Denon AVC-X8500H 13.2 Channel AV Amplifier Review
What is the Denon AVC-X8500H?The AVC-X8500H is Denon’s latest flagship AV amplifier and replaces the previous AVR-X7200WA at the top of their range. The AVC rather than AVR prefix on the X8500 gives a clue to the new model’s amplifier rather than receiver status; so it’s less of a replacement for the X7200 and more of a return to Denon’s big AV amplifiers of the past like the AVC-A1HDA. To be honest the lack of a built-in tuner is irrelevant these days and in all other respects the X8500H is the most feature-packed AV amplifier we’ve ever seen.
First and foremost the X8500 has 13 channels of built in amplification and, perhaps more importantly, it also includes 13.2-channel processing which makes it the first AV amplifier or receiver that can handle that many channels at once. What does that mean? Well the X8500H can deliver a 9.1.4 or 7.1.6 Dolby Atmos experience, as well as DTS:X and Auro-3D (via a free firmware update later in the year). In addition there are audiophile components, not to mention support for Spotify and Tidal, along with Denon’s HEOS multi-room system.
It’s not all multi-channel audio though, as the X8500 also supports 4K/60p, Rec.2020, HDCP 2.2 and High Dynamic Range – specifically HDR10, Hybrid Log-Gamma and Dolby Vision. Denon also plan to add eARC and Amazon Alexa support via future firmware updates. Naturally all this doesn’t come cheap and the X8500 will set you back £3,299 but when you consider what you’re getting that doesn’t seem so expensive. The big question is can the AVC-X8500H deliver the kind of massive performance that we saw from Denon’s AV amplifiers in the past? Well let’s wire-up 13 speakers and find out in our exclusive review.
DesignDenon might well be making some serious changes on the inside of the X8500 but the outside will look decidedly familiar. We get the usual AV amplifier layout, with a large input dial on the left and an even larger volume dial on the right. Sandwiched between these is an equally large and informative display that conveniently shows you what the amplifier is decoding and the channels that it is inputting or outputting.
Otherwise the front of the X8500H is very clean, with only a power button on the bottom left hand corner to break up an otherwise very minimalist appearance. That’s because everything else is behind a drop down flap, although even here Denon have simplified things with only some basic buttons for setup and control, along with an HDMI input, a USB port, a headphone jack and a connector for the setup microphone.
The build quality of the X8500 is superb with a beautifully engineered and machined chassis that is the same width and height as the X7200 but is 45mm deeper and 5.5kg heavier to accommodate the extra amplification. There’s a rigid 1.2mm thick chassis with a 3-layered construction and a solid aluminium front panel, along with a reinforced top panel and stabilised high-density feet. There’s an attractive brushed metal matte finish and the X8500 comes in a choice of black or silver. The X8500 measures 434 x 472 x195mm (WxDxH) without the antenna and weighs in at 23.3kg.
The X8500 harks back to Denon's huge AV amplifiers of the past but with a modern twist
Connections & ControlAside from the inputs behind the front panel, all the other connections are at the rear and it’s a fairly comprehensive selection. There are seven more HDMI inputs and three HDMI outputs – one of which supports ARC (Audio Return Channel), along with another for a second display and a third for zone 2. Denon have announced that they will add eARC (enhanced audio return channel) via a firmware update later in the year, which means you'll also be able to send lossless audio back via HDMI from compatible TVs. As previously mentioned all the HDMI inputs and outputs support 4K/60p, HDCP 2.2, Rec.2020 and High Dynamic Range (HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision). As well as HDMI there are four composite and three component video inputs, along with outputs for both. There are digital audio inputs – two optical and two coaxial – as well as six analogue stereo inputs, 7.1-channel inputs and analogue stereo outputs for zones 2 and 3. There are also stereo analogue inputs for a tuner and a grounded phono input for a turntable.
