Denon AVR-X8500H 13.2 Channel IMAX Enhanced AVR Review
by Mark Henninger
The evolution of the AV receiver is one of internal transformation. Thanks to advances in digital signal processing technology, these unassuming boxes have evolved into home entertainment powerhouses. Today’s AVRs offer audio enthusiasts and movie lovers an astonishing amount of capability and flexibility for the money, including rendering 3D immersive sound and delivering stunning 4K video while supporting the latest HDR formats: HDR10, Dolby Vision and HLG. The Denon AVR-X8500H is a state-of-the-art AVR, with 13 amplified channels and a broad array of features, making it a top choice for movie lovers seeking an exceptional home theater experience.
Denon put its heart and soul into the AVR-H8500H. Start with the fact it’s made in Japan, in a facility dedicated to making high-end audio gear. Add the latest features like support for DTS:X, Dolby Atmos and Auro-3D and you have a home theater powerhouse that’s ready to tackle the toughest AV challenges. With it, you can do justice to Dolby Vision & Atmos content as well as IMAX Enhanced movies that feature uncompressed full-range sound. Gamers can enjoy heretofore unknown levels of immersion, while music lovers enjoy pristine fidelity thanks to powerful onboard amplification that’s capable of delivering 150 watts into an 8-ohm load (with 2 channels driven).
You need powerful processing to feed 13 amps with high fidelity sound and the AVR-X8500H is purpose-built to handle the task. For example, you get Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room correction as well as high-quality DACs on all channels (32-bit AKM AK4490EQ). And as you’d expect in 2019, it’s “smart” with support for Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple Siri; talk to this AVR using a compatible digital assistant-equipped device and it will obey your commands. Four SHARC DSP processors are spec’d to deliver 10 gigaflops of processing power.
The feature list of this AVR is so large, writing about it all would consume this entire review. Instead, you can go to Denon’s website and read up on the details.
Setup and Use
I have dedicated the top floor of my Philly rowhouse to front projection home theater. It contains a 7.2.4 speaker system plus a 110” Ambient-Visionaire Black 0.9 gain 16:9 screen (from Seymour-Screen Excellence) plus a Sony VPL-VW295ES 4K projector that’s reviewed here. The projector is calibrated using CalMan plus Colorimetry Research meters.
The speakers in this system are from KLH and include the company’s Kendall towers, Story center channel, Beacon surrounds, Broadway elevation speakers and a Stratton MH212 dual-opposed 12” subwoofer. What’s key is this rig can cover 20 Hz to 20 kHz easily, all you need to do is dial in an optimal response curve using the Audyssey MultEQ Editor app.
Because this is a 13-channel AVR, it is able to go beyond the 7.2.4 barrier and support front-wide speakers (9.2.4), or else a third row of height/elevation speakers (7.2.6). I do not have the need for three rows of height speakers in my theater, but for multi-row home theaters the extra overheads offer a better effect. I did hook up front-wide speakers, which come alive if you use the DTS Neural:X upmixer—it’s the best upmix option for listening to music and also works great with games.
Sources for this theater include a Sony UBP-X800 Ultra HD Blu-ray player, an Apple TV 4K, a Chromecast Ultra, a 4K gaming PC, a Bluesound Node 2 (acting as a Roon zone), a PlayStation 4 Pro and an Xbox One X—in other words, just about everything you need to enjoy a system like this. Even with this collection, there’s plenty of additional inputs on this AVR. No complaints about HDMI performance.
The IMAX Enhanced Denon AVR-X8500H AV receiver
Notably, this top-of-the-line model offers three HDMI outputs: Monitor 1, Monitor 2 and Zone 2. This lets you have dual displays in one room (TV plus projector) and still have a third display device running off the AVR. And the primary HDMI connection supports eARC, so you can have 3D immersive sound even when streaming from the apps built into your TV. This AVR even accommodates old-school composite and component video with multiple inputs and converts it to HDMI—perfect if you have a Laserdisc or VHS collection you tap into from time to time, or some other legacy device like a classic game console. What’s key is you can connect just about anything to the AVR-X8500H, from legacy gear to the latest digital sources.
