The 7+ channel receiver market is currently one of the fastest growing product niches in the audio world, and it’s also a level where things quickly start to get expensive. This can definitely be daunting to the non audiophile experts out there. Higher end receivers have a seemingly dizzying amount of inputs, knobs, switches, features, specs and what not – what do you actually need? What’s worth paying for? And how much so? That’s what this article intends to help you figure out.
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First, What is a 7.1/7.2 Channel Receiver Exactly?
The X.X format simply refers to the number of speakers and subwoofers a receiver can power. So, a 7.2 receiver has inputs for seven speakers and two subwoofers. Most 7 channel sound systems use two main left/right front firing speakers, a center channel speaker, two left/right surround speakers, and two “off plane” speakers that are angled and point up or down at the focal point, which is the next step towards spatial sound that is truly immersive and realistic.
Who Actually Needs a 7+ Channel Receiver?
7+ channel systems are mainly designed for home theater use, where the direction a sound is coming from can noticeably affect the “feel” of a movie, for example an explosion coming from afar and high up. Most audio formats that support 7+ channel surround sound are used with movies. It’s possible a 7+ channel system could enhance musicality noticeably enough to be worth the extra cost, but, more likely you’ll get better sound just by investing in a higher end pair of speakers and a single subwoofer.
What We Look for in 7 Channel Receivers
The back panel of higher end receivers can look like instruments that belong on a space shuttle to a layperson, but here’s what we like to see at a minimum:
Multiple HDMI inputs – 7 channel home theater systems will almost certainly utilize multiple devices that use an HDMI connection, including the TV. You want to make sure you have enough of them, we’d say at least 4-5 if you’re not sure. Make sure at least one output slot is HDMI 2.0 or higher, which supports up to 4k resolution. HDMI 2.1 currently supports up to 120p (frames per second roughly) and/or 8k resolution, but there’s not much media yet that utilizes either, nor do we think they’ll make a noticeable difference. Some people might want future-proofing, but, there’s also risk in investing in tech that is still pretty new. 4k/60p will be a solid standard for many years.
Sufficient Power – most people won’t ever run into power issues with non commercial grade systems, but, if you like to crank the volume up and have higher end speakers and/or lower impedance speakers, it’s something you might need to be aware of. 100+ Watts per channel will be sufficient for like 99% of potential systems.
5 Way binding posts for speaker terminals – while spring clips are theoretically fine for speaker wire, they are prone to connection loss and be annoying to deal with, which is why we like to see speaker terminals be binding posts, which afford the option of banana plugs and make life much easier.
Bluetooth compatibility – fairly standard for controlling modern devices, though some receivers still come with remotes.
Good build quality – this becomes all the more important with higher-end AV electronics because they produce a lot of heat. Overheating is the longevity killer, so you want a receiver that is big and ventilated enough for components to breathe and disperse heat efficiently.
A good warranty – if you’re paying a premium for more modern equipment, you want to be covered from potential design and manufacturing flaws. 3+ years of warranty on higher audio electronics is reasonable.
Beyond that, there’s a ton of features/inputs you can possibly get, and you just need to make sure you have what you want/need.
Our Current Picks
If we were to recommend one overall 7 channel receiver, it’s the Sony STR-DH790:
The model is a bit dated (2018) and old looking, but it has all the aforementioned necessities for the best price we’ve seen, all from a longstanding trusted brand. You might find a better deal but you’d have to get pretty thrifty. For most laypeople, the best thing you can do is spend as much of your budget that you can on the actual speakers, and at the time of this/writing the STR-DH790 is the clear way to do that.
The input panel is pretty bare bones relative to the competition, and lacks some inputs that some might want. The surround terminals are also spring clips rather than binding posts, and yes we did say we prefer to see the latter, but it’s pretty silly to pay hundreds of extra dollars for them when spring clips work just as well. You can also get banana plug adapters like these which are pretty cheap.
If 8k is something you absolutely want, then we’d recommend the Denon AVR-S960H:
It’s a newer 2020 Model, looks a little slicker than the STR-DH790, and is interestingly available for cheaper than their older 2019 model at the time of this writing. It has less power per channel than the STR-DH790, which has a ton, but 95 Watts per channel is still plenty for just about any set of speakers you could get.
It has binding posts for all the speaker terminals as well as a few extra inputs that the STR-DH790 does not. It’s relatively bulky, but the build quality is good. If you manage to find this for a price that’s not far off from the STR-DH790 it’s a solid alternative.
The Truth About Buying Audio Equipment
We say this in each of our roundup articles: product prices sometimes fluctuate significantly and seemingly arbitrarily in the audio market. 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 very much 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.