The Denon AVR-X3600H is not just the usual small update of last year's AVR-X3500H. The new Denon AV receiver actually receives two channels of extra and more power as a gift, so you can build a 9.2 or real 5.1.4 setup for less money. A completely different device than its predecessor, you can say that.
With AV receivers, major manufacturers such as Denon have the habit of presenting a slight update of the model from the previous year every year. The Denon AVR-X2600H is for example a refurbishment of the AVR-X2500H from 2018. However, it is a completely different story with the AVR-X3600H of 1,199 euros that we are viewing here, because this new receiver differs significantly from the AVR-X3500H. Where that older model was a 7.2 receiver, the AVR-X3600H contains the amplification part of the AVR-X4500H and you can use it for a 9.2 or 5.1.4 setup. The great thing is that the price has not increased enormously. More for (more or less) the same, that's what we like to hear!
Compared to the AVR-X2600H, this more expensive Denon model not only offers more channels and a slightly more competent room calibration, but also a little more control and some more power. Those are the things that stood out during testing when playing music.
The AVR-X3600H, which costs 1,199 euros, is an interesting proposition in the market, because you usually pay a few hundred euros more for a 9.2 receiver. The device also has the traditional strengths of Denon receivers, such as HEOS and AirPlay 2 streaming, Audyssey room correction and support for Dolby Atmos and DTS: X. In addition, this very complete mid-sized car is equipped with DTS Virtual: X, Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization, a number of advanced HDMI functions, eARC and – the hypefeature of the year – IMAX Enhanced. Who wants to unpack completely when friends come to visit: you can partly control the AVR-X3600H via Google Assistant Siri or Alexa .
Ready for a complete home theater
Thanks to its upgrade, the Denon AVR-X3600H can be the motor that drives a full home cinema with 5.1.4 channels. It therefore does not need an additional amplifier for the height channels. All eleven channels are active, so you can provide 5.1 at ear height, plus four speakers on the ceiling or high on the wall. In addition, other arrangements are possible, such as 5.1 in the living room and a second zone in the dining room. Another plus is the Denon interface. It manages to be very user-friendly at the same time and still offer you extensive setting options. For example, for the height channels you can indicate whether you work with wall speakers or built-in speakers – which means a big difference in terms of control.
At the rear you will find almost everything you need. Seven HDMI inputs and three HDMI outputs (in two video zones) offer great flexibility. For example, you can image both a projector and a TV, and perhaps a screen in the kitchen. They all remain HDMI 2.0a ports, but they do offer HDMI 2.1 functionality. For example, the Denon will support AVR-X3600H ALLM, so turning on your Xbox will automatically set your television to an image mode for gaming. The main video output is also eARC compatible, although we do not find that such a relevant feature on an AV receiver. As usual with Denon, you also get all legacy video inputs and outputs, which can be useful if you want to connect a retro console, for example. But most people won't use them, we bet.
Compared to its predecessor, the AVR-X3600H goes one step further by not only offering you more channels through speaker outputs, but also by offering pre-outs for eleven channels (so two more than is amplified). That is an asset for the serious home cinema builder who is aiming for 7.1.4.
As user-friendly as ever
When testing Denon and Marantz receivers, we always have positive words for user-friendliness – and that is no different here . The Denon AVR-X3600H fits perfectly in the line, without taking new steps (but that was not immediately necessary). AV receivers can be complex devices, something that you can never completely eliminate. But the interface that the AVR-X3600H conjures up on the TV screen does its best to be as clear as possible.
A big step is taken by the setup assistant who greets you when you greet the receiver for the first time. You are not only guided through a number of basic settings (such as the language choice and the connection to the network), but you also get a dash of illustrated explanation so that you connect the cables of speakers and sources correctly. For more dyed-in-wool users, it is then handy that you quickly reach more extensive settings. Denon therefore succeeds in finding a balance between user-friendliness and power. Of course, as we always note, we would like to see those nice menus appear on our big screen in 4K resolution. Really a very minor criticism: the setup menu is placed over content without switching it off. This makes the legibility of films with bright scenes (such as Aquaman, for example) less visible. Anyway, that's really mosquito sifting.
