Best Buy AV Receivers of 2016

Uncompromising sound quality

by Steve Withers Dec 15, 2016 at 2:40 PM - Updated: Dec 21, 2016 at 9:05 AM

  • After a year of significant change, 2016 saw a degree of consolidation in the AV Receiver market.
    All the manufacturers have now added immersive audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X to their receiver line-ups and one even supports Auro-3D as well. They have updated their HDMI connections to HDMI 2.0a which means they can pass Wide Colour Gamuts (WCG) and High Dynamic Range (HDR) as well as support HDCP 2.2. As a result, the manufacturers have been looking at other areas in order to add value to their latest AVRs. So there has been increased support for hi-res audio, more channels of amplification, updated room equalisation features and the addition of multiroom functionality. All the receivers on this list are fairly high-end but they all deliver superior performance and features, showing just how far the AVR has come in the last few years.

    MORE: What is Dolby Atmos?

    Anthem MRX 1120 – £4,399 – Highly Recommended

    The MRX 1120 is an 11-channel AV Receivers, which means it includes all the amplification you need to run a full 7.2.4 configuration for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. It doesn't come cheap and, thanks to Brexit, the MRX 1120 has also recently suffered a price increase but it does deliver in the areas that matter. In terms of features the emphasis is very much on audio and video quality, so you get high quality DACs, powerful DSP and capable built-in amplification; along with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. You also get ARC, which remains one of the best room correction systems available. There's even a calibrated microphone and a dedicated stand included to ensure you get the best from your MRX 1120. In terms of the video specifications, Anthem have ensured the MRX 1120 should remain relevant for the foreseeable future and the HDMI 2.0a inputs and outputs support 4K 24/50/60, HDCP 2.2, HDR, BT.2020 and 4:4:4 subsampling at 18.2 Gbps. For this latest generation, Anthem have also added wireless capability and DTS Play-Fi, although when we reviewed it we had problems getting it to connect to a number of popular UK routers.

    Of course, features and specifications are all well and good but what really matters is the sound quality and in this regard the MRX 1120 didn't disappoint. It delivered a wonderfully open and spacious surround sound experience, whether it was 5.1-, 7.1- or a full 7.1.4-channel soundtrack. The precision with which objects were steered around the room was remarkable but the receiver retained an impressive level of clarity and dialogue was always clear. The bass was also extremely well integrated within the rest of the sound field, retaining definition and impact where necessary. The MRX 1120 is also a very musical AV Receiver, making it one of those rare beasts that is able to deliver a barnstorming performance, with films, and an equally subtle and effective performance with music. Anthem may have more competition, these days, than in previous years and the company's receivers are definitely not the bargains they once were but there's no denying they still deliver a lovely sound regardless of the characteristics of your room. So if you have the budget, then the Anthem MRX 1120 should definitely be on your short list.

    MORE: What is DTS:X?

    Arcam AVR850 – £4,499 – Highly Recommended

    There are some very good AV receivers available at the moment but few that can offer the audiophile engineering and cutting edge technology found on the AVR850. Some may find the design of the AVR850 a little plain but the front panel is clean, the layout attractive and the display is easy to read. The build quality is excellent, as is the finish, and only the lack of a larger headphone jack is worth mentioning. Around the back Arcam have sensibly eliminated many of the unnecessary legacy connections, concentrating on the ones that you might actually use. So you get seven HDMI inputs and three HDMI outputs and crucially they all support HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2. The AVR850's menu system could use a redesign and the remote control can be confusing until you get used to it but there's also a handy remote app, although it's only available for iOS devices. The features on the AVR850 are very much aimed at audio performance, although there is both Internet radio and built-in FM/DAB tuners. There's no built-in WiFi, Bluetooth or AirPlay but you can use an Ethernet cable for a wired connection, allowing you to stream music from any network servers or storage devices. Arcam have made a number of overall improvements to the audio performance of the AVR850, starting with a redesigned platform that includes a new DSP stage and DACs.

