Best Budget AV Receivers Under $400
Expensive and cheap amp models under test: In each of our test fields you will find both expensive and cheap amp models, and of course a rich selection of mid-range amps.
Equipment variants, features, characteristics and areas of application often differ considerably from product to product.
At first, it is sobering to note:
The most expensive product is not always the best.
Even if one would assume this at first glance.
To compare 1 model, our editors have compared and evaluated the ratings of 125 customer reviews
But don’t let it make you insecure: Sometimes – depending on the evaluation – two or more models share the same number of points, because the characteristics – such as user-friendliness, price-performance ratio or comfort in this case – were rated equally.
How much do you have to spend on the model that meets all your requirements?
We will show you the pros, cons and special features of each model in a comprehensive list of the advantages and disadvantages, which you will also discover on this page where you are now.
Test Result: Best Budget AV Receivers Under 400 Dollar
Best Budget AV Receiver: Yamaha RX-V485
- DSD via HDMI
- DSD via USB
- Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
- New HDCP Version
- No VRR
The Best Budget AV Receiver
You can’t reinvent the receiver wheel every year, so the innovations on the Yamaha RX-V485 are manageable: It is our Best Budget AV Receiver in this test.
A plus point is the passage of the HDR formats Dolby Vision and Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) – but the Japanese will not deliver the corresponding upgrade until autumn and it will also be available for the predecessor RX-V681.
Buyers are already benefiting from the large and bang-pluggable screw terminals for the treble speakers – the RX-V681 (a model RX-V682 is not available) only offered inferior terminal blocks.
On the front there was also an addition in the form of a 3.5 mm audio jack socket.
Yamaha has made savings elsewhere, however: 3 composite and 2 YUV interfaces have been eliminated – tolerable in the digital age, we think.
What bothers us more is that the receiver only accepts the HDCP 2.2 copy protection required for UHD playback on 3 of the 6 HDMI inputs.
Decoders for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X already belong to the standard in this price class; however, the Japanese doesn’t have Auro 3D on board.
Equipment and technology of the Best Budget AV Receiver
The look of the Yamaha RX-V485, as the Best Budget AV Receiver, which is available in black and titanium colors, hasn’t changed at all, except for some lettering.
Thanks to 9 pairs of loudspeaker terminals, you can also wire two back-rear speakers to a pair of treble speakers, but due to only seven built-in power amplifiers, only two of the four additional speakers are active, depending on the active sound program.
Pre-outs for larger setups with 5.1.4 and 7.1.4 channels are missing. If a 5.1 setup is used, the remaining power amplifiers can be used for active sound reinforcement of a second listening room; alternatively, zone 2 preouts are available.
In five-channel operation, bi-amping of the main loudspeakers is also possible.
The configuration of the loudspeakers is simple, but not perfect: the treble speakers can only be defined at the front, but not in the middle or at the back; even Dolby Enabled Speakers can only be placed at the front.
We also see potential for improvement in the loudspeaker configuration with its too coarse distance steps of 5 centimeters (1 centimeter would be optimal).
On the other hand, the management of the crossover frequencies, which can be set individually for each speaker with crossover frequencies from 40 to 200 Hertz, was praiseworthy.
A highlight is the semi-parametric equalizer, which can be activated in addition to the calibration and which is also applied to the subwoofer.
This means that almost all loudspeakers can be adjusted in frequency, level and quality to suit the room acoustics or personal taste – ‘almost’ because both subwoofer pre-outs receive the same signal.
Yamaha’s YPAO R.S.C. measuring system supports only one measuring point on the Best Budget AV Receiver, even the angle/height measurement of the more expensive Aventage models is missing.
Players will enjoy the 16 “Cinema DSP” surround sound programs, which can also be adjusted in various parameters such as room size, delay and DSP level.
Cinema DSP technology also includes listening to surround and sound programs via headphones, which Yamaha calls “Silent Cinema”.
In addition to Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, the Japanese also installed their 3D upmixers Dolby Surround and DTS Neural:X on decoders; the good old 2D mixer DTS Neo:6 is also on board.
Not ideal: If a 7.1 speaker setup is chosen, the Yamaha automatically blows 5.1 sound to 7.1 channels even in “Straight” mode, which should actually bypass sound circuits.
