The 7 Best 5.1 Receivers
This wiki has been updated 20 times since it was first published in May of 2016. If you're looking to replicate the movie theater experience at home, one of the most important aspects is the sound. No matter how big your screen is, its tinny speakers aren't going to pack the punch you need. Our selection of 5.1 receivers will give you the booming bass and clear voices you want, whether you are watching the latest releases, playing video games, or streaming music. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
November 05, 2020:
While little has changed among receivers with this few outputs, we did find a new model to add to the list in the Pyle PT696BT. The company manages to get some decent video performance out of it, with 4K passthrough and support for 3D, but it does make some serious sacrifices to get to that price. The most egregious of those is likely the fact that it has only two HDMI ports, meaning that if you have more than just a gaming console and a streaming box (like a cable box, Blu-ray player, etc.) you'll either need to manually switch them out or get a splitter.
The Sony STRDH590 5.2 moved up significantly in our list thanks to a combination of stellar audio and video performance with its extremely reasonable price. It offers some of the best automatic calibration in the business, and its color subsampling is also remarkable. Like the Yamaha RX-V485BL, however, it lacks a dedicated phono preamp, and as a vinyl lover this kept me from putting it at the top of our ranking.
December 13, 2019:
With the average home theater builder seeing offerings in 7.2, 9.2, 11.2, and even higher among available speaker configurations, the popularity of the standard 5.1 system is somewhat on the decline. In fact, only the Yamaha RX-V385 and the Yamaha RX-V485BL are simply 5.1 systems, where the others we've selected all offer an extra subwoofer channel, calling themselves 5.2-channel systems.
With so many competitively similar features from one brand to the next, we wanted to take a close look at some other features, and to maintain a group of models that have come out more recently than not. Things like slim designs, smooth and effective user interfaces, and support for 4K passthrough at 60 fps and 4:4:4 color subsampling were all taken into account when curating this selection.
Perhaps the coolest feature for a lot of customers is available on one of the Yamaha models, as well as the Denon AVR-S650H, both of which can connect with wireless speakers to eliminate the hassle of running cable across your room to the satellite components of your surround setup.
Total Immersion Through Sound
5.1 surround sound is a six-channel system designed to put the user right in the middle of the auditory action.
Today's home entertainment scene is advancing more quickly than it has in the history of television. Screens are flatter and bigger and clearer than ever. Projectors are brighter and more readily available, making the home theater a legitimate possibility for families of many different income levels. Even 3D-TV, as well as 4k and 8k video, are now a reality for high-end consumers. But what good is an 80-inch projector screen if the soundtrack is playing through an iPhone speaker?
No matter how beautiful the ultra-HD video shining out from your 75-inch OLED, it's still only half of the equation for an immersive movie and TV experience. Indeed, audio with crisp highs, clear dialogue, and deep bass really helps you get the most out of your entertainment system. 5.1 surround sound is a six-channel system designed to put the user right in the middle of the auditory action. Of the six channels, five transmit full-spectrum audio and one is just for a powered subwoofer. Ever since its debut in 1979's iconic Vietnam War blockbuster Apocalypse Now, rumbling, powerful lows and precise sound placement have made 5.1-channel surround sound the basic medium of choice for delivering theatrical greatness.
And why not? Actual movie theaters, after all, have only one screen, yet they sport dozens of speakers and amplifiers that make it sound like you really are deep in the heart of the Cambodian jungle, or crashing violently to the surface of an uncharted planet.
Even relatively smaller home theater displays are effectively complemented by the right 5.1 audio system. A clear, precise sound experience is sure to add incredible depth to any programming, whether its a three-hour fantasy epic or game seven of the finals. Thankfully, routing your audio to six (or more) speakers has never been easier thanks to today's selection of 5.1 surround sound receivers.
How Does 5.1 Surround Work?
Interestingly enough, the first iteration of surround sound was a three-channel system, pioneered for Disney's Fantasia in 1940. It would be over 30 years before a split-stereo method was popularized. This step forward led to two channels on either side with fifth speaker front and center.
For optimal sound quality, all five speakers should be the same distance from the viewer.
The additional tracks of audio data are carried alongside the video data in an HDMI cable, or through a dedicated audio cable in some cases. The receiver then routes the audio through five main channels and one low-frequency line-out. This low-end plug is used for a self-powered subwoofer; most HD receivers don't include bass amplification.
It's of prime importance to pay attention to details when setting up your home theater. For optimal sound quality, all five speakers should be the same distance from the viewer. The center speaker often pumps out a majority of the volume of the dialogue in movies, so many times that center channel will have its own volume adjustment to ensure a properly balanced listening experience. Some receivers even make use of ceiling speakers, letting you take advantage of 3D audio supplied by high-quality video sources.
And if your video source doesn't supply a surround sound stream, these A/V units can come to the rescue. The technology built into their digital chipsets creates a mix-down of the two stereo channels, providing an in-depth, simulated surround experience.
Keeping Up With Audio Technology
As with a lot of modern A/V equipment, there is a handful of communication modes and connection ports that you need to know when looking for a surround sound-capable receiver. Luckily, it's not quite the same swamp of competing standards as is present in, for example, wireless HDMI; Dolby and DTS (Dedicated To Sound) both propagate opposing means of digital surround sound, and those two languages make up most of the field.
A number of models use Bluetooth connectivity to stream music from your mobile devices.
Within the two companies' proprietary brands, more advanced decoders are always being developed to take advantage of the latest data and equipment. For that reason, it's important to make sure that you consider a receiver that can handle the high video and audio resolutions that you'll throw at it. Both the Dolby Digital and DTS product lines utilize lossless decoders in their high-end products that are ideal for Blu-ray-quality sound replication. These are called TrueHD and HD Master Audio and are available on some of the more expensive home theater hubs today.
There are a number of other features you'll find when comparing different models of receivers. Many options offer support for older television sets with a variety of different connectors such as composite, component, or s-video. A number of models use Bluetooth connectivity to stream music from your mobile devices.
In addition to high-quality decoding units to process multimedia data without losing quality, some of these hubs support 7.1-channel digital audio. This is another feature of modern Blu-ray releases that's on the cutting edge of entertainment technology. Some models also support dual subwoofers, allowing for greater bass consistency throughout every seat in the room.
Many units are available with multiple HDMI inputs. These are great for households with a few multimedia devices connected to the theater display. If you want the best sound and picture from your computer, HDMI antenna, Blu-ray player, or game console, the right 5.1-channel receiver will seamlessly make the most of your high-performance A/V setup.