The DRA-800H from Denon is an AV receiver without surround channels. That may sound bizarre, but there is certainly something to be said for a stereo receiver with HEOS streaming and HDMI connections on board. The step from TV speakers to real stereo sound is unmissable.
Introduction Denon DRA-800H
The DRA-800H may look like a typical AV receiver but it is a very separate product. The main difference: this is a true stereo amplifier, intended for people who can tolerate a maximum of two speakers in their living room. “Then why not just buy a hi-fi amplifier?” You might call out. The answer lies in the many functions that an AV receiver offers in terms of connectivity and streaming. The DRA-800H has multi-room streaming via HEOS and AirPlay 2, voice control via Google Assistant, and is much richer in terms of HDMI than a typical stereo product. Even the new batch of stereo devices that come with an HDMI ARC connection, such as the NAD M10 or the future Arcam SA-30, do not offer exactly the same. You will rarely find a stereo amplifier with additional HDMI inputs and HDMI switching. The 649-euro DRA-800H therefore has its unique edges.
Where do we know this from?
We park the Denon DRA-800H on our test bench, where it is just above our regular AVR-X6300H and the Denon AVR-X3600H (which we will test soon). There are no really huge differences in design, although the X3600H is a bit deeper. The DRA-800H is a full-size device that speaks the design language of the surround devices. That means a clear layout at the front, with a central display (which in reality is smaller than the large, black surface shows) flanked by two large knobs (volume on the right, input selection on the left). The DRA-800H has something that the surround receivers lack and that this device makes something just “hi-fi”: three knobs below the display for bass, treble and speaker balance. Of course, you can adjust those matters with the AVR-X3600H and co, but then via the TV interface or the app. That is actually enough for us. The three extra knobs on the DRA-800H may look cool, but in practice you may never use them.
A bit more convenient are the smaller, almost invisible remote buttons below the display. This allows you to adjust the radio tuner or switch to a specific input in combination with specific settings via four Quick Select keys. Another plus: the DRA-800H comes with a DAB + tuner, allowing you to listen to radio stations in digital quality. But that is also possible via streaming.
There is also a USB input for a stick with music files. If you have other HEOS speakers, you can also send these files to other rooms via the HEOS app. That is practical if, for example, you place a few HEOS 1 speakers on the terrace during a barbecue. If a friend comes by with a USB stick with his music, you can plug it into the DRA-800H in the living room and then listen outside.
Stereo, bi-wiring or 2.1
will not surprise you that the back of the DRA-800H is a lot more austere than with the equally priced Denon AVR-X2600H that we have recently tested. If you are used to a stereo amplifier, it might just seem particularly busy. It all depends on your frame of reference, as always in life.
Of course, there are far fewer speaker terminals to be found than with a typical AV receiver – but also slightly more than expected. Denon provides four pairs, for two pairs of wired stereo speakers. One set of speakers in the living room, one pair in the dining room, for example. You can also choose to use them all for one pair of speakers. The speakers you use must have bi-wiring / bi-amping and also have two pairs of speaker connections. Two 2-wire speaker cables then run to each speaker, with a set of speaker connections providing part of the audio signal and the second the remaining frequencies. You then use two amplifier modules per speaker instead of one, which can keep more difficult speakers under control. Denon has also provided a pre-out for sub, allowing you to build a 2.1 setup. Film lovers who like that little bit more spectacle should definitely consider that. After all, hi-fi speakers are not always strong at reproducing ultra-low like you find it in the LFE channel of a Hollywood action movie. You relieve the stereo speakers, so they better represent the mid and high frequencies.
Denon DRA-800H – Many connections
One of the greatest assets of the DRA-800H are the five HDMI inputs that you can use to source devices. such as consoles, TV decoders and Blu-ray players. After that you only have to go to the HDMI-ARC input of your television with one HDMI cable. This is handy and also tidier in terms of presentation, especially if you have a TV set on the wall. The HDMI ports on the DRA-800H are all 4K compatible and support the most important HDR standards (with the exception of HDR10 +, which may not be able to handle any existing AV receiver). Just like the other new Denon AV receivers from 2019, the HDMI ports are HDCP 2.3 compatible. This is primarily a forward-looking thing, because at present there are no source devices that work with improved content security. Perhaps the new batch of consoles that promise to arrive after 2020.
