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The Best Stereo Receiver

Jun 15, 2023Jun 15, 2023

We’ve looked over this guide and stand by our recommendations. We added some news about the Onkyo and Pioneer brands to What to look forward to.

If you’re looking for a simple, affordable option to get excellent stereo sound, the Sony STR-DH190 is your best choice in a stereo receiver. It has the essential features most listeners want, including Bluetooth and a phono input for a turntable, and it's easy to set up and use. Our listening tests show that you’d have to spend more than twice as much to get better sound quality.

If you want a step up in sound quality from an all-in-one tabletop speaker, get yourself a stereo receiver and good bookshelf speakers.

Stereo receivers have become more of a niche item in most manufacturers’ lines, so there aren't many new models to test.

We considered receivers priced under $400 that, ideally, have both Bluetooth support and a phono input to connect a turntable.

To ensure fair, unbiased testing, we conducted brand-concealed listening tests and precisely matched the receivers’ volume levels.

The STR-DH190 handles phono, Bluetooth, and more, and it delivers a lot of power for its price.

Our listening panel found that the Sony STR-DH190 sounded as good as any other receiver under $200, and it has the features we think most people consider important in a stereo receiver: Bluetooth (to connect portable devices), a phono preamp (to connect a turntable), and plenty of power. You can find better performance and more features elsewhere, but only at a much higher price. The STR-DH190 has a user-friendly design and remote, too, but it also makes a few sacrifices to reach that ultra-low price: Its speaker-cable connectors are rather flimsy, its proprietary FM-antenna connector is annoying because it forces you to use Sony's cheap supplied antenna, it doesn't have an AM tuner, and it doesn't sound as smooth and natural as our upgrade pick, the Yamaha R-N303.


The R-N303 streams through Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, includes phono and digital inputs, and sounds very good.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $300.

The Yamaha R-N303 is one of the few affordable audio devices that don't lack important features and don't compromise on sound quality. It’ll do practically anything you might want it to do: stream music and Internet radio via Wi-Fi, work as part of a multiroom audio system, play audio from Bluetooth devices, and connect to a record player and TV. It also emerged as the favorite in our listening tests, although it didn't sound radically better than our top pick, the Sony STR-DH190, and it costs a lot more. It's not as user-friendly as the Sony, and the network setup isn't as easy as it could be. The R-N303 may be overkill for many people, but for someone who is willing to pay more to get a great-sounding, network-capable stereo receiver, it's the best choice.

The STR-DH190 handles phono, Bluetooth, and more, and it delivers a lot of power for its price.

The R-N303 streams through Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, includes phono and digital inputs, and sounds very good.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $300.

I’ve reviewed audio gear professionally since 1990. I have written reviews for magazines and websites including SoundStage, Sound & Vision, Home Theater Review, Lifewire, and Home Theater. I’ve probably conducted more brand-concealed tests of audio components than any other journalist, and my home has a dedicated listening room (where we did the tests for this guide) and a fully equipped test bench, as well as equipment I’ve purchased or built specifically for comparison tests like this.

In the course of creating and updating this article, I’ve drafted two different listening panels. The latest panel comprised Dan Gonda, a sax/clarinet/flute player who performs with several Los Angeles groups (including my jazz group, Tonic Trio); and LeRena Major, a Los Angeles–area saxophonist who has worked in a variety of positions in the music industry and is a voting member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Both have served as panelists in several previous listening tests for Wirecutter and SoundStage. My original panel comprised Wirecutter senior staff writer and headphone editor Lauren Dragan, who has also reviewed high-end home-audio equipment for publications such as Home Entertainment, Home Theater, and Sound & Vision, and Wirecutter editor-at-large Geoffrey Morrison, who has written for CNET,, Home Entertainment, Home Theater, and Sound & Vision.

Generally speaking, a receiver combines a power amplifier (which provides the power to drive your speakers), a preamplifier (for selecting sources, controlling volume, and often adjusting tone), and a radio tuner. All of these components are available separately, but most people prefer a receiver because it's usually more affordable—and, as a single, all-in-one component, it requires fewer wires and connections and takes up less shelf space.

