Top Picks Processors

< $999
Outlaw Audio Model 975 Surround Processor: $549
In a category where most manufacturers add bells and whistles, Outlaw has gone in the opposite direction with a streamlined, simple-to-use processor that’s tailor-made for budget-minded enthusiasts. For $549 you get high-performance 192-kilohertz/24-bit DACs, excellent video processing with 1080p upconversion as well as DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD playback. Referring to the opening scene of Iron Man 2 on Blu-ray, reviewer David Vaughn wrote: “My jaw literally dropped... Directional cues were seamless between the speakers with phenomenal imaging and deep bass.” (May 2013, Read Full Review)
Emotiva UMC-200 Preamp/Processor: $599
If you’re looking for a workman-like pre/pro that trades frills for a heavy dose of audio performance, open another browser and grab your credit card—your search is over. In the words of reviewer David Vaughn, the entry-level UMC-200 “serves up an astounding value.” True, it is devoid of video processing, analog video inputs and networking amenities but it supports virtually every surround format and puts four HDMI 1.4 inputs and an 11-band parametric EQ at your fingertips. Most important, its audio prowess will blow you away—especially when you consider how little you have to pay to get it. (HomeTheater.com, Read Full Review)
Elac Element EA101EQ-G Integrated Amplifier/DAC: $699
Elac, the German brand whose latest Andrew Jones-designed speaker systems have won accolades from Sound & Vision and others, has come up with an integrated amplifier that is both compact and multi-talented: The mini power block doubles as a USB DAC, a sophisticated room/subwoofer equalizer, a headphone amp, and an app-enabled Bluetooth receiver. All that in a chassis that’s only 8.4 x 2.1 x 11.6 inches. (April 2017, Read Full Review)
$1,000 to $1,999
NuForce AVP-18 Surround Processor: $1,095
The AVP-18 is an all-digital surround processor that can turn your living room into a concert venue with just the right amount of reverb. It’s simple to operate and boasts a proprietary calibration system that lets great recordings really strut their stuff. Reviewer Fred Manteghian was blown away: “The AVP-18 is sleek, simple, and from my view, stupendous. Sound quality is completely first rate and far and above what could be accomplished at this price point had NuForce decided to play the features game.” (February/March 2014, Read Full Review)
Integra DHC-40.2 Surround Processor: $1,200
The 7.2-channel DHC-40.2 offers THX Ultra2 certification and a bevy of modern features that includes Internet audio and home network streaming, along with most of the modern amenities of top-end AVRs such as Audyssey room correction. Reviewer David Vaughn noted that “If you’re looking to enter the world of separates on a budget, be sure to put this Integra at the top of your list. It’s one of the best values I’ve come across in years.” (February 2011, Read Full Review)
Marantz AV7005 Surround Processor: $1,599
Scheduled to be replaced in late 2012 by the AV7701 ($1,699). Reviewer Michael Fremer liked the highly-loaded 7.2-channel AV7005 so much he purchased it as has reference surround processor following his evaluation. “The Marantz AV7005 offers preemptive state-of-the-art features, impressive ergonomics, inviting sonic performance, and even good looks,” he wrote, calling it “flat out brilliant.” (April 2011, Read Full Review)
$2,000 to $4,999
Parasound Halo P 7 Preamp: $2,000
An unusual home theater component, in that the P7 has no digital audio processing and is merely a high quality 7-channel analog preamp designed to be mated with a separate standalone surround processor or A/V receiver with full 7.1-channel preamp outputs. The idea is that it provides future-proof high-end analog amplification and allows the use of a relatively inexpensive (and more readily replaced) AVR to provide the latest surround sound modes and features. It’s pass-through feature may also be attractive to those who wish to retain an existing high-end 2-channel system while switching their two front speakers for surround-sound use. (June 2012, Read Full Review)
Onkyo PR-RZ5100 Surround Processor: $2,399
The PR-RZ5100 is more or less an updated version of Onkyo’s flagship TX-RZ3100 ($3,299) receiver that trades the power section for 11.2 channels worth of pro-style XLR balanced outputs so you can bring your own amplifier to the party. It brings Dolby Atmos and DTS:X processing into the fold along with 4K/HDR passthrough and is an all-around stellar performer. Commenting on the DTS:X soundtrack for Yuma, reviewer Daniel Kumin said he was “rewarded with a big, sweeping sound field that powerfully supported this finely drawn Western.” (October 2017, Read Full Review)
