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...
After learning a valuable lesson recently about the outright necessity of video upscaling (dependent up on the scaling capabilities of one's TV, of course), I started my evaluation of the AVR-X4500H by connecting it to Vizio's P75-F1 in my main media room and running through the gamut of Spears & Munsil's High Definition Benchmark Blu-ray tests, as well as some tinkering with my old HQV Benchmark DVD. In every test, the Denon outperformed the Vizio display's internal scaling and processing, but the improvements were particularly noteworthy with sub-1080p video. Satisfied with this, I moved the receiver into my secondary home theater, where Atmos testing is easier and the size of the room itself is a better fit for the AVR's amps.
As is usually the case, I started my audio evaluation with Blu-ray and UHD Blu-rays I know best, primarily Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition discs. The latter in particular did a great job of spotlighting the AVR-X4500H's ability to crank out some pretty powerful dynamics without falling apart. Regular readers know that select scenes from The Fellowship of the Ring--particularly the scenes in Hollin (before, during, and after the fellowship hides from the swarm of Crebain) and in Moria--are amongst my favorite audio stress tests. In the former, the reverberant processing on Gimli's voice in particular can strain intelligibility a bit, and in the latter the cavernous echoes (combined with the often-esoteric vocabulary) can push it past the point of breaking.
Even when I drove the system to peaks of 99dB or thereabouts, dialogue remained wholly discernible. And this was frankly pretty close to the receiver's output limits (in, again, a 1,560 cubic-foot room with 87dB sensitive speakers about seven feet away; in smaller rooms or with more sensitive speakers, you'll likely be able to play it louder with no problem).
The receiver's Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room correction did a pretty fantastic job of taming the bass from the pair of RSL subs without ever robbing it of authority or impact. And given the self-imposed limitations on the room correction filters detailed above, there were no detrimental effects on imaging, soundstage, timbre, or tonality.
A shift to later seasons of Downton Abbey revealed much the same. This is a series whose utility as a torture test for AVRs may be lost on some readers, but I've heard many a low-priced receiver absolutely soil the bed when trying to keep up with the mix of music, dialogue, roaring racecar engines, and horns in Season Six, Part Seven, Chapter 3: "At Brooklands."
The AVR-X4500H delivered this scene at levels past which I care to watch this period melodrama, without ever introducing any of the edginess or distortion that can so often obscure voices in this dense mix.
When streaming music via the HEOS ecosystem, I had the opportunity to test out the AVR-X4500H's "Restorer" function, which aims to ameliorate some of the deleterious effects of lossy compression. Honestly, with well-mixed, -mastered, and -encoded material like Blues Traveler's "Hook,"
via the Spotify stream of the now quarter-century-old album Four (yeah, no, if I have to come to terms with it, you have to come to terms with it), I didn't find that "Restorer" did much to the music unless I turned it to High, and I frankly preferred it without.
All in all, even in simple 2.1 mode, the receiver cranked out the jamming riffs of the song with oodles of oomph, and rendered the riffy acoustic guitars with plenty of detail. Soundstaging was great. Imaging was great. I found it a little easier to push the receiver into edgy territory with stereo music than with movies, but I never struggled to achieve satisfyingly loud listening levels.
With lesser mixed, mastered, and encoded music, like "When God Comes Back" from All Them Witches' musically excellent but sonically problematic album Lightning at the Door, I found that the "Restorer" processing, even at Medium settings, went a long way toward making this rocking track more palatable to the ears and less grating on the teeth. With that band-aid applied, the song served as a great example of how authoritative the AVR-X4500H can be. Again, I couldn't go cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs with the volume knob, but a solid 85 to 87 dB(A) average from about seven feet away was no sweat for the Denon. I make a point not to listen to music that loudly for more than half an hour or so anyway, even when stress testing amps, so the AVR-X4500H gets good grades from me for movies and music alike.
But what about all this IMAX Enhanced business? Well, for that we unfortunately need another section header.
Don't get me wrong here: I'm not about to pontificate about the uselessness of IMAX Enhanced, or anything of that nature. I might one day, but it's honestly too early to know what to make of this new proprietary... format? DSP? Certification platform?