Denon makes setup as self-explanatory as is possible with its on-screen guide. If you follow the graphics and the prompts, you’ll succeed in connecting your components and wind up with a working system. It’s a lot better than struggling with a manual and the whole process takes an hour or less, depending on the number of speakers in the system. The only thing I’d note here is that with all its connections, the back panel is complicated, and you will want to pay close attention to the labels. Having said that, it all fits back there and I had no issues wiring things up. Plus, Denon actually provides 15 speaker terminals, which allows you even greater flexibility in using the 13 amps.
This Denon does offer preamp outputs for all channels (single-ended RCA connections), so if you are inclined you can add external amps to boost the overall power of the system. For this review, the AVR-X8500H handled all the amplification, but I did also connect a five-channel external amp and observed that it is effectively silent.
After completing all the necessary connections, I proceeded with Audyssey calibration while using the handy MultEQ Editor app, which allows you to see and tweak the resulting correction profile to suit your needs. Once complete, I found that the measurements jibed well with the listed specifications of the speakers and subs; it achieved the desired 20 Hz to 20 kHz response range. As a final step, I chose to override the AVR’s setting for the front left and right speakers (it chose “large”), instead implementing an 80 Hz crossover for all the channels.
Overall, setup and calibration with Denon and Marantz AVRs and Audyssey has consistently provided a quality result, one that measures well and sounds great in my room. The AVR-X8500H is no exception, the calibrated result has the clean sound of a properly tuned system.
Denon ensures that if you want to “set it and forget it” the AVR-X8500H can be programmed and left alone. Or, you can fire up Denon’s apps and dig into a very deep networked feature set. And if you are the sort who likes to use a remote control, the company supplies a substantial one that’s filled with backlit buttons. It offers one-push access to the inputs, plus playback controls and menu navigation controls and a number pad. And if you flip down the front panel of the AVR itself, you’ll find controls for adjusting the menus there as well. Or you can control the AVR with Denon’s dedicated app.
The key thing here is that this Denon provides the most setup options of any Denon AVR ever and you’d be hard pressed to max out its capabilities.
If I want to watch TV or casually listen to an album, I’ll do that in my living room. The upstairs home theater where I tested this rig is where I go for entertainment experiences. Whether it’s listening to upmixed music, enjoying home theater gaming or indulging in a 4K action flick, the home theater is more immersive, and the audio plays as much a role in delivering that “you are there” feeling as the big picture up on screen.
I’m a sucker for big-budget action movies, a natural fit for the Denon AVR-X8500H. Using Ralph Pott’s reviews as a guide, I tapped into my growing UHD Blu-ray collection and checked out movies possessing both an audio and video rating of 90 or higher (out of 100). These films include The Cloverfield Paradox, Overlord, Venom, and Upgrade.
Each of these movies played back with tremendous audio fidelity. Seamless soundfield, total immersion, genuine suspension of disbelief… these were the “review speak” terms going through my head whenever I forced myself to be analytical. Most of the time, I just got sucked into the joys of watching movies on a top-of-the-line, fully calibrated home theater system—it only takes seconds to “fall into” a movie when you only intended to check out a single scene!
When auditioning specific scenes in the evening, I must be careful not to disturb my neighbors because this AVR is able to drive the speakers to very high output levels, cleanly. And that can be quite addictive, it’s the difference between hearing sound effects and actually feeling them. I don’t have any way to bench test the rig, but using a Kill-A-Watt meter I was able to observe that I did not even come close to drawing the maximum rated power (900 watts) from the wall, in fact total draw rarely exceeded 200 watts. Nor did I hear any signs of distortion or strain or dynamic compression. Of course, with a different room, different speakers, your mileage may vary.
The main thing I got out of the AVR-X8500H is a seamless viewing and listening experience. It’s got enough channels and enough power to truly envelop you, and to fully energize a room the size of my theater (11.5’ W x 18’ D x 9’ H = 1863 cubic feet). Of course, speaker sensitivity also plays a role in how loud you can get, but the key thing to remember is AVRs are rarely (if ever) called upon to output at maximum levels from all channels concurrently—that’s usually something that only happens on a test bench. Anyhow, the 13 individual amps in this unit proved to be quite capable and at no time did I think “Gee, I should just hook up the external amp to run the front channels,” which is something I have done when using less powerful AVRs in the past.