If you don’t want this, you have to change the speaker configuration to 5.1.
Video and Multimedia for the Best Budget AV Receiver
With 4K/60p support including HDR-10, HDCP2.2 and 4:4:4 colour space according to the BT.2020 standard, the small Yamaha is at the cutting edge of video technology.
The scaler upscales SD/HD material to 4K resolution, but you have to do without a video equalizer.
When it comes to multimedia, the Yamaha RX-V485 comes with Yamaha’s multiroom system “Music-Cast”, which offers various streaming services, hi-fi audio playback and several multiroom solutions.
Music can also be connected to the receiver via Bluetooth, AirPlay, DLNA, WiFi-Direct and iPod-Direct, and the media player accepts even high-res file formats such as FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIFF and DSD (5.6 MHz) via USB.
In addition, there is a web radio as well as the streaming services “Juke”, “Napster”, “Deezer”, “Tidal”, “Qobuz” and “Spotify”.
It can also be operated via Yamaha’s “AV Controller” and the “MusicCast” app.
Sound quality for Best Budget AV Receiver
The Yamaha RX-V485 delivered only slightly less power than its predecessor in the power measurement, but the bottom line is that it costs one point: 99 watts in 5.1 and 75 watts per channel in 7.1 mode (at 6 ohms each) are easily enough for large home theaters.
The eco mode reduces the average consumption from 288 to a good 147 watts.
At the beginning of our listening test, Steely Dan’s first-class multi-channel mix of “Two Against Nature” once again rotated in the player, which the Yamaha placed in the 5.1 setup and Direct Mode in a high-resolution, clearly defined and vivid way; basses were dry and very contoured, but also a bit thin.
The very quick calibration process falsely recognised our small surround speakers as “big”, but otherwise delivered plausible values.
The Yamaha completed our 3D sound track with various Atmos and DTS:X demo clips with flying colours and, despite having only front ceiling speakers, produced height effects directly above our heads. In addition, the basses now rumbled with a lot of pressure.
Even in stereo, the Yamaha RX-V485 played tight and clean, illuminating rooms precisely and maintaining a relaxed and neutral sound even at high levels and therefore is our Best Budget AV Receiver.
2nd Best Budget AV Receiver: Yamaha RX-V385
- DSD via HDMI
- Dolby Vision
- Video Signal Passthrough, Video Signal Upscaling
- Composite Video Inputs
- No MusicCast
Second Best Budget AV Receiver
With the RX-V385, Yamaha introduces the first model of the new generation of A/V receivers.
Even the entry-level model offers extensive features for perfect home cinema enjoyment with 4K Ultra-HD picture and 5.1 channel sound.
Innovative Yamaha technologies make the A/V receiver the ideal home entertainment centrepiece.
Immersive sound for the 2nd Best Budget AV Receiver thanks to Direct Mode and bi-amping
Although the RX-V385 is the entry-level model of the new generation of A/V receivers, Yamaha makes no compromises when it comes to sound.
A new 384kHz/32bit DAC guarantees a thrilling listening experience in 5.1-channel surround.
Alternatively, the RX-V385 can be used to its full potential with just two speakers: In the new bi-amping mode, two power amplifiers drive each speaker and handle the high and low frequencies.
This gives the bass range more contour, while the trebles sound more finely resolved.
Equipped for any source: DIRECT Mode and Music Enhancer for the 2nd Best Budget AV Receiver
The advantages of bi-amping are also apparent in DIRECT mode, which was previously reserved exclusively for the larger AV receivers and is now integrated for the first time in the entry-level model.
This mode deactivates unneeded circuitry so that music is played back exactly as the artist intended.
The Yamaha RX-V385 also features a music enhancer for lossless material (44.1kHz/16-bit) to get the most out of high-definition sources.
This concept extends to the speaker outputs, all of which are equipped with high-quality screw terminals.
Perfectly connected: Bluetooth send and receive for the Second Best Budget AV Receiver
For flexible home entertainment, the RX-V385 can both transmit and receive Bluetooth®.
This makes wireless playback from mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets easy.
For example, the built-in Bluetooth transmitter allows you to connect headphones wirelessly.
The latest generation of HDMI connections offers both standby pass-through and input switching.