The AVR-X3600H comes with a classic Denon remote control: large, robust and with many buttons. On one side it gives you a lot of control, on the other hand it is a horror for the uninterested partner.
A great remote app is also available. It bears the name “Denon AVR 2016”, but is therefore also relevant and up to date for this year's receivers. You have to get used to some aspects of this app (there is no visual clue where you have to press to select inputs, it is something you have to discover). We think it is great that we can also operate our connected Oppo UDP-203 and Panasonic DP-UB820 Ultra HD blu-ray players with this app. That is another remote or two that can remain in the drawer.
HEOS and AirPlay 2
Like all mainstream manufacturers of receivers, Denon strongly focuses on streaming. Yes, Chromecast is not there, but the receiver has enough other options to play your music. For Apple owners, AirPlay 2 is the logical choice: it works very well, streams music in lossless quality and you can send the same track to multiple AirPlay 2 devices simultaneously. If you are a Spotify user, you can also play music on the Denon receiver from the Spotify app. If you already know the app well, that is handy.
Denon and Marantz, of course, have their own streaming and multi-room platform: HEOS. It's pretty powerful, although the number of streaming services supported is limited compared to rivals such as Onkyo and Yamaha. Some people find the HEOS app a bit sober, we think it is especially effective. The approach with three main screens that you select via tabs at the bottom of the screen is logical and works fairly well. When descending into the range of a Tidal or Deezer, albums and playlists are not presented in a very sexy way, but the track that is playing shows in large in the app and on your TV screen.
In the same app you can also play your own music files from an nas, usb disk or your mobile device and you can select physical inputs on the receiver. In that sense, the HEOS app is also a bit of a replacement for your remote and the Denon AVR 2016 app. A plus is that you can easily play files on a USB stick that plugs into the Denon receiver on a wireless HEOS speaker elsewhere in the house.
HEOS – conceived as a challenger for Sonos – also allows multiple HEOS devices to operate and pair. This way you can also send the sound from your TV to a HEOS speaker in the kitchen. A limitation is that you can only share stereo signals. That surround track of your blu-ray player cannot be converted to stereo by HEOS and sent to another device. We also find that the two or three wired zones of the Denon AVR-X3600H can be operated in the app, but cannot each play a different stream. You also cannot use HEOS speakers as rear channels in a surround setup. Some rivals can, so in this area HEOS has some catching up. Overall, we think the HEOS platform is fine. It is stable and can also handle hi-res files.
Adjustment via the app
You will be guided by a setup assistant when installing the Denon AVR-X3600H. As stated, Denon distinguishes itself from the competition; it's really handy even for people who are at home in AV receivers. One of the steps is to measure your room via Audyssey, the calibration software that is embedded in the receiver. However, we prefer not to do this measurement now, but later via the Audyssey MultEQ app. The measurement is the same, but via the app you can adjust and change things afterwards without having to pick up a microphone again. For example, we find it interesting to limit the working area of the MultEQ filter to around 600 Hz and to compare it with the result if you allow Audyssey to intervene up to 20 kHz. In short, through the app you can experiment a little without it costing you much effort. Unfortunately you have to spend 20 euros extra to get it. It is handy that Denon provides a cardboard tripod so that you can take accurate measurements with the microphone that is also included. It is really important that measurements are taken at ear level. Because we take measurements relatively often, we use a microphone stand with a swiveling arm. That is more convenient and not exactly expensive (15-20 euros).
