Denon AVC-X8500H Review
Denon has cooked up a storm with its latest AV Amplifier. How good? Read on to see if Denon's AVC-X8500H earns just one, or a trio of Michelin stars.
13.2 Channel AV Amplifier
On any given Friday night, you'll find me cooking up a storm. I love cooking almost as much as home theatre, and fortunately, my passions complement one another perfectly.
Friday night is also movie night at our house, so I like to be creative with the food the accompanies a good flick. It was during one of my recent culinary adventures that I was musing over the similarities between good food and good home theatre. Or, more specifically, the similarities between making a great meal and producing a great AVR.
I concluded that just like a good dish, an AVR also needs the right ‘ingredients’. If you’re missing one or two you can probably get away with it, but will the end result really be something special? Probably not.
Having all the right ingredients is still no guarantee of success. It requires the right recipe, experience, and that certain ‘something’ to create something extraordinary.
Denon, one of the most famous names in audio-visual has 118 years of experience in the ‘kitchen’. If you’ve been in the business that long, you’re obviously doing something right. And, when a company like Denon says they’ve cooked up something special, people listen.
Denon has recently added the new flagship AVC-X8500H to its already extensive menu of AVR’s. With the absence of an AM/FM tuner, the AVC-X8500H we have to call this an AV controller, rather than a receiver.
Reminiscent of Denon’s monstrous AVC-A1HDA of 2005, the AVC-X8500H is the most ostentatious offering from Denon in years. With a recommended retail price in Australia of $5,999, it’s a serious piece of equipment and is clearly aimed directly at enthusiasts and those with deep pockets.
One of the most groundbreaking aspects of its design, the AVC-X8500H is a 13.2 channel AVR (for the sake of comparison, it’s simpler to refer to it as an AVR).
In fact, the AVC-X8500H will process up to 15.2 channels with an external two-channel amplifier, or process and power 13.2 channels without resorting to external amplification.
Featuring a monolithic amplifier design, each of the AVC-X8500H’s amplifier modules has its own circuit board supported by custom-made transistors and a discrete power supply.
The ‘discrete’ power supply weighs a whopping 8.2 kilograms. That’s 2.1 kilograms heavier than the power supply found in the AVR-X7200H and more than the entire weight of many entry-level AVR’s.
Denon has rated the power output of the AVC-X8500H at 150 watts with 2 channels driven (8 ohms, 20 Hz - 20 kHz, 0.05% 2 channels driven). Two-channel power ratings are never indicative of ‘actual watts’ with all channels driven, but given the quality of its amplification, I suspect there are not many speakers the big Denon will struggle to get singing.
Where the X7200 sported four ADI Falcon DSP’s, the X8500 has two, more powerful Sharc Griffin Lite DSP’s. The first DSP is used to decode the incoming signal, while the second performs AL32 processing and Audyssey Dynamic EQ amongst other things.
Also wholly redesigned is the signal path, which now has an uncomplicated route from the X8500’s DSP’s to its AKM/ AK449E0EQ DAC and amps. The newly designed signal path lowering the potential for system introduced noise and interference.
As I have come to expect from Denon, the AVC-X8500H will decode pretty much any available sound format, including DTS HD Master, DTS:X, DTS Virtual: X (via a future update), DTS Neural: X, Dolby Surround, Dolby True HD, Dolby Atmos and Auro 3D.
With HEOS Wireless Multi-Room Audio Technology, AirPlay, Bluetooth, Internet Radio, Spotify Connect, Tidal, Deezer and network audio streaming, the AVC-X8500H is capable of becoming the hub of a Multi-Room Audio system.
High-resolution audio is supported, with the X8500 decoding up to 24-bit/192 kHz ALAC, FLAC and WAV lossless files, as well as DSD 2.8 MHz and 5.6 MHz tracks via network sources and its front USB input.
At the time of writing, the AVC-X8500H is the world’s first AV amplifier that we’re aware of that natively supports Amazon Alexa.
WHATS IN THE BOX
If I were to choose a word to describe the X8500’s appearance, it would be imposing. Standing at 195mm high, 482mm deep and 434mm wide, the AVC-X8500H is not only taller but 100mm deeper than Denon’s already formidable AVC-X7200H.