Beautiful in 4K Ultra-HD with Dolby Vision and HDR compared to the other Best Budget AV Receiver
The Yamaha RX-V385 brings vibrant imagery to the home theater living room, along with thrilling sound.
With support for 4K Ultra-HD, it’s compatible with current and upcoming high-definition content.
Dolby Vision dynamically implemented offers an outstanding contrast range and an extended colour space. Images on the screen shine with unprecedented vividness.
Alternatively, Yamaha multi-channel receivers are also compatible with the HDR standard.
YPAO ensures the right tuning at the touch of a button
The YPAO automatic calibration system makes it child’s play to set up your home cinema system perfectly: at the touch of a button, it determines the perfect settings for the room in question using the supplied calibration microphone.
Size and distance of the speakers, individual volume levels – YPAO automatically adjusts everything to the optimum level.
Cinema DSP further enhances the sound of TV, films and video games with 17 selectable sound field programmes.
Especially energy-efficient operation with Yamaha ECOmode
Yamaha’s ECOmode reduces the power consumption of the Best Budget AV Receiver multi-channel receivers by at least 20 percent compared to disabled ECOmode.
The function can be conveniently activated via the menu if required, ensuring particularly energy-efficient operation.
Prices and availability of the Second Best Budget AV Receiver
The Yamaha RX-V385 A/V, our 2nd Best Budget AV Receiver, receiver will be available in titanium and black from May 2017. The recommended retail price is 369.00 Dollar including VAT.
3rd Best Budget AV Receiver: Sony STRDH590
- DSD via HDMI
- Video Signal Passthrough, New HDCP Version
- New Bluetooth Version
- No Deezer
Third Best Budget AV Receiver
I wonder what customers had to say about the comparison criteria we had defined, such as weight, loudspeaker impedance and power.
What was the impact of the test on our test criteria usability, comfort and price/performance ratio? The result:
All in all, Sony’s STRDH590 achieved a score of in our test.
The big TTR comparison: 3rd Best Budget AV Receiver
We at TTR are very proud to present the most informative test criteria for this product as well. So let us get started right away!
Weight in comparison tfor the 3rd Best Budget AV Receiver
Of utmost importance to the TTR team is the point “weight”.
The weight of amplifier Sony is 6700 g. For this reason, this product is 379% heavier than the 2 positions better placed amplifier DynaVox CS-PA1 with a weight of 1400 g.
In 5 out of 6 products evaluated, the weight was lighter.
For example the AV2-CD850BT from Auna . The weight of Sony STRDH590 is 294% heavier than CTA-100 from ChiliTec.
Performance of the 3rd Best Budget AV Receiver
Of course we were also very interested in the performance.
The power of the amplifier from Sony is 200 W. Only Auna AV2-CD850BT is more powerful.
Of all the higher-rated amplifiers, there is no one with a higher output than the Sony STRDH590.
Speaker impedance in check of the 3rd Best Budget AV Receiver
No less relevant is comparison criterion number 3 – loudspeaker impedance.
According to the manufacturer’s data, the loudspeaker impedance of the Sony 8 amplifier is Ω.
The product that scored best in terms of loudspeaker impedance is FisherMo FMGF005 with 8 Ω.
In addition, amplifier Sony STRDH590 is 100% higher than the comparison winner with speaker impedance of 4-6 Ω.
What costs do you have to expect?
The amplifier with the highest cost is in the article .
Our evaluation criteria for the 3rd Best Budget AV Receiver
Product features and buyer opinions alone are by no means enough for TTR to earn a very good mark in our comparisons.
Because we go several steps further and determine meaningful criteria for each product category, which are also included in our scores.
We award stars (from 1 to 5) for each test criterion. The more stars that are awarded, the better the model scores on this evaluation criterion.
With regard to amplifiers, these are: user-friendliness, value for money and comfort.
Check the price-performance ratio of the Sony amplifiers
The price/performance ratio is understandably very important for amplifiers. TTRR provided the amplifier Sony STRDH590 thereby with 4,7 of 5 max. possible stars.
Since the average evaluation of all amplifiers compared on TTR is with 3.4 evaluation stars, the Sony product is whole 38% better than the average.
By the way: No amplifier of the Sony brand has convinced in this criterion more.
Comfort of the 3rd Best Budget AV Receiver
Another evaluation criterion for us is comfort.