We can think of two primary types of buyers who would be interested in a stereo receiver: those who want to listen to vinyl records and those who want a step up in sound quality from that of an all-in-one wireless speaker.

While wireless speakers can sound very good, almost all of them compromise sound quality in favor of a compact size and a decor-friendly design, and few can play as loudly and as clearly as a receiver and good traditional speakers can.

Vinyl records have become popular once again. While some newer turntables have phono preamps and even Bluetooth wireless built in, most good ones do not, making them difficult to connect to wireless speakers. Most stereo receivers have phono preamps built in, so you can plug in a turntable and get good sound with no need to add extra components.

Although all-in-one wireless speakers have passed traditional stereo systems in popularity, none can match the sound quality you can get from a good stereo receiver and speakers, such as the top picks in our best bookshelf speakers guide. For as little as $400, a stereo receiver and a decent pair of speakers easily blow away any all-in-one wireless speaker we’ve tried. Because you can separate the speakers, you get true stereo sound and a thrilling sense of musicians performing live in the room with you. While wireless speakers can sound very good, almost all of them compromise sound quality in favor of a compact size and a decor-friendly design, and few can play as loudly and as clearly as a receiver and good traditional speakers can.

The Q Acoustics 3020i is our favorite pair of passive bookshelf speakers, while the Edifier S1000MKII is a great choice if you need a powered speaker set.

Any of the top picks in our best AV receiver guide will deliver far more features than a stereo receiver will, including the ability to power a surround-sound system and the ability to switch video signals and route them to a TV or projector. But AV receivers are notoriously difficult to connect and configure. With stereo receivers, the process is simple: Wire up a couple of speakers, connect whatever sources you want to use (a turntable, a computer, a wireless streaming adapter, an old CD player or tape deck), and then hit the power button and turn up the volume. There's little—or nothing—to configure. Those who understandably want a simple way to play back music will enjoy having so few controls (and no on-screen menus) to mess with.

Stereo receivers have become something of a niche item in most manufacturers’ lines, and two leading producers—Onkyo and Pioneer—were stuck in limbo as their parent company went through myriad difficulties (see What to look forward to for more details). As such, there have been few new product introductions over the past couple of years.

In our original version of this guide in 2018, we limited the price of the receivers we tested to $200. However, we had some requests from readers to explore more expensive models, so we raised the ceiling to $400 for our second round of testing in late 2019. I began my search by scanning Amazon, Best Buy, and other retail websites. I excluded any model that had garnered a significant number of quality complaints on Amazon, and I generally didn't seek out models that seemed similar to another model in the same line but had one or two fewer features.

The only feature we considered mandatory for the receivers we tested was some sort of radio tuner. All but one of the models we tested included a phono input for a turntable, and all but one included Bluetooth. Only one, the Yamaha R-N303, offered built-in Wi-Fi streaming and multiroom audio, but you can upgrade any receiver by adding these features (as well as voice-controlled music and Internet radio playback) via an Amazon Echo Dot or Echo Flex, both of which have an analog output that works with any receiver. (Google's Nest Mini offers only Bluetooth output.)

Power was not an important consideration for this test. The least-powerful receivers we found were rated at 45 watts per channel into 8-ohm speakers, which is enough to drive an average speaker to well over 100 decibels—and that's loud enough to get your neighbors calling the police. In devices such as these, power differences of 10 or 20 watts are not significant. It takes twice as much power to get only 3 dB more volume, which is a just-noticeable difference—the equivalent of turning up a volume knob just slightly. Thus, a 100-watt-per-channel receiver barely plays louder than a 50-watt-per-channel receiver.

In all, we’ve tested seven stereo receivers: the Onkyo TX-8020 and TX-8220, the Pioneer SX-10AE, the Sony STR-DH190, the Yamaha R-S202 and R-N303, and the Cambridge Audio AXR85.