The AVC-X8500H has the classic ‘AVR look’ found in all of Denon’s AVR’s. The front fascia is finished in brushed black aluminium with volume and source control dials placed either side of its large LED display. Except for the power button, all other controls are housed behind a large pull-down flap. All of the X8500’s more commonly used controls can be found here, including a 4K/ HDCP 2.2 HDMI input, USB input, headphone jack and Audyssey microphone input.
The back of the AVC-X8500H offers a wide range of connections, including seven assignable HDMI inputs supporting 4K/60 Hz pass-through, 4:4:4 resolution, HDR, BT2020, Dolby Vision and Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG).
In addition to seven HDMI outputs, the X8500 also has three HDMI outputs, with EARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel) via its main HDMI output.
Including tuner and phono inputs, the X8500 has eight analogue audio inputs and one analogue output. There’s also 7.1 channel inputs, 15.2 channel pre-outs, 6 composite video inputs, 3 component video inputs, 1 component video output, 2 coaxial audio inputs, 2 optical audio inputs, 2 x 12V trigger outputs, 1 IR input and an RS232 connection.
Rounding out the connections is an ethernet port, 2 Bluetooth/wifi antenna connections and fifteen high-quality gold-plated speaker binding posts.
Offering a degree of protection against obsolescence, the AVC-X8500’s HDMI 2.0 boards can be upgraded to HDMI 2.1 as it becomes available, to make the X8500 8K compatible. We're told that this upgrade would still need to take place at an authorised Denon service centre though.
In what now seems to be a rarity, the X8500 has a backlit remote which is triggered by a motion sensor. The remote is also capable of learning functions and with four macros buttons, can be used as a universal remote in less complicated home theatres.
Somewhat utilitarian in appearance, the remote offers all of the functions you’re ever likely to need, its small LCD display showing which piece of equipment is being controlled and the current zone.
The AVC-X8500H also comes with an Audyssey mic, cardboard microphone stand, cable labels, AM/FM antennas and power cord.
From gold plating binding posts and connections to its multiple layered chassis construction (designed to improve stability and reduce vibration), the overall build quality of the AVC-X8500H is just outstanding.
While the overall build quality is excellent, the source control dial is noticeably smaller than the volume dial, which in my opinion gives the X8500 a somewhat ‘lopsided’ appearance. And, although the Philips-head screws on the top panel are countersunk, they’re noticeable and detract somewhat from the AVC-X8500H’s otherwise clean appearance.
Weighing 23.3kg, you’re going to need some help navigating the AVC-X8500H into your AV rack. It’s also worth making sure your AV rack will accommodate this beast. With HDMI and speaker cables connected, it only just fits on my Bello AV rack with its facia extending over the front.
Despite having a multitude of setup options, kudos have to go to Denon for making the setup procedure surprisingly painless. Simply connect the AVC-X8500H to your projector or TV via an HDMI cable and it will guide you through everything from connecting your speakers and source components to the Audyssey calibration.
Of course, the big question on many people’s minds, including my own, is precisely what are you’re going to do with 13 channels of amplification?
The most ‘conventional’ way to utilise 13 channels is in a 7.2.6 Dolby Atmos configuration, consisting of 2 front speakers, 1 centre speaker, 2 rear speakers, 2 rear side speakers, 2 subs and 6 overhead atmos speakers.
If Auro is your thing, then the AVC-8500H will support a full 15.2 configuration consisting of 4 front speakers, 2 centre speakers, 4 rear speakers, 4 rear side speakers and a centre height channel, with the addition of an external power amplifier.
While DTS:X will happily share the same speaker configurations as Dolby Atmos, DTS:X doesn’t support six overhead speakers. DTS is reportedly working on expanding the number of channels DTS:X will support. However, there’s currently no ETA.
Including some interesting hybrid Atmos/Auro configurations, the options are quite extensive and all of these options are supported by speaker setup templates, located in the setup menu. If however, you’re using the automated setup procedure, the AVC-X8500H will allocate the most appropriate template for your speaker layout.
While most of the speaker templates are customisable to varying degrees, there’s also a custom template. With the custom template, you have the option of mapping virtually any speaker to any of the AVC-X8500H's speaker-binding posts.
Although many will purchase the AVC-X8500H for its extra channels of amplification, bi-amping hasn’t been overlooked. Among the X8500’s speaker template options, there is a ‘full bi-amp’ template which allows each of the speakers in a 5.1 configuration to be bi-amped.