The Sony specimen impressed with 4.6 stars in this respect. In view of all the amplifiers that we compared in TTR, the average value in terms of comfort was 3.5 – corresponding to 1.1 rating stars above the Sony STRDH590 value.
And finally: Usability of the 3rd Best Budget AV Receiver
Here we find great differences: the range of this criterion is 2 to 5, with an average value of 3.5 rating stars.
Our Sony amplifier, which is in the focus of the review, scores slightly above average with 5 stars.
The best usability is found in the Sony STRDH590 with 5 out of 5 possible rating stars.
If we take a closer look at the user-friendliness performance on a brand level, it quickly becomes apparent that the brands Sony (5.0 stars), (4.1 stars) and ChiliTec (3.3 stars) are ahead here.
So if usability is important to you, you should focus your search on these three manufacturers or take a look at our product comparison register first.
This is what the Amazon reviews say
The Amazon.de trading platform shows a star rating of 4.6 stars for this product. Currently 333 reviews have been published. With this result, Sony’s Sony STRDH590 amplifier is a whopping 0.5 stars above the average Amazon rating of all amplifiers compared on TTR.
In comparison: The CTA-100 product, which received a better rating on TTR, has an Amazon rating of 4.0 stars from 556 buyer feedback.
The product is apparently in great demand on Amazon.de: When looking through all Amazon amplifiers that have been tested on TTR tests, amplifiers have an average of 69 ratings less than Sony STRDH590.
Manufacturer in direct comparison
The Sony STRDH590 is a lone fighter in TTR – there are no other Sony amplifiers that have been reviewed by experts.
All in all, the following brands are represented on TTR among the amplifiers: Auna, DynaVox, ChiliTec and Sony .
The best grade point average is achieved by the Sony brand with an average grade of 9.5. The amplifiers from DynaVox and Sony are far less successful in TTR.
For example, the following product scored better in our comparison test:
CTA-100 with a significantly better rating. In contrast, the AV2-CD850BT lost out against the stronger significance of Sony’s STRDH590 review.
By the way, the Sony STRDH590 is a lone fighter in TTR – there aren’t any other Sony amplifiers that have been reviewed by experts.
Verdict: Third Best Budget AV Receiver
The Sony STRDH590 amplifier from Sony delivers a clear result with the product grade 9.5.
Grade Very good! It was the numerous advantages that made it possible for the Sony STRDH590 to secure 3rd place in the ranking.
The Sony STRDH590 received the product grade 1.10 in the big amplifier comparison test not least because of this advantage, which is often mentioned in reviews: “good workmanship”.
Disadvantage, in the wording “bad remote control”, did not break the way to the top.
All in all the Third Best Budget AV Receiver.
4th Best Budget AV Receiver: Onkyo TX-NR535
- DLNA 1.5
- Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
- Many Analog Audio Line Inputs
- Analog Tuner
- No QFT
Fourth Best Budget AV Receiver
The Onkyo TX-NR535 was already released in 2017, but this year there is no successor.
Thanks to its age, you can get hold of the device for a good 300 Dollar, but Onkyo still estimates the list price at 550 Dollar.
The receiver is technically up to date, new features were added via firmware where necessary.
For example, the Onkyo TX-NR535 has full 4K video compatibility with Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HLG.
The sound decoders for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are of course also on board – but Onkyo has never had Auro 3D before.
A firmware update has added DTS Play-Fi (see box) as a third multi-room or streaming feature, alongside FlareConnect and Google’s Chromecast.
The integration of the streaming service Deezer HiFi is also planned for the end of August.
By the way, the “E” in the device name stands for Europe, the US version differs in the equipment.
Equipment and technology of the 4th Best Budget AV Receiver
For an entry-level receiver, the Onkyo TX-NR535 makes a pretty beefy impression.
Design similarities to the larger RZ series can be found in the smooth-running XXL volume wheel and the knobs for bass/treble and the sound programs positioned at the bottom left.
The quite solid case is available in black or silver, but the front panel is made of plastic.
Contrary to the design, the connections on the rear do not deceive about the low price.
Only 4 HDMI inputs are not much, but should be enough for small home cinemas.
Even the sole HDMI output is typical for the entry-level segment.