We compared the stereo receivers in the only way that's valid: by using a switcher with the receivers labeled only by number, and by randomizing the order of the receivers for each listener. With this testing setup, there was no way for any listener to tell which receiver they were hearing. To accomplish this, I used a custom-built, remote-controlled switcher with nothing but a single relay, 2-inch-long cables, and a couple of banana plugs and jacks between the receivers and the speakers.

I also took pains to get the volume level of the receivers matched to a high degree of precision: less than ±0.1 dB, a difference too small for the human ear to detect. This is critical to fair testing because if one receiver is only slightly louder than the others, listeners are likely to prefer it. The receivers’ volume knobs, which work in 1 dB steps, weren't precise enough to obtain an adequate match, so I added a Behringer DS8000 distribution amp, which let me match the levels to an accuracy of ±0.03 dB.

The listeners could use whatever music they wanted at whatever volume they wanted, sourced from a laptop computer feeding a Musical Fidelity V90-DAC digital-to-analog converter. We listened through my Revel Performa3 F206 speakers, which at $3,500 per pair are far better than any speaker likely to be used with these receivers, but this way we’d be sure the speakers were good enough to reveal any flaw in the receivers’ sound. Later, I also did some listening with the KEF Q150 and ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2 speakers, both of which are lauded in our best bookshelf speakers guide.

During the brand-concealed testing, I asked each panelist to judge the receivers based purely on sound quality, including these characteristics:

In our original round of tests, our listeners reported hearing slight differences among the receivers but didn't express a consistent preference for any receiver. This wasn't the case in round two, where our listeners clearly preferred the Cambridge Audio AXR85 and Yamaha R-N303 to the much less expensive Sony. Still, we’re talking, as one panelist put it, "teeny, tiny differences."

After the tests were done, I checked out the ergonomics and features of the receivers by using them for many nights of casual listening to digital music streams, vinyl records, and Blu-ray discs, connected to either my Revel Performa3 F206 speakers, the KEF Q150 pair, or the ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2 set.

I concluded by running a few lab measurements of the receivers to make sure they didn't have any technical flaws that our listening tests missed and to see if they lived up to their claimed power-output specifications.

The STR-DH190 handles phono, Bluetooth, and more, and it delivers a lot of power for its price.

We picked the Sony STR-DH190 as the best stereo receiver because it offers the best mix of features, sound quality, simplicity, and affordability. With Bluetooth and a phono preamp on board, plus a front-panel analog input for portable devices, the STR-DH190 is a good fit whether you’re embracing the future or reveling in retro. Its sound quality is equal to that of anything else we’ve tried under $200. Although our panelists were impressed with the STR-DH190's sound overall, they thought it made voices sound slightly harsh and congested compared with what they heard from the more expensive Cambridge Audio and Yamaha models. However, they stressed that the differences were subtle.

Our measurements confirmed that the STR-DH190's power output is substantial: 112 watts per channel into an 8-ohm load, 150 wpc into a 4-ohm load. (These numbers are for 1 kHz, 0.5 percent total harmonic distortion, both channels driven; results at 20 Hz and 20 kHz were similar.) This means the STR-DH190 has enough power to drive almost any pair of speakers to very loud volumes.

The STR-DH190's Bluetooth function offers a couple of nice perks. It includes AAC capability, which means it can produce slightly better sound quality when you use it with Apple iPhones and iPads and the Apple Music service (or any other streaming service that uses AAC). Plus, the receiver automatically powers up when you select it from your Bluetooth source's menu.

The menu system, which you control through the receiver's front-panel display, allows you to access minor conveniences such as the ability to rename the inputs, turn the Bluetooth auto power function on and off, and adjust the level of the phono input so that it's more or less equal to the level of the other inputs. In addition to the phono input, four analog inputs are on the back, along with an analog output for connecting to a tape deck or other recording device and A- and B-zone speaker connectors. The front panel has a ¼-inch headphone jack. The remote is compact but user-friendly.

