Denon AVC-A110 AV Amplifier Review

Happy 110th!

SRP: £4,999.00

What is the Denon AVC-A110?

The Denon AVC-A110 is a new 13-channel AV amplifier released by the company to celebrate its 110th anniversary. While taking the existing AVC-X8500H as its starting point, Denon’s audio guru Yuuki Takahashi has upgraded certain components and design features to create a product worthy of its celebratory status, bringing to mind some of the classic Denon amps of the past.

This task isn’t as easy as it might sound, because the X8500 is already a superb AV amplifier with an impressive set of features that includes 13 built-in channels of monolithic amplification, and 13.2-channel processing with support for Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Auro-3D and IMAX Enhanced DTS:X. There’s also HEOS multiroom, AirPlay 2 and the ability to  work with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

So what’s new? Well aside from being a limited edition with upgraded interior components and enhanced cosmetics, the main difference is the A110’s support for 8K – although this will be added to the X8500H via an optional upgrade next year. Denon will also be adding support for DTS:X Pro to both of these amplifiers via a free firmware update in November.

The A110 is available for £4,999 as at the time of writing (October 2020), which raises the obvious question: should you buy the A110 or simply go for the cheaper X8500 instead? Let’s see how the AVC-A110 performs in general, and specifically against the AVC-X8500H.

Design

The Denon AVC-A110 uses the same basic design as the AVC-X8500H, which means you get an identical 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. The display uses a special white colour FLD, and there's a white LED indicator as well.

Denon AVC-A110
Denon AVC-A110 front flap down

The minimalist styling means the only other visible control is the power button in the bottom left hand corner. Denon has removed any logos aside from their own and the 110th anniversary badge. Under the display is a drop down flap, behind which you’ll find 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. There’s also a nice chrome finish around the cursor key and headphone jack.

 

The 110th anniversary finish is gorgeous, with minimalist styling and an excellent level of build quality

The A110 is a beautifully engineered and machined piece of kit, with a solid aluminium front panel, and heavy weight aluminium dials for the input and volume controls. There’s a rigid three-layered construction, a reinforced top panel and stabilised die-cast feet for a solid foundation and reduced vibrations. The A110 sports a gorgeous silver graphite finish, measures 434 x 472 x195mm (WxDxH) without the antenna and weighs in at 23.3kg.

Connections and Control

The Denon AVC-A110 houses most of its connections at the rear, and these are largely the same as the AVC-X8500H but with one major exception. There are a total of eight HDMI inputs (seven at the rear and one at the front) and three HDMI outputs. Unlike the X8500, one of the rear HDMI inputs and two of the HDMI outputs support 8K/60Hz and 4K/120Hz (up to a total 40GBps), while the main HDMI output also supports eARC (enhanced audio return channel).

All the HDMI connections support HDCP 2.3, plus they can pass 4K/60p, 3D, BT.2020, high dynamic range (HDR10, hybrid log-gamma, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision), ALLM (auto low latency mode), VRR (variable refresh rate), QMS (quick media switching), and QFT (quick frame transport). In addition, the HDMI inputs automatically rename themselves with information provided by the source (when available).

 

The A110 includes support for 8K/60Hz and 4K 120Hz, but this will be available as an upgrade option for the X8500

Editor's Note: there have been reports of issues when trying to pass 4K/120Hz, which is unfortunately something we're currently unable to test. However, Denon has responded to these issues with the following statement:

"Some new gaming source devices that support 4K/120Hz output may not work fully with Denon 8K AVRs. You may discover this incompatibility issue due to a HDMI chipset mismatch between the devices. When the affected system is connected to the AVR via 8K HDMI input and set to output at 4K/120Hz, and the AVR’s 4K Signal Format option is set to “8K Enhanced,” you may not see the system’s source video on their display, and may not hear the system’s source audio processed through the AVR. This problem is only present when a display that supports 4K/120Hz is used.

We are currently investigating the issue further and will offer a permanent solution at a later date. Meanwhile, we would like to provide a couple workarounds to prevent the issue in its current state:

You can connect the system to the display directly via HDMI and use the display’s ARC/eARC functionality to feed the native audio back to the AVR using the connected HDMI cable between the AVR and display. This will allow users to decode the native audio format sent from the source. With this method, the display’s CEC/ARC option must be enabled as well as the AVR’s HDMI Control and/or the AVR’s ARC option. In the AVR, this option is located within the GUI under 'Video – HDMI Setup'.