The phono input, on the other hand, is untypical. A turntable without a phono preamplifier can be connected to this input.
And there are usually no more than three digital inputs on mid-range receivers.
The Onkyo TX-NR535 is designed as a 7.2 receiver, and a maximum of 7.2 or 5.2.2 layouts can be achieved with two ceiling boxes for 3D sound.
There are no restrictions on the positioning of the height boxes, even top boxes on the rear or speakers on the ceiling at the rear (top rear) are possible.
Other receivers like to limit the selection to the front positions.
Multi-channel sound with more than 9 channels is not possible with the Onkyo TX-NR535 due to the lack of pre-outs.
If you use 5 or less channels, you may at least use the free power amplifiers for bi-amping or active sound reinforcement of an adjacent room.
Alternatively, pre-outs provide sound signals for a second listening zone.
Not optimal is the setting of speaker distances and levels with 3 cm or 1 decibel units.
Better would be 1 centimetre and 0.5 decibel units.
The separation of the crossover frequencies for all speakers in 11 steps from 40 to 200 Hertz was exemplary.
The subwoofers can be controlled from 80 to 120 Hertz in 4 steps, but not separately.
The automatic calibration system AccuEQ is limited to one measuring point, but the “Accu-Reflex” phase calibration for top speakers also has Onkyo’s 7.2 beginners.
The 15-band equalizer can be activated in addition to the automatic calibration, the filters are effective from 25 Hz to 16 kHz.
Decoders include Dolby Atmos and DTS:X and their upmixers Dolby Surround and DTS Neural:X.
Unlike its larger Onkyo counterpart, the TX-RZ830 (page 36), the Onkyo TX-NR535 does not allow cross-format upmixing (see also box on page 37), so DTS signals cannot be played back with the Dolby decoders – the reverse is true.
Video and Multimedia of the 4th Best Budget AV Receiver
The Onkyo TX-NR535’s video board supports 4K/60p signals including HDCP2.2, 4:4:4 colour scanning, as well as HDR10, Dolby Vision and HLG. You won’t find a video scaler and video equalizer.
On the multimedia side, the free web radio TuneIn and the paid services Spotify, Tidal and Deezer are available.
Comfortable music listening and multi-room applications are provided by Flare-Connect, DTS Play-Fi, Chrome-cast, AirPlay and Bluetooth.
Of course, the receiver also makes contact with music via a DLNA client and USB, the media player accepts hi-res files at 192 kHz / 24 bit and DSD files up to 5.6 MHz.
Onkyo’s well-functioning “Controller” app combines receiver control with multi-room and streaming options.
Surround sound quality of the Fourth Best Budget AV Receiver
In the test lab, the Onkyo TX-NR535 delivered only mediocre performance, which is not surprising considering its price: in stereo mode, the Onkyo produced a good 133 watts per channel (4 ohms) and 75 watts (4 ohms) with 5 power amplifiers in full load.
But with 7 power amps loaded, the amp only offered 54 watts each at 4 and 6 ohms load – which gives it only 2 out of 5 points.
In terms of sound, the Onkyo TX-NR535 turned out to be a classic Onkyo, meaning: full-bodied, rich, powerful and with beautiful timbres, the receiver brought great orchestral music into our listening room just as impressively as small arrangements, which it unraveled with precision.
The sound separated effortlessly from the speakers and created sound fields in which instrument groups and soloists were neatly located.
Rocky sounds convinced with punch, tightness and plasticity.
With active AccuEQ calibration, the Onyko created wide sound fields during Dolby’s “Amaze” trailer, in which effects were credibly placed; ambient effects exuded a lot of atmosphere.
Larger receivers with more channels, however, play spatially, more expansively and thus more impressively.
The “Powerful Bass” was heard by the little Onkyo with a mighty rumble and didn’t let our big subwoofer flutter or distort – very good.
The synthesizers in the Atmos clip “Audiosphere” were lifted up by the Japanese in an easily locatable way – but here, too, devices with 4 ceiling channels are ahead of the rest.
The “Late Night” function for dynamic adjustment worked excellently with Dolby Atmos sound, but had no effect with DTS:X and DTS HD sound.
For stereo music, the Onkyo was a lot of fun with its vivid and powerful sound, whatever the type of music.
