Bob Barrett is a versatile writer and knowledgeable hi-fi enthusiast whose work for HomeTheaterReivew.com runs the gamut from mid- to high-end home theater to audiophile components and speakers. He also specializes in high-performance and high-end headphones.
Denon sent me its latest flagship AV receiver, the AVR-X7200WA ($2,999), for review shortly after the company began including the Dolby Atmos surround decoder in new units. Denon calls its new flagship an integrated network AV receiver, and I think that moniker is appropriate. Just a quick scan through the 371-page owner's manual lets you know this receiver has extensive connection options and a rich feature set.
Up front, the faceplate of the AVR-X7200WA has the same clean, minimalist look as the last few generations of upper-end Denon receivers. You'll find just a power/standby button and a source selector knob on the left, the display and a drop-down door to hide additional controls in the middle, and the master volume knob on the right. The 9.2-channel receiver measures 17.1 inches wide by 16.9 inches deep by 7.7 inches high rand weighs 37.7 pounds, and it has a power rating of 150 watts (eight ohms, 20 Hz to 20 kHz, 0.05 percent THD, two channels driven). If you have difficult-to-drive, low-impedance speakers rated at four ohms, it shouldn't be a problem for the Denon flagship.
As far as audio goes, the Denon sports reference-class AK4490 32-bit DACs for every channel, including the subwoofer outputs. These are the exact same DACs found in the highly regarded Marantz AV8802 preamp/processor and are capable of decoding up to 768-kHz PCM and 11.2-MHz DSD files. The Denon also comes loaded with four 32-bit DSP processors to simultaneously handle surround sound decoding (including Dolby Atmos, DTS: X, and Auro 3D) and the full Audyssey Platinum Suite of DSP algorithms, including MultEQ XT32 room correction, Dynamic Volume, Dynamic EQ, Low Frequency Containment, Sub EQ HT, and Dynamic Surround Expansion (DSX). So, Denon's got you covered well into the future as far as hi-res audio file formats go.
Regarding video capabilities, the Denon's video processor can upscale standard-definition and high-definition video sources to 4K Ultra HD. It's also fully compatible with the latest 4:4:4 Pure Color 4K Ultra HD spec and 60-Hz frame rate. In addition, this AVR features full HDCP 2.2 compatibility necessary to playback 4K Ultra HD copy-protected content, and the Denon fully supports both High Dynamic Range and the BT.2020 extended color space standard. So, Denon's got you covered as far as hi-res video goes, too.
Network connection options include wired Ethernet and built-in Wi-Fi, and the receiver has Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay, and DLNA capabilities. In addition to the included remote control, you can also control the receiver from a PC or Apple computer on the same network. Denon also offers separate smartphone and tablet app options for both Windows and iOS devices to control the AVR-Z7200WA.
Overall, this new Denon receiver with nine channels of Class AB amplification can serve as the central hub for quite an extensive AV entertainment network while having the ability to control three different zones simultaneously.
I decided to hook up the 9.2-channel receiver in my family room system, replacing my older model Denon AVR-4308Ci 7.1-channel receiver. That receiver has been bulletproof, getting used practically every day with absolutely no issues since it was purchased in late 2007. I connected the new Denon to a Pioneer Elite Kuro display, a DirecTV Genie HD DVR, an Apple TV streaming media player, an Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player, and the new Monitor Audio Gold Series 5.1 speaker system that I recently reviewed. This Denon model has upgraded, color-coded four-way speaker terminals for the eleven channels, laid out horizontally across the bottom of the back panel. It also has pre outs for up to 13.2 channels, and you can connect an external amplifier to power the four additional channels. Denon also includes corresponding colored labels for your speaker cables to avoid crossing the connections, which helps when you take things apart for cleaning. I also connected two front height channels using RBH Sound's MC-6 in-walls. These channels would be needed later to evaluate the Auro 3D sound format.
In addition to the Monitor Audio Gold Series and RBH Sound speakers, KEF was kind enough to send me a pair of its R50 Dolby Atmos-enabled speaker modules so that I could test the Dolby Atmos sound format on board the receiver in a 5.1.2 configuration. The KEF R50 is an up-firing speaker meant to be placed on top of or near the front main speakers, reflecting sound off the ceiling toward the listener for overhead sound effects. A second pair can be added on top of the rear speakers or on the rear wall to further enhance the height effects. For this review, I was interested in testing what improvement (if any) Dolby Atmos makes versus standard Dolby TrueHD with the minimum required setup. After all, not everyone is able to add multiple sets of additional speakers to their current system for a variety of reasons. Aesthetically, the KEF R50 speakers made for a perfect complement to the Monitor Audio Gold 300 speakers, looking as though they were made for each other. (Look for my review of the KEF R50 speakers later this week.)