Another workaround is to leave or change the source’s video output to 4K/60Hz instead of 4K/120Hz until a permanent solution is available. This will ensure reliable communication between the source, the AVR and the display. The source’s default is set to output at 4K/60Hz, so if no change was initiated out of the box, then nothing further needs to be done.

We apologise for this inconvenience and we are currently working tirelessly to release a permanent solution so you can enjoy the 4K/120Hz experience using the latest sources with your AVR. We will have an update soon regarding the timeline of a permanent solution. We appreciate your patience".

Denon AVC-A110
Denon AVC-A110 rear connections

It's worth pointing out that although the X8500H doesn't currently support 8K/60Hz and 4K/120Hz, Denon will be releasing an upgraded version, the AVC-X8500HA, in June. In addition, existing X8500H owners can upgrade their units to the new HDMI board at the same time for a fee of £649.

In terms of other connections the A110 mirrors the X8500 with four composite and three component video inputs, along with outputs for both (all of which seems a bit redundant these days). 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. The A110 also has a dual antenna system for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi with 2.4GHz/5GHz dual band support, as well as Apple AirPlay 2.

 

Aside from the HDMI ports, the remaining connections are identical to the X8500, as is the remote control

There are 15 channels of pre-outs, allowing you to connect the A110 to up to 15 channels of outboard power should you so wish to bypass the internal amplification. 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. All the A110's connections and speaker terminals are gold plated, with the latter also being finished in an eye-catching dark grey.

Denon AVC-A110
Denon AVC-A110 remote control

The A110 has an identical remote to the one included with the X8500. It remains a well designed zapper, providing the maximum amount of control with the minimum amount of fuss. The controller is sensibly laid out, and has well spaced and large buttons, making it pleasingly ergonomic to use and comfortable to hold. There's a motion-sensitive backlight, an LCD display at the top and the remote is programmable with four macro buttons. If you don't want to use the provided wand, Denon also offers a remote app for both iOS and Android which includes all the controls you'll need, making it an effective alternative.

Features and Specs

The Denon AVC-A110 boasts an almost identical set of features to the AVC-X8500H, and the majority of differences are either cosmetic or internal. The special 110th anniversary experience starts as soon as you open the double boxed and specially branded packaging and discover a hand-signed certificate of authenticity, along with some celebratory post cards. All the A110s are made in Denon’s Shirakawa audio factory, and there’s a limited production run – although Denon are somewhat coy about exactly how limited. The A110 also comes with a five year warranty.

Denon AVC-A110
Denon 110th anniversary transformer

Aside from the exterior upgrades already mentioned, Denon has also replaced a number of internal components with higher quality alternatives. These include a new transformer with a copper base, new capacitors, an updated DAC board with new polypropylene capacitors, thicker circuit boards with lower impedance, improved mechanical stability, reduced vibrations and better heat dissipation. There’s even a black interior and special 110th anniversary branding, not that you’re likely to look under the hood. Denon claim that the internal improvements result in superior sound quality when compared to the X8500, and in addition the A110 has been specially tuned.

Denon AVC-A110
Denon AVC-A110 black interior

Otherwise the A110 appears to mirror the X8500 with 13 channels of built-in grunt, which is powered by class A/B amplifiers that use a monolithic topology and two separate heatsinks. There’s a digital audio processing system, incorporating two dual SHARC+ core DSP chips, which together have a combined continuous processing capability of 10.8 GFLOPS (10.8 billion floating point numerical computations per second). There’s also an AKM 192kHz/32-bit DAC, 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, plus you get Denon’s proprietary AL32 processing.

More: Audio Formats

Denon AVC-A110
Denon AVC-A110 AV amplifier

The A110 supports Dolby Atmos, DTS:X Pro and Auro-3D, along with IMAX Enhanced DTS:X. All these formats can be processed for up to 13.2 channels, and since the necessary amplification is built-in you have an elegant single-box immersive audio solution. In the case of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X Pro, you can choose between 9.2.4 or 7.2.6 channel configuration, or in the case of Auro-3D you can have seven ear-level channels, five height channels and a dedicated overhead channel. The sample we tested wasn’t running DTS:X Pro, but this will be added to the A110 and X8500 via a firmware update in November.

 

110th anniversary cosmetics and upgraded components aside, the A110's features are identical to the X8500H

In terms of other features, there’s also support for the HEOS multiroom system. This not only offers a useful remote app, but also provides access to a wide array of music services, including Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Prime Music, TuneIn, Soundcloud, Pandora, Napster, Deezer, iHeartRadio, Rhapsody and SiriusXM. In addition, the A110 works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, plus Apple’s Siri, thanks to AirPlay 2. As a result, you can ask your preferred voice assistant to play your favourite music, turn the volume up, skip to the next track, switch inputs and more.

