Denon AVC-A110 13.2 Channel AV Receiver Review
Tony O'Brien auditions this illustrious Japanese brand's ultimate AV receiver, eleven decades in the making…
AVC-A110 13.2 Channel AV Receiver
Some hi-fi manufacturers shout about twenty-five years in the hi-fi business, and a few are justly proud of fifty. So if you've been making things for over a century, you deserve to brag about it. Congratulations then to Denon – whose one hundred and ten years is a milestone in anyone's book. And what better way to celebrate such success than with the release of a brand new statement piece, the 110th Anniversary AVC-A110?
Avid StereoNET readers will, of course, recall that 2018 was the last time the venerable AV manufacturer threw the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons with the release of its AVC-X8500H. The world's first thirteen channel AV receiver caused quite a storm, both here with our team and in various online home theatre communities.
More than just a powerhouse, it was one of the finest sounding AVRs that Denon has produced in recent years. So it's no surprise that the company looked to this for the 110th-anniversary product. Sound master Yuuki Takahashi and his engineers were given free rein to take the already impressive AVC-X8500H to the next level. Takahashi duly examined it at the component level, analysing each discrete part of the circuit to determine its impact on sound. What started as an upgrade ended up with an estimated 430 components being changed.
The AVC-A110 is a 13.2 channel AVR – or, more correctly, audio-video controller. Thirteen channels enable a range of different Atmos configurations, including 7.2.6 and some rather interesting Auro/Atmos combinations. If that's not enough, it can process fifteen channels with the addition of a stereo power amplifier – and if you don't need all those channels, you can bi-amp the front loudspeakers.
Each of its monolithic amplifier modules has its own discrete circuit board. The power supply has had an overhaul, the capacitors receiving the Anniversary sound tuning treatment in the form of newly sourced materials, plus alterations to the tensile strength of the foil and winding tension. It also now rests upon a copper plate, and the heatsinks have doubled in thickness.
Claimed power output is 150W (8 ohms, 20Hz–20kHz, 0.05% two channels driven). Two-channel power ratings are never indicative of real-world watts, and while we couldn't attain power ratings with all channels driven, given the quality of its amplification, I suspect there are not many speakers that this big Denon will struggle to drive to high listening levels.
The AVC-A110 will decode pretty much anything you care to send its way, including DTS HD Master/ DTS:X, DTS Virtual: X, DTS Neural/Neo: X, DTS: X Pro, Dolby Pro Logic II/Dolby Surround, Dolby Height Virtualisation, Dolby True HD/ Dolby Atmos, IMAX Enhanced and Auro 3D. Its HDMI inputs are HDCP 2.3 complaint, supporting both 4K and 8K video at up to 120 and 60 frames per second, respectively. Naturally, Denon's proprietary HEOS Wireless Multi-Room Audio Technology is supported, as are Bluetooth, internet radio, Spotify Connect, Tidal, Deezer and network audio streaming.
Smarts include support for Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple Siri. High-resolution audio is supported, with the A110 decoding up to 24-bit/192kHz ALAC, FLAC and WAV lossless files, and DSD 2.8MHz and 5.6MHz tracks via network sources and its front USB input. Room EQ/correction is provided in the form of Audyssey's premier XT32 Room Correction software, with SUBEQ.
Adding to its exclusivity, the AVC-A110 has been manufactured at Denon's prestigious Shirawa facility in Japan and kept to a limited production run, each unit individually numbered. Each unit must pass a twelve-hour heat soak test before leaving the factory.
In an age of ever-slimmer AV receivers, at 434x195x472mm the AVC-A110 is anything but. It weighs in at a hernia-inducing 23.3kg or 32kg with its double boxed packaging. I'd strongly suggest you seek help manoeuvring it into your AV rack. Unmistakably Denon in appearance, this behemoth does away with the touchscreen minimalism that's getting ever more popular, favouring a more traditional AVR design – albeit in a swanky new silver graphite colour scheme. Gently pressing below the LED display opens a metal door behind which rest the controls needed to navigate the menus, and there's a headphone jack, USB/HDMI input and Audyssey mic jack too. Such meticulous attention to detail differentiates this product from the fray, as does the shiny 110 Anniversary logo.
The rear panel plays host to seven assignable HDMI (HDCP 2.3 4K/120 8K/60) inputs supporting Dolby Vision, HDR 10+, Dynamic HDR and HLG. Alongside these are three HDMI outputs, with eARC on the main output. Other connections include eight analogue audio inputs, one analogue output, 7.1 channel inputs, 15.2 channel pre-outs, six composite video inputs, three component video inputs, one component video output, two coaxial inputs, two TOSLINK inputs, a phono input, dual subwoofer outputs, two 12V trigger outputs, one IR input, Ethernet and an RS232 connection. Both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are supported by installing the included antennae.
The aluminium feet have been replaced by heavier cast-iron types to aid in vibration resistance. The remote control has a small LCD screen displaying which piece of equipment is in use, and the zone currently being controlled; a motion sensor triggers its backlight. While it contains all the controls you will ever need – and then some – the buttons are small and the remote cluttered. An Audyssey microphone is supplied, with a cardboard microphone stand, cable flags, Bluetooth/Wi-Fi antennas, AM/FM antenna and power cord. The box also includes a signed certificate of authenticity with serial number.
The Denon AVC-A110 looks every bit the high-end piece of AV gear that it is, and then some. Attention to detail is a credit to the respective teams at Denon and its owners, Sound United. While there's an abundance of menus and advanced options, the set-up process is surprisingly painless. Plug the main HDMI output into your TV and projector, power up the Denon and the on-screen menus will guide you through everything from determining speaker layout to wiring speakers and connecting components. Seasoned veterans should feel free to connect everything beforehand if you wish, skipping through irrelevant sections of the menu. Or should you prefer, dive in boots and all, mapping everything from amplifier channel assignments to inputs.