I connected each digital source to the Denon via one of the eight available HDMI inputs. The receiver also has three HDMI outputs, two of which are for the main room (for dual monitors) and the third is for another room. For legacy sources without HDMI connections, there are coaxial, optical, and analog connection options. There is also a USB connection for connecting a USB storage device, as well as connections for a turntable with a moving magnet (MM) phono cartridge, trigger outs, remote control outs, and an RS-232C serial port to connect a home automation controller. Suffice it to say, the new Denon flagship has almost any connection option or feature you'd want. For a complete list of connection options and features, please refer to the operator manual here.
Rather than pulling up the extensive online owner's manual, I decided to use the included setup assistant in the onscreen GUI (Graphical User Interface) to finish setup. So I grabbed the remote control and got started. Let me mention that the remote is so much better than the clunky touchscreen remote included with my older Denon AVR-4308Ci receiver. The new remote lights up as soon as you touch it, and it feels quite comfortable in the hand. Although the remote has a lot of small buttons, they are laid out in logical fashion and are easy to read.
In addition to the included remote, Denon also offers free remote apps for your smartphone or tablet if you prefer. Like with my older Denon receiver, I chose to make bi-amp connections for the main speakers. However, when I walked through the steps of the setup assistant, the assistant didn't ask me to assign amp channels if bi-amping before running through the Audyssey speaker calibration. This resulted in the calibration test tones being played through either the tweeter or bass driver of the main speakers but not both. I cancelled the calibration and went back into the GUI menu to manually assign the amplifier channels I used for bi-amping. Then I re-ran the Audyssey calibration, and everything worked as expected.
By the way, in addition to including the calibration microphone with the receiver, Denon also thoughtfully includes a cardboard microphone mount that can be used if you don't have a tripod available. The latest Denon GUI is cleaner and more intuitive than that of my older Denon receiver. My only suggestion would be to add a step in the setup process to make sure amplifier channels are assigned for bi-amping (if desired) prior to performing the Audyssey calibration.
During the setup process, I connected the AVR-X7200WA to my home network using the receiver's built-in Wi-Fi capability. I also paired my iPhone via the receiver's Bluetooth connectivity. It took a couple of attempts before the receiver and iPhone paired successfully, but after the initial pairing was made, the receiver connected automatically to the iPhone whenever I hit the Bluetooth button on the receiver's remote, which also powered up the receiver if it was in standby mode.
Finally, I connected via Wi-Fi to the Synology NAS (Network Attached Storage) device that I use to store and stream most of my music collection. All of these connections were quick and easy to do, so I was up and running less than an hour.
Going into this review, I was curious whether the Denon AVR-7200WA receiver would really offer enough additional features and performance above my current Denon receiver to make me think about upgrading. Would the new sound formats and other features be enough to grab my attention?
To start off my critical listening after a suitable break-in period, I began with some two-channel music. I utilized the Media Server function on the receiver's remote to access digital music files (both CD-quality and hi-res files) stored on my NAS drive via my iMac on the same Wi-Fi network as the Denon. Using the Media Server function, you can access your NAS drive's digital music library by either scrolling through alphabetically or performing a text search. The ability to search is a time saver if you have a large library.
I started with tracks by familiar male and female vocals accompanied by acoustic instruments to evaluate the Denon receiver's ability to deliver accurate tonality, imaging, and soundstage depth. When streaming the track My Funny Valentine from the Japanese release of the But Beautiful CD by Boz Scaggs (Gray Cat Records), the piano notes had a realistic tonal quality, with the initial attack transients of the hammer strikes blending nicely with the string vibrations that followed. There was a slight harshness to the hammer strikes of the strings in the upper range, just as you would expect at a live performance. There's not as much compression on this recording as is typical these days, and the Denon faithfully reproduced the dynamics present on the recording. The character in Boz's voice came through with that hint of raspiness being revealed through the Denon. The receiver also portrayed a sense of dimensionality and ambience to the recording space that made me believe I could be sitting in a small jazz club or piano bar listening to him play live. All of this served to provide greater emotional involvement in the music than I'm used to with my typical receiver.
