With the AVC-110 and the AVC-X8500HA, Denon presented two high-performance AV receivers in recent years. However, the AVC-A1H takes it a step further. Fifteen amplified channels and a comprehensive feature list make this a true flagship. Or, as they call him internally at Denon, ‘The Beast.’
The AVC-A1H is this year – and we suspect also in 2024 – the absolute top model of Denon. It is a monster of an integrated AV receiver weighing 32 kg, with full support for HDMI 2.1, and equipped with fifteen amplified channels with which you can build a surround setup up to 9.4.6. Anyone who knows the landscape of AV receivers will quickly realize that Denon (but not most competitors) can find something similar. The Japanese brand is aiming for a level higher than with its previous 13-channel AVC-X8500HA. Denon does not offer an option to go even higher-end with a pre/power combination. That is possible with sister brand Marantz, where the new AV10 and AMP10 together also offer 15.4 channels. But then you have lost 14,000 euros…
So Denon shamelessly positions the AVC-A1H as an all-in-one AV receiver at the boss level. You will notice that, of course, from the price tag of just under seven thousand euros. That is significantly higher than the next lower Denon model (the AVC-X4800H ) and its predecessors (the AVC-110 and the AVC-X8500HA ). Of course, you have rivals that cost the same or more, such as the Arcam AVR31 or the McIntosh MHT300, but they don’t offer as many channels. You also pay for this device with the ‘Made in Japan label. The AVC-A1H is built and tuned in the factory in Shirakawa, where the high-end Marantz models originate.
|What||15-channel AV receiver|
|Surround formats||Dolby Atmos (and below), DTS:X (and below), Auro3D, MPEG-H|
|streaming||HEOS, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Bluetooth, DLNA|
|Inputs||7 x HDMI, 2 x optical, 2 x coaxial, 4 x cinch, XLR, phono-in (MM)|
|Outputs||all channels pre-out, 4 x sub-out (SE or XLR)|
|Extras||Audyssey MultEQ XT32, Dirac (additional purchase), sub management, zone 2 and 3|
|Dimensions||43.4 x 49.8 x 19.5 cm|
It’s certainly up for debate, but its feature set and price point mean the AVC-A1H straddles a segment boundary. It seems to us that it is intended to appeal to convinced home surround enthusiasts with a big budget as professionals who build a real home theater for a customer. Although in the latter scenario, in practice, preference will often be given to a separate preamplifier and separate output stages, possibly in a rack. That is, of course, a more expensive option than a single device, especially if an extensive 7.x.4 or 9.x.6 setup is built.
Until the appearance of the AVC-A1H, it was almost impossible for such an extensive surround setup to work with such pre- and output stages. Will that change, and will pros opt for a single device? We are curious. Thanks to full pre-outs, the AVC-A1H can also fit into a mixed setup, where, for example, the stereo channels and the center are amplified separately.
In terms of amplification, Denon tries to pull out all the stops, including with a monoblock approach. This way, you quickly reach that weight of 32 kg, partly due to the housing (especially the massive front panel) but also because of the immense toroidal transformer. We didn’t take it out to weigh it, but according to the specs, this part would tip out at 11.5kg. In addition to that juggernaut, two burly capacitors can be spotted further. This whole is flanked on both sides by gigantic cooling fins on which the individual output stages are neatly mounted (8 on the left, 7 on the right). All this adds up to the usual impressive but not always so-relevant numbers,
Four subs, anyone?
That this Denon beckons to pros is most apparent from Dirac support and a subwoofer hatch with extensive controls for up to four individually controlled subs. The latter may be overkill for the home, but in a home theater, two to four subs can be used to tackle acoustic problems. In addition, with four subwoofers, you can also add a form of directionality to the experience by linking a certain sub to certain surround channels. In addition to LFE, the subwoofer at the back left also supports the surround back left and the height speakers at the back, for example. It’s an impressive addition, which we could listen to extensively on location on a 9.4.6 setup with Bowers & Wilkins 700 Series speakers and four DB3D subwoofers. Including a fragment from the air raid in ‘Top Gun: Maverick,’ this resulted in a nice experience with very moving sound effects and a real envelopment. With a basic surround setup, you sometimes get a slightly less convincing envelope at the back; that was anything but the case here. It was a real even surround bubble (aka the use of floor standers for the rear channels).
Of course, few people who build their home cinema will opt to place four subwoofers in the room. But it’s an interesting addition to the already extensive menu of a typical AV receiver, and we can imagine that the ardent surround enthusiasts who strive for the very best will try it out. Moreover, you can also work with two pieces, which should also result in an improvement.