Sufficient provision has been made for audio: two optical inputs, a coaxial digital input and two analogue cinch pairs. Denon has been smart and has not forgotten the phono input (MM cartridges). Under the hood is a relatively powerful 2 x 100 Watt amplifier. In contrast to AV receivers with many channels, that figure says something about what the DRA-800H can deliver. The specified figure is at a load over the full frequency range and on both channels.
Familiar interface of Denon DRA-800H
Like a “real” AV receiver, the DRA-800H displays its menus and settings via the television. So the first thing to do after unpacking the device and plugging in the plug is to connect it to your television. You will immediately see a step-by-step plan that explains in a very clear way how to connect the DRA-800H. This setup assistant remains a strength of Denon, because it explains to you in detail what you have to do. For example, the screen shows how to put speaker wires in which terminals. If you already know things, you can simply go to the next step. For connoisseurs, the setup assistant may be completely unnecessary, but for the first time a device like the DRA-800H is really very useful. Experts can, of course, simply ignore the step-by-step plan and dive into the settings themselves.
Because we know Denon’s TV interface, we are shocked when the DRA-800H conjures up its menus on the screen. Everything is shown in an even lower resolution than usual (576p, we estimate) – and that even though the more expensive AV receivers do not come out that way. It all looks very blocky on a 4K screen. We first thought that our Samsung TV had sent an error resolution table to the receiver. Not everyone will find the lower resolution disturbing and in the end you are not often in the menus. But in terms of presentation this aspect could have been better. There is one bright spot though: the piece of interface that shows while you are watching video (with the volume) comes across a lot sharper.
Again, it depends on your frame of reference whether you use the DRA’s TV interface 800H complex. The settings largely offer the same options as the surround receivers, minus a number of options that are related to surround. Even without the absent settings, there is still a lot on the screen. Ultimately, this is of course what you buy a receiver for: lots of options. With daily use, however, you rarely enter the settings, so don’t be put off by it.
No room measurement
It was noticeable when we went through the setup assistant: the DRA-800H comes without an Audessey room calibration. Denon arguably argues that a room measurement is not necessary for two channels, but a rudimentary measurement that also helps you integrate a possible subwoofer would have been nice. You can also experience a disturbing room mode (where a certain low frequency is amplified by the shape of your room) with stereo sound. The distances between the listening position and the individual speakers must then be measured and entered manually. You can also set the crossover for the (optional) subwoofer manually.
By the way, we are undecided whether the absence of an Audessey function is a real downside. It would undoubtedly make this device a little more complex and possibly more expensive. On the other hand, you also see such a function increasingly present in hi-fi devices, precisely because acoustic problems can have a huge impact on sound reproduction.
Denon DRA-800H – Many streaming options
AV receivers today are real streaming monsters, with countless ways to play your music wirelessly. The DRA-800H comes with all options that are also present with the surround receivers. In terms of streaming, everything is handled by the HEOS platform in the receiver. HEOS is the streaming solution that Denon (and Marantz) builds into its devices, but it is also the name that hangs a series of wireless speakers and sound bars. Thanks to HEOS you can do two things via the HEOS app: play music via all kinds of streaming sources and operate HEOS devices separately and together. So you can, for example, simultaneously play an internet radio station on the DRA-800H and a HEOS speaker in the next room. Or your children watch TV with sound via the DRA-800H, while you cook with a Spotify playlist in the kitchen.
The HEOS app is austere but user-friendly: it works with three main screens (Rooms, Music and Playing Now) . In the first you see the DRA-800H appear, with its two wired zones (speaker pair A and B). If you indeed have two zones in use, unfortunately HEOS does not allow you to play different music streams in each zone. You can only enable / disable the two zones. In Music you see all possible music sources: Spotify (you then switch to the Spotify app), Tidal, Deezer, Soundcloud, TuneIn internet radio, servers on the network with your own files, the music files on the mobile device on which the app runs , and music via connected USB storage. Via the app you can also switch between the physical source devices that are connected to the DRA-800HH via HDMI or an audio input.
The DRA-800H offers other ways to stream music. If you want to be old-school, you work with a DLNA player app such as Glider (iOS) or BubbleUPnP on your phone. In principle, DLNA is primarily intended to play your own music files on a NAS. But some apps, such as BubbleUPnP, allow streaming services such as Qobuz to be sent via DLNA to a player.
