AV technology has been changing so fast lately that many receivers become obsolete just a year after they're introduced. Far fewer are designed with the ability to remain relevant for multiple years. So, when a company introduces a new flagship, like Denon's AVR-X8500H, which debuted at CES 2018, one can't help but wonder if it's the receiver of the moment or if it might have the goods to remain relevant into the future.
If nothing else, Denon has certainly raised the bar with the AVR-X8500H when it comes to amplification. Right off the bat, this new Denon flagship represents the world's first 13.2 channel AV receiver with 13 channels of amplification, adding four additional amp channels compared to the AVR-X7200WA I reviewed a couple of years ago (and two more channels than the 11.2 channel AVR-X6400H released last year), with control for up to three separate zones of both audio and video. The amp section keeps the R and L channel signal paths separate from each other for improved performance.
Denon also includes support for all three immersive surround sound formats, and also covers its bases in terms of High Dynamic Range (HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HLG standards are all supported), so you're good to go on all the latest audio and video formats. In the previous flagship, Auro-3D was a $199 upgrade option; with the AVR-X8500H, Auro-3D is included in the receiver purchase price, as it is in all Denon's latest receivers above $1,000 (Auro-3D became available via a firmware download in late May for early purchasers of the receiver).
There are 15 sets of speaker binding posts including eight total height speakers, with Height 4 assignable to Front Wide speakers. This means that with 15 speakers installed, the enthusiast can have a full 13-channel Auro-3D configuration with five Heights (two Front Heights, one Center Height, and two Rear Heights) and the "Voice of God" channel, and still have another pair of Height outputs assigned as either Top Middle (7.1.6) or Front Wide (9.1.4) speakers for a 13-channel Atmos configuration. So, with four pairs of height speaker outputs and flexible amp assignment available, you don't have to sacrifice placement for one format over the other. Currently limited to 11 channels, DTS:X doesn't require any specific speaker configuration. Therefore, DTS:X will work with the configurations just described.
The AVR-X8500H comes with Audyssey MultEQ XT32 automatic room acoustic correction software. And with Denon's new Audyssey MultEQ Editor app ($20) you can run the room correction software for multiple speaker configurations and store the individual EQ calibrations to enable easy switching back and forth. Granted, it does take about two minutes to switch between stored calibration settings for Dolby Atmos and Auro-3D speaker configurations on the receiver using the app. But to experience the best these two formats have to offer requires proper setup and calibration.
As of this writing, there are only about 20 Blu-ray movie discs and 50 Blu-ray Pure Audio music discs available encoded with Auro-3D soundtracks, so switching won't need to be performed very often. The Auro-3D format is the little guy in this proverbial David and Goliath battle between Auro-3D and Dolby. However, since partnering with Barco and Sony Pictures about a year ago, there have been many more movies released in the cinema with Auro-3D soundtracks. So, in the future we could see many more Blu-ray discs with Auro-3D hitting the consumer market.
The Editor app also gives the user the ability to view and adjust the settings for total control over the configuration to suit individual preferences. For example, if you want to limit the correction to just the bass frequencies where it's usually needed most, you can do that. Granted you've got to have the space and budget to make having 15 speakers in your home theater a possibility. But if you do, this is the only mainstream receiver to date with the tools to let the true home theater evangelist have his or her cake and eat it too when it comes to reference speaker placement and calibration to optimize sound for the various formats.
For connecting source devices, the Denon provides eight (7 + 1) HDMI inputs and three HDMI outputs, all featuring HDCP 2.2 compatibility and support for 4K Ultra HD 60Hz video, 4:4:4 Pure Color, High Dynamic Range (HDR), and BT.2020 pass-through. An HDMI 2.1 hardware upgrade will also be available in the future to support 8K video and more (for an as-yet undetermined fee). It's also ready for Enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC) for 3D audio playback through TV apps, which will be enabled through a future firmware update.
All told, Denon has tried to make the AVR-X8500H as future proof as possible. At the same time, Denon hasn't left owners of legacy equipment without HDMI connections out in the cold either, because the AVR-X800H still provides coaxial, optical, and analog input options.