Whatever IMAX Enhanced is, exactly, it's nascent AF, as the kids would say. I don't have an IMAX Enhanced display for video testing, and of the two discs released thus far in the format--Journey to the South Pacific and A Beautiful Planet--only the latter appeals to me enough to have purchased a copy for use in testing the AVR-X4500H.
But what I found when viewing A Beautiful Planet is that IMAX Enhanced mode basically just cranks up the bass and mucks with your crossovers and makes dialogue at times sound positively gross and weird.
I hesitated to put this observation in the "Downside" section, because it's no fault of the receiver's, of course. And is this just the one disc, or is it indicative of what IMAX Enhanced is going to do as a whole? Insert shrug emoji here.
I'm simply say that for now, we just don't have enough information to know whether or not IMAX Enhanced capabilities will be one of the many feathers in the X4500H's well-adorned cap.
Competition and Comparison
I often find that when helping my friends purchase new receivers, most of them have generally settled on their brand of preference, and are just looking for help deciding which price point to jump in at. So, if you're interested enough in the AVR-X4500H to read a review of it, I'm going to assume that Denon's AVR-X Series is your dartboard and you're just trying to find your bullseye.
The AVR- X3500H might be a good place to start looking. This $1,000 receiver is limited to 7.2 channels of output, and as best I can tell (no hands-on experience with this one yet, sorry), you can't push it past that limitation with external amps. The X3500H lacks the AL32 processing found on the X4500H,
but it does include Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room correction and supports the MultEQ Editor app. As best I can figure, this is also the level at which you first get into independent measuring and processing of dual subs.
Step up from the X4500H to the X6500H ($2,200) and you'll get two extra channels of amplification and a bit more output per channel (140wpc versus the X4500H's 125wpc, measured with two channels driven). A quick peek at the back panel also reveals gold-plated connectors, which the X4500H lacks, and a bit more flexibility in terms of amp assignment.
If you're considering stepping out of the Denon lineup but still want to stay in
the same Sound United family, the Marantz SR7013 ($2,200) looks remarkably similar in terms of overall specs, especially in its power ratings and number of channels, HDMI I/O, etc. But there are a few key differences. The SR7013 of course features Marantz's proprietary HDAM circuitry, which could be a crucial consideration if you plan to use your receiver as a preamp now or down the road. The Marantz also has the front-panel analog audio in and composite video in that the Denon lacks this year, along with an extra component video input around back and--this may be the kicker for a lot of our audience--7.1-channel analog inputs, which I don't think make an appearance in the current Denon lineup until you get to the $4,000, 13.2-channel AVR-X8500H (reviewed here).
I briefly mentioned in the intro the issue of FOMO when buying a new receiver: that impending sense of doom that whatever you buy this year will be rendered obsolete next year. It's true that HDMI 2.1 is on the way, with some displays already starting to support it this year. But the AVR-X4500H, while not supporting the full 48Gbps 2.1 spec, does support its most relevant features for now: eARC and ALLM. If you're all like, "Man, I want access to 10K video sources at 120 frames per second the minute they're available," okay. I'm not here to tell you're wrong. You might want to either wait for the 2020 or 2021 slate of receivers. For most folks, though, I think we've reached a pretty stable market in terms of essential new features.
It remains to be seen whether IMAX Enhanced--one of the big differentiating features of this year's Denon AVR-X Series offerings--will be one of those essential features or not. It's just too new, and my experiences with it, while less-than-promising, aren't conclusive. I guess what I'm saying is that IMAX Enhanced alone isn't a good reason to upgrade to the AVR-X4500H if you're already rocking something like last season's AVR-X4400H.
But if you're upgrading from something older, the inclusion of IMAX Enhanced--even if you hate the very idea of it--is certainly no reason to overlook this great AVR. It sits right in that enviable Goldilocks Zone of AVRs, striking the right balance between price, performance, and features for most people and most mid-sized rooms. It features plenty of HDMI ins, plenty enough speaker outputs for a full-fledged Atmos/DTS:X system without dipping into channel-overload territory, its HEOS multiroom and streaming audio platform is rock solid in my experience, and its support for advanced control systems is pretty freaking fantastic.
• Visit the Denon website for additional specs and information.
• Visit our AV Receivers category page to read reviews of similar products.
•Denon AVR-X4400H AV Receiver Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.