The “Music Optimizer” circuit emphasized bass and treble for a subjectively more dynamic sound.
For the highest sound quality, the “Pure Direct” circuit bypasses all components that are not absolutely necessary for playback.
All in all it is enough for a very good 4th rank among the Best Budget AV Receivers.
Who needs an AV receiver?
A home theater receiver is for someone who wants more than just a TV with a soundbar.
An A/V receiver allows you to create a true surround sound experience and connect other A/V sources – plus you can easily switch between them.
If you have an older AV receiver that doesn’t support 4K/HDR video (or doesn’t have HDMI connections at all), now’s a good time to upgrade.
All new tested models support HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 copy protection, so they work with Ultra HD 4K displays and sources.
So if you’re planning to buy a 4K TV and the AV receiver should switch between 4K sources, an upgrade is definitely worth considering. Getting one of the Best Budget AV Receivers is well worth it.
Wireless audio streaming has also become much easier with the newer receivers.
Our favourite is compatible with AirPlay, Bluetooth, Pandora, Spotify Connect, Tidal, Sirius XM and more, as well as the ability to connect directly to Internet radio stations and local DLNA servers.
If you still need to connect your tablet or smartphone directly to your receiver instead of streaming wirelessly, an upgrade makes the process just as easy.
Many new models support Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks (which add overhead effects to sound even more intense), but since audio technologies require you to purchase more speakers, this shouldn’t be a major reason to upgrade.
Dolby Atmos gives you the option of using Atmos-enabled front speakers or Atmos modules to handle the surround channels without running any cables.
This may not be ideal, but it’s already very good and unfortunately something you couldn’t use without Atmos support, which most of the Best Budget AV Receivers have.
If you already own an HDMI receiver and don’t plan to use 4K sources, or want or need to stream audio sources wirelessly, you can postpone the purchase of a new receiver for the time being.
In most cases, new receivers don’t necessarily sound better than what you already have at home; they just offer more features and security
So we have chosen the Best Budget AV Receivers
In order not to have to test all receivers on the market, we had to set some basic conditions to the devices – what we think every receiver has to be able to do.
The receiver must support at least 5.1 audio; 7.1 or more channels would be desirable, but are not mandatory.
The receiver should also have at least five HDMI 2.0 inputs to handle today’s 4K HDR signals and be reasonably future-proof.
Music streaming should also be possible wirelessly, both via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, as most people today listen to music this way – even people like me with extensive physical media collections.
A receiver must have a calibration function that starts up automatically to, among other things, correctly integrate a subwoofer into the speaker constellation or to detect and correct various acoustic problems.
How we tested the Best Budget AV Receivers
We tested 16 different receivers in a 5.1 or 5.1.2 setup to see first hand how they perform in terms of features, usability, sound quality or more.
For the normal 5.1 setup, we used a speaker setup from Q Acoustics, our then test winner for the best bookshelf speaker, which sounded great enough for us and where we thought it was easy enough to connect to a normal receiver.
When we were using 5.1.2 channels to play Atmos soundtracks, I used the KEF Ci200RR ceiling speakers that I installed in my home theatre for the top channels.
In the end I did blind A/B tests between receivers with an ABX test box from Audio by Van Alstine to find out which ones sounded best, with and without the calibration function activated.
What to look forward to in the future for the Best Budget AV Receivers
Denon introduced three new S-series receivers at the beginning of June 2019, including the AVR-S750H, which costs almost 550 Dollar.
The new models support eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel) and ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode for Gaming), which are both features of HDMI 2.1.
They also feature Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization technology, which is designed to provide a better high definition experience for non-Atmos content.
With the release of the new model, the price of our number 2 has dropped, making it an even better offer when you don’t really need the newer features.
Denon has also included two new models in its slightly more expensive X-series: the AVR-X1600H, which costs 560 Dollar, and the AVR-X2600H, which costs 680 Dollar.
These models also support eARC, ALLM and Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization and are almost identical to the AVR-S750H and AVR-S950H, but offer a better calibration function and more features for an even more individual installation.
However, the company has not yet announced a new version of our upgrade recommendation, the AVR-X3500H.
Pioneer has introduced three new models: the VSX-534, VSX-834 and VSX-934.
534 and 834 lack Internet connectivity, but the 7.2-channel VSX-934 offers Wi-Fi plus support for AirPlay 2 and DTS Play-Fi.
Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization and DTS Virtual:X are integrated, but you won’t get HDMI 2.1 features like eARC and ALLM.
Onkyo’s forthcoming 5.2-channel TX-SR393 and 7.2-channel TX-SR494 support Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, as well as Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization and DTS Virtual:X.
But they lack HDMI 2.1 features like eARC and ALLM. The only wireless streaming option is Bluetooth.
The parent company of Denon and Marantz, Sound United, recently announced its intention to acquire Onkyo Corporation, which includes the Onkyo, Pioneer and Integra brands.
We don’t know how this change will affect future product ranges.
What is HDMI 2.1 anyway?
HDMI 2.1 is the latest version of HDMI and was announced in early 2017, and shoudl be standard in the Best Budget AV Receivers.
The connector remains the same, but offers much more, including support for 8K resolution by increasing the maximum bandwidth from 18 Gbps to 48 Gbps, automatic low-latency mode, eARC (which allows lossless audio over the audio return channel instead of lossy Dolby Digital only), adaptive frame rate, fast media switching and dynamic metadata.
Currently, few products support all the features of HDMI 2.1, and certainly none support the increased bandwidth, yet many are advertised as HDMI 2.1 compatible.
This is allowed as long as the product has at least one HDMI 2.1 feature.
Some newer AV receivers and TVs support eARC, while others support automatic low-latency mode and an adaptive refresh rate. But no device supports all three of these features (as of October 2018), or dynamic metadata, fast switching between media, or higher bandwidth.
Companies may add features later through firmware updates (as Yamaha does with eARC), but is rather uncertain.
The first chipsets with all HDMI 2.1 features, including extra bandwidth, should be available in the first half of 2019. In the second half of 2019 they should also be used in devices.
Just now you need to take a closer look at every device that claims to be HDMI 2.1 compatible to see what features are actually available.
Why an AV receiver, especially one of the Best Budget AV Receivers?
Even though soundbars, sound decks and multi-room systems are on everyone’s lips these days – if you want to enjoy movies with real surround sound, a full surround sound system is still the best choice.
At the heart of it is an AV receiver that distributes the multi-channel sound to the speakers.
A 5.1 system consists of a total of six speakers: a centre, which is placed under the TV or screen and is primarily intended for voice output, plus two side speakers at the front and two surround speakers next to or slightly behind the listening position. This defines the five speakers of the first digit.
The one in “5.1” refers to the subwoofer, which can be positioned relatively freely in the room, as the low frequencies fill the entire room and cannot be easily located.
In 7.1 systems, there are two additional speakers that are positioned behind the two rear speakers of the 5.1 system to provide an even rounder surround sound.
But this is by no means the end of the story: 9.1 and 11.1 systems also add so-called matrix channels.
But things get more interesting when the sound comes not only from the front, sides and rear, but also from above, because this also opens up the third dimension of space.
In order to identify these 3D sound systems, a third digit is added: A 5.1.2 system thus consists of five surround speakers, a subwoofer and two ceiling speakers, while a 7.1.2 system adds the two rear surround speakers.
Both systems correspond to the Dolby Atmos configuration.
In a home cinema system up to 4 ceiling speakers are possible, which would then logically be either a 5.1.4 or a 7.1.4 setup.
There are again several methods to get the sound from the ceiling:
One is to actually hang speakers from the ceiling. In the less complex variant, two more speakers are placed on top of the two front surround speakers, which radiate to the ceiling.
From there the sound is reflected to the listening position, giving the impression that the sound is coming from the ceiling. If the room is high enough, there is a third variant:
The Atmos speakers are mounted on the front wall, as high as possible and radiating diagonally downwards towards the listening position.
The same goes for the rear speakers, of course.
The more speakers are available for sound output, the better the surround sound experience can be created in principle – but the installation effort increases accordingly.
To limit this, the rear speakers in particular can often be addressed by radio, as can the subwoofer.
This means that these speakers can be set up freely in the room without the need to lay annoying cables.
Front and centre speakers are located next to the TV or screen anyway and are therefore usually easy to wire up.
Audiovisual control centre of the Best Budget AV Receivers
The AV receiver is the central control point in the living room or home cinema: it picks up signals from a wide range of picture and sound sources and passes them on to various playback devices.