After calibrating our fixed loudspeaker setup (consisting of Dali Rubicon front speakers, Opticon rear and Alteco for the height channels), we always check the result with Dolby Atmos test tracks. In this case we also bring out a test disk with IMAX Enhanced content, provided by Denon. IMAX Enhanced uses DTS: X, the codec that appears to be less successful in the market than Dolby Atmos. It is still too early for IMAX Enhanced to become a thing, but for now Dolby Vision / Dolby Atmos seems to be much more popular. Given that uncertainty, it is good that a receiver supports as many standards as possible. You certainly cannot judge the Denon badly in that area.
By the way, we did find it interesting to listen to a number of IMAX Enhanced demos: a first impression is that the DTS: X-mix on the IMAX test disc is less spectacular is low and a bit more refined. Even the demo of an action movie like 'Bumblebee' lacked some punch.
An immense space
The Diamond Luxe edition of 'Gravity' by Alfonso Cuarón (blu-ray, Dolby Atmos) was one of the first Dolby Atmos soundtracks for the home, but is very hard to find in the stores. We bring the disc out again, to once again enjoy the excellent Oscar-winning sound design by Glenn Freemantle. The scene in which the talking astronauts are suddenly interrupted by Houston and they try to leave headlong before the debris hit the Space Shuttle is extremely exciting in terms of structure, and ends in sound effects that scroll through the room thanks to the Denon receiver. It is also one of the few films in which dialogues are played regularly through the rear channels, which conveys an immense feeling of a first-person perspective. A clever trick. We are pleased to note that Audyssey calibration has properly adjusted the rear channels and integrated them into the whole. Sufficient power is also provided. When the voice of Sandra Bullock migrates from behind us to the center channel in front, along with a change in perspective of the camera, the audio moves fairly seamlessly through the room. We have achieved slightly better results with Dirac, but for that you have to shop in a much higher price segment in terms of receiver.
We honestly don't understand the many praise for “Shazam” (Ultra HD blu-ray, Dolby Atmos); the film tries way too hard to be witty. That being said, the film does have its moments with a lot of reasonably well-brought action. But it is primarily a dialogue film, and they come neat and full from the center speaker.
Height channels in a surround setup add a realistic 3D space feeling, an extra that is not only fun with films. It also creates a lot of atmosphere with certain music recordings. Recently, for example, Pure Audio released a Dolby Atmos blu-ray with older concert recordings of the nine Beethoven symphonies performed by the Berliner Philharmoniker led by Herbert von Karajan. The recordings date from the mid-1970s, but upgraded to Atmos sound fantastic. With the sound mode set to Music (Dolby TrueHD / Atmos), the Denon AVR-X3600H is fully capable of placing the enormous dynamics in the first movement of the fifth symphony in C minor in a very large space. There has been no attempt to do crazy things with instruments that are played all around you, no, you simply imagine yourself in the audience in the magnificent room of the Philharmoniker. recommend the 'Smoke + Mirrors-Live' Blu-ray from Imagine Dragons. The height channels are used a little less effectively in this recording (which may be logical, because the recordings took place in an open stage, not a closed, acoustically quasi-perfect concert hall), but tracks like 'Forever Young' and 'Radioactive' do give It is nice to see why an AV receiver with the right surround music recording can offer a very immersive experience. What a spectacular soundstage! What we note at both Von Karajan and Imagine Dragons is that the Denon integrates the basses well with music – not too much, not too little. By the way, for fans of obscure Blu-ray functions: the Dragons disc is also one of the few with multi-angle video.
Denon AVR-X3600H – conclusion
There are probably people who want something more than the 7.2 of the AVR-X2600H, but the 500-euro jump to the X3600H to find substantial. At the same time, we can only say that the Denon AVR-X3600H offers a lot for this price point. In addition to the usual advantages of Denon – the simple operation, the many setting options, the streaming options – you get nine amplified channels and a number of future-oriented features, such as ALLM and IMAX Enhanced. The value of those things is still to be seen. But that does not detract from the fact that the Denon AVR-X3600H is a very sharp proposition compared to the competition.