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Home theater receivers buying guide

Find the surround sound receiver that's right for you

A home theater receiver processes incoming video and audio signals

In a Nutshell

Nothing beats surround sound for movies and TV – and surround sound starts with a home theater receiver.

A receiver with five channels of power supports a basic surround system. Models with seven, nine, or 11 channels support advanced surround formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS X.

A receiver is great for music, too, of course. And you can use some of the channels to power stereo speakers in other rooms.

How much power do you need? That depends on the size of your rooms, the power hungriness of your speakers, and how loud you like to play them.

Make sure you buy a receiver with enough inputs for all of your audio/video components. Plan to buy a new TV? Look for a receiver that supports 4K and HDR (most do).

Many receivers give you wireless music streaming through built-in Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. You'll enjoy endless music choices.

Ready to start shopping? Check out our top-rated home theater receivers.

Full Story

A home theater receiver brings immersive, theater-like surround sound to your living room. And it acts as a connection hub for a variety of audio, video, and internet streaming sources.

We’ll walk you through the basics of home theater receivers, and then offer guidance on choosing the right model for you.

What is a receiver?

A home theater receiver (also known as an AV receiver) routes incoming video signals from your cable box, Blu-ray player, and other devices to your TV. At the same time, it directs the audio to your speakers.

The receiver’s preamplifier section provides for switching between audio/video sources. It also decodes surround sound signals. Digital processing circuits improve sound and picture quality.

AV receivers also have built-in amplifiers to boost the processed audio signals and deliver them to five or more speakers.

Stereo vs surround sound

The video processing, surround sound decoding, and multi-channel amplifiers distinguish home theater receivers from simple stereo receivers that power two speakers and are used primarily for music playback. Of course you can still play stereo music sources like a CD player or turntable through a home theater receiver.

Get the right fit

You may need to think about how your current living room setup will accommodate an AV receiver. See our placement tips for some helpful ideas.

Pro Tip

Marantz NR1608 slimline receiver

A slimline receiver like the Marantz NR1608 is about half the height of a typical home theater receiver. It's perfect when space is at a premium.

How many channels do you need?

The numbers of channels an AV receiver has corresponds to the number of speakers it can power. You need at least five channels to get surround sound (front left/right, center, and rear left/right).

We usually recommend a 7-channel receiver. Even if you’re starting with stereo speakers, you can always add more as your budget permits. Plus, with seven channels you can expand your system into another room.

There are also receivers with nine or eleven channels of power for even more versatility.

Pro tip

Dolby Atmos surround sound
With seven or more channels of power, you can play cutting-edge surround sound formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. They use in-ceiling speakers or special up-firing speakers to project sound from the ceiling.

How much power do you need?

Most AV receivers have enough wattage to power the majority of entry-level speakers. If your home theater occupies a large space and you want to fill the room with sound, you’ll need a receiver with more power. The same is true if you invest in high-end speakers.

A few guidelines to consider:

  • When it comes to power, more is almost always better. It doesn’t just equate to higher volume levels. It gives you clearer sound with less distortion.
  • Not all power ratings are equal. Different manufacturers measure power according to different standards. Look for power ratings measured into 8-ohm loads at 20-20,000 Hz with two channels driven. (We publish this spec on our site when manufacturers provide it.)
  • You’ll often see a range of acceptable wattages to power a given speaker. To get the best sound with minimal distortion, aim for the high end of this range.

It can be tricky matching AV receivers and speakers. Contact us if you need help figuring it all out.


Most of your AV components will connect to your receiver via HDMI cables, which carry both audio and video signals. Take stock of your HDMI-capable gear. Then go with a receiver that has more HDMI inputs than you need, to allow your system room to grow.

Pro tip

HDMI connections with HDCP 2.2 and 4K capability Have a 4K TV and/or Blu-ray player? It’s important that your AV receiver have at least a couple HDMI connections that are HDCP 2.2 compliant.

For audio gear without HDMI connections like a CD player, an RCA or optical digital connection is your best bet. And, of course, you’ll need speaker wire to connect your speakers.

Got a turntable? You might want to get a receiver with a dedicated phono input. Or you can add a phono preamp to any receiver without a phono input. Some turntables even have built-in phono preamps. Learn more in our article on how to connect a turntable to a receiver.

For a comprehensive list of connectors, including older video connections, see our Home AV Connections Glossary.

