Should I upgrade my Home theater AV receiver?

No one can give a straightforward and definitive answer on whether you should upgrade your receiver as you may often find workarounds to the issues you have with the AVR.

But there are several reasons why a home theater user may want to upgrade his/her receiver but more often than not an upgrade is not always necessary, especially if you have had your AV receiver for less than five years.

An upgrade does not always mean better but in some cases, it may be worth the investment. Only do an upgrade for your home theater receiver when you have to, such as with a major change in sound and video processing. An example of this would be an upgrade for better 3D processing modes such as Dolby Atmos, more and better HDMI connections, and even an upgrade for 4K.

In this guide, I will go through the various reasons why you may want to upgrade your AVR to a newer version with newer technology.

However, before we get into the reasons for doing it, we should first look at how long HT receivers last.

How long does a home theater receiver last?

With great care, an AVR can last you for between 30 and 40 years. However, this can only be possible if;

  • You do not overdrive it.
  • Ensure that it always has great air circulation for adequate cooling.
  • Keep it dust-free.
  • Protect it from heat surges and brownouts using a surge protector or power conditioner.
  • Do not drop it or place heavy objects on it, of course.

This is why you find some home theaters that have receiver dating back to the early 90s where they are mainly used for listening to music. It is because most of the receivers from this period were made with superior quality and can even outperform some of today’s receivers in some tasks.

But considering how fast technology changes, even 30 years is too long to have a high-quality receiver. You will often find that you are left behind when it comes to newer technologies and better hardware.

With that in mind, your receiver will often last you for about 10 years with firmware updates from the manufacturer. But updates can only be done up to a certain point where the hardware and chipset can no longer support further updates.

This means that with some workarounds, 10 years is a great lifespan for a high-quality receiver after which you can upgrade and use the AVR in another room or even keep it as part of your tech collection.

I have never been big on selling older tech unless it is the only option left to get more money for a highly necessary upgrade.

So, here are some of the main reasons why you may want to upgrade your receiver for today’s standards.

Reasons to Upgrade your Home Theater Receiver

1.      Better video processing

Upgrading your home theater receiver may come out of the necessity to switch from 1080p to 4k because most of the older AVRs do not support the transmission of 4K through HDMI. However, this will only make sense if you recently bought a 4K projector or TV and if you have access to a wide range of 4K content.

Most 4K-compatible receivers in the market today can pass 4K bandwidth signals using HDMI 2.0 but what you should look for is an AVR with HDMI 2.1 connections that are HDCP 2.2 compliant.

HDCP is an HDMI feature that stands for High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection with 2.3 being the latest version of HDCP. This is a copy-protected means of UHD 4K transmission but for this to work, you will need to have a source and a display chain that is capable of the same.

Having HDMI 2.1 connectors and HDCP will also make you future-proof as you will also be able to transmit 8K content once it becomes available to consumers worldwide as you will also be eligible for future firmware upgrades. But with the release of future gaming consoles such as PS5 capable of 8k, having a Receiver that can transmit 8k content would be a step up.

But when choosing an HDCP 2.2 receiver, you should also look at the bit rate/transfer speeds that it is capable of over HDMI 2.0 or HDMI 2.1 connections and HDMI 2.0a for HDR content.

However, if you are not ready to upgrade because of 4K but have access to 4K content and a 4 display, you can feed your content directly to the display and bypass the receiver. You can then run an audio cable from your source to the receiver for audio processing.

This can also apply to smart TVs which are now the go-to for most 4K streaming needs. In this case, you can use HDMI ARC to transfer audio to and from your TV and your receiver. But at some point, you may have to upgrade as you add more 4K sources to your home theater set up.

2.      Hi-res stereo and surround sound technology advancements

Av receivers are used as the brains for sound processing in most home theaters. This is where most audio signals are decoded depending on the sound format and the processing modes available on the AV receiver.

Audio processing in receivers is done by digital to analog converters or DACs with the quality of the DAC determining how well the audio is processed before being sent to the amplifier. This is if your source is also high-quality.

The sound quality makes the biggest difference in the experience that you get from your home theater and the processing modes are constantly improving.

However, when upgrading your AVR, you should pay attention to the high-resolution surround sound processing modes. This will include 3D modes such as Dolby Atmos and DTS-X that create a bubble around you for immersive surround sound.