The STR-DH190 is a good fit whether you’re embracing the future or reveling in retro.

Since we originally published this guide, one other professional review of the STR-DH190 has emerged: a test posted on Audio Science Review. That test involved a much more extensive batch of measurements than we usually perform, and it uncovered two things we didn't. The first is that a bass limiter circuit seems to become active at about 10 watts; according to the measurements we took later, it reduces output below 200 Hz (roughly the G note below middle C on a piano) by about 1 decibel. That's a barely noticeable difference, but it means the bass may sound subtly thinner when you crank the system up to loud levels (with a typical set of speakers, that means above about 95 dB, which is about as loud as a gas lawn mower at close range). The ASR review also notes that the unit failed during a stress test; however, the conditions of this test were extreme and would not be encountered even in very loud music listening. When we wrote our original version of this guide, we read complaints about the receiver's supposedly inadequate power, but our tests showed that perception to be incorrect.

It's easy to see where Sony cut corners to get the STR-DH190's price down. The connectors for the speaker cables are small spring clips, which means you have to use speaker cables of 14 gauge or thinner, and it's easy to dislodge a wire accidentally when you’re connecting and disconnecting other devices.

This model has no AM radio tuner. I personally don't know anyone who uses a traditional stereo system to listen to AM, but if you’d like to, consider our upgrade pick instead (or add an Amazon Echo Dot or Echo Flex to stream your AM station over the Internet). It also lacks a line-level subwoofer output, so if you use a subwoofer, you will have to connect it through an extra set of speaker cables instead of a neater and more reliable line-level connection. For more information on subwoofer connections, check out "The Five Cs of Subwoofer Setup."

The biggest concern is that the FM antenna uses a proprietary connector, which works only with the flimsy, 5-foot-long wire antenna Sony provides. This component should be good enough to pull in most of the stations in an urban area, but people living in the country will probably want a better antenna. It's possible to splice a better antenna onto the Sony antenna. Still, if FM is a priority and you live in an area with reception problems, you might be better off with our upgrade pick.

The R-N303 streams through Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, includes phono and digital inputs, and sounds very good.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $300.

The Yamaha R-N303 is much more expensive than the Sony STR-DH190, but all of our panelists considered its extra cost justified. Not only did it sound subtly better in our listening tests, but it also includes useful features that less-expensive receivers lack, such as Wi-Fi streaming and digital audio inputs. Yet it still comes in at a price that allows you to put together a very good basic audio system for about $500.

Our listening panelists picked the R-N303 as their favorite in our listening tests, and I agreed that it sounded better than the Sony STR-DH190. "It sounds a little richer, a little fuller and more enveloping," panelist LeRena Major said. "The Sony is good, but it sounds a little tinny in comparison." Panelist Dan Gonda agreed: "The lows and highs sound fuller with this one," he said. I slightly preferred the smoother sound of the Cambridge Audio AXR85 because it made cymbals sound more natural and less harsh. But the R-N303's extra features make it a much better value.

The R-N303's strongest selling point is its network connectivity, which lets you use the receiver as part of a multiroom music system and also avoids the range limitations and slight degradation in sound quality you get when streaming via Bluetooth to your receiver. The R-N303 is compatible with Yamaha's MusicCast system, a Wi-Fi streaming technology similar to that of Sonos, and it also works with Apple AirPlay and Google Cast.

To use this feature, you download Yamaha's MusicCast iOS or Android app and then connect the receiver to your Wi-Fi network. MusicCast works exclusively with Yamaha gear and offers only a smattering of the streaming services that Sonos offers, including Deezer, Pandora, SiriusXM, Spotify, and Tidal, although it does also stream Internet radio and can stream from hard drives and computers attached to your network. While I found the MusicCast app considerably less friendly and more complicated to set up than a Sonos network, the AirPlay and Google Cast functionality worked easily. And because those technologies are compatible with a wider variety of streaming services, I expect most R-N303 owners will rely more on those technologies than on MusicCast.