Pro and Enhanced
Denon takes a maximalist approach with this AV receiver in terms of connectivity. There are seven HDMI 2.1 inputs and three HDMI outputs (so one is limited to 4K). There are also the necessary analog and digital inputs, including a phono input. Remarkably, there is even a balanced XLR input that allows you to connect a high-quality source. Not the only XLR ports on the AVC-A1H because you can also choose from a classic sub-out or a balanced connection with the four subwoofer outputs.
All amplified channels have a mirrored pre-out, and via the menus, you can always choose whether a certain channel is amplified or sent via pre-out. As mentioned earlier, you can easily build a hybrid setup.
Compared to the lower Denons, the AVC-A1H goes further regarding format support. The device can handle Dolby Atmos and DTS: X, and Auro3D remains there, but it is also DTS: X Pro and IMAX Enhanced ready. All seven inputs handle 4K/120 or 8K/60; two of the three outputs also send it out.
Brighter than ever
The AVC-A1H also has all the major innovations that we previously saw with the AVC-X4800H on board. We are primarily talking about the improved TV interface. It now shows in a higher 1,080p resolution. That is enough to show sharp on a 4K sharp. It is certainly pleasant with this device because this receiver is even more likely than its cheaper brothers to hang on a projector or a gigantic TV screen.
Apart from the higher resolution, the characteristic Denon TV interface has been slightly tighter. But it remains very familiar in the base, even in an embellished form. If you ever set up a Denon, you will quickly get used to it. The AVC-A1H does not differ from the cheaper AV receivers in this area. While there are a few more options, the interface scales nicely. Therefore, This top model does not feel much more complex than a cheaper model.
Overall, the interface with the AVC-A1H is very clearly organized – and available in Dutch. The great thing is that many options exist, but it does not seem complex. If you look under ‘Speakers’ and then ‘Manual setup,’ you will find a graphical representation of your desired configuration, for example, under Speaker setup. It is, therefore, very easy to set up four height speakers, for example, with the type per pair (you have five choices here, which is very extensive). There are also many options in the video settings, including adjustable color spaces per input. You can configure and name each input separately.
A little help never hurts
Traditionally, the Setup Assistant is a great asset to Denon. Another question is whether this handy step-by-step plan for setting up the AV receiver with a high-end device such as the AVC-A1H is necessary. But if you are a beginner in the field of surround who bought a device for 7,000 euros without thinking, you will find an excellent assistant here who even tells you how to wire the different speakers. Perhaps even experts with a 9.x.4 or .6 setup could help in that area.
As well as the full menu to dive into, the Denon shows plenty of useful settings via an options screen that shows over the video. This is very useful to adjust channel levels or enable speech enhancement. Really a detail, but still super handy: you can show the volume indicator at the top or bottom of the screen. Most receivers can only be used at the bottom, but that isn’t easy with films with subtitles.
A novelty from the devices this year is a web interface. In addition to control via the TV and (partial) control via the Denon AVR app, you can now adjust settings via a browser on a laptop. That is handy and tailored to pros because you can set things without a screen or tweak something while watching a movie without losing the image.
You can also easily adjust some settings and options via the Denon AVR app. It has been around for a while, but as far as we are concerned it is still well put together. In combination with the excellent HDMI-CEC support, you can, for example, control your Blu-ray player via this app, and tweaking levels is also very easy. Also, not to be forgotten is that you get a remote with the AVC-A1H. As usual with Denon, it is an immense remote control, although it does slim down a bit. It is no longer the size of an aircraft carrier but rather that of a frigate. Beautiful, but a touch more luxurious would be nice.
Regarding streaming, Denon remains with the trusted HEOS platform, supplemented with AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, DLNA, and Bluetooth. So there are some ways to play your favorite album. With an iPad, you have the most freedom because you can send any music service to the AVC-A1H. This is also possible via Bluetooth, but we think that is a less option regarding sound quality. It is a pity that the codec support remains limited; no trace of aptX or LDAC. That should be possible with an expensive device. The DLNA support opens the door to control by Roon via the RooExtend extension and a Raspberry Pi. It would be nice if the expensive Denons would make the step fully Roon Ready, but it also works with the extension.
The streaming option par excellence with the AVC-A1H is HEOS. It is very familiar to us because it has been on Denon (and Marantz) devices for years. HEOS can be seen as a challenger to Sonos, with a few more unique assets. So you can control the AVC-A1H and any other HEOS-compatible device in your home via the HEOS app. Denon Home speakers are also counterparts to devices such as the Era 100 or Five from Sonos. In the app, you can play music via a limited number of services (Amazon, Napster, Deezer, Tidal, Soundcloud) or internet radio. In addition – and this is different from Sonos – you can send a connected source to another HEOS device. You can play a record on a turntable that hangs on a Marantz Model 30 in the living room on the AVC-A1H. Playing your files is smooth, both over the network and from USB storage.