Emotiva XMC-1 Surround Processor: $2,499
The XMC-1 is an intelligently engineered AV preamp/processor with a number of clever extras, almost all of which contribute genuine value in enhancing the audio or user experience. Among them are high-resolution audio compatibility, an 11-band parametric EQ, and the fascinating Dirac Live room-correction system. There’s even an AM/FM tuner. Reviewer Dan Kumin called the XMC-1 a “high performer and an honest high-end value.” (July/August 2015, Read Full Review)
Integra DHC-80.3 Surround Processor: $2,600
Integra’s best prepro is a bargain by high end standards, and comes bloated with all the latest surround modes and Internet-streaming features, as well as Audyssey’s most sophisticated room correction scheme, MultEQ XT32, which worked extremely well, according to reviewer Kris Deering. “At the end of the day, this is the reason to own this processor,” he said. “I love the other bells and whistles the DHC-80.3 brings to the table, but this is one feature that stands to noticeably improve the sound of your system.” (February 2012, Read Full Review)
Anthem AVM 60 A/V Processor: $2,999
One of only two separates on our 2016 Top Picks of the Year list, the AVM 60 gives you up to 13 channels to work with and skips features you don’t need in favor of focusing on stuff that counts, including an intuitive interface, Anthem’s awesome ARC room-correction system, 4K/60 HDMI 2.0a/HDCP 2.2 video switching, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X decoding, and pristine sound. Anthem even throws in multiroom wireless streaming courtesy of DTS PlayFi. (January 2016, Read Full Review)
Yamaha Aventage CX-A5100 Surround Processor: $3,000
The CX-A5100 is an incredible value in the sub-$5,000 pre/pro market, offering audiophile sound quality, best-in-class control for iOS and Android devices, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support, and many other features that will keep an AV enthusiast happy until the next upgrade cycle comes around. Reviewer Mark Fleischmann concluded: “I’ve really enjoyed my time with the Yamaha CX-A5100, and frankly, I could live with this pre/pro in a heartbeat if I hadn’t recently upgraded.” (January 2016, Read Full Review)
Yamaha CX-A5000 Surround Processor: $3,000
The top dog in Yamaha’s vaunted Aventage line, the 11.2-channel CX-A5000 offers all the amenities an audiophile could want—no-expense-spared build quality, sophisticated room correction (via the proprietary YPAO-R.S.C. system), Ultra HD video scaling, a full array of connections—including seven HDMI inputs and balanced inputs and outputs—and, of course, impeccable sound quality. “Surefire winner” was how reviewer Mark Fleischmann put it. “Whether it was two-channel stereo, streamed FLAC files from my home server, or multichannel tracks from Blu-ray concert discs, I was never left wanting…” (January 2014, Read Full Review)
Marantz AV8801 Surround Processor: $3,599
The AV8801 is one serious surround processor. This baby is packed with state-of-the-art goodies, including support for an 11.2-channel system with Audyssey DSX or DTS Neo:X processing, 4K video capability, six HDMI 1.4a inputs, a bevy of streaming services, and Apple’s AirPlay. It’s also the first Marantz product to use Audyssey’s acclaimed MultEQ XT32 room correction system, which left reviewer David Vaughn stunned: “I didn’t realize how much better the piece could sound until I took the 30 minutes to run the program. Wowza, what an experience!” (May 2013, Read Full Review)
Rotel RAP-1580 Surround Amplified Processor: $3,800
Forget Rotel’s awkward moniker and focus on what matters: The RAP-1580 kicks ass in almost every way, starting with a brawny 7 x 150-watt Class A/B amp, support for 192/24 hi-res audio, and copious connections, including 8 HDMI inputs and a phono jack. “The RAP-1580 delivers sterling sound with especially satisfying dynamics and rich timbre,” wrote reviewer Mark Fleischmann. “Is it worth $3,800? On the basis of sound quality, unquestionably.” But there is a potential fly in the ointment: Dolby Atmos and DTS:X configurations are limited to 5.1.2 channels without external amplification. (November 2017, Read Full Review)
Marantz AV8802 Surround Processor: $3,999
An update of the Top Pick-rated AV8801, the 8802 comes highly recommended by reviewer David Vaughn who praised it for delivering superb multichannel and two-channel performance. The processor not only holds the line with five-star ratings across the board—except in Value, where it nets a still honorable 4.5—but brings something very special to this high-end audio party: Dolby Atmos surround-sound processing. Prefer Auro-3D or DTS:X? No problem, thanks to firmware upgrades—the Auro-3D update is available now for $199 and the DTS:X update is due out by the end of 2015. (June 2015, Read Full Review)