    The receiver also includes seven channels of Class G amplification and adds both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, along with Dirac Live room correction. The addition of Dirac Live is a real coup for Arcam and the results were simply stunning in terms of the software's ability to correct any audio degradation caused by the room or the speakers. The receiver sounded great without Dirac but as soon as we applied the room correction the sound took on an entirely new characteristic, delivering an impressive level of realism to the overall sound field. When it came to movie soundtracks the AVR850 was a stellar performer and the receiver's performance with Dolby Atmos soundtracks was the best we have heard in our home cinema to date. The Arcam also sounded wonderful with music, making it the ideal choice for anyone who wants a receiver for both two-channel and multi-channel sources. There really is very little to complain about when it comes to the Arcam AVR850, aside from the fact that it only has seven channels of built-in amplification. This means unless you plan on running a 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos configuration, you're going to have to buy additional amplification. However the Arcam AVR850 is a superb seven-channel receiver with the option to add immersive audio if you wish and if it's in your price range you should arrange a demo immediately.

    MORE: What is High Dynamic Range (HDR)?

    Denon AVR-X6300H – £1,999 – Best Buy

    The Denon AVR-X6300H is another example of a single-box immersive audio solution with 11-channels of built-in amplification, although how Denon have managed to fit everything into its relatively diminutive chassis remains a mystery. Denon also managed to deliver those 11 channels of amplification at less than half the price of the Anthem MRX 1120, making it a real bargain. Despite the competitive price, the X6300 remains attractive, well engineered and solidly constructed. There's a drop-down flap that keeps the front panel clean, whilst the display is large, easy to read and very informative. The rear panel has all the connections you could ever need but it is sensibly laid out, making it straightforward to install. There are 8 HDMI inputs and 3 HDMI output, all of which support 4K/60p, HDR and HDCP 2.2, whilst the 11 speaker terminals are colour-coded and easy to access. The remote control is simple in its layout, making it comfortable to hold and intuitive to use. Our only complaint would be the lack of a backlight but there is the option of the excellent remote app instead, which is now seamlessly integrated with the HEOS app. The inclusion of Denon's HEOS multiroom system is a major new addition to a receiver that is already packed with features and there's also dual-band WiFi and Bluetooth built in, along with high resolution audio support and effective streaming capabilities. However, despite all these features, the X6300H is easy to setup thanks to the excellent Setup Assistant, which uses an intuitive graphical interface to take you through every aspect of the setup.

    The Denon uses Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room equalisation which includes a dedicated microphone, a cardboard stand and, from early 2017, there will also be a new Audyssey App that will allow far greater flexibility in terms of the Audyssey setup including custom curves. Of course, the big selling point of the X6300 is the inclusion of 11 channels of built in amplification, which means you can run a full 7.2.4 speaker configuration right out of the box. The Denon supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, while there's the option of adding Auro-3D for a small fee. The X6300 did an excellent job delivering both stereo and multi-channel music but where it really excelled was with film surround soundtracks. It delivered an open front soundstage, focused dialogue, good tonal balance and superb steering of effects around the room. The bass was well integrated and the sound field was suitably immersive, even with a 5.1 mix, although it was with Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks that it really had a chance to show its full capabilities. The receiver also includes upmixing capabilities (both Dolby Surround and DTS Neural:X) which proved very effective at creating a more immersive experience from 5.1 and 7.1 mixes. If we had one complaint it would be that the receiver was a little lacking in headroom but given how much amplification is crammed into the chassis that's hardly a surprise. However the Denon AVR-X6300H is a class act in every respect and if you're looking for an 11-channel single box solution then it's quite simply the most obvious choice – there is nothing else that comes close in terms of design, features, performance and especially price.

    MORE: Denon HEOS Multiroom System Review

    Marantz SR7011 – £1,499 – Highly Recommended

    The Marantz SR7011 is a cracking AV Receiver that delivers fantastic value, with a set of features and a level of performance far in excess of its £1,499 price tag. The SR7011 uses the classic Marantz design with a round display window, an attractive two-tone finish and a decent level of build quality. There's a larger display behind a drop-down flap and there are plenty of connections at the rear, including 8 HDMI inputs and 3 HDMI outputs, all of which are HDMI 2.0a with support for 4K, HDR and HDCP 2.2. The remote control is well designed and comfortable to hold with all the buttons you'll need, while the remote app has had a make-over and is also very effective. The menu system is excellent and, thanks to the inclusion of an effective wizard, setup is very straightforward, while the Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room equalisation can now be controlled and customised using a dedicated app.