There are two 12V triggers, remote control in/out and an RS232 connector for serial control, along with a USB port as a power supply and an Ethernet port for a wired connection. However the X8500 also has a dual antenna system for Bluetooth and WiFi with 2.4GHz/5GHz dual band support, as well as Apple AirPlay. There are 15 channels of pre outs, allowing you to connect the X8500 to up to 15 channels of outboard amplification should you so wish. There are also 15 pairs of speaker terminals with intelligent auto switching between the immersive audio formats so you can assign a number of different configuration options for the 13 channels of built in amplification. This means that even though the Denon can only process a maximum of 13 channels at one time, you can connect up to 15 speakers and two subwoofers, thus allowing you to support all the immersive audio formats without swapping or reconnecting speakers. As a final flagship touch, all the connections and speaker terminals are gold plated.
The X8500 comes with almost exactly the same remote as the X7200 and the only difference between the two is the addition of a HEOS button. Otherwise they’re identical and that’s no bad thing because this is a well designed remote, providing the maximum amount of control with the minimum amount of clutter. The remote is sensibly laid out, with well spaced and large buttons that make it quite ergonomic in use and comfortable to hold. There is a backlight that is motion sensitive, an LCD display at the top and the remote is programmable with four macro buttons. Although if you don't want to use the provided remote control, Denon also provide a remote app for both iOS and Android which includes all the controls you'll need, making it an effective alternative.
This is the most technically accomplished set of features that we have ever seen
Features & SpecificationsThe headline feature when it comes to the AVC-X8500H is the inclusion of 13 channels of built-in amplification and Denon has put a lot of thought into their design and function. The X8500 uses 13 class A/B power amplifiers in a mono black topology that can deliver 210W per channel. The custom made and deliberately oversized transformer can deliver high current and high power and is located centrally for the best weight balance. Denon have also improved the layout of the 13 channels with a copper plate at the bottom and an expanded heat sink to improve stability as temperatures rise. There’s also a new fan set back from the bottom of the chassis that is designed to improve cooling but remain silent, whilst the circuit layout is optimised for the minimum amount of wiring.
The other big new feature on the X8500H is its ability to process 13.2-channels. To achieve this Denon are using two ADI Griffin Lite DSPs (digital signal processors) rather than the four ADI Falcon DSPs used on the X7200. As a result the first DSP handles decoding, whilst the second is responsible for features such as bass sync, AL32, Audyssey Dynamic EQ and tone control. The use of these two dual-core DSPs is what allows the X8500 to process up to 9.2.4 or 7.2.6 channels. There are also 8 audiophile AK4490 192kHz/32-bit DACs, allowing for high resolution audio decoding with multiple lossless file types including ALAC, FLAC and WAV, along with compatibility for 2.8/5.6MHz DSD files. The X8500 also uses a straight signal path to the built-in amplifiers which avoids the complicated signal path that was employed in the X7200.
As previously mentioned the X8500 supports all the immersive audio formats but it offers a level of processing that is unheard of on a AV amplifier or receiver. The Denon not only has 13 channels of amplification built in but it can also process this number of channels allowing you the option of a 9.1.4 or 7.1.6 Dolby Atmos configuration. The X8500 can also process DTS:X in 7.1.4 or 5.1.6 configuration and, via a firmware update later in the year it will be able to process a full 7.1.6 Auro-3D configuration with five height channels and the overhead 'Voice of God' channel. If this level of processing wasn't impressive enough, the intelligent auto switching means you can wire up a 9.1.4 Dolby Atmos configuration and also wire up a centre height channel and the VoG channel for Auro-3D and thus switch between the two without having to swap wires or reconnect speakers.
The X8500 features the advanced Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room acoustic measurement system including Audyssey Dynamic Volume, Dynamic EQ, LFC and SubEQ HT. In conjunction with the supplied microphone, this technology exactly analyses each speaker’s output to optimize the overall listening experience. With the additional Audyssey MultEQ Editor App (available for purchase), more advanced users can further customise their setup. The app offers the chance to not only run a full automated setup but to then customise that setup – including checking the speaker detection and room correction results, along with target sound options, midrange compensation, curve editor, MultEQ Filter Frequency range and Audyssey settings.