Denon’s AVR-X8500H is one of the first AV receivers to support IMAX Enhanced. Currently there are two releases in the format, both IMAX documentaries: A Beautiful Planet and Journey to the South Pacific. Hollywood titles are on the way, which is what I’m excited to see and especially hear, but for now I can report that A Beautiful Planet gave me goose bumps when I experienced it in my home theater. It’s just that there are not so many opportunities for sophisticated sound mixing, given that it’s a documentary. Visually, it was impeccable.
The cool thing about IMAX Enhanced is that the sound mix aims to replicate the IMAX theatrical experience. Once you press play, the AVR automatically applies optimized settings for the format. A specialized variant of the DTS:X codec is used to deliver full range sound that possesses uncompressed dynamics; this is great news for home theater buffs who are frustrated with the trend toward nearfield mixes and high-pass filtered bass found on many releases, even blockbuster action movies titles. With this system used in this review, you can experience the full impact of the sound mix; I can’t wait to compare the standard UHD release of Venom (which I have already) to the IMAX Enhanced version (that’s coming soon).
Gaming is a global entertainment force, earning as much money as movies with titles that reach the rarefied billion-dollar earnings mark. Some of the latest games offer 3D immersive sound (Dolby Atmos now, with DTS:X support just weeks away on PC and Xbox) and top titles have multichannel surround sound with sophisticated effects that offer location cues and a sense of space, often accompanied by excellent music.
Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that anybody purchase a 13-channel AVR just for gaming, but I am saying that if you do happen to own the Denon AVR-X8500H, you owe yourself the favor of experiencing modern, high-budget, cinematic games on your system. One of the most interesting things about game audio is that it rotates along with your character’s point of view, so it is highly desirable to have a system that is as properly integrated as possible. You want all the speakers to be matched in terms of timbre and levels, which allows for smooth & uninterrupted pans from speaker to speaker. Done right, it creates the illusion of putting you in the middle of the action.
When it comes to Atmos games, I have three titles in my collection: Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Super Lucky’s Tale and Gears of War 4. I don’t play these games regularly, but upon sampling them with my Xbox One X, I found they worked as advertised, providing a sense of envelopment that promotes a feeling of “being there” in the game. Although currently there’s only a handful of Atmos titles available, with DTS:X coming soon to Xbox and PC, I expect to see (hear) more titles with 3D immersive sound. The Denon AVR-X8500H is the dream machine that puts you inside the game world using sound; pair it with an 85” 4K HDR TV like Sony’s X900F reviewed here and you will quite literally think you died and went to gamer heaven.
TV & Streaming
While the AVR-X8500H is overkill for TV sound, the clarity it achieves is beyond what any soundbar can offer. I’m not a big TV watcher, but do enjoy some sports while upmixing the sound to 3D immersive, it gives the illusion of sitting in the crowd at the game while rendering the announcers with superb clarity. I had not given it much thought in the past, but a proper surround system makes watching sports at home a more engaging experience.
Although I mostly used the AVR-X8500H in my home theater, I brought it into my living room while writing up a review of Sony’s 85” X900F TV, using it in a 7.2.4 configuration. Here, the primary sources were an Apple TV 4K and a Chromecast Ultra and YouTube TV served as my source for sports content while my Amazon and Netflix accounts provided the 4K HDR streaming.
The advent of 4K UHD streaming has brought theatrical-quality visuals and sound to a home viewing experience that also includes HDR and 3D immersive sound. Fire up Netflix or Amazon and there’s plenty of entertainment available that’s produced at a high level, including the audio. Using a home theater to watch streaming shows? Once sacrilege, with today’s streaming quality, that’s the new reality. And soon, IMAX Enhanced movies and documentaries will be available to stream via FandangoNow.
One of the coolest things you can do with a capable modern AV receiver is upmix 2-channel music to 3D immersive sound. Today’s upmixers like Dolby Vision, DTS Neural:X and Auro-Matic are no “Concert Hall Effect” gimmick. Rather, they utilize a technique known as ambience extraction to emulate the spatial characteristics found in recordings. For example, when listening to a jazz recording through an upmixer, the band will still sound like it’s on the stage, but you’ll also hear the room reverb as an ambient effect, and maybe some sounds from the audience will come from the sides or behind you. There’s some degree of adjustability to each of the upmixers, and ultimately which one you use is a matter of personal taste. But as a rule, and especially with ambient and electronic music, I found them to be a rewarding alternative to stereo.
