There usually comes a point where an aspiring home theater enthusiast wants to add surround sound to their system to improve the feeling of immersion, and a 5 channel receiver is the entry point for doing that – in addition to powering a pair of main left and right speakers like a 2 channel stereo receiver does, a 5 channel receiver adds compatibility for a center channel speaker and two side or back positioned speakers.
Now there are a wide variety of well performing and very affordable 5 channel AV receivers that offer a bevy of all sorts of features, and as good as a wide selection is, it can still be a bit overwhelming to the newly initiated or non-experts. This article will help you understand what to look for in a great 5 channel receiver – without necessarily having to pay a ton of money for it – and we’ll also make a few specific product recommendations.
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First, What Exactly is a 5.1 and 5.2 AV Receiver?
A receiver is the device that all the components of a home theater or stereo plug into, and it coordinates how they all work together. Part of that entails the powering of the speakers. The X.X format corresponds to the amount of speakers and subwoofers a receiver can support, so, a 5.2 receiver can support 5 speakers and two subwoofers.
What We Look For in a Good 5.1 or 5.2 Channel Receiver
Ample Inputs of High Quality
You want to make sure the unit you choose has all the connectivity options you want, which includes but might not be limited to:
- Enough HDMI slots
- 5 way binding posts for each of the speaker inputs
- Enough RCA audio-in slots
- A pre-out if you need to add a separate amplifier for more power
- A phono input to connect a turntable.
Having enough power to feed your speakers is essential. Most 5+ channel receivers are rated at 100 watts per channel or more, and this is honestly far more power than most people are ever going to actually need, but, pay particular attention if you plan to use speakers with unusually high power demands, be it high power handling, low sensitivity, or lower 4-6 ohm impedance.
Good Build Quality
Heat is the efficiency and longevity killer of electronics, and receivers happen to produce a lot of heat. So, while a bigger and bulkier receiver might not look as cool, it’s important that the chassis is big enough to give the components enough room to breathe and ventilated enough to allow for efficient heat dispersion.
Anything else you want here really: Bluetooth connectivity, good proprietary surround sound software, automatic EQ calibration, etc.
The Important Truth About Buying Audio Equipment
We always say the same thing in each of our roundup articles:
Product prices can fluctuate significantly in the audio market, and often times for no apparent reason.
Therefore, the “best” product choice often comes down to whatever the best available deal is at the time among the top/popular contenders. It’s definitely worthwhile to shop around. One tool that’s useful for doing this is Amazon best-sellers lists – they update hourly and these good deals often rise to the top. The table below is populated in real time with data from these best-sellers lists. You’ll usually see our picks among them.
Our Specific Recommendations
The Overall Best 5.1 Receiver – Yamaha RX-V385
The RX-V385 is a somewhat older unit now, but it’s been our top pick for a few years and still remains so. Why? it still checks all of the important boxes and has unmatched specs, features, and build quality for the price. Particularly noteworthy are the nice binding posts for all five speaker terminals. The only slight downside is that there’s only one subwoofer output, but most people won’t need more than one subwoofer anyway.
Get the RX-V385 receiver on Amazon (affiliate link)
The Overall Best 5.2 Receiver – Denon AVR-S570BT
The AVR-S570BT does have the dual subwoofer compatibility and 8k for those who want either, and despite still being a relatively new product, the MSRP has apparently come down enough for this to be very competitive with the RX-V385.
Get the AVR-S570BT receiver on Amazon (affiliate link)
What About the Popular Marantz NR1510?
We’ve seen this get recommended quite a bit, and Marantz is a good company, but… while the NR1510 has an amazing comprehensive input back panel that’s squeezed into a slick and compact design, at the time of this update it’s just still too expensive and underpowered compared to the Denon and Yamaha units for us to recommend it.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between a 5 channel and 7 channel receiver?
A 7 channel receiver can support two additional height based speaker in addition to the 5 speakers a 5 channel receiver can support. 7 channels is where Dolby Atmos compatibility starts.
What’s the difference between a 5.1 vs 5.2 receiver?
A 5.1 receiver can support one subwoofer and has one sub-out input while a 5.2 receiver can support two subwoofers and has two sub-out inputs.
Can I use a 5 channel receiver with just 2 speakers?
Yes, you don’t have to use every speaker terminal of a receiver, and it’s entirely possible to use a 5 channel receiver to power a simpler 2.1 speaker system.
Can a 5 channel receiver improve sound quality?
It definitely can for movies or gaming by adding directional surround sound, but that doesn’t do so much to improve the sound quality of just music.
Is upgrading to 5 channel sound really worth it?
If you’re looking for a more immersive home theater experience while watching music, then definitely yes. If on the other hand your looking for higher musical fidelity, you’re probably better off investing as much as you can in the actual speakers and then getting a basic 2 channel stereo receiver.
Do I need 8k video in a 5 channel receiver?
Honestly, no – there’s still very little available 8k content to actually watch, and most people would be hard pressed to notice the difference between 4k and 8k.