As with all of Denon’s higher-end amplifiers and receivers, the X8500 supports Denon's HEOS multiroom system, which means you can enjoy your favourite music anywhere – and everywhere – around your home. You can share music stored on your home network, via Internet radio or from streaming services with HEOS wireless speakers, or even other HEOS-capable receivers, throughout the house. The system can be controlled using the free HEOS app and supports a wide range of streaming services including TuneIn, Internet Radio, Spotify, Soundcloud, Tidal, Napster and Deezer.
The Setup Assistant makes installation easy and yet the speaker configurations are very flexible
Setup & TestingDespite its apparent complexity, the X8500H is actually quite easy to install thanks to Denon's excellent Setup Assistant. This wizard takes you through the entire process step-by-step, offering simple, clear and concise instructions that cover everything from choosing your speaker layout to connecting the speakers and the various inputs and outputs, as well as any additional zones. It also checks the polarity of your speakers and the volume of your subwoofer(s) before taking you through the Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room equalisation process using the included microphone. If you have your own tripod you can attach the microphone to that but if not you can use Denon's ‘rocket’, which is essentially a cardboard mic stand. The audio calibration process takes readings from up to eight positions, measuring test tones from all the connected speakers and any subwoofers, in order to calculate the sizes, crossovers, distances and levels, before equalising for the effects of the room itself. We would recommend that most people just use this effective automated room equalisation but there is the option to perform a manual setup if you prefer and if you buy the Audyssey App you can also customise the setup.
The menu system remains well designed, with a simple layout that is as intuitive to use as the rest of the amplifier, making it easy to customise the setup to your specific needs. In testing we started with a basic 2-channel system, before moving on to a 2.1-channel setup, followed by a 5.1-channel speaker configuration and then a 7.1-channel layout. After that we moved on to the immersive audio formats starting with our regular 7.2.4 setup that we use for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. We weren’t in a position to add two more speakers to the ceiling but we were able to add two width channels so that we could run a 9.2.4 configuration with Dolby Atmos content. However the addition of two width channels should provide greater benefit than two more overhead speakers because the extra side channels will help to smooth transitions from front to back and allow for greater precision when moving objects around three dimensional space. We used a range of content including movies and music in 5.1, as well as movies with 5.1, 7.1, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks. We used CDs, SACDs, DVD-Audio, Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray as our primary sources along with high resolution audio files and various streaming services including Spotify and Tidal.
PerformanceWe kicked off testing the X8500 with some two channel music because whilst that isn't necessarily it's main selling point, given all the music related features that Denon have included, it is an area where an AV product needs to perform these days. Thankfully all of Denon's efforts in developing an AV amplifier where the audio performance is as important as the processing has paid off. The X8500H is a lovely sounding AV amplifier, delivering a detailed and clear front soundstage using two floor standing B&W speakers. There was good localisation of instruments within that soundstage and the mid range and higher frequencies were well defined, whilst the bass was nicely extended within the capabilities of speakers themselves. It was equally as adept using a pair of bookshelf XTZ Spirit 2 speakers and an XTZ Sub 12 subwoofer, leaving the smaller speakers to handle the mid-range and higher frequencies whilst effortlessly integrating the low frequencies provided by the subwoofer. A recent return to Bruce Springsteen's back catalogue allowed the X8500 it prove itself, whether it was the bombastic rock of Born in the USA, the more complex arrangements on Born to Run or the sparse majesty of Nebraska.
