentioned anywhere I could find)—but it lists for $799, which is over your budget.

If you’ve got an AV question, please send it to AskTheEditors@avsforum.com.