For streaming audio, the AVR-X8500H has both wired and wireless options, including ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirPlay (with AirPlay 2 coming in August), and DLNA. The built-in HEOS ecosystem lets you wirelessly stream music and internet radio to any room of your home with a HEOS-enabled device such as HEOS Bluetooth speakers. The AVR-X8500H has at least 12 music streaming services onboard, including Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Prime Music, SiriusXM, Tidal, iHeartRadio, Deezer, and Soundcloud, all controlled with the HEOS app. Denon has also made the receiver compatible with Alexa to provide the ability to control music streaming with voice commands. For a few examples, you can use Alexa to select a streaming service, to select a song, adjust the volume, pause, mute, or play the next song, and to switch between inputs.
For the first time in many years, Denon is offering the AVR-X8500H in either black or silver finish in the U.S. The receiver has the same 150 watts per channel for all power amps (8 ohms, 20Hz~20kHz, 0.05%THD, two channels driven) as its predecessor, but with a bigger power supply for a higher overall power rating of 900 watts. There is also not only a USB connection on the front of the receiver, but also a second USB connection on the back rated to power devices, so it would be useful for a streaming stick or to add a cooling fan if the receiver is in a location lacking sufficient ventilation. A new auto update feature provides the ability to have firmware updates installed while the receiver is in standby mode.
For audio, the AVR-X8500H has the same reference-class AKM AK4490EQ 32-bit DACs as its predecessor. The AVR-X8500H also features two newly developed dual-core SHARC DSPs from Analog Devices to handle surround decoding and Audyssey room correction algorithms. For those wanting to use external amplifiers instead of those onboard, there is a new pre-amp mode whereby the amplifier section is disconnected to minimize signal contamination.
I hooked up the 13.2 channel receiver in my family room system, the same system I used to previously evaluate the AVR-X7200WA receiver. Lifting the AVR-X8500H out of the box, it's immediately apparent that this new receiver is a beast, weighing in at a robust 51.4 pounds compared to the 37.7 pounds of the previous flagship. This is the most robust receiver from Denon in a long time. The chassis width and height dimensions of the AVR-X8500H are identical to the AVR-X7200WA, but the chassis depth is almost two inches longer. The extra depth is needed to accommodate the four additional amp channels, two additional fans, and larger, beefier power supply.
I connected the new Denon to a LG OLED 4K UHD TV (C8 series), a DirecTV Genie HD DVR, a Roku Ultra streaming media player, an Oppo UDP-203 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc Player, and a 7.1.4 speaker system from Monitor Audio and RBH Sound. I connected the source devices via HDMI and the speakers using cables from WireWorld. I used the custom amp assign feature during setup to designate all the speakers, and I also bi-amped the main L/R tower speakers to take advantage of the two remaining available amp channels. There are numerous preset speaker configurations available, but the custom assignment capability provides the ultimate flexibility.
I also connected the receiver to my home network and ran the Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room correction software from the automatic setup assistant menu. Next, I connected my smartphone to the receiver via Bluetooth. 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.
I also set up the three HEOS speakers that Denon sent along to try out with the receiver's wireless multiroom capabilities. I set up the two HEOS 1 speakers in the second-floor master bath, and one HEOS 5 speaker in the kitchen. Next, I set up an Amazon Echo Dot and added the receiver and HEOS speakers as devices. Finally, I logged into my accounts with Tidal and Pandora streaming services.
The whole setup and calibration of the receiver, HEOS speakers and Alexa took about 90 minutes. I should note that this was for the basic setup described. The receiver's menu is loaded, with more adjustments possible than I've seen for any other receiver. You can spend hours digging through them to make tweaks. It's at this point that the online owner's manual not only comes in handy, but almost becomes essential.
The remote for the AVR-X8500H is similar but with just a few tweaks from the remote for the AVR-X7200WA. The AVR-X8500H remote has the HEOS button to access connected HEOS-enabled speakers, built-in music streaming services, Internet radio, or any media servers you have connected to the Denon over your network. Also, there are four macro buttons at the bottom of the remote that you can program to perform various functions.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
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