Denon is 110 years old and celebrates it appropriately with a range of exceptional anniversary devices. Given the Japanese brand’s preference for surround, the list should include a high-end AV receiver Denon AVC-A110 receiver with everything on and off, of course.
Denon AVC-A110 receiver
Thanks to the matte dark gray graphite finish, you can immediately see that the AVC-A110 is not your average Denon AV receiver. And it really isn’t. In honor of the company’s 110th anniversary, Denon has pulled out all the stops to create a 27kg device that’s just that little bit more special. The AVC-X8500H was chosen as a starting point , Denon’s flagship receiver with 13-channel amplification that we viewed last year. Compared to the X8500H, the AVC-A110 takes a number of significant technical steps to be even better than this valued top model. It is equipped with a brand new 8K section that is ready for the next-gen consoles. So it’s an anniversary model that looks back in honor of that 110th anniversary, while also looking ahead to the future.
If someone tells you that a product is a ‘limited edition’, you also know what time it is. The AVC-A110 costs 5,500 euros and is therefore a lot more expensive than the AVC-X8500H of (suggested retail price) 3,999 euros. This additional price is due to the limited edition finish, the 8K part and technical interventions in the field of power supply and electronics to improve the display. Above all, this Denon boss is something really exclusive. The brand also deserves a pat on the back for backing this premium model with an appropriate five-year warranty. That gives confidence and also belongs in this price range.
The AVC-A110 is one of four special products that Denon is releasing in honor of its 110th anniversary. Talk about a blessed age! And that makes the Japanese company one of the oldest surviving audio brands in the world. In addition to this high-end AV receiver, another hi-fi set will appear consisting of the PMA-A110 and the DCD-A110 (an amplifier and SACD player). The party ends with an exceptional edition of the DL-110 MC cartridge for a turntable.
We leave the cartridge aside for a while because it is slightly different from the three audio devices. They are all characterized by their very own look in a graphite color, say a metallic dark gray, embellished with an engraved ‘110 Anniversary’ logo. In the box you will also find a certificate that confirms that you have purchased something very special. In terms of design, the AVC-A110 is no different from the AVC-X8500 – you immediately recognize it as a thoroughbred Denon – but it is clearly not an everyday AV receiver. That is also possible for the price, of course.
That rich history highlighting is what it’s really about – and it’s something Denon is rightly proud of. 110 years is of course not nothing, but also in terms of the much more modern application ‘AV receiver’ there is a long history. The distant ancestor of the AVC-A110 is the AVC-2000, Denon’s first multichannel amplifier which it released in 1988. Forget Dolby Atmos, there was no question of that back then, with Dolby Pro Logic you had to make do. Fortunately, surround sound has now become much more immersive.
8K for gamers
The three 110 audio devices are clearly limited editions that are above the regular Denon top models. In the case of the AVC-A110, this is certainly the case, because it is in terms of features – and also in terms of price tag – at a higher level than the AVC-8500H. A look at the back of this sturdy receiver will immediately convince you that it means business. It is so generously equipped with speaker terminals (13 pairs) that the terminals no longer fit in one row but two are needed. Add to that all-channel pre-outs, plus a series of legacy video inputs and eight analog inputs (including one for a turntable), and you can see it’s really busy back there. Not to forget: the AVC-A110 comes with 7 HDMI inputs (one of which is suitable for 8K / 60fps or 4K / 120fps) and three HDMI outputs. The main output with eARC compatibility offers 8K, the two others are ‘limited’ to 4K. You can count on extensive HDR support on all inputs, with 4: 4: 4 Pure Color sub-sampling, HDR10, Dolby Vision, Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) and BT.2020, and HDCP 2.3.
The AVC-A110 is one of the first AV receivers with support for HDR10 +, the dynamic HDR standard that is supported by Samsung and Panasonic, among others. It is still unclear how important HDR10 + will be, but as always we think that an AV receiver can only support a standard. If it doesn’t work with that standard, then you haven’t lost anything, but if it gets off the ground anyway, your receiver is future-proof.
Hence, the presence of 8K compatible HDMI 2.1on this receiver is relevant, despite the current lack of 8K sources. Yes, the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X will appear soon, which promise 8K graphics, but you shouldn’t count on a lot of 8K content in the coming years. Five years from now? Who knows whether Netflix will offer 8K streams by then. In any case, it is good to know that an expensive device such as the AVC-A110 remains useful. In the short term, it is therefore mainly gamers who are spoiled. For that target audience, it is also important to know that this Denon supports three HDMI functions that focus on gaming: Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), Quick Frame Transport (QFT) and Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM). You can read more information about this in our background article about HDMI 2.1.
However, the AVC-A110 is more than an AVC-X8500Hwith an 8K shutter. Denon says it has made around 350 adjustments compared to the top model, especially at the component level. Under the hood is not a completely different design, but it has been tweaked and tuned to get a better representation. According to Denon, several things were done that they couldn’t do with the X8500H because the price tag would then become too high, ranging from thicker connections on printed circuit boards to more expensive capacitors. Also surprising if you were to look into the AVC-A110, is that the printed circuit board and electronics all look deep black. A detail – and one that hardly anyone will notice – but it’s kind of an indication that Denon really let the geeks on the development team (and sound manager Yuuki Takahashi in particular) do their thing.
