Best AV receivers under $500, 2018 edition – CNET

The reports of the death of A/V receivers are greatly exaggerated. This year, more so than any other time I’ve tested receivers, the standard has been impeccably high. Of the four models I looked at, only one received any less than 4 stars. 

I looked at three models from 2018, the Onkyo TX-NR585, the Denon AVR-S740H and the Yamaha RX-V485, plus the Sony STR-DN1080, which came out in 2017 but is still current.

They are all usually available for under $500. But which one, to borrow from Iron Chef, reigns supreme?

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What to look for in sub-$500 receiver

Before I dive right in, it’s worth looking at what these machines can offer you. AV receivers have a bunch of different features and options but I’m going to sum up the most important ones right here. 

  • 4K HDR compatibility

You want to make sure your new receiver can keep up with the latest TVs and video gear. Standards do change all the time, but the bare minimum right now is support for HDR and Dolby Vision (at least HDMI version 2.0 or better). All four of these models support 4K and HDR video.

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The rear panel of the Onkyo TX-NR585 offers six HDMI inputs

Sarah Tew/CNET

  • At least four HDMI inputs

With most televisions and set-top boxes supporting HDMI, you should buy a receiver which has as many of these as possible. Front-mounted HDMI ports are kind of like appendixes — unneeded, because most users don’t do hot-plugging of HDMI devices — making the number rear ports what’s most important. The Yamaha has the least at four while the Sony and Onkyo have the most, at six. The Sony also offers a second HDMI out for Zone 2. 

  • You don’t really need Dolby Atmos “height” speakers

Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are great, but their effects on your movie watching can be subtle. In other words, don’t worry about missing out if you don’t install the extra speakers required to fully appreciate these new formats. The Yamaha is the only model here that doesn’t support Atmos and DTS:X these standards.

Most midrange receivers have onboard Wi-Fi music streaming. There are plenty of standards, but the most universal are Apple AirPlay and Chromecast built in. If you’re looking to build a multiroom system with a variety of AV systems and speakers wirelessly, these are the two flavors to aim for. The Onkyo and Sony are the only two that support both. The Denon lacks Chromecast but ups the ante to AirPlay 2.

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Which receiver comes out on top?

While the Yamaha is a great receiver in its own right, it doesn’t reach the standards set by the other three, so it received the lowest rating in my review. It’s great for budget buyers, but most shoppers should spend a bit more to step up.

Of the remaining three, the Onkyo TX-NR585 is my favorite.  It sounds good, it looks good, and it offers plenty of features. If they were all the same price, I’d buy the Onkyo. 

That said, the Sony or Denon may suit your needs better. I rated all of them “excellent,” with just a little daylight (two-tenths of a point) separating their three overall CNET ratings. Their prices fluctuate regularly, so if one of the three costs significantly less than the others at the time you read this, that’s the one you should probably buy, provided it delivers your must-have features.

Best receiver for the money

Onkyo TX-NR585

Sarah Tew/CNET

The field is exceptionally close this year in terms of both sound quality and value for money, but the Onkyo TX-NR585 pulls ahead as a total package. It offers a exhaustive list of streaming features, bomb-proof sound and excellent ease of use. It is CNET’s 2018 Editor’s Choice. 

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Denon AVR-S740H

Sarah Tew/CNET

Want Apple AirPlay 2 instead of Chromecast built-in streaming? The AVR-S740H is for you. With sound on a par with our Onkyo EC winner’s and a great feature set, the Denon is seemingly custom-made for Apple fans.

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Sony STR-DN1080

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Sony STR-DN1080 was our 2017 Editor’s Choice, and it’s still an excellent package. Sound quality is not quite as strong as those of the Denon and Onkyo, but they’re all very close. If you want a receiver that offers ease of use and integrates well with Chromecast streaming, this is a great option.

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Yamaha RX-V485

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Yamaha RX-V485 offers high-quality sound at an affordable price, but for most people it’s worth paying more for extra inputs and and Dolby Atmos capability.

See at Amazon Read the CNET review

Sony STR-DN1080

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