The Bluetooth and AirPlay 2 options are much more accessible. The latter works very smoothly from an iPad or iPhone. You can even merge the DRA-800H with an AirPlay 2 speaker from another brand.
Denon DRA-800H – Full control via the app
You can already make a lot of adjustments via the HEOS app, but if you want to delve deeper into the settings, switch to the Denon AVR 2016 app which is also used for the surround receivers of this year. In the AVR app you will find both the operation of the receiver and certain source devices (such as Blu-ray players), depending on how well they work with the HDMI-CEC standard. In our experience, operating a player via the Denon app does not work rather than does it, but so is the competition.
The app offers extensive access to the receiver’s settings; with the DRA-800H there are of course a bit less than with a multi-channel device like the AVR-X2600H. Something handy is the rename function for the inputs. You can easily give a different name to each entry via the app, which is useful if you have several consoles for example. Then you can rename CBL / SAT to Xbox One, for example, and the GAME input to PS4 Pro. You can also choose to see the volume control at the top or bottom of the screen, an option that you rarely come across and which is very useful if you often watch movies with subtitles. The only real downside to the app is that it sometimes shows options that you cannot select, sometimes for an unclear reason.
With the DRA-800H, Denon delivers a decent remote control that has fewer buttons than the typical AVR remote of the brand. That also makes sense; there is also a lot less to select than with a surround receiver. For example, you only have three sound modes (stereo, direct, and pure direct), while a typical Denon AV receiver has more than ten. There are still too many buttons on the remote, but it is a bit more user-friendly for the whole family than an average AVR remote control.
Better than the TV
For our test we only have the Dali Rubicon LCR wall speakers left and right of our Samsung UE60KS7000 TV turned on. The rest of the 5.1.4 set-up in the test room can take a day off. After a few listening tests, we decided to quickly connect the Monitor Audio Silver W12 subwoofer, because action films deserve to be viewed with a higher spectacle content than what a few Rubicon LCRs can offer. We don’t really think it’s necessary for music.
It takes some getting used to watching our test films in 2.1. It is of course a very different experience than with a full surround setup. The complete immersion in a film soundtrack is considerably less. At the same time, we dare to say that what we hear from the box is much more fascinating than what many sound bars deliver. The fact that you work with two real loudspeakers that are physically separated and spaced a little apart, creates a larger soundstage. The sound lingers in the front of the room, that’s right, but it is a large sound barrier. And stereo can also transfer movement. We look again at “Man of Steel” by Zack Snyder (Blu-ray) from 2013. As always with this director, it is a feast for the eyes and ears; unfortunately the story is therefore somewhat forgotten by Snyder. The moments that Superman or the soldiers of Zod fly through the landscape – and go through ‘very literally in this case – you hear the sound effects move relatively well through the image.
Dialogues are relatively well presented in’ Mission Impossible: Fallout “. It does not seem like the Denon receiver creates a phantom center channel (like does the Sonos Amp for example) and there is no function to lift dialogs out of the soundtrack, so voices will only get out of the screen come if you position the speakers properly. For the best result you may have to screw them in a little. During the MI film the dialogues are clear and distinct, only when it gets really hectic and a lot of sound comes out of the two front channels does it become a bit more difficult.
We actually think it’s a shame that you have the B-zone terminals cannot use to make a 3.1 setup with a separate center channel. Well, maybe we see it too complicated again – the DRA-800H is like a device intended for people who want better TV sound without the hassle.
Conclusion of Denon DRA-800H
You need the Denon DRA-800H on the view correctly. Not comparing it with a surround receiver such as the AVR-X2600H, but rather as an alternative to a soundbar or a device such as the Sonos Amp. The big advantage of the Denon stereo receiver is that it has almost all the possibilities of an AV receiver. So you can connect multiple HDMI devices and listen to streaming music. There is also a phono input, something that you will not easily find on an alternative TV audio solution.
Thanks to the streaming options, good Denon tuning and the relatively powerful amplifier hatch, the DRA-800H is very suitable for music. If you also want to watch really intense movies, we would recommend that you supplement the two speakers with a subwoofer. All this makes the Denon DRA-800H an unconventional but successful solution to experience better sound during your TV evenings. always perfect to their advantage