Denon AVC-A110
Denon's 110th anniversary logo

The A110 supports external RS232 and IP control capabilities for easy customisation and compatibility with major third-party control devices, as well as Control4 SDPP (Simple Device Detection Protocol) certification for seamless integration with Control4 home automation equipment. The Denon uses Audyssey MultEQ XT32 for room equalisation, and includes Audyssey LFC (Low Frequency Containment), Audyssey Dynamic Volume, and Audyssey Dynamic EQ. There’s also Audyssey Sub EQ HT for seamless integration of two subwoofers, along with the ability to store two Audyssey settings. Finally, there’s an optional Audyssey MultEQ Editor App for more detailed tuning and customisation.

Setup and Operation

The Denon AVC-A110 includes the company’s Setup Assistant, so despite being a relatively complex amplifier, it’s a piece of cake to install. The wizard takes you through the entire process step-by-step, offering simple, clear and concise instructions. There’s also an effective graphical user interface that helps make the A110 far less intimidating to anyone who might be unfamiliar with multi-channel AV amplifiers.

 

Denon's excellent Setup Assistant makes installing the A110 easy, while the user interface is fairly intuitive

The Setup Assistant covers everything from choosing your speaker layout to setting up your various inputs and outputs and 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 cardboard stand and microphone. Audyssey analyses each speaker's output (including the subwoofers) at up to 8 measurement locations and generates precision digital filters to optimise each channel for the correct frequency and time domain response.

Denon AVC-A110
Denon HEOS App

In terms of the testing, I started with a basic two-channel setup, before moving on to a 5.1-channel speaker configuration and then a 7.1-channel layout. After that, I tested the A110's immersive audio capabilities with Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Auro-3D and IMAX Enhanced DTS:X. Since I had 13 channels to play with, and I was in a position to do so, I actually ran through various demo scenes using both 9.2.4 and 7.2.6 channel configurations.

 

Since the A110 has 13 channels built-in, and we were in a position to do it, we tested 9.2.4 and 7.2.6 setups

During the review I used a range of content, including movies and music in 5.1, movies in 7.1, and Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Auro-3D and IMAX Enhanced DTS:X immersive audio soundtracks. I used CDs, SACDs, DVD-Audio, Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray as my primary sources along with high resolution audio files and various streaming services including Spotify and Tidal.

Performance

The Denon AVC-A110 is an awesome AV amplifier, delivering a powerful and detailed surround sound experience. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, it’s based on the AVC-X8500H and that didn’t win a Reference Status badge for nothing. Denon has always made highly accomplished receivers and amplifiers, especially when it comes to multi-channel soundtracks. It’s often said that Denon is the best choice for film fans, while stablemate Marantz is better suited to music lovers. It’s an oversimplification, but in general terms I agree with that basic conclusion.

Whether the A110 sounds better than the X8500 is hard to say, because I wasn't able to compare the two directly. As a result, I had to base my comparisons on the X8500H I reviewed back in February 2018. However, given how impressive the A110 sounds I wouldn't be surprised if there is a tiny incremental improvement due to the upgraded components and special tuning. Having said that, I also know the X8500 sounds fantastic, and it's not as though Denon tunes its other amps and receivers to sound bad. So whether you choose the A110 or the X8500, you're sure to be pleased.

 

This accomplished AV amp sounds lovely with 2-channel and delivers multichannel audio with a lively sense of surround

Denon's strength might be with surround sound and immersive audio, but the A110 proved to be just as capable when it comes to two-channel audio. This is a lovely sounding AV amplifier, delivering a powerful and clear front soundstage that remains clean, detailed and precise. There is also excellent stereo imaging, with good localisation of instruments across the front of the room. The midrange is un-congested and the higher frequencies are well defined, whilst the bass is nicely extended within the capabilities of my MK S150 speakers.

The A110 really stepped up a gear once I moved on to multichannel soundtracks, and it proved particularly adept with live concerts. Watching the new Blu-ray of Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets gig at The Roundhouse was a psychedelic blast. The 5.1 LPCM mix immediately puts you in the middle of the crowd, before showing how effective the Denon is at creating a three dimensional soundstage with precise imaging of instruments and effects. The whimsical keyboards, driving guitars and meandering drums of the extended instrumentals all sounded fantastic.

