It seems as if the AV receiver market is finally starting to reach some semblance of stability. By that, I simply mean that after a few years of chasing new HDMI connectivity, new sound formats, new wireless streaming features and the like every year, it's a pretty safe bet that if you buy a new AVR today, you won't regret it next year (unless, that is, you're teetering so precariously on the bleeding edge that you think you'll need HDMI 2.1 in its full implementation when it starts to trickle out in the coming year).
My evidence for this? Denon's AVR-X4500H, which is so remarkably similar to its forebear, the AVR-X4400H (reviewed here), that most people would be hard-pressed to notice the difference. A few legacy inputs have been renamed (its component video ins, for example, are now labeled "DVD" and "Media Player" instead of "CBL/SAT" and "DVD") and the front-panel controls and I/O under its flip-down door have been updated (including the removal of its front composite video and stereo RCA ins, but the addition of an improved navigation pad). A few navigational rewordings and tweaks can also be found here and there. But for the most part, this season's AVR-X4500H is largely a reincarnation of last season's AVR-X4400H, save for the inclusion of one noteworthy feature: IMAX Enhanced support.
We'll dig into that in a bit, but first, let's assume you don't have the specs sheet of the older AVR-X4400H committed to memory and you want to know what the AVR-X4500H delivers on its own terms. In short, it's a 9.2-channel AVR with 11.2-channel preamp outputs, not 9.2 as the specs on Denon's website would indicate.
In addition to the aforementioned IMAX Enhanced, it decodes all of the latest Dolby and DTS formats, including Atmos and DTS:X, as well as Auro3D (with no add-ons or upcharges). It features seven rear and one front HDMI input, two main-zone and one second-zone HDMI output, all of which support HDCP 2.2 copy protection, Dolby Vision, HDR10, and Hybrid Log Gamma. The receiver also supports a couple of features from the impending HDMI 2.1 spec, including eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel) and ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode), but not, of course, 10K/120fps video passthrough.
With two channels driven, the AVR-X4500H is rated to deliver 125 watts per channel into an 8-ohm load (measured 20 Hz to 20 kHz, with 0.05 percent THD). Feed it the latest Atmos release on UHD Blu-ray and push all nine channels to their limits, and you won't be getting that amount of output per channel, of course, but power ratings are a tricky and sometimes misleading thing. For a real-world understanding of how much amplification the X4500H delivers, take this into consideration: it's enough to push a full Atmos speaker system to roughly reference listening levels in my 13- by 15- by 8-foot secondary home theater system without too much stress or strain.
Other features of note include Amazon Alexa voice control, Apple AirPlay 2, and of course, Sound United's own HEOS multiroom streaming ecosystem.
One thing that we receiver reviewers easily lose perspective on is that we tend to install and operate fifteen or twenty new AVRs for every one that even the most enthusiastic consumer is likely to procure. So, while it's easy for me to look at the ergonomics and navigation of the AVR-X4500H and think, "been there, done that," if I step back and compare this experience to that of just a handful of years ago, it starts to become clearer just how far we've come.
In short, the back-panel configuration of the X4500H, while not out of line with the rest of Denon's offerings since circa 2013, is still worthy of recognition, if only for the fact that so few other companies have had the wherewithal to rip off this ingenious binding post configuration.
Instead of the standard cluster of vertically stacked binding posts, its eleven pairs of speaker connectors are lined up side-by-side along the bottom of the chassis. That was handy as hell in the 5.1 days, but with so many speaker connections to keep up with, and so many HDMI connections to make, the space between those two most common interconnects and the ease with which you can keep the former sorted out can't be overstated. I imagine that's doubly true if you're using bare wire speaker connections, but even with banana clips, the generous spacing and logical layout of Denon's binding posts is going to earn kudos from me until it's the industry standard.
The UI, too, deserves recognition. Yes, it's the same hand-holding interface you're almost certainly familiar with if you have a Denon receiver from the past few years, but it's a big step up from the Commodore VIC 20-style onscreen menus that still haunt recent memory. When you turn the receiver on for the first time, it does a great job of walking you through input assignment, speaker configuration, etc., one step at a time, until the system is ready to rock.
If I have any nits to pick here, I rather wish that the onscreen UI did a better job of spelling out: "Hey, so, if you're about to run room correction, just know that we have this $20 MultEQ Editor app that does a much better job, and lets you customize the room correction and processing enhancements to your taste, but if you wanna go that route, you need to use the app from the giddy-up or you're going to have to do it all over again."
At any rate, as is usually the case, I installed the X4500H in a handful of different configurations. With it set up for 5.2 (relying on RSL's CG3 Home Theater Speaker System), I used the MultEQ Editor app to set an upper limit of 600Hz on Audyssey's processing. With Atmos configurations, in which I added a quartet of GoldenEar SuperSat 3s to the mix overhead, I let Audyssey do its thing all the way up to 20kHz on those four speakers, with the same 600Hz threshold applied to the rest. Midrange Compensation (also known as the BBC Dip) wasn't a factor for the main bed speakers as a result, but I disengaged it for the overheads when playing around with Atmos.
The MultEQ Editor app's configuration of levels and delays was absolutely spot on, and I only had to tweak the crossover setting for one speaker. For some odd reason, it wanted to set the crossover for the RSL CG23 center speaker at 40Hz (huh?!) instead of the much more appropriate 80Hz or (my preference) 100Hz.
All told, I had the receiver out of the box and fully operation in less than half an hour, and that includes adding it to my Control4 system. As with all network capable AVRs from Denon these days, the X4500H supports Control4 SDDP (Simple Device Discovery Protocol), which means that its IP driver auto-identified itself from within the Control4 Composer Pro programming software, and I didn't have to worry about setting a static IP.
One other nice touch is that the receiver came out of the box with IP control engaged (something you used to have to hunt and peck for). I also just as quickly set up the HEOS module and drivers for Control4, and had a fully functional AV system and multiroom streaming music system connected and configured in less time than it takes to prepare a proper bowl of stone-ground grits.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...