HEOS looks sober and old-fashioned but works smoothly. The main criticism from our side is that it could support a bit more services and the music presentation could be a bit richer. If you browse a list of new releases in Tidal via the HEOS app, you will not see any additional information or a list of small album art. A few visual tweaks would make the experience better.
Dirac is a choice
From this year, the AV receivers from Denon and Marantz will have a new option: Dirac. The special thing is that this gives you an extra, optional room calibration in addition to the standard Audyssey system. So you don’t have to use it, but if you wish, you can even use the two systems side by side. After all, the AVC-A1H has two speakers presets; you can use one with an Audyssey correction and one with a filter made by Dirac. This is useful for comparison. With Dirac, you also have three slots to try out three Dirac corrections side by side. You do this, among other things, via the options screen, where new Dirac options will appear after using Dirac.
But why those two options? Perhaps that has to do with a) the hype around Dirac, which is widely seen as the most effective software to solve room problems, and b) the demand from the professional market. Dirac is much more interesting if you still have to tweak and tune because you can work in an extensive application on your laptop and save corrections. If you want more than a standard correction at Audyssey, you can purchase the MultEQ app for a tablet. Adjusting things and saving them in the cloud is possible, but working accurately is a challenge in this app. (There is also a professional package for Audyssey with better software and a measurement microphone, but it is also expensive)
However, you don’t just get Dirac as a gift with the AVC-A1H. You must purchase a license, which costs at least $259 (for corrections up to 500 Hz). The full version costs $349. That is something, but just like with brands like NAD or Arcam, you buy the software with a hefty discount. If you buy Dirac separately, you will lose about $ 800 – although you can use that software on multiple devices.
With the cheaper Denons and Marantz’, we understand that you must purchase Dirac separately. Audyssey is already included as standard and you will find a measurement microphone and a cardboard tripod in the box for that system. So it’s not that Denon leaves you without room calibration. At the same time, giving at least the Limited Bandwidth version of Dirac with the flagship would have been neat.
In addition, you should purchase a suitable measuring microphone (such as a UMIK-1), and investing in a microphone stand with a swiveling arm is best. The latter is not a must, but it makes measuring much easier as far as we are concerned. After all, you must perform the 9 or more measurements fairly accurately, with equal distances between the measuring points. With a tripod, it goes just a bit faster. Remember that Dirac, even in its latest version, has a higher threshold than Audyssey. The software is also more complex, and it’s easy to tweak your sound experience.
But with a hectic battle in a shield wall during ‘Vikings’ or the heated race in Ready Player One, we experience a very enveloping and super well-defined surround image with our Dirac measurement. The performance of the AVC-A1H is outstanding, and it’s also surprising in terms of three-dimensional imaging what the difference is between our Audyssey and Dirac measurements. We notice, for example, that there is much more pronounced positioning in the rear channels, including in the ‘Amaze’ demo from Dolby. The definition of rainfall and thunder in the distance is very good.
With the lower-positioned receivers, you may wonder whether that extra investment in Dirac is worth it. We think so with the AVC-A1H, although we must say that Audyssey does not produce a bad result either. Why is there that difference? We have to speculate about that. To begin with, Dirac and Audyssey may have different target curves. So the software makers have a different idea about what constitutes a desirable sound. Dirac also intervenes in the impulse response of individual drivers, which we feel significantly adds tightness and definition.
We connect the AVC-A1H to our regular surround setup. This consists of DALI Rubicon speakers and Alteco height speakers, with an ELAC Sub 2050 serving as a subwoofer. Due to time constraints, we could not delve deeper into multi-sub setups, which is just an interesting aspect of this receiver, but that will come. On the source side, we connect the usual devices to the Denon: an Oppo UDP-203, a PlayStation 5, and an Apple TV 4K. As mentioned, we measured Audyssey and Dirac; we mainly used the Dirac correction during testing. It was better positioning than what we got with Audyssey.
Even before ‘Last of Us’ proved that you could turn a game into a successful film adaptation, there was already ‘Arcane’ on Netflix. Because it is animation, many ‘serious’ film buffs looked over it. But this series set in the world of ‘League of Legends’ is a small masterpiece, both visually and in terms of soundtrack (provided by Imagine Dragons, among others). The final two episodes feature great action sequences that heavily employ sound effects and music to support the flashy on-screen action. It’s not quite on the level of a Hollywood production, but it represents what you get when you watch Atmos content through a streaming service like Netflix.
Auro3D is not high on the menu of surround enthusiasts. But it remains an interesting technology, especially for taking stereo soundtracks to surround. This works very well – perhaps better than the Dolby and DTS alternatives. When we watched an old DVD of the British comedy series ‘Green Wing,’ the stereo soundtrack was convincingly lifted to a form of surround. You may not do this very often in a home theater, but there is much content in stereo or 5.1. This option is also really interesting to listen to music in surround.