Pro tip

Multi-channel preamp outputs A receiver with multichannel preamp outputs can add flexibility to your system. You can add a multichannel power amplifier for more volume and clearer sound. Or just use the front outputs with an external stereo power amp for your front speakers. This is a great solution for home theater fans who are also serious music lovers.

Networking, Wi-Fi, and streaming

Most AV receivers have built-in streaming features. They let you play music from a compatible mobile device or computer. Or you can access online music services through the receiver's network connection.  You’ll find plenty of options with some or all of the following features:

  • Built-in support for popular streaming services like Spotify and Pandora. (A subscription is required for some services.)
  • Bluetooth for streaming any audio from any smartphone or tablet, and most computers.
  • Apple AirPlay for streaming lossless audio from compatible iOS devices.

Pro tip

Ethernet cable Outside interference can slow your receiver’s Wi-Fi signal. A wired Ethernet connection is more stable and reliable. Plus, the greater bandwidth is ideal for streaming high-resolution music files.

Multi-room audio and video

Would you like to use your receiver to listen to music in your bedroom or on your deck? Receivers with seven or more channels let you spread your home theater system into other rooms.

With a 7-channel receiver, you can use 5 channels for surround sound and two channels for stereo speakers in another room. 

Multi-zone audio/video

See our article on powering a multi-room music system for details, and for ideas on even more advanced setups.

With dual HDMI outputs, you can watch the same video content on two different screens in the same room or in different rooms. If the receiver has an independent HDMI output for a second zone, you can watch two different video sources on two separate TVs.

Check out our article on multi-zone video for more information.

Wireless multi-room music

Would you like your AV receiver to be part of a flexible wireless whole-home audio system? Some receivers can stream music to different speakers and/or sound bars in different rooms.

Some Yamaha receivers work with the MusicCast system. Some Denon and Marantz receivers integrate with Denon’s HEOS line of wireless speakers.

App control for multi-room music

Receivers with wireless multi-room capability work together with compatible wireless speakers in other rooms. 

Convenient app control

Just about every AV receiver with network capability offers a free app to use your phone or tablet as a remote. They make it easy to switch sources, adjust the volume, tweak settings, and stream music from online sources.

Pro tip

Remote apps for receivers Remote apps are the easiest way to control your receiver’s multi-zone features. You can choose which rooms to play music in, and select the music for each room.

We can help you choose

Have questions about choosing the right receiver? Call, email, or chat with us today.

Our expert Advisors know the gear inside and out. Your Advisor can send specific Crutchfield pages to your screen, saving you a lot of browsing time. You'll get a shopping cart loaded up with everything you need for your home theater. 

Free lifetime tech support is included with your Crutchfield purchase.

  • Natalie from Arlington

    Posted on 8/10/2018

    Are there any home tuners (or receivers) capable of receiving digital FM, which has multiple channels per station?

  • Donnie Stuart from Dandridge , Tennesse

    Posted on 11/23/2017

    Does onkyo have there hdmi issues fixed yet, sound n video lost. They have repaired my unit twice but it keeps going out, now they refuse to fix again, each time the the unit goes bad within 15 to 23 months, afraid to buy anything from them again

  • Deia Z. from Crutchfield

    Posted on 10/11/2017

    Hi Roger. Just because a receiver has outputs for two subwoofers doesn't mean you have to connect two of them. It will work just fine with one subwoofer connected, but you have the option to upgrade in the future if you crave more bass.

  • Deia Z. from Crutchfield

    Posted on 10/11/2017

    Hi John. Most home theater receivers come with one or two subwoofer connections. When referring to a "5.2-channel" receiver, for example, the "5" indicates the number of surround sound speaker connections the receiver has, while the ".2" indicates how many subwoofer connections it has.

  • Roger from Prairieton

    Posted on 9/12/2017

    I would like to include 5.2 and 7.2 channel receivers in my consideration, but do not want to use 2 subwoofers. Does a receiver with "N.2" channels require 2 subwoofers, or can it be setup to work with just 1?

  • John from Elk Grove

    Posted on 8/28/2017

    When you say a 5 channel receiver: left front, right front, left rear, right rear and center does that include the subwoofer? Would I need a 6 channel? Or do all receivers automatically come with the subwoofer connection?

  • Frank from Belleville

    Posted on 7/24/2017

    Great set of articles. It's the first time I've found information on all the components used in a home theater setup in one location.