For something a bit more dynamic, I turned to blues rock with the track Don't Wanna Fight by Alabama Shakes off their album Sound & Color (ATO Records). Again, I streamed this HDTracks hi-res file (44.1-kHz/24-bit) from my NAS drive. The Denon didn't disappoint in delivering every nuance and emotion of lead singer Brittany Howard's gritty, almost raw vocals. From the catchy opening guitar runs by Brittany and band mate Heath Fogg to the first squeal of Brittany's vocal, I was pulled into the music. The soundstage was slightly wider than the speaker width, and the individual instruments were locked in nicely to their positions within that space. The imaging was 3D-like. I found myself listening to the entire album, thanks to the emotional involvement enabled by the Denon.
To check out the new Dolby Atmos sound format on the Denon receiver, I started by watching the movie San Andreas (Warner Bros.). While some of the visual effects are a lot of fun, the sound effects delivered by the object-based Dolby Atmos format bring a greater sense of "you are there" realism to the movie overall. The overhead audio information definitely brings a more three-dimensional feel to the soundscape. For example, when the earthquake hit downtown Los Angeles during the high-rise restaurant scene, there was so much debris falling from above that it seemed like the earthquake was happening in my room. The falling concrete, breaking glass, and falling light fixtures all contributed to the feeling of a real earthquake. This type of immersive experience repeated itself in scenes like the parking garage in San Francisco, where Blake and Daniel try to exit before the building collapses. As the building shakes and begins to come apart, the Denon provides the bass weight to make the falling of chunks of concrete feel a bit more real and menacing.
Next up was the movie Mad Max: Fury Road (Warner Brothers), a non-stop sci-fi action thriller from the very first moment. That's probably best, given the absurd plot and script. But what a feast for the ears! Of the several movies with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, this was the best in my opinion. In the opening scene, the movie starts off with drifter Max Rockatansky standing beside his tricked-out car hearing the voices of his past in his head. After sensing he's being pursued, he jumps back in his car and takes off. A group of marauders known as the War Boys give chase in their dune buggies, motorcycles, and 4x4 trucks, coming into view from behind and overhead as they jump a dune to chase after Max. The Denon's 150-watt amplifier channels have the muscle to re-create without a sweat all the Dolby Atmos sound effects of these machines flying overhead and then crashing to earth. Scene after scene takes great advantage of the power of the Denon amps and the Atmos-enabled speakers to create an immersive 3D soundscape that just grabs you and pulls you into the action.
I found very little to quibble about with the Denon AVR-X7200WA receiver. I would like to see the onscreen setup assistant include a step asking the user if they want to bi-amp their main speakers prior to performing the Audyssey room calibration. Ideally, I also would like to see speaker connections that allow the use of speaker cables with spade connectors, but Denon is no different than its competition in this regard. It's just a real-estate issue, given the number of channels crammed into receivers these days.
Comparison & Competition
Potential buyers of the Denon AVR-X7200WA have other less-expensive 9.2-channel receiver options to consider, but none offers as extensive a list of features or the same level of power. The Yamaha RX-A3050 Aventage receiver ($2,199 MSRP) lacks the turntable connection, has less power at 125 watts (two channels driven), and omits a few other features. Similar to the Yamaha, the Marantz SR7010 ($2,199 MSRP) has a very similar feature set with the same lower power rating. Finally, the Pioneer Elite SC-99 receiver ($2,500 MSRP) features 140 watts of power (two channels driven) but lacks a turntable connection.
The Denon AVR-X7200WA receiver has the features and performance to satisfy even the most discerning AV enthusiast. This Denon flagship receiver is a great fit for those looking for a one-box solution to connect and control a complex single or multi-room system comprised of both new and legacy gear. This receiver is about as future-proof as you can get: it supports all of the latest high-res AV formats like full 4K Ultra HD, 3D video, Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Auro 3D, and digital high-res music streaming, as well as legacy analog gear such as a turntable. Add to that popular subscription music streaming apps like Spotify Connect, Pandora, and SiriusXM, as well as HD Radio and Internet Radio stations. You can also play back music files from a PC, NAS, or USB storage device.
Discerning AV enthusiasts that choose the new Denon flagship receiver won't be disappointed, no matter what their viewing or listening preferences. The flagship AVR-X7200WA receiver truly is the Swiss Army knife of receivers. If you love having the ultimate in choice with great performance and ease of operation to boot, you owe it to yourself to check out the new Denon AVR-X7200WA.
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