To get the best out of your bookshelf speakers, or even integrate them in a home theater system that you’re building, you need to invest in a receiver that can properly drive them. A two-channel stereo receiver is great if you just want to play music, either streaming from your smartphone or connected them directly to a CD player or turntable. An A/V receiver, on the hand, is the slightly more expensive but practical option, giving you the option to merge those speakers into a multi-channel home theater system.
When deciding which kind of receiver to buy, it’s important to know how you’re planning on using it — strictly audio or for home theater — and what you’re going to use them with. It needs to be compatible with your existing speakers and TV, too. The best thing is that today a great entry-level receiver doesn’t have to cost a fortune. In fact, it shouldn’t cost more than your bookshelf speakers. That’s why we set a price cap at $300. Below, we’ve listed our favorite entry-level receivers under $300 to pair with your bookshelf speakers.
Yamaha R-S202 Stereo Receiver
The Good: This Yamaha R-S202 is one of the entry-level receivers. Its combination of price, looks, ease of use and stellar performance make it a no-brainer for anybody with bookshelf speakers looking to listen to stellar stereo audio. It can easily connect to your existing CD player or turntable. Streams Bluetooth and has a built-in FM/AM tuner, too.
Watch Out For: The Yamaha R-S202 isn’t the newest stereo receiver, having been around since 2016. The remote also feels dated, no backlit keys. If you’re somebody who may one day build out their audio system with more speakers, or connect it to your home theater system, this isn’t the receiver for you. No support for Bluetooth AptX.
Watts per channel: 100-watts x 2, 8 ohms
Key Features: speaker selector lets you switch between two sets of speakers
Pioneer VSX-531 A/V Receiver
The Good: For any beginner who is building out a five-channel (or fewer) home theater system, Pioneer’s VSX-531 is a great entry-level A/V receiver. It has enough HDMI inputs to connect all your consoles and streaming devices to your TV. It has 4K pass-through, so it’ll work with all the newest 4K TVs and it supports most of the latest surrond sound technologies, like DTS:X and Dolby TrueHD. There’s built-in Bluetooth, too, in case you just want to stream a Spotify radio station.
Watch Out For: Like the Yamaha R-S202, the Pioneer VSX-531 was released in 2016. Its remote looks and feels dated, too. There’s no autocalibration, meaning it’ll take a little more effort to set up if your system is in a larger room. It won’t be able to get the most out of powerful speakers.
Watts per channel: 80-watts, 8 ohms
Key features: supports Dolby TrueHD and DTS:X
Onkyo TX-SR373 A/V Receiver
The Good: Released in 2017, Onkyo’s TX-SR373 in an A/V receiver with 4K HDR video pass-through. It has AccuEQ Room Calibration technology, allowing it to optimize audio for your specific room. It supports Bluetooth AptX for hi-fi streaming. Also, there are little graphics/diagrams on the back of the receiver to help guide you through the setup process, which is a nice-but-simple add-on.
Watch Out For: Doesn’t support Dolby Atmos or DTS:X surround sound. No wi-fi streaming.
Watts per channel: 80-watts
Key features: room-calibration software, Bluetooth AptX
Harman Kardon AVR 1610S A/V Receiver
The Good: The AVR 1610S is an affordable, audiophile-grade A/V receiver that will work well with a 5.1 channel system or just a pair of bookshelf speakers and a subwoofer. EzSet/EQ III speaker calibration adjusts the audio so the system sounds best for the room its in. Harman’s GreenEdge technology allows the receiver to be energy efficient, relatively lightweight (10 pounds) and still push a lot of power. It supports Dolby and DTS surround sound technologies. And it has built-in AM/FM tuner and Bluetooth, so you can stream music from your smartphone or tablet. Spotify Premium subscribers can stream via Spotify Connect.
Watch Out For: No built-in wi-fi, so you need to connect via Ethernet to stream via Spotify Connect. It’s a few years old, like the other receivers, and certain features (and remote) can feel dated.
Watts per channel: 85-watts
Key features: GreenEdge technology, supports Dolby and DTS surround sound, Spotify Connect
Denon AVR-S540BT A/V Receiver
The Good: This is a solid entry-level A/V receiver for those with home entertainment system, especially for those who have dual subwoofers. It’s a newer audio component, released in 2018, and has 4K pass-through and is compatible with Dolby Vision and HLG HDR technologies. It can remember up to eight Bluetooth devices. You can also control it with Denon’s smartphone app.
Watch Out For: Doesn’t support DTS:X or Dolby Atmos surround sound technologies.
Watts per channel: 70-watts
Key features: compatible with Dolby Vision and HLG, works with Denon 500 Series Remote app (iOS and Android)
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