The AVC-X8500H is equipped with Audyssey’s premier XT32 Room Correction software. In addition to offering more filters than Audyssey's standard XT software, the XT32 software also includes SUBEQ.
With the ability to align and EQ dual subwoofers, XT32’s SUBEQ is a boon to owners of dual subs. While the signal from dual subwoofers is in effect mono and needs to EQ’ed as such, SUBEQ will determine individual gains and distances for each sub.
During the review the AVC-X8500H was connected to Sonique Diamond 5.5 SE front speakers, Sonique Centaur centre speaker, Sonique DB1 surrounds, Sonique Slim 3 ceiling speakers and twin sealed Sonique Thunderbox subs.
Source devices included an Oppo UDP-203, Apple TV 4K 32 GB and Sony PS-3. The video was supplied by an Epson EH-TW8200 (1080p) projector.
One of the recent films receiving ‘4K’ treatment is 1991’s Terminator 2. While I used the 3D Blu-ray version for evaluation, the DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack is identical to the soundtrack on the 4K disc. Despite being given the 4K treatment, there’s only so much that can be done with some older soundtracks. The Denon however, still managed to turn in a very classy performance that was both detailed and powerful.
There’s a real subtlety to the AVC-X8500H that allowed it to bring a startling sense of detail and reality to Terminator 2’s DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack. Gunfire and explosions were all delivered with sufficient slam, despite the soundtrack sounding a little compressed at times.
While Terminator 2 is far from reference standards these days, I’ve watched it a number of times on various home theatre systems I’ve owned over the years, and I have never heard it sound this good.
Taking things up a notch, Man of Steel has a reference-grade DTS-HD 7.1 soundtrack. With the more modern soundtrack of Man of Steel, the AVC-X8500H revelled, its amps proving more than capable of reproducing big dynamic swings with ease.
With the AVC-X8500H upscaling the incoming DTS: HD 7.1 soundtrack to DTS: Nero X all of my seven loudspeakers were kept busy. The X8500H created a soundstage that was big, detailed and cinematic.
Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! is one of the more bizarre and at times downright disturbing films that I have watched. Shot entirely inside the confines of a house, the Blu-ray comes with an excellent Dolby Atmos soundtrack.
With Mother!, the AVC-X8500H made full use of the Dolby Atmos soundtrack, placing effects both accurately and realistically within the sizeable sound-field it created around me. The sound-stage sounded clean and airy, while each of my speakers had a sense of presence.
Having also undergone a 4K restoration recently and remastered in Atmos, The Matrix sounds superb, even by today’s standards. The AVC-X8500H proved that it not only had a deft hand with subtle effects but was able to deliver some punch when called upon, particularly the lobby shoutout which sounded better than ever.
Throughout the review, the X8500 did get quite warm to the touch, but despite the often high listening levels its internal cooling fans kicked in. Or if they did, I never heard them.
While the AVC-X8500H shared many of the sound characteristics that I have come to expect from Denon AVR’s, in many ways, it’s also very different.
Specifically, the AVC-X8500H exhibited excellent channel steering, a big soundstage and a real sense of control with my two subs. While these are all characteristics I’ve come to expect from Denon AVR’s, the X8500 also sounded a lot more nuanced than I expected.
The detail was both more abundant and naturally rendered compared to the AVR-X4300H I am most familiar with, which sounded harsh in comparison.
While action sequences were dished up with plenty of power, they’re done so in an effortless fashion, the amps sounding as though they have ample headroom.
The AVC-X8500H sounded great served with a variety of source material, including more current fare such as Blade Runner 2049 or Dunkirk, and it delivers a level of performance that sounds genuinely cinematic.
It’s been a while since I've been able to describe an AVR as cinematic, which I recall being Anthem’s mighty MRX-1120. When it all boils down to it, ‘cinematic’ is what we’re really all striving to achieve with our home theatres isn't it?
The Denon AVC-X8500H has now become a permanent fixture in my own home theatre and for now, will be the reference that I will be judging all future AVR’s against.
With this in mind, I have no hesitation stamping the AVC-X8500H with a StereoNET Applause Award, and also putting it forward as a contender for a Best in Class award for 2018.
For more information visit Denon.
Tony is a certified ISF Calibrator by day, and an accomplished Audio-Visual reviewer specialising in theatre and visual products by night. Tony has calibrated and worked with some of the best home cinema designers throughout Australia.
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