To get the best out of your bookshelf speakers, you need to invest in a receiver that can properly drive them. You can buy a two-channel stereo receiver or you can buy an AV receiver, the latter of which is what you want if you’re connecting it to your TV and building a home theater system. If you’re only looking for an audio experience, however, a stereo receiver is the simpler, cheaper and arguably the all-around better option.
A stereo receiver is great for people who just want to listen to music, either streaming from your smartphone or from a CD player or turntable. As far as which receiver to buy, it should, of course, depend on how you plan on listening to music. But it should also come secondary to your speakers. A good rule of thumb, as far as the entry-level price bracket is concerned, is that the receiver shouldn’t cost more than your bookshelf speakers. That’s why we set a price cap at $500. Below, we’ve listed our favorite entry-level receivers under $500 to pair with your bookshelf speakers.
Best Budget: Yamaha R-S202BL Stereo Receiver
The Good: This Yamaha R-S202 is one of our favorite 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 great stereo audio. It can easily connect to your existing CD player or turntable. It 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.
Key Features: speaker selector lets you switch between two sets of speakers, built-in Bluetooth
Watts per Channel: 100-watts x 2, 8 ohms
Editor’s Pick: Onkyo TX-8220 Stereo Receiver
The Good: You can’t beat the Onkyo TX-8220’s combination of great sound and affordability. It has a RCA output so you can add a powered subwoofer. And, thanks to its A/B speaker connections, you can connect a second pair of bookshelf speakers, say if you want to have them play in separate room in your house.
Watch Out For: Some might not like its bulkiness or fairly ordinary design.
Key Features: subwoofer output, A/B switching for two different speaker pairs, AM/FM tuner, built-in Bluetooth
Watts per Channel: 45-watts, 8 ohms
The Hi-Fi Upgrade: Cambridge Audio AXR85 Stereo Receiver
The Good: The British hi-fi maker Cambridge Audio makes some of our favorite audio products and it’s actually rare for them something at such an entry-level price point. The AXR85 is excellent stereo reciever that’s pretty powerful and has a beautiful brushed aluminum front pane. It has a mono RCA output in case you want to add a powered subwoofer, and its front-panel A/B switching allows you to connect two pairs of bookshelf speakers and switch between them. With built-in Bluetooth, it’s also easy to stream audio straight from your smartphone.
Watch Out For: It’s more expensive than most other entry-level stereo receivers.
Key Features: subwoofer output, front-panel A/B switching, built-in Bluetooth, AM/FM tuner
Watts per Channel: 85-watts, 8 ohms
Most Features: Denon CEOL RCD-N10
The Good: Denon’s all-in-one hi-fi receiver has a little bit of everything. Yes, it’s a solid stereo reciever, but it built-in CD player and FM tuner. It also has built-in Wi-Fi, which allows it to connect to your home’s network and then easily stream music from Spotify or Tidal directly from the CEOL RCD-N10. It also has built-in Bluetooth and supports Apple AirPlay 2, so you can stream from your smartphone just as easily, too.
Watch Out For: You’re paying for the features and multitude of streaming options, not necessarily the power of the amp of the quality of the music player (although it’ll have no problem powering a pair of passive bookshelf speakers). Its design isn’t for everyone.
Key Features: integrated CD player, FM tuner, subwoofer output, built-in Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth compatibility
Watts per Channel: 65-watts, 4 ohms