Naturally once we moved on to multi-channel soundtracks, be that movies or music, the X8500 was able to stretch its wings and really fly. The 5.1 multi-channel mixes of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips on DVD-Audio and Pink Floyd's Darkside of the Moon on SACD certainly showed how effective the Denon was at creating a three dimensional soundstage with precise imaging of instruments and sound effects. However when we moved on to the Ultra HD Blu-ray of Dunkirk, things really kicked up a gear and whilst it might only be a 5.1 mix it was a reminder of just how good five channels can still sound. In these days of immersive audio it's easy to forget that a well-mixed 5.1 soundtrack can still sound amazing and the X8500 delivered Dunkirk just as it was intended. The roar of Stuka dive-bombers was terrifying, the mayhem on the beaches was perfectly replicated and the subtle sounds on the boats were delivered with precision. However it's during the dogfighting sequences that the sound field really came alive, placing you in the middle of the Spitfire's cockpit without needing to resort to overhead channels. The steering of effects was also impressive, whether it was a 5.1 or 7.1 mix, the sound effects were moved around the room with precision.
The X8500's assured performance with both 5.1 and 7.1 soundtracks wasn't a huge surprise, Denon have been making excellent AV receivers for years but what particularly impressed us was the quality of the amplification. The X8500 had the headroom necessary to give the action scenes in Dunkirk the visceral impact that Christopher Nolan intended, without losing the more subtle elements. As an aside the Dolby Surround upmixing also proved quite effective at opening up the sound field and creating a greater sense of height presence. The soundtrack might not have been mixed with overhead channels but you'd swear it was at times, so effective was the upmixing. We should point out that the Dolby Surround up mixer doesn't use the extra side speakers in a 13 channel setup, they are only for Dolby Atmos soundtracks. Anyway, that's enough of the appetisers, let's get down to the main course and plug in all those other speakers for a full-on immersive audio experience.
We started with our usual 7.2.4 setup and began with Deepwater Horizon, a film with a particularly active Dolby Atmos soundtrack. The X8500 handled it with aplomb, delivering all the channels with ease and totally immersing you in the oil rig as it explodes. The steering of effects was particularly impressive, moving objects precisely through three dimensional space and creating a hemisphere of sound. Despite all the chaos on screen, the dialogue remained clear and focused, whilst the score was effectively spread across the front soundstage and the LFE channel added impact where necessary. It was a wonderfully cohesive surround experience that shows the development of modern sound design but also how good the Denon was a replicating it in the home. The same was true of a DTS:X soundtrack like King Kong, where the beautiful ice skating scene in Central Park was perfectly realised, from the subtle sense of space to the deep breaths of Kong himself. It's a quiet and delicate scene that has a lot more happening in the mix than you'd think plus it ends with an explosion that was a great test how well the X8500 could handle dynamic range. And if you're wondering how well the Denon handled that particular test, the answer is very well indeed.
Finally we went full 13 channel, adding a pair of bookshelf speakers to the front sides. This not only adds greater width to the front soundstage but also allows for better transition of sounds from front to rear, as well as allowing for more precise movement of audio objects around the room. Whilst we wouldn't say there was a night and day difference between our normal 7.2.4-channel setup and the 9.2.4-channel configuration that the X8500 can deliver, it did provide a tighter and more precise sound field. We definitely felt that when sounds moved from the front to the back of the room, or vice versa, the transition was smoother with no sense of a whole where the extra side channels were. If you have a rectangular room, and most are, there is always a sense of dead space towards the front sides of the room and whilst you can mitigate this to a degree by correctly placing speakers and tonally matching them, there's still a slight jump as the sound is passed from the front to the side surrounds. We have a number of test sequences provided by Dolby that move sounds around the room and the 13 channel configuration definitely resulted in a smoother transition from speaker to speaker. Like we said, it isn't a night and day difference but Deepwater Horizon sounded even better using the 9.2.4 configuration and we didn't think that was possible. Denon are certainly to be congratulated for delivering such sophisticated processing in an AV amplifier and for including all the necessary amplification as well.
The X8500 offers an unrivalled immersive audio performance from an AV amplifier
- Superb sound quality
- 13 channels of amplification
- 13.2-channel processing
- Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Auro-3D support
- Extensive connections
- Unrivalled set of features
- Flexible setup
- Excellent build quality
- Attractive design
- No built-in tuner
Denon AVC-X8500H 13.2 Channel AV Amplifier Review
Should I buy one?At a time when many manufacturers are moving away from genuine multi-channel surround and instead are trying to create an immersive experience with soundbars and psychoacoustic trickery, it's comforting to see Denon taking the opposite approach with their flagship AV amplifier. The AVC-X8500H is clearly aimed at the enthusiast and, given that most people would balk at putting 13 or even 15 speakers in their lounge, it should ideally be used in a dedicated room. However as a technological statement of intent from Denon, the X8500 is genuinely impressive. It naturally has all the features you would expect from a modern AV amplifier, with the exception of a built-in tuner but that's largely moot these days, and it even manages to add a few we weren't expecting this year like eARC.
However it's the addition of 13.1-channel processing that elevates the X8500 above any other AV amplifier or receiver that's currently available, offering a level of immersion that can only be achieved with considerably more expensive high-end AV processors. Whilst the addition of so much processing would be impressive in itself, Denon takes things one stage further by including all the amplification you'll need to actually take full advantage of those extra channels. They even allow you to wire more than 13 speakers, so that you can switch seamlessly between two different configurations. Denon have also made sure that the included amplification is up to the job, ensuring there is actually sufficient power to drive all those speakers without running out steam and retaining a degree of headroom.
So it probably shouldn't come as a surprise to discover that the X8500 sounds fantastic, regardless of how many channels you're using. Denon know their way around an amplifier and combination of the power of their earlier AV amplifiers and state-of-the-art processing results in a product that is adept with both music and movies. Of course where the X8500 really gets a chance to shine is with immersive audio content and regardless of what speaker configuration you choose it will handle the sound field with remarkable assurance, effortlessly steering effects around the room. It also has sufficient power to deliver impact where necessary, whilst retaining a delicate touch when it comes to the more subtle aspects of sound design. The amplifier's ability to effectively integrate one or two subwoofers in to the overall soundstage, also results in a solid foundation on which to build an overall performance that is genuinely impressive.
The Denon AVC-X8500H takes multi-channel surround sound and immersive audio to a level previously only available on high-end AV processors and it does so whilst also providing all the amplification necessary in a single box. The fact that Denon have managed to deliver all of this power and processing for just £3,299 is even more impressive and makes the X8500 unique. If you're looking for an AV amplifier that can handle 13.1-channel processing it should obviously be at the top of your list because it's the only one. That alone is enough to make the X8500 a reference point but once you also factor in the performance, features and price, it becomes an easy decision to award a rare reference status badge.
What are my alternatives?Well if you like the idea of running a 13.1 channel immersive audio setup but would rather use separate amplification you could of course do that with the X8500 but it makes more sense to look at an AV processor. There are some very high-end models from the likes of Trinnov and Datasat but at the more affordable end of the scale is Emotiva's very impressive RMC-1, which can run 16 fully balanced XLR outputs in either 9.3.4 or 7.3.6 channel configurations but will set you back £5,500. Alternatively there's the X8500's Marantz stablemate, the AV8805 which also offers 13.1-channel processing and includes balanced XLR outputs but only costs £3,599.
If you're looking for high-end AV receivers then you'll obviously be restricted to 11.1-channel processing but there are a number of excellent options. There's the Anthem MRX 1120 with 11 channels of amplification built in and the benefits of ARC (Anthem Room Correction), although it will set you back a hefty £4,399. However in pure sound quality terms, nothing can beat the Arcam AVR850 with it's Class G amplification and Dirac Live room equalisation. Yes it only has 7 channels built in, so you'll need to add four more channels for a full 7.1.4 setup, and it does cost £4,499 but in pure audio terms, the AVR850 is the best sounding AV receiver we've tested to date.
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Suggested retail price when reviewed: £3,299.00
Value For Money9
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