Of course, you don’t have to upmix music to enjoy it on the Denon AVR-X8500H. It’s a tremendously capable stereo receiver, able to drive speakers to high output levels all on its own, while handling just about any high-resolution digital format you throw at it, as well as offering plenty of analog inputs including one for a record player. And the best part, IMO, is that you get proper bass management and the ability to tailor the room correction to taste. Running this rig in 2.0 or 2.1 mode reveals it to be as capable a music-making device as many a stack of pricey high-end gear you’ll find in those hotel room shows. Indeed, because the KLH Kendall towers offer exceptional bass extension (output is essentially flat down to 25 Hz in my living room, post-EQ, which matches the specs). It was exciting to hear the AVR push the towers to their limits running as a 2.0 system, with tight and deep bass that you’d absolutely swear came from a sub. You can even use the Editor app to restrict the frequency range of the room correction to the bass region where room effect dominate.
Hidden inside this box of technology is a fantastic audiophile-quality stereo system, all you have to do is customize an Audyssey calibration to taste and switch to stereo mode to experience it.
For music playback, I rely on Tidal HiFi streaming, which works directly with the AVR-X8500H thanks to its support for Chromecast and also HEOS. All I can say is uncompressed CD-quality streaming through this AVR sounds fantastic, with a tonal balance that’s neutral, no audible artifacts, and plenty of detail—it’s the same experience as a CD. Stereo playback achieved the sort of 3D soundstage that’s supposedly the exclusive domain of high-end gear, but this AVR is clearly able to deliver it as well. With the right recording, pure 2-channel listening can be as enveloping as any surround-sound and as I went through my collection I found a lot of pleasure in listening to bands like The Orb and Bassnectar that deliver audio thrills in the mix with their swirling production styles full of all-enveloping sounds. Or, as a specific example, DJ Shadow’s “Monosylabik Part 2” from The Private Press managed to launch acute, tangible sounds the seemed to come from anywhere and everywhere, with just 2 speakers.
In addition to listening, I enjoy making music using Ableton Live software and virtual synthesizers. The great thing about using this system to compose and mix tracks is how Audyssey flattens out the dips and humps of the in-room response that could otherwise affect the mix if you try to compensate for them. Plus, since I enjoy creating music with deep (i.e. infrasonic) bass in it, and having a well-behaved system that can tame the room effects (peaks and dips) down deep is a major plus. And once the mix is dialed in, I can turn on the upmixers and experience how the sounds “unfold” when played back on a 3D immersive sound system such as this. All this, through a single HDMI connection that puts a 4K PC desktop on screen (with 4:4:4 color, supported by the AVR-X8500H) and offers up to 24-bit/192 kHz resolution. I can think of few things more fun than exploring hi-res, uncompressed sounds with the Denon AVR-X8500H handling the upmixing and playback.
Denon’s AVRs power many of the home theaters found on AVS forum for good reason, they are powerful, easy to use, offer flexible setup options, and deliver state-of-the-art features at affordable prices. While this flagship model is Denon’s priciest AVR offering, it is also the company’s latest, greatest and most powerful model.
The feature set of the AVR-X8500H is incredibly deep, indeed it’s likely beyond the absolute needs of most home theater enthusiasts. But, it is also a groundbreaking device in offering 13 channels of amplification in one box, which touches on territory heretofore exclusively served by high-end preamp processors. Consider that and the price point suddenly looks quite attractive when compared to those options, especially factoring in the cost of adding, plus the extra rack space required for such a system, not to mention all the cables needed to connect it together. One box to rule your system, that’s the AVR-X8500H.
Certainly, there are going to be installations where you don’t need all the firepower built into the AVR-X8500H. It could very well be that the AVR-X6500H ($2199) is all the AVR you need—it still delivers 7.2.4 3D immersive sound with a 140-watt power spec. But, if you want to go where no AVR has gone before, it’s the AVR-X8500H that offers the most power and capability of any AVR in Denon’s lineup. It’s the top dog AVR of 2019 and comes highly recommended.