Whether all those 350 adjustments (about a hundred are mechanical changes, such as different legs or a copper base for the transformers) have a major impact on the display is difficult to say. But it is also about the total sum.
All possible setups
The thirteen amplified channels of the A110 deliver 150 Watts per channel (over the entire frequency range and with 8 Ohm speakers, so with a realistic load). That amount opens the door to an incredible number of usage scenarios, both within one room or with a combination of a surround setup and additional speakers in a second and third room. The AVC-A110 offers an incredible range of options, which in turn could be a recipe for very complex operation. However, thanks to Denon’s intuitive interface, that’s not the case. When you set up your surround setup, your choices in terms of speaker placement are graphically displayed nicely on the screen. The chance is therefore small that you accidentally set something wrong. The Denon AVC-A110 receiver also offers you all possible options in terms of speaker setups. For the height channels you can indicate, for example, that you have speakers hanging against the wall at the front and reflective Dolby units at the back. If you have channels to spare, you can also make audiophile choices, such as bi-amping your stereo speakers or working with dual left / right channels (so you can use different speakers for music than for surround). The flexibility is enormous, whatever you have to demand from a high-end receiver.
The AVC-A110 can also do something that few other AV receivers can handle: adding width channels to a DTS: X or Dolby Atmos setup. Those who have the space for it can therefore place 9 speakers at ear height. 9.2.4, that seems like a dream setup to us. You can also opt for six to eight speakers in height, just to say something. In any case, you will also find all channels at the back as a pre-out, in addition to two extra pair of pre-outs for a second or third zone. If you are aiming for a higher complexity than this, then you will have to look at material at an even higher level, genre JBL Synthesis, Storm Audio or Trinnov.
There is really nothing missing in terms of audio formats. Dolby Atmos and DTS: X are present, but also more exotic technologies, such as Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization, DTS Virtual: X, DTS: X Pro and IMAX Enhanced. Auro3D is also available as standard. You will not find much content in that 3D format, but the Auro-Matic up-mixing codecs are very good. If you want to bring stereo music to a surround sound, you should definitely try them.
Streaming options galore
In terms of streaming, the AVC-A110 offers completely the same as the regular Denon receivers. The own HEOS platform with the accompanying HEOS app is central to this, but there are also plenty of alternatives on board. You can stream music via AirPlay 2 or Bluetooth, and the Denon topper can also be selected as a playback device in Spotify Connect. HEOS itself offers you a whole range of options anyway. The HEOS app (iOS and Android) plays multiple roles. The first role is that of multiroom control. If you have multiple HEOS devices in the house, they all appear in one screen so that you can operate each device separately or connect it so that the same plays on multiple devices. Each of the three zones also show separately here, albeit under the umbrella of the AVC-A110. You can switch them on / off separately, but not play something different in each zone via HEOS.
A second role of the HEOS app is as a gathering place for all streaming options, ranging from your own files that you play from USB storage or over the network to music on a streaming service (Amazon Music, Deezer, Tidal, Napster and SoundCloud) and internet radio via TuneIn. As mentioned, if you choose Spotify, you switch to the real Spotify app. Are you an audiophile who likes to listen to your own files? Then it’s an asset that the AVC-A110 can handle both hi-res PCM files and DSD.
What makes HEOS different from alternatives such as Airplay or Chromecast is that the app also gives you control over the connected sources on the receiver. For example, you can switch to a different HDMI input or select the record player in the app – it is not just about digital music. You can also forward those physical sources to other HEOS-compatible devices, as long as they supply a stereo signal. Suppose you connect a CD player to the Denon AVC-A110 receiver, then you can also play the music from such a silver disc on (say) a Denon Home speaker there.
For comprehensive control, you can switch to the Denon AVR app in the HEOS app. It is best to install both on your smartphone or tablet, because choosing music is easier in the HEOS app and you can adjust settings more easily in the AVR app. So they really each have their use. The Denon AVR app is really a comprehensive remote, and you can also do useful things quickly, such as adjusting the volume of a specific channel or choosing a different sound mode.
Denon remains easy to use
We like the AVR Remote app. You can do a lot with it, also in terms of fine-tuning all kinds of settings. For certain settings you have to switch to the TV interface, which can be done via the supplied mega-remote or via a virtual remote in the app. We would like it better if you could really set all settings via the app, but it is not really a big problem. After all, the interface of Denon receivers is well thought out and logically constructed.