Receivers that can process hi-res 3-dimensional sound will have numbers such as 5.1.2, 5.1.4, 7.1.2, 7.1.4, and so forth. Let use take 5.1.4 as an example. In this case, the receiver will have a total of 11 channels with 3 front channels, 2 surround channels, an LFE channel, and 4 height channels for the third dimension.

These third-dimension channels are where the processed DTS-X and Dolby Atmos sound signals are sent. If your receiver is not capable of processing these formats, you cannot get that immersive 3D effect.

Music nuts should also pay attention to how well the receiver can process stereo sound with processing modes such as pure direct and bi-amping capabilities that will give you the advantage of high-quality and dynamic sound. Your speakers will also need to be capable of bi-amping to use your receiver for the same.

3.      More input and output connections

If you do not have enough input and output port and have resulted in adding HDMI switchers, it may be time to start thinking of an AV receiver upgrade to replace your old AVR.

HDMI ports are arguably the most important and you will need a receiver with at least 5 HDMI ports.

However, this will depend on the number of sources that you have and may not be that important when it comes to an upgrade for most people. A general rule of thumb is to get a receiver with more connectors that you need at the moment.

4.      More speaker channels, Preouts, and multi-zone support

If you are looking to expand your system there are three things that you should pay attention to;

  • More speaker channels
  • A preout section
  • Multizone support

More speaker channels mean that you will have the ability to add more speakers in the future. This should be pretty straightforward depending on the number of speakers you want to add to your current system.

However, it may be confusing what a preout section and multizone support are all about.

Preouts on an AV receiver are used to add more power to certain speakers by adding an external power amplifier or an integrated amplifier. This may not be important for most people but can be a great advantage to an audio nut that wants to have both a high-quality stereo system and home theater surround system in one.

The preout section will have outputs for the subwoofer, the left, center, and right channel preouts, surround channel preouts, and multizone preouts.

Multizone preouts are labeled as Zone 2, Zone 3, and so on. These preouts are used to send more audio signals to speakers in more rooms apart from the home theater room. Zone 2 means that you can send the signals to one more room while zone 3 means that you can send the signals to 2 extra rooms and it goes on.

5.      Wireless connectivity and streaming capabilities

Whether it is network connectivity, Bluetooth, or a combination of the two, having the option to connect your receiver with other devices wirelessly is very important. This is something that older receivers may not have or if they do, they may not be advanced enough for today’s standards.

A receiver with the option to connect with your home internet network using Wi-Fi or ethernet will allow you to stream online content from sites such as Disney+, Pandora, Spotify, Hulu, YouTube, and other similar platforms or your home media server using Plex. It will also come in handy when it comes to remotely control your system using your smartphone or tablet.

Bluetooth will allow you to connect the receiver with other Bluetooth-enabled devices such as your phone for playing music. I would recommend getting an AVR with Bluetooth 5.0 or AptX.

When it comes to wireless streaming, the home theater home receiver will likely have some preloaded apps but should also have an online store where you can get these streaming applications.

6.      An automatic calibration software such as Audyssey

Calibration is something that many people tend to overlook as far as home theater receivers are concerned.

Having an auto-calibration software such as Audyssey, Dirac, or any other proprietary software can come in handy when it comes to setting up things like speaker level, crossover, and even distance. This will save you from the hassle of having to do it manually which can be complicated for most individuals.

However, there are some instances where you may need to manually calibrate your receiver if you are looking for perfection, especially when it comes to sub-woofer crossover frequencies.

How much does a receiver upgrade cost?

When shopping for a replacement for your old receiver there are many brands that you can choose from with the most popular brands being Denon, Marantz, and Yamaha. However, you should also shop around outside these brands to other brands such as NAD, Arcam, Anthem, Sony, Border Control, and the likes.

Doing this will help you to compare different qualities and features that are fitted into each receiver at each price range.

Different receivers from different brands will come at different prices and can range from as low as $200 for entry-level to highs of $3000 for high-end products.

In my opinion, you should have at least $500 to invest in a receiver that will have most of the advanced features and for a worthy investment. For a high-quality AVR that will last you for a decade at least, this is the best price range to start shopping at.

Replacing your old receiver would not be worth it if you do not replace it with a future-proof and high-quality product. If your budget is not enough for a high-quality receiver, hold on to your current AVR, and wait until your budget is right.

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