Denon AVC-A110
Denon AVC-A110 front flap up

The A110 proved equally as impressive with movie soundtracks, and the shootout at the end of Wind River is a great example of how accomplished this AV amplifier is at breathing life into a film's audio. The excellent 5.1 mix is brutally visceral, from the opening shotgun blast to the sound of a high calibre sniper rifle. Edge of Tomorrow's energetic 7.1 soundtrack is just as exciting, with the Denon expertly decoding and delivering the beach assault with enough frenetic energy to reveal plenty of power and some nice headroom, even when driving all seven channels simultaneously.

Denon's power claims are somewhat fanciful, and only relate to driving two channels, but it's clear the A110 has sufficient grunt to handle even the most demanding of immersive soundtracks. The attack on Pearl Harbour during the film Midway is one of the most aggressive Atmos mixes I've heard, and the A110 handles it with skill, steering effects around the room with precision. The width channels have some effect in 9.2.4, but with all the planes flying overhead, I found the 7.2.6 layout to be the most immersive, placing you right in the attack. But no matter how chaotic the action gets dialogue always remains clear, and the musical score is clearly spread across the front of the room.

 

Whether Atmos, DTS:X, Auro-3D or IMAX Enhanced, this amp delivers a highly immersive experience

The A110 does a great job of handling bass, and the Audyssey room correction effectively blends the lower frequencies with the other speakers in the system. Whether it's the drums in a concert or the explosions in a war film, the bass is tight and controlled. The tonal balance is also impressive, allowing sounds to be steered around the room without a significant shift in timbre. This is best demonstrated when watching the film 1917  with its highly directional effects that follow the soldiers' points of view. The result is a superb immersive audio experience.

The same is true of DTS:X soundtracks, and Fast & Furious 8 sounds as over-the-top as the film itself, with highly immersive effects. The IMAX Enhanced DTS:X soundtrack on Zombieland: Double Tap boasts a massive amount of bass, giving the rock tunes in the soundtrack increased presence, the gunshots more power, and the zombie kills greater impact. Finally, while I'm not properly setup for Auro-3D, the soundtrack to Pixels is suitably energised and benefits from some enveloping surround presence and lively overhead effects during the video game sequences.

Verdict

Pros

  • Impressive sound quality
  • 13 channels of amplification
  • Dolby Atmos, DTS:X Pro and Auro-3D
  • IMAX Enhanced
  • 8K/60Hz support
  • HEOS multiroom
  • Flexible setup
  • Superb build quality
  • Gorgeous design

Cons

  • Limited to 13.2 channels
  • Only one 8K/60Hz input
  • No built-in tuner
  • Pricey

Denon AVC-A110 AV Amplifier Review

The Denon AVC-A110 is undoubtedly an impressive technological statement from the company, and a worthy product with which to celebrate its 110th anniversary. Long-time fans of Denon will almost certainly get misty-eyed with nostalgia as they look at the A110 and reminisce about some of the company’s iconic amps and receivers of the past. As a previous owner of an AVC-A1SE I can certainly relate to that particular emotion, and found myself remembering the joys of first experiencing cutting-edge tech like DTS-ES back at the start of the millennium.

However, if you’re planning on buying an A110 the question is: are you thinking with your head or your heart? If it’s the latter then fill your boots, because this gorgeous AV receiver is beautifully made, exceptionally well built, boasts a comprehensive set of features and sounds fantastic. Film fans in particular will be delighted with the performance, and the ability to run an immersive 13.2-channel system from a single box is very welcome. It’s also relatively future proof, although you may want to wait until Denon has dealt with the 4K/120Hz issues before dropping £4,999.

If you’re thinking with you’re head, then you obviously have to consider buying the Denon AVC-X8500H instead. Cosmetics and components aside, it’s essentially the same amplifier and an equally impressive performer. I wasn't in a position to compare the two models directly, but from memory the A110 didn't sound any better than the X8500. Perhaps more importantly, the latter currently costs £3,499, so even with the £649 HDMI upgrade (which you might not need if you aren't a gamer), you'll still be saving £851, which is a decent chunk of change.

When I reviewed the X8500H way back in early 2018, I awarded a Reference Status badge because at the time there was no other AV receiver at the price point which did as much or sounded as good. Over two years later the market has become a lot more competitive, with the excellent NAD T 778 costing half as much as the A110, while the similarly-priced Arcam AVR30 offers 16 channels of processing and full Dirac room correction. However, the Denon AVC-A110 remains an accomplished and collectible AV receiver, and certainly comes highly recommended.

Highly Recommended

Scores

Sound Quality

.
9

Features

.
9

Connectivity

.
9

Build Quality

10

Value For Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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