The great strength of the Denon interface is the Setup Assistant that guides you through all the steps during installation. Everything is explained and shown where necessary. Consider, for example, which speaker cables should plug in where. Step by step you will be guided through the entire installation, which is still unique. The question is, of course, whether an absolute non-techie would choose the AVC-A110. Due to its many options and channels, it is really a device for people who aim for a serious home theater. Or it is set by a dealer. Nevertheless, a user-friendly interface is always a good thing. The fact that you can quickly rename inputs (for example ‘Game’ to ‘Xbox’) is very practical and the Quick Select presets (with which you directly select a certain input and audio setting) are very useful.
The Denon AVC-A110 receiver comes with Audyssey MULTEQ XT32, the most comprehensive version of the room correction software. You can of course choose to set the receiver manually – get the decibel and laser meter above it! – but Audyssey does its job quite well. We prefer to use the MultEQ app, because then you have a little more overview when measuring and you can adjust even more yourself.
With this receiver you will also find a few interesting extra functions, such as Sub EQ HT to tweak each sub separately when using two subwoofers. We prefer not to use LFC ourselves, but in certain situations it is useful because it provides a powerful reproduction while basses are somewhat limited. Handy for an apartment, we suspect. As always with Denon, you will find the necessary measuring microphone and a cardboard tripod in the box. You can also work with a photo tripod, it is important for a good result that you measure at ear height. Also about Audyssey: we do note that the AVC-A110 does not offer two Audyssey presets, as the new Denon receivers from 2020 do. An average user can do with one, but with two you can experiment a bit more with adjustments. One thing you might want to compare is, for example, if you let Audyssey work over the entire frequency range via the MultEQ app or only up to roughly 500 Hz. With the other new Denons you can switch between the two filters with the push of a button, with the Denon AVC-A110 receiver you first have to upload again from your mobile device.
The user-friendliness that characterizes the Denons makes measuring in any case quite easy. Personally, we find Dirac (found on Arcam, NAD and JBL Synthesis) gives a slightly better result, but it is more complex to adjust correctly.
Lots of spunk and power
If you are working with new equipment, you tend to mainly use recently released film material with a Dolby Atmos or DTS: X soundtrack. We have of course done that with the Denon AVC-A110 receiver, in addition to our regular test clips. But the nice thing about such a new AV receiver is that you can also bring older movies with a modest 5.1 to an even more immersive experience via upmixing, which is also a very fun thing to do. Via the Apple TV we looked again at ‘Independence Day’, available there in 4K but still with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. However, select ‘Auro-3D’ and you can still involve those height speakers – the result is actually quite striking. The special effects are now a bit dated with this blockbuster from 2000, but in terms of audio it becomes even more spectacular. The moment the aliens start to destroy cities and the US president in Airforce One can just escape a sea of flames, the AVC-A110 gives an excellent workout – although it does not seem to trigger drops of sweat at the amplifier. There is simply not a trace of stress to be found in this 13-channel monster; all explosions and flying jets are performed effortlessly, while the dialogues remain clearly audible.
Our subwoofer again had to handle a solid load of low-end with the opening scene of ‘Specter’, which we will bring up since ‘No Time To Die’ has been postponed again. This is also a 5.1 mix (Dolby Vision via Apple TV) that we send through all speakers in our setup via upmixing. Our British secret agent goes all out on the streets of Mexico City in this scene, making the Día de los Muertos completely literal. It’s a great application of a (seemingly) continuous shot – ‘1917’ has now shown how it really should – that ends in a local earthquake when Bond is hit on his head at a collapsing building. The nice thing about this is that the AVC-A110 both fiercely sends the musical peaks along all channels and convincingly puts the many atmospheric sounds of the crowd in the room. The super exciting helicopter scene afterwards becomes even more nail-biting because the receiver positions the rotor sounds perfectly with the action. Few scenes switch so quickly in terms of sound effects, so it is a real stress test. The fact that Denon traditionally also provides a beautiful music reproduction and the AVC-A110 also has the necessary power on board to bring that typical symphonic soundtrack from Bond, is another great asset.
The musical performance is also excellent when we play the SACD of Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ on the Oppo UDP-203 . A bit of a blast-from-the-fits this disc, but the 5.1 mix of ‘Money’ remains a classic. Here too, the Auro-Matic upmixing delivers a good result, but ordinary Multi Channel In is also very enjoyable. When it comes to stereo reproduction, of course, a lot depends on what you use as left and right speakers and what your source is, but with our setup (5.1.4 based on Dali Rubicon and Alteco, with Roon via the Oppo player) we were very satisfied with what we heard. In our opinion, you are not likely to want to install a separate stereo amplifier in your listening room.
If you’re looking for an AV receiver that offers an insane amount of amplified channels, has a lot of horsepower and is ready for 8K sources, then the Denon AVC-A110 receiver is the place to be. It is an extremely flexible receiver that enables the most exotic surround setups. The fact that the AVC-A110 is also a special edition edition makes that premium price slightly more digestible, although it remains significantly more than the AVC-X8500H. Thanks to the inclusion of HDMI 2.1 and 8K / 60fps support, Denon has fortunately ensured that this device also retains its value in the longer term, which is always a thing with AV receivers.