  • Evan from Denver

    Posted on 2/13/2017

    Comcast will be wiring my neighborhood to replace DirecTV. It will be high-speed fiber. I will be replacing my equipment at that time. I want to be able to separately control my front and rear speakers. What do you recommend that's a great receiver with that feature?

  • Don T.

    Posted on 5/21/2016

    Very informative. Thanks to Crutchfield for putting all of this information in one place and making it easy to understand.

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 12/3/2015

    Hi Jason, I sent your questions to our sales team for the best answer. They'll be contacting you via email soon. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat.

  • Jason Wentsel from Livermore

    Posted on 12/2/2015

    G'day! Very informative article, thank you! I was hoping you could helpcme out. I recently received aa Denon S710WW A/V Receiver for my bday. I was excited till I found out I need to buy speakers, lol! Thanks step-mum. I'm having a hard time understanding how to pair the appropriate 5.1 speakers to this receiver. Could you give me a few ideas and why they would work? Jason W

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/24/2015

    That's a tough call, Nick. My advice, check out the Yamaha RX-A550. Yamaha has long been a customer favorite, and I've always been impressed with their build quality. Then, get in touch with our advisors to see if they have a better recommendation for your system. Mine is just one guy's opinion.

  • Nick from Chicago

    Posted on 8/24/2015

    Thanks for the great article. I still have this one question; in your experience and with the products currently available, what receiver/brand would you recommend that does the best at 5.1 channel surround theater as well as pure, clean 2-channel stereo for music lovers? I'll looking for a one piece solution but don't want to skimp on the sound quality too much in either arena, without going to a separates solution.. I dont need anything more than 5.1 but I'm seeing less and less options for it out there. Am I better off with the newer 7.1 components?.. I still want great, clean 2 channel Stereo. Thanks for your help!

  • Crutchfield Writing Team from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/3/2015

    Rick, Setting up Atmos with the '737 is pretty simple. All you'll need other than a basic 5.1 surround speaker system is a pair of height speakers and a relatively new Blu-ray player. Until Atmos content is available via streaming, Internet speed shouldn't be an issue as all of the current Atmos content is on Blu-ray disc.

    Tom, Thanks for the compliment. We have lots of great receivers. We sent your and Rick's question to our sales team for the best answer. They'll be contacting you via email soon. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat.

  • Tom from Brentwood

    Posted on 8/2/2015

    What a great article. Thanks for taking the time on writing this. As you know, the technology is changing so fast, our AV guy just can't keep up with it. I have an Onkyo NR808. and it's just not performing. I purchased it for the pwr, and the 7.1 Onkyo replaced the pwr amp under extended warranty. I had to purchase a new BluRay, as the new movies no longer played. Thanks Samsung. (No SW upgrades.) For a high power Receiver with 7.1, what would you recommend? I am using all Definitive speakers. We have a 65 Samsung non 3D. Most likely we move to a 4K.

  • Rick Johnson from La Veta

    Posted on 8/2/2015

    I was thinking on getting a onkyo receiver and wanted to know if i got the 737 model how hard it would to be to st up dolby atmos our internet is not the best here. I would like to get the new surround option but if not i don't mind using the regular dolby true hd and dts hd options.

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/24/2015

    Alan, That's a lot of stuff to string together. My best recommendation would be to give our advisors a call at the number on top of this page for some expert advice.

  • Alan Meier from Stockton, Ca.

    Posted on 6/21/2015

    Help. How many channel receiver do I need? This is what we have. Family room with four ceiling speakers, sub woofer, a center channel. We have a pair of in wall speakers in formal living room and a pair on out door speaker on patio. Both patio and living room speakers have separate controls to turn volume off and on. In family room we plan on buying a Samsung SUHD 65" 4k JS9000 or JS8500 TV and a pair of front and rear speakers. I like the Atmos system. What speakers and receiver would you recommend? Budget of 3k for speakers an receiver.

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/4/2015

    Great question, Don. We may have a solution that could work, such as our highly rated Channel Master CM6104 Ethernet-over-powerline kit.

    If that won't do the trick, you should give our advisors a call. I'm certain they could recommend something that will.

  • Don from Medford OR

    Posted on 6/3/2015

    Router. My computer and router are located in another part of the house and to far for a LAN connection on a receiver. Are there any other ways to make this connection. Thanks. Don

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