Cary Audio Design Cinema 12 Surround Processor: $4995
It wasn’t without some ergonomic quirks, and its stripped-down, purist audio means it offers video switching of your HDMI sources, but no video processing or upscaling. But, as with most of Cary’s audio gear we’ve tested in the past, the Cinema 12 knocks it out of the park on sound quality. Reviewed with its matching power amp, “the Cinema 12 was superbly musical, and the Model 7.125 [power amplifier] has the ability to re-create music with the startling dynamics of a live event…Yes, goose-bumping good,” noted reviewer Fred Manteghian. (March 2012, Read Full Review)
$5,000 >
McIntosh MX121 Surround Processor: $6,000
It’s not cheap, but McIntosh’s newest surround processor is it’s least expensive by far and performed brilliantly well when mated with the company’s new MM7055 7-channel amplifier. It’s based loosely on AV7005 prepro from sister brand Marantz and has a somewhat similar (though more truncated) feature set, combined with both cosmetic and performance enhancements. (June 2012, Read Full Review)
Krell Foundation Surround Processor: $6,500
Drawing on technology developed for Krell’s $30,000 flagship Evolution 707 pre/pro, the aptly named Foundation celebrates sonic realism in favor of extraneous features. There is no onboard Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/AirPlay connectivity, no Netflix or Pandora apps, and no video processing. What you do get is an unwavering focus on sound. As reviewer Michael Fremer put it: “The 3D edition of Life of Pi sounded as it looked: truly three-dimensional…“The result was a giant, floating, shimmering, non-mechanical ether in the room approached but once before in my room...The Foundation made me want to sit and listen. And that’s what it’s all about.” (April 2014, Read Full Review)
Wadia Digital Intuition 01 Integrated Amplifier-DAC: $7,500
The Intuition 01 is a welcome step toward the Audiophile System of the Future, combining 2x190-watt amplification, sophisticated digital-to-analog conversion facilities, input-selection, and volume control in a unique, swooping chassis that screams cutting-edge. Setup is a simple matter of plugging in an audio source—be it Mac/PC or SACD player—and kicking back to experience treasured recordings in all of their high-rez glory. Listening to a DSD recording of a Mozart violin concerto, reviewer Daniel Kumin wrote: “I heard a purity of violin tone, particularly of the highest notes, that I’d rarely if ever encountered from my system.” (SoundandVision.com, Read Full Review)
Denon AVP-A1HDCI Surround Processor: $7,500
We reviewed the 12-channel, THX Ultra2-certified AVP-AHDCI back in 2009, and Denon has kept it in the line and continued to upgrade it to where it now offers Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room correction, all the latest Dolby surround modes (including PLIIz for height channels), and the Denon’s current spate of Internet music services. A truly unique component that, according to reviewer Kris Deering, had “the lowest noise floor I’ve heard in my system. Even when I put my ear right up against my loudspeakers with the system on, I couldn’t detect any noise at all. It’s this kind of noise floor that makes music playback a transporting experience.” (September 2009, Read Full Review)
Bryston SP3 Surround Processor: $9,500
The old “straight-wire-with-gain” adage applies to Bryston’s flagship processor, which forgoes legacy video connections in favor of eight HDMI inputs and provides an Ethernet jack for firmware updates so you won’t have to worry about obsolescence. Whether you’re listening to a vinyl LP or watching a movie on Blu-ray, prepare to be amazed. Reviewer Fred Manteghian singled out Zombieland’s pristine DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack for “excellent dialogue intelligibility” and called the gunshots in Safe House “extremely realistic.” (January 2013, Read Full Review)
Classe CT-SSP Surround Processor: $9,500
Another example of the bare-bones hardcore audiophile approach taken by a handful of high end audio companies, the Classe CT-SSP is both expensive and stripped down compared with most of today’s Japanese-designed modern receivers and preamp/processors, though it offers HDMI video switching and has been updated since our review to HDMI 1.4 to accommodate 3D video and Audio Return Channel. Bells and whistles are not why you buy it, said reviewer Fred Manteghian, who called it’s sonics “smooth and highly detailed.” (Oct 2012, Read Full Review)

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