The R-N303 offers plenty of old-tech connectivity, too: coaxial and optical digital inputs, three analog line inputs, and a ¼-inch headphone output. The optical digital input is especially handy if you want to connect a TV set as a source because practically all TVs have optical digital audio outputs. Like the Sony, this receiver has a front-panel on-screen display that lets you adjust minor features such as input level trim.

Our measurements confirmed that the R-N303's power output is similar to that of the Sony STR-DH190: 107 watts per channel into an 8-ohm load, 155 wpc into a 4-ohm load. (These numbers are for 1 kHz, 0.5 percent total harmonic distortion, both channels driven; results at 20 Hz and 20 kHz were similar.) However, the R-N303 does not reduce bass output at higher power levels as the Sony STR-DH190 does.

Although the R-N303 is generous in sound quality and features, it can be rather unfriendly when you try to use it. The long, slim remote is packed with little buttons and hard-to-read labels. The front panel's tiny labels aren't much more accommodating. Wi-Fi setup through the app is clumsy and slow compared with that of a Sonos, Amazon Echo, or Google Home system. Incidentally, the R-N303 works only with 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi networks.

I haven't mentioned yet that the R-N303 is compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Home; you can configure it so that a voice command picked up by a smart speaker controls the receiver. However, the setup is complicated, and because the commands offered are of such limited utility—power on/off, volume, and input select—I didn't find the effort worthwhile. I suggest getting an Amazon Echo Dot or Echo Flex and connecting to that.

Two leading producers of stereo receivers—Onkyo and Pioneer—were stuck in limbo over the past few years as their parent company went through a complicated sales process and, more recently, a bankruptcy. Onkyo's home audio/video business was sold before the bankruptcy and is now owned jointly by Premium Audio Company and Sharp, so it will continue to operate in the US. Also, Premium Audio Company confirmed that it will continue to offer Pioneer-branded products and is investing in new product development. That means we might see new Onkyo and Pioneer stereo receivers in the future.

Cambridge Audio AXR85: This receiver, from a well-known high-end audio brand, is much more costly than our top picks, and two of our three listeners preferred the sound of the Yamaha R-N303.

NAD C 316BEE: Technically, this unit is an integrated amplifier—basically a receiver without a radio tuner. We included it in our original listening tests because it had a reputation for delivering better sound than stereo receivers could, but our tests didn't reveal any consistent sonic advantage, and it's usually more than four times as costly as our top pick.

Onkyo TX-8020: This receiver is our former runner-up pick, long revered for its solid performance and low price, but it has been discontinued.

Onkyo TX-8220: This receiver seemed ideal because it combined Bluetooth, a phono input, and digital audio inputs, but its surprisingly high (and audible) distortion kept it from being a pick.

Pioneer SX-10AE: This receiver also had surprisingly high (and audible) distortion that prevented it from being a pick.

Pyle PDA6BU: This unconventional receiver has a high power rating and several unusual features, but we saw too many quality complaints in its Amazon reviews for us to recommend it confidently.

Pyle PT265BT: Again, too many quality complaints disqualified it from competition.

Sherwood RX-4508: This receiver has a high power rating but too many quality complaints on Amazon.

Sherwood RX-5502: This receiver might be worth checking out if you need something inexpensive that can drive two pairs of speakers to loud volumes easily, but we were deterred by quality complaints on Amazon.

Yamaha R-S202BL: This receiver has Bluetooth but lacks a phono input, and all but one of our listeners said it sounded no better than the Sony STR-DH190.

amirm, Sony STR-DH190 Stereo Receiver Reviewed, Audio Science Review, October 20, 2019

Brent Butterworth

Brent Butterworth is a senior staff writer covering audio and musical instruments at Wirecutter. Since 1989, he has served as an editor or writer on audio-focused websites and magazines such as Home Theater, Sound & Vision, and SoundStage. He regularly gigs on double bass with various jazz groups, and his self-produced album Take2 rose as high as number three on the Roots Music Report jazz album chart.

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