For audio signals, these are the various speaker sets, from conventional stereo reproduction to the latest 3D surround sound and multi-room sound with numerous speakers.
But also image signals from a wide variety of source devices can be passed on to one or more screens, for example TV or beamer.
The sources are usually Blu-ray players, TV receivers for satellite, cable or terrestrial reception and even game consoles.
Increasing networking means that a wide range of online services are also being added.
In addition to the conventional remote control, most of the Best Budget AV Receivers now also have apps for operation via smartphone.
Despite all modern sources, many AV receivers still do not do without analogue inputs, for example for a record player.
After all, everything that outputs sound and video should be able to be connected to an AV receiver.
AV receivers are therefore able to decode a wide variety of surround sound sound formats and convert them into surround sound.
The various video formats are either only passed on to the screen or beamer, but some of them are even processed in turn.
Because of their versatility and ability to convert surround sound, they are the central component of every home cinema.
Upscaling, Multiroom etc.
Most A/V receivers are so generously equipped with audio power amplifiers that they can at least supply an additional room with stereo signal in addition to the main room, which is fired with surround sound; all you need to do is connect appropriate speaker cables.
In addition, there is usually a possibility to supply wireless loudspeakers distributed in the rooms.
For this purpose an in-house radio protocol (Yamaha MusicCast, Denon HEOS, FlareConnect) is often used, parallel to Airplay and/or Sonos.
Ideally, the setup is then carried out conveniently via the user interface on the connected screen.
As if that wasn’t enough, the picture should also get its due; new formats and standards, such as 4K resolution or the contrast enhancement HDR should be able to pass through the receiver without damage if possible, in order to be passed on to the beamer or display.
Our current AV receivers can do this without any problems, even more; they also allow the upscaling of picture signals with standard resolution to FullHD and even to 4K.
It’s much different when it comes to coping with the current HDR standards; HDR10, DolbyVision and HDR HLG (the planned HDR broadcasting standard) are all supported.
With the predecessors it looked different, but we have left them in the list, as they already represent a bargain for one or the other need.
This is how we have tested the Best Budget AV Receivers
Its position as a control centre requires a large number of interfaces. These inputs and outputs not only have to be securely wired or wirelessly integrated, in most cases the receiver itself has to be adapted to the conditions of the respective installation.
Our first task, after the correct cabling, is then the actual installation, i.e. the setup of the existing loudspeakers.
The receivers offer different assistance for this.
All of our test models, for example, have a measuring microphone which, together with the intelligent electronics, locates each connected loudspeaker in order to supply it with the correct signal for its assigned position.
Once this more or less major hurdle has been overcome, the next step is the sound evaluation; i.e. how well does the receiver succeed in addressing the loudspeakers correctly?
How well does the omnidirectional sound match the film action?
We listened to films as well as concert recordings, at high levels, but also at a neighbour-friendly moderate volume.
A nuBox 513 Set 5.1.2 from Nubert serves as a playing partner, the speakers can be set up very variably, sound very balanced (perfect for a comparison of amplifier electronics) and don’t cost the earth.
If you can manage with the bass qualities of the two front floorstanding speakers, you can for example save the additional subwoofer.
Moreover, both the rear speakers and the effect speakers responsible for Atmos each offer two modes of operation; the rear speakers are designed as dipole radiators that can use the rear walls for reflection if necessary, whereas the Atmos speakers can either be placed on the front floorstanding speakers to use the ceiling for reflection or mounted directly under the ceiling.
We have also focused our attention on the easiest possible integration into the network and, where possible, multi-room installations.
Last but not least, there was a lot of hard work, namely the documentation of the existing interfaces, because after all, these determine to no small extent the field of application of the Best Budget AV Receivers.
As with the soundbars Die Tribute by Panem, Mockingjay Part 1 and Mockingjay Part 2 were available as software for the sound rehearsals, as well as Fantastic Animals, and where to find them.
All these discs deliver Dolby Atmos in addition to the other Dolby formats.
The same applies to Roger Waters The Wall with its wonderful live concert recordings, and of course various other films.
We were also able to test out extensively whether the receivers are actually capable of passing on the current video formats (4K and HDR) to beamers or TVs without any problems.