As with other Atmos receivers, there are plenty of preset speaker templates to suit many layouts. However, the custom template is unique and worthy of special mention; it lets users map the AVC-A110's amplifier channels to different loudspeakers. Likewise, Audyssey room EQ can be as complicated or straightforward as you want, but in this case, simpler isn't necessarily better. It's advisable to invest in a tripod or, better yet, a microphone stand and follow the instructions carefully – keeping measurement positions about 60cm apart and not placing the mic too close to a wall.
Audyssey's MultEQ app, which can be purchased at additional cost, allows the customisation of everything from speaker sizes and crossovers to the frequency range to which Audyssey is applied. Preferring a little more bass, the app also gave me the flexibility to alter the EQ curve. The option to create multiple calibrated profiles quickly from a smart device and upload them easily to the AVC-A110 affords a level of convenience that's not available from PC-based systems. Of course, it this all sounds too hard, then I'd encourage you to enlist the aid of your dealer.
For my review, the AVC-A110 was connected to VAF Signature i91 front and centre loudspeakers, and four VAF i90s were used as rear surround and ceiling mounted Atmos speakers. Its subwoofer outputs were connected to twin custom-built Gravitas 10-inch subs creating a 5.2.2 Atmos layout. Video sources consisted of Panasonic UB9000 and Sony UBP-X700 4K Blu-ray players and Apple TV, connected directly to a Lumagen Radiance Pro; a Sony VPL-VW270ES projected images onto a Severtson 100-inch Cinegray 16.9 screen.
The AVC-A110 builds on the Denon legacy, with a performance retaining all the best bits of the company's house sound while providing a degree of transparency that its other AV receivers cannot match. Those gutsy internal power amps dish out lashings of sonic impact while maintaining a level of detail and poise that rivals struggle to reach.
For example, the 4K Blu-ray of Man of Steel has a cracker Atmos soundtrack that showcases the best of them. No speaker was overlooked; the overhead and atmos channels having a sense of weight that impressed me. It created a spacious and powerful bubble of sound that drew me into the action. That said, Denon's AVC-A110 couldn't quite match the soundstage depth of Arcam's AVR-30, for example – or its ability to make the speakers seemingly disappear – yet it comes in both cheaper and boasts nearly double the channel count of the latter.
A wonderfully detailed listen, I found myself revelling in the sonic detail that the big Denon was able to extract. The sounds of walls crumbling as Lara takes her final walk through the citadel, providing added nuance to the soundtrack. Where lesser AVRs push such fine sonic details to the background – if they're able to impart them at all – the Denon brought all the detail to the fore, restoring its proper place within the soundtrack. The same could be said with the 4K Blu-ray of Captain Marvel, the AVC-A110 powerfully rendering the chirping of crickets outside the kitchen window during Carol and Marie's reunion scene.
With the likes of the 4K Blu-ray of Terminator Dark Fate, the Denon was given ample opportunity to stretch its legs. As with other receivers from this manufacturer, the AVC-A110 does like the volume cranked a little further up than many. Once acknowledged, however, the Denon created a massive sound field with the source material, with tremendous dynamic swings.
Pushing the volume higher, it revelled in the dynamics of the Atmos soundtrack whilst retaining its sense of poise and detail. The power amp section still had plenty of headroom, giving the sound an effortless quality. While the bass was impactful, Audyssey's SUBEQ provided decent control over my two VAF subs. I found it flabbier than I've experienced with Anthem's ARC and particularly Dirac, but Audyssey remains light years ahead of many of its competitors. Despite the mayhem, vocals were never overpowered or lost in the mix. In fact, I found myself turning down the centre channel trim to make it better blend with the front left and right speakers.
As the Russian Akula class-submarine went head-to-head with the USS Arkansas in my home theatre during the 4K Blu-ray of Hunter Killer, the Denon exhibited its hallmark accuracy and channel steering. Torpedoes swooshed through the room with highly accurate pans, leaving me wishing I had an additional pair overhead of Atmos speakers.
Moving to a 4K Blu-ray of Top Gun and dynamics were whip-fast, sending my speakers into overdrive. Although Denon AVRs are great for home theatre, musically, I sometimes find them slightly lacking. Not here though – while my two-channel friends will shudder at the suggestion, the AVC-A110's transparency made music a much more enjoyable experience in this case.
Given that Denon's AVC-A110 started life as an AVC-X8500H, it should come as no surprise that they share more than a few similarities. There's a commonality with their two respective sonic characters – and that's no bad thing. The AVC-A110 has excellent channel steering across a cavernous soundstage. While I've come to expect this from Denon, the AVC-A110, in particular, reveals an unusually natural, open and transparent sound and deadly serious amounts of clean power. All of which befits such a prestigious and exceptional product.
The question that prospective purchasers will want to know is how much better is the AVC-A110 over the AVC-X8500H? While it's been some time since the latter dominated my AV rack, I lived with it for over a year and got very familiar with it during that time. As good as it was, I'd say that the AVC-A110 usurps it in terms of detail, transparency and dynamics. It sets a new benchmark for Denon AV receivers. It is a no-brainer for those contemplating buying one of the two, particularly when considering the price difference between the two after upgrading the older model to 8K. If you're in the market for a high-end product such as this, give the Denon AVC-A110 serious consideration. Happy anniversary!
As the owner of Adelaide based ‘Clarity Audio & Video Calibration’, Tony is a certified ISF Calibrator. Tony is an accomplished Audio-Visual reviewer specialising in theatre and visual products.
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