3-dimentional surround sound home theater and spatial audio is becoming more popular and accessible than ever before, and 7 channel systems are the simplest and least expensive entry point to it. It’s not surprising, thus, that budget friendly 7 channel receivers are becoming one of the most in demand audio products.
A 7 channel system is the minimum level where compatibility with Dolby Atmos starts. Dolby Atmos introduced height channels to surround sound and is still the flagship technology that most media uses for true 3-d audio.
But the 7 channel threshold is where receivers start to look complicated and get pretty expensive. This can definitely be daunting to the non-experts out there – higher end receivers have a seemingly dizzying amount of inputs, knobs, switches, features, specs and what not.
You’re probably wondering: What do I actually need? What’s worth paying for? And how much so? We’re going to fully cover that in this article
First, What is a 7.1/7.2 Channel Receiver Exactly?
Incase you didn’t already know: a receiver is the central hub of any home music or theater system – it’s what all the components of a system hook up to, and it tells them how they should all function together.
The X.X format simply refers to the number of speakers and subwoofers a receiver can power. So, a 7.2 channel receiver has inputs for seven main speakers and two subwoofers. Most 7 channel sound systems use two left/right front firing speakers, a center speaker, two left/right surround speakers, and two “off plane” height based speakers that are angled and point up or down to the viewer focal point. Sometimes a 7 channel system is denoted as 5.1.2, meaning five “on plane” speakers, one subwoofer, and two overhead speakers.
Who Actually Needs a 7+ Channel Receiver?
7+ channel systems are mainly designed for home theater use with movies or video games that are formatted with 3-d surround sound, where the direction a sound is coming from can noticeably affect the “feel” while watching or playing, for example an explosion coming from the sky.
When it comes to just listening to music, it’s possible that a 7+ channel system could enhance musicality noticeably enough to be worth the extra cost, but, if musical fidelity is your main goal, it’s more likely you’ll get better sound just by investing in a higher end pair of speakers and a single subwoofer. But, spatial audio is becoming more and more popular, and it might not be too long before songs and albums start to get formatted for 3-d surround sound.
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’s actually important and that we like to see at a minimum:
Dolby Atmos Compatibility
This is a must-have feature on any 7+ channel receiver and is kind of the whole point of adding height based speakers to a system. Most 7 channel receivers will be Dolby Atmos compatible, but, it’s not a bad idea to double check.
Enough 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.
The truth is that most people won’t ever come close to running into power issues with residential systems. 100+ watts per channel is enough power for 99+ percent of speakers that are available. That said, if you like to really crank the volume up or are running speakers that require an unusually large amount of power, it’s once again good to at least check that the receiver you’re looking at has a high enough rating.
Another good inclusion to have that’s related to power are pre-out terminals for at least the main left and right speaker channels – pre-out terminals give you the option of connecting a separate additional amplifier to power the speakers and take some of the load off of the main amplifier built into the receiver.
Good Build Quality
Heat is the longevity and efficiency killer of electronics, and receivers generate a lot of heat. A big chassis might look less slick and more bulky, but it’s generally important for giving the components enough space to breathe. On a somewhat related note here: make sure wherever you place your receiver gives it enough space to disperse heat sufficiently, and don’t ever put anything directly on top of your receiver.
When you get up to 7 channels good EQ balance and room correction becomes all the more important, and various companies have released software that does, among potentially a lot of other things, automatic EQ adjustments. How it works is you connect a mic (usually included) into the receiver and it goes through a diagnostic routine, playing sounds from your connected speakers, then the receiver will optimize the EQ based on those results. EQ software will never be quite as good as a person tinkering things themselves to their liking, but it can get you close and be a lazy person’s 80/20 rule solution.
7 channel receivers are the point where products can get fairly expensive, so its good to have decent warranty coverage just in case. Two years is the fairly standard minimum for budget receivers, but you can find 3+ year warranties on some 7 channel products.
Other Miscellaneous Features
The receiver market has expanded vastly in just the last few years, and there are honestly a ton of inputs and features that you can choose from now with the sheer variety of options. Take time to make sure any receiver you pick has the things you want – e.g., Bluetooth compatibility, a nice smartphone control app, specialty inputs for niche equipment like a turntable for example, etc.