    The Marantz has built-in WiFi and Bluetooth, along with AirPlay, Spotify, Tidal, DLNA and Internet Radio. There's also an AM tuner, an FM tuner, ISF controls and a highly effective media player. New this year is the inclusion of the HEOS multiroom system, which can be controlled via the HEOS app. The SR7011 supports both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X out of the box and Auro-3D can be added for an extra fee. The performance with multi-channel audio was superb, bringing film soundtracks to life and immersing the listener. The front sound stage was wide, dialogue clear and effects seamlessly panned around the room, whilst bass was deep and well integrated. The result was a hugely enjoyable experience made all the better by the receiver's lovely musicality with two-channel audio. Ultimately the Marantz SR7011 is an impressive AV Receiver that does everything well and at a great price.

    MORE: What is Auro-3D?

    Pioneer SC-LX89 – £1,299 – Highly Recommended

    The Pioneer SC-LX89 is nearing the end of its life cycle, which means you can get some very good deals when it comes to pricing. It's also an excellent AV receiver that draws on the company's years of experience in this area to deliver an impressive all-round performance. The LX89 uses the classic design and layout of a Pioneer receiver, with a superb level of build quality and an attractive finish. The front panel is simple with only two large dials and an informative central display, with everything else behind a drop-down flap. There are an extensive set of connections including HDMI support for HDR and HDCP 2.2 but not all the HDMI inputs are 2.0a, so make sure you use the right ones. Although the menu system has had a make-over, setting the LX89 up still isn't exactly intuitive with a large number of potential speaker configurations. The confusing naming of the HDMI inputs and speaker terminals doesn't exactly help either. However, there is a new setup app to help you with this process and the remote app is impressive but despite having had a slight redesign the provided remote control remains disappointing.

    The LX89 has an extensive set of features that includes Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, along with high quality DACs and support for any high-res audio source you might like to throw at it. The LX89 has built-in WiFi and Bluetooth, both of which are easy to setup and a massive improvement on previous years. The Pioneer also has support for AirPlay and Spotify, along with Internet radio and a built-in AM/FM tuner. The receiver comes with a setup microphone and uses Pioneer's proprietary MCACC room EQ system, which we found to be quite effective. The LX89 has nine channels of built-in Class D amplification, with the option to add two more for a full 7.1.4 configuration, and a new power supply for increased drive and control. The Pioneer certainly wasn't wanting in terms of available power, with plenty of headroom and a big open soundstage. This doesn't come as a surprise for a Pioneer AV receiver but it also managed to deliver a decidedly nuanced sound that made it a great performer with both movies and music. Thanks to this combination of build quality, features, performance and price, the Pioneer SC-LX89 definitely deserves to be on any short list.

    MORE: What is Wide Colour Gamut (WCG)?

    Yamaha RX-A3060 – £1,999 – Highly Recommended

    The Yamaha RX-A3060 is their flagship AV receiver for this year and, as such, it includes just about everything you could want. The design is attractive and the construction solid, with a well engineered feel to the entire unit. There is an extensive set of connections at the rear, including HDMI 2.0a inputs and outputs that support 4K/60p, Rec.2020 and HDR. The receiver supports both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X and with nine built-in channels it can deliver 5.1.4 or 7.1.2 right out of the box. The A3060 includes built-in WiFi and Bluetooth, along with a host of features and extensive file support. It also forms part of Yamaha's MusicCast multiroom system, which proved to be easy to setup, very flexible and highly effective. In fact there is little for us to complain about aside from a lack of backlighting on the remote control and a menu system that is less than intuitive, although the excellent remote app certainly goes some way towards mitigating both of these issues.

    The menu system, aside, setup was relatively straightforward and there is an included setup microphone for the YPAO sound optimisation feature. The A3060 was a class act with both 5.1- and 7.1-channels, delivering an assured performance with plenty of detail and dynamic range. The receiver produced a cohesive sound field that effectively steered effects around the room, whilst retaining a sense of tonal balance. The front soundstage was open but retained clarity when it came to dialogue, while the bass was nicely integrated. All of these attributes were merely expanded when we moved on to Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, with the Yamaha creating a sonic hemisphere that added to the reality of the audio experience. The receiver is also very adept with two-channel music, making it a useful addition to any MusicCast system. The Yamaha RX-A3060 is a great all-round performer and certainly deserves to be on the short list of anyone looking for a new AV Receiver.

    MORE: Yamaha MusicCast Multiroom System Review

    MORE: Read All AV Receiver Reviews

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