We put the ‘Dune’ disc in the Oppo player to experience a Hollywood-level surround experience. It is a strange soundtrack, with sophisticated sound effects (check the video on YouTube about how the SFX department created them) and futuristic music by Hans Zimmer. This film has many scenes to enjoy, such as when Paul Atreides tries to escape by diving into a sandstorm with his ornithopter. But first, there’s the grand invasion, with the Duke’s troops trying to defend themselves against a backdrop of exploding starships. It’s all very chaotic – that’s how battles are – but the definition and clarity are excellent. The bagpipes in the rear channels, the war cries of the soldiers throwing themselves into hand-to-hand combat, the Saurdakar who are unstoppable… it is conveyed very intensely. What we hear here is the ability to handle dynamic peaks and, above all, a lot of finesse. Great to hear, especially in the many dark, fast-paced scenes where your eyes can’t always see what’s happening. The intense sound puts you in the middle of the action, perfectly conveying the confusion and alienation. This is what surround is all about.
When James Bond and his love interest and his daughter are chased in Norway, it ends in a misty forest. It’s currently one of our favorite Dolby Atmos movie clips for testing. It demonstrates that Atmos can do an incredible amount to create an authentic atmosphere with subtlety. You can almost hear the fog in the form of sounds like gunfire and motorcycles echoing in the distance. You will naturally feel a bit cold. The Denon handles this perfectly by creating a large sound bubble and with excellent control of the height channels. The ultimate goal is achieved: we are not in a room but in terms of experience in the open air. The scale is there, with sound effects that leave you completely delusional. Such a pistol shot, for example, extinguishes very realistically.
Less subtle is the audio that belongs to ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War,’ which we play via the PlayStation 5. It is not a new title, but it is a game that completely drops you in the cold war at the time of Reagan – who also participates virtually, although without his firearm. With major action films such as the John Wick series or the endless Marvel episodes, but also with a game like this, this Denon plays at home. It’s all very effortless, thanks to wide reserves of power: the receiver responds briskly to fast, moving effects (for example, if you quickly turn around in a game to shoot that darn terrorist behind you), dynamically, it never falls short and the AVC A1H a successful tuning on the edge between bombastic and too refined.
Hi-fi or home theater?
You can always listen to music on a surround setup, and with the rise of the Dolby Atmos offering on Apple Music, you have more choices than ever. We first grab a Blu-ray from the LSO, with Rachmaninov’s first symphony in DTS-HD MA 5.1. The Denon receiver does not disappoint: from the first tones of ‘I. Grave – Allegro non-troppo, this dynamic orchestral work is subtle and refined. The banging timpani and cymbals have a clearly defined character, while flutes and strings do their thing in a refined way in a large listening room. In terms of definition, it may not be at the level of the Hegel H590 in the listening room, but what we hear is really at a high level – considerably higher than an average AV receiver. Another nice thing about this is that the surround reproduction makes classical orchestral music more catchy and realistic than via stereo. Our setup with two Rubicon LCRs is also more focused on surround for movies than music like this. With those extra channels from the AVC-A1H, you might be thinking about bi-amping some more difficult floor standers. By the way, Metallica’s ’72 Seasons’ was also available in the Dolby Atmos format, although the mix didn’t make much use of the rear channels. Then the Dolby Atmos remaster of De La Soul’s ‘3 Feet High and Rising’ is more enveloping and captivating to listen to. Anyway, the Denon flagship also shows itself as a high-end device for music reproduction that can compete with hi-fi devices.
Let’s face it: the AVC-A1H is built to impress. Rolling your muscles, that must have been the motto of the design team. With this device, Denon wants to outdo everyone with maximum channels, features, and power. ‘More of the same,’ you might think. Yes, but a lot more. And all in one gigantic receiver, which is more than a little unconventional. If you want a home cinema with many channels, you quickly opt for separate devices. You should also see the price tag in that context. Seven thousand euros? Lots of money. But if you aim for something like 7.x.6 or more, you’re talking about a bigger investment anyway.
Its mix of power and features makes the AVC-A1H an attractive device for a certain group of enthusiasts. Perhaps not always the pros Denon hopes for, but the convincing surround enthusiasts who dream of building the ultimate home cinema themselves. If you aim lower, you save money better by purchasing a lower-positioned device. If you aim for the top, then the final boss performance of this beastly Denon will certainly not disappoint.
- Dirac support
- Particularly powerful and flexible
- Lots of flexibility in speaker setups
- Sub management
- Lots of setting and control options
- Immersive tuning
- Dirac is an additional purchase
- Higher price range
- All-in-one at this level won’t appeal to everyone