Is It Important For a 7 Channel Receiver to Have 8k Compatibility in 2023?
Honestly, no. Because, even if you did have an 8k TV, there’s still very little 8k media that’s available – none of the major streaming platforms offer 8k resolution yet.
8k will likely become a standard inclusion within several years, so this discussion will become moot eventually, but for now, if you find a great deal on a 7 channel receiver that doesn’t have 8k, don’t let that stop you from pulling the trigger on a great deal.
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 Current Picks For The Best 7 Channel Receivers In 2023
Now for a few specific recommendations for products we like, based on what people commonly want:
Ultra Budget Option – The Pioneer VSX-834
Pioneer has often been the winner of the least-expensive-as-possible competition for various types of AV receivers, and they win again here with the VSX-834. It’s a bit dated, released circa 2019, but it still covers everything on our essential check list and is the best deal we’ve seen on a 7 channel receiver in 2023 by a significant margin.
The back input panel is minimalist – the surround speakers terminals are small spring clips and it doesn’t have accessory inputs like a phono to connect a turntable for example, but, with this minimalism also comes simplicity. If you’re looking for an inexpensive-as-possible option to get you up and running with 7 channel 3-d surround sound, the VSX-834 is a great option.
Get the VSX-834 7.2 Channel AV receiver on Amazon (affiliate link)
Budget Option Honorable Mention – The Sony STR-DH790
The STR-DH790 has been on our list for years now, and despite being an older product as well (released circa 2018), it’s still a very popular seller. Like the VSX-834 it still hits everything on our essential checklist for a similarly very low price.
The STR-DH790 back input panel is also minimalist and doesn’t have accessory inputs, like phono once again, that some people might want, but is similarly an inexpensive essentials-only option to get you up and running with 7 channel 3-d surrounds round.
The reason the Pioneer VSX-834 comes out slightly ahead is that it has a pre-out input as well as a little more power per channel. But a lot of people won’t need either of those, and the STR-DH790 does have a better 2 year warranty than the VSX-834’s 1 year warranty which is very bare minimum. So, if you happen to see a deal on the Sony model? Definitely nothing wrong with pulling the trigger there.
Get The STR-DH790 7.2 channel AV receiver on Amazon (affiliate link)
The Slim and Aesthetic Option – The Marantz NR1711
If there’s a company that really tries to make their receivers look good – and we realize this does matter to some people – its Marantz, and the NR1711 is right in that conversation. There’s utility in the aesthetics too – this receiver is very small and compact if you need something that can fit in a smaller spot.
And yet they somehow manage to cram in a truly comprehensive input selection – there are binding posts for all the speaker terminals, a plethora of RCA inputs including phono and pre outs if you need them, and 6 HDMI ports if you need them. The NR1711 also has built-in compatibility with all the popular music streaming services as well.
The downside though? It’s more expensive and has less power per channel than either the STR-DH790, but it also has a superior 3 year warranty to those of both the VSX-834 and STR-DH790.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between a 5 channel and 7 channel receiver
The main difference is that 7 channel receivers can add two height based speakers and offer fully immersive 3-d sound with Dolby Atmos
Is upgrading to 7.2 surround sound worth the money?
If you’re a home theater and movie enthusiast, yes, upgrading to 7 channels and adding height based surround sound with Dolby Atmos will take immersion to an entirely new level.
Do I need a 7 channel receiver to use Dolby Atmos?
Yes, 7 channels is the minimum required number of channels for Dolby Atmos, and any 7 (or higher) channel receiver that’s compatible with the technology will specifically say so.
Will 7+ channel speakers make music sound better?
Possibly, but unlikely. Spatial audio is still a very new technology – not many streaming services offer it and additionally not many songs and albums have been mixed for it yet. If you want to get maximum music quality for your dollar, you’re probably better off investing in a 2.1 system with higher end speakers.
Thinking about going bigger? Check out our similar roundup articles for higher channel receivers: