Denon AVR-X3100W 7.2 AV Receiver Review
Everything but the kitchen sink? Not quite... but close
What is the Denon AVR-X3100W?It could be argued that the humble AV receiver (AVR) is a dying breed. No longer do we get the massive flagship models seen in the last decade – that market is now made up with expensive processors and amplifiers, not the mega receiver of days gone by. The AVR is also a daunting affair for most new users with a back panel filled to the brim with inputs, outputs, terminals and everything else. Then there is usually the nightmare of making sure the speakers are wired correctly to the right terminals and can you get the Wi-Fi up and running without a university degree? There also seems to be a trend with AVR manufacturers to try and get as many features and gimmicks as possible on-board in a vain attempt to push the marketing further and attract new users. Even the design of the AVR is so accepted now that no effort seems to be made to vary the two big knobs either side of a display, with a flap covering even more inputs, approach. For more consumers to start using the traditional AVR again, it needs to be simplified and user friendly.
The Denon AVR-X3100W is a mid-range level AVR with lots of useful features on-board, but not at the expense of confusing the end user. It also introduces some helpful set up items like colour coded speaker and input terminals, with stickers in the box to attach to the cables, so they can be married up to make installation easy. And it also promises a simple approach to the set up menu system and ease of use. But does all this simplification of set up and use come at the expense of the sound quality? At the time of writing (April 2015) you can pick up the X3100 for just £499 from some retailers. Let's see if all this equates to the bargain of the year - provided you don't want immersive audio like Atmos, that is.
Design & ConnectionsFinished with a black brushed metal front plate and weighing in at a reasonable 11kg, the X3100 certainly means business. The traditional design is there to see with a large input (source select) dial to the left and volume to the right of the chassis. You also have the now common digital display placed in the centre of the front face with the only signs we are dealing with a budget model being the lack of a drop down flap to hide the extended inputs beneath the display. Here we have a headphone jack to the left and to the right is an HDMI input, a USB port and a 3.5mm jack for the Audyssey set up mic. The only other feature on the front of the AVR is the power button to the left. Overall the front of the X3100W is clean and uncluttered, something which continues around the back.
If there was one area of an AV receiver which is the most likely to terrify the casual end user it would be the back panel. Most AVRs have banks and banks of legacy inputs and outputs with speaker terminals placed in the most peculiar sequences. Even the most hardcore of AV enthusiast is known to have lost a night’s sleep trying to navigate around what should go where and what connections are best. Thankfully with most devices using one HDMI to output video and audio means that legacy analogue signals have become a thing of the past, (where they belong), the X3100s back panel is probably one of the easiest to get to grips with.
Around the back we have 7 HDMI inputs and two outputs. The monitor output is ARC ready. It is possible to use the Zone2 HDMI output to display a second source, on a different display, in the same or another room. There are two component inputs and 3 composite RCA plugs if you do want to use an aging gaming console or LD player at any point. Audio wise we have 5 RCA stereo analogue inputs along with 2 digital coax and 2 digital optical slots. Audio outputs include a stereo pair of RCA for zone2 and pre-outs for all 7.2 channels. Unless you plan on using an outboard amplifier the 2 sub outputs are the most important connections on this part of the rear panel.
Finally we have the speaker terminals and like the rest of the back panel which has been logically laid out to help users of varying degrees of knowledge in setting up an AVR, the speaker terminals take that one step further. As well as accepting a number of connection options, including banana plugs once the plastic covers have been removed, the terminals are also colour coded. Inside the box is a sheet of sticker labels for you to attach to the relevant speaker cable. It should then be an easy task to connect the correct cable to the right terminal. Good thinking Denon.
Denon X3100 unboxing video
Ease of use is high on the agenda of the X3100W
Denon X3100 Features and SpecsThe AVR-X3100W has seven amplified channels on board rated at 105 watts per channel (8 ohms). It can also drive low impedance speakers, something we tested out by hooking up both the XTZ Cinema Series and M&K S150mkII speaker systems which are both 4 ohm nominal loads. We are happy to report that the X3100 had no issues at all driving all channels with these packages and our usual Teufel THX System8 speakers.
For those who want to help save the planet while watching action movies depicting its destruction, there is also an Eco mode which varies the power output based on volume levels. Another feature that will appeal to some users is the full 7.2 pre-outs on the back panel for use with a power amp and using the X3100 as a processor. The ability to hook up two subwoofers is never a bad thing in our book and that’s exactly what you can also do here if you so desire.
As mentioned a couple of times now, ease of use for the end user has been a priority for Denon and the Quick Set Up Guide is a fantastic animated walk through which explains everything in an easy to digest manner.
Once set up you can run the full auto EQ suite from Audyssey which includes MultEQ XT measurement and correction along with Dynamic volume and Dynamic EQ. If you want to add more speakers such as front wide or height you can do that with Audyssey DSX (Dynamic Surround Expansion). The AVR also has Dolby pro Logic IIz and DTS Neo:X which also take advantage of the height or width channel speakers. There is no Dolby Atmos or Auro-3D on board the AVR-X3100.
When it comes to video the X3100 can handle 4K Ultra HD 60Hz content (if you can find any) as well as featuring 4:4:4 UHD 4K pass-through. We tested this with some native 4K material and upscaled HD content and it worked as expected. The Denon also has ISFccc certification and offers some video controls, but as we normally advise, you should make advanced picture adjustments at the display. We didn’t use these in our tests, but they can be handy for those with TVs or projectors that don’t feature advanced picture settings.
The remote control supplied with the AVR-X3100 is a plastic affair which has a good weight and fits nicely in the hand. There is nothing fancy about the layout which is functional and has all the frequently used commands within easy reach. There are direct keys for internet radio, Bluetooth and all sources to the top of the unit. You then have the volume and channel keys either side and below that are the direction keys. Towards the bottom there are play and direction keys, quick keys and sound mode keys. The one downside is the lack of a backlight.
As well as the provided remote control you can also use the Denon Remote App on your iOS or Android smart phone and there are versions for tablets including the Kindle Fire. We tested it on the iPhone 6 and it worked like a charm with instant responses to commands and a backlight for our bat cave cinema room.
One thing you can’t ignore at the rear of the X3100 is the dual antennas for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi reception. Set up to our network was child’s play with us streaming content from our NAS drive within minutes. Compared to some other devices this was like a breath of fresh air; well-done Denon. Streaming performance was solid and we also tested Bluetooth via an iPhone 6 and Tidal music streaming which again in the main remained error free with very few drop outs. You can also access Spotify and a few other services through the AVR if you so desire.
Mentioning our iPhone you also get Airplay support with the X3100 and if you plug your Apple device into the front panel USB slot, you can also use the direction and play keys on the supplied remote, to move around some music streaming apps on your device, such as Tidal. If you don’t have Wi-Fi access there is a RJ-45 LAN connection on the back of the AVR.
If you add in DLNA certification to everything else, plus the ability to introduce multi-room listening and viewing, it is hard to draw any fault at the functionality, ease of use and features included on what is a mid-range Receiver. All we need to do now is test how all this works and sounds, in the real world.
AVR-X3100W Sound QualityWe used the X3100 for half of our testing time with the recently reviewed XTZ Cinema Series speakers, as well as our normal THX speakers and, a few hours powering some M&K S150mkII speakers. In every case the Denon managed to perform surprisingly well with the 4ohm loads, even when pushed slightly over comfortable listening levels. Let’s start with 2 channel stereo.
I started by using the easy to find NAS drive with my music folders via the Denon. In my test folder I have the same tracks but recorded at different compression rates. I used a number to check how transparent the performance is from the Denon with the various speakers available. Only the higher bitrate tracks sounded decent enough to listen to on such revealing kit. Moving to Tidal and the HiFi playlist really starts to hit the sweet spot with this AVR in stereo use. It manages a very detailed and composed performance, but with a familiar Denon warmth to proceedings. Even with the extremely clinical M&K S150mkII speakers attached, there was still an easy to listen to performance with no sibilance or boxy sound-stage at reasonable listening levels. Only when really pushed did the X3100 start to struggle dynamically and things turned shrill. Even with stereo separation, not a strong point with the M&K’s, the Denon still managed to surprise with a wide and convincing stereo sound stage. With the XTZ M6 attached the performance was upped even more with excellent separation and an even more convincing stereo performance. The AVR-X3100 is a musical AV receiver and lives up to the type of performance expected from its bigger brothers.
Multi-channel movie playback is the X3100’s party piece and here it really excels with all three attached speaker systems and at reasonable listening levels in our cinema room (20ft x 15ft x 8ft LxWxH). Moving from our in-house Onkyo NR5007 flagship to the Denon was not as big a climb down the sound quality and power ladder as you would probably imagine. OK, push it to the limit and as you would expect it all starts to fall apart, but to be honest you really need to be pushing it. Besides the obvious we were pleasantly surprised with the sound quality on offer.
Using a variety of our favourite test discs and sequences we put the X3100 under a lot of strain with torture scenes. In almost all cases it performed very well indeed, with accurate placement of effects while managing to keep a cohesive sound field around the listener. Our current favourite atmosphere clip is from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The scene opens with the camera on the eyes of Caesar and it slowly pulls back while there is rain and thunder all around us. As the camera pulls back the focus switches from his breathing to voices of a choir making up a very faint soundtrack. The rain gets heavier and the thunder now carries more weight and bass. The Denon managed to play this scene back at -5db under Reference and holding all the points of interest and creating the scene without any issues. It was dynamic and full, never getting brittle even when the scene breaks into a chase and the human choir voices get louder and mixed with action cues.
Bass handling was tight and assured with excellent cohesion between the LCR and surround speakers in all three systems we tested it with. If it's a clinical studio sound you desire, you will likely not be too enamored with the warmth on offer from the X3100W sound. However, we found that it just took enough edge out of proceedings to work very well with the clinical M&K’s and XTZ’s making them sound more refined at the maximum volume level you can push from the Denon. We were never disappointed with the dynamic performance on offer, bearing in mind the price point the X3100 is positioned at. Keep it reasonable and the X3100 will fit the bill for many end users.
Denon AVR-X3100W Video Review
- Excellent performance vs price point
- Impressive sound quality with multichannel playback and stereo use
- Superb ease of use
- Effective Remote App
- Very good WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity
- Nothing much at this price
- Perhaps a backlight on the remote?
Denon AVR-X3100W 7.2 AV Receiver ReviewThe Denon AVR-X3100 is 'just' a 7.2 channel receiver. Are you missing out with no Atmos or Auro-3D? Not really as the price point would have to jump quite a bit to add the required amplification and processing. If you want to add the new immersive formats then you need to look at the next AV receiver up in the Denon range, the X4100.
If it’s 7.2 all the way then the X3100 is a seriously impressive mid-range performer that has all the Denon hallmarks for sound quality in stereo and multi-channel use. You then have all the features available on-board such as WiFi, Bluetooth, DLNA, Airplay, Internet Radio and networking. Add in the ease of use approach that Denon have introduced and you really do have a very appealing package indeed. Highly recommended.
What else can I consider?The closest rivals to the Denon AVR-X3100 are the Yamaha RX-V1040 and RX-V677 along with the Marantz SR5009. Plus you could also look at the Onkyo TX-NR636 which also has 7 channels or the Pioneer SC-2024 could also offer you similar performance for the money.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £799.00
Value For Money9
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