If you want to get the most out of your home theater system, experts say that the Sony STR-DN1040 (Est. $600) is the AV receiver to get. The STR-DN1040 boasts excellent sound quality, up to 7.2-channel surround sound, a deep feature set and robust connectivity. Networking features are extensive and includes support for Internet streaming partners such as Pandora , Slacker and Sony Music Unlimited, as well as access to a bevy of Internet radio stations via its vTuner app. Wi-Fi is built in, as is Bluetooth for streaming from mobile devices. Apple fans will appreciate the built-in AirPlay support for streaming from iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch) and iTunes. There's also support via AirPlay for apps such as Spotify and iHeartRadio.
Connectivity is extensive, including eight HDMI inputs and two HDMI outputs. The STR-DN1040 can upscale video up to 4K resolution for those thinking of one of the new generation of UHD LED TVs (see our report on LCD TVs for more information). A front panel HDMI input is MHL (Mobile High-definition Link) compatible for accepting HD video from a mobile device or a Roku Streaming Stick. You'll also find two component video inputs, two composite video inputs, one composite video output, two optical digital audio outputs and one coaxial digital audio output.
The STR-DN1040 has a graphical user interface (GUI) that resembles the one found on the Sony PlayStation 3; experts rave over its design and responsiveness. The receiver itself, however, is big and bulky and may not grace every living room with its looks.
If you find the STR-DN1040 to be a bit of overkill in terms of features or price, the step-down Sony STR-DN840 (Est. $400) might be more to your liking, and it's our pick as the best value among mainstream home theater receivers.
Some corners are cut to get to that lower price point, but we agree with the experts who say that those will be of concern to relatively few. There aren't as many HDMI inputs -- "just" six instead of eight -- and no MHL support. Analog connectivity is cut back to just two composite video inputs and no component video inputs at all. What else is missing? Well, there's that fancy GUI as well as support for Zone 2 operation (the ability to listen to two different sources in two different rooms). In addition, the AV receiver will pass-through 4K video but not upscale to that resolution, and power is slightly lower (150 watts-per-channel versus 165 watts-per-channel).
But everything else from the STR-DN1040's roster of features is present and accounted for. That includes the robust streaming features, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and AirPlay support, and the ability to drive up to 7.2 channels of audio. Sound quality is "up to the task," CNET says, adding that factors such as speakers and room acoustics matter more than the home theater receiver when it comes to overall sound quality.
The 7.2-channel Onkyo TX-NR626 (Est. $500) is another solid choice. Like the Sony receivers above, it includes all the decoders for the popular Dolby and DTS surround-sound format, including the lossless formats used on Blu-ray Discs. It also adds a host of Audyssey sound-processing modes, such as Audyssey Dynamic Volume (to overcome shifting volume levels in content) and Audyssey Dynamic EQ (to maintain an enveloping surround-sound field at lower volume levels). There's also a phono input for connecting a turntable; both powered and unpowered second-zone support; 4K upscaling; and an extensive array of integrated streaming services, including Spotify, Rhapsody and the online version of SiriusXM satellite radio. There's also built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but no AirPlay support.
The TX-NR626, the Sony receivers above and most other home theater receivers share a similar aesthetic: They are big, black boxes and relatively unattractive. If style is a huge concern, experts say that the Marantz NR1403 (Est. $400) is one of the best-looking AV receivers you can buy. Unlike most receivers, it's slim and sleek with curved edges and looks excellent. Features are also slimmer than some competing receivers, however. For example, there are no networking capabilities -- not even via wired Ethernet.