Denon AVR-X7200W It has been several years since we last experienced the very top echelon of Denon AV receivers. Not to say that we've been entirely deprived — the company's lesser models have been very impressive in their price ranges. But now, at last, we present the Denon AVR-X7200W, a $4999 receiver with just about everything you need in a receiver.

EQUIPMENT
This is a mighty nine-channel job, offering 150W into eight ohms across the full audio bandwidth at vanishingly low levels of distortion. All channels support six-ohm loudspeakers by default, or four-ohm speakers with the adjustment of a menu item.

Nine channels provides excellent versatility, and this receiver packs a wealth of options for sending sound to speakers in other zones, or for bi-amping the front speakers, or for driving additional speakers for expanded soundfields. Most importantly, the receiver supports Dolby Atmos surround in configurations up to 5.1.4 (5.1 plus four ceiling or Atmos-enabled speakers) or 7.1.2 with its built-in amplifiers, and 7.1.4 with the addition of two external power amplifiers.

In addition, Denon has promised to provide a firmware upgrade for the unit later this year to support the DTS competitor format to Dolby Atmos: DTS:X. The unit is also capable of supporting Auro-3D, another surround system that supports height speakers. This can be delivered as a software add-on provided over the internet, but costs US$199.

Denon AVR-X7200W

The receiver has eight HDMI inputs and three HDMI outputs. Two of those are for the main zone, while the third is dedicated to a second zone. The receiver supports 4K video, of course, and 3D.

The review unit did not support HDCP 2.2, the latest copy protection syste which is expected to be an unwanted attachment to the new 4K Blu-ray format we are all waiting for (its importance will hinge on how much Hollywood studios decide to implement it). Until very recently the only chipsets supporting HDCP 2.2 were limited in the colour resolution that they could handle, and Denon has been holding out for chipsets capable of passing through full 2160p/50/60 with 4:4:4 chroma subsampling.

The good news is that around this July, this receiver will be upgraded to the AVR-X7200WA with full HDCP 2.2 support for 2160p50/60 and 4:4:4. It will see a price rise to $5399. If you buy before then, you will be able to have your receiver retrofitted with the necessary board for $379 at any authorised service centre.

There are plenty of analogue inputs and digital audio inputs of both varieties. Composite and component video can both be scaled up by the unit to the HDMI output. In addition to Ethernet for the network functions, two short antennas protruding from the rear of the unit evidence the inclusion of Wi-Fi and, as it turns out, Bluetooth connectivity. Wi-Fi is limited to the 2.4GHz band.

There are full 7.1 analogue inputs, just in case you have some old surround processor that you still like, and there are full 11.2-channel pre-outs, so you can upgrade the amplifiers (or simply add two extra amps to make full use of the surround processing).

And there's a moving magnet level phono input.

The receiver is attractively styled and clearly well built, weighing an impressive 17.8kg.

The IR remote control has a small backlit LCD showing the operating mode, and it comes to life whenever the remote detects movement. It has a number of other-brand devices programmed into it and it can learn additional remote controls.

The 'Denon Remote' app for iOS and Android can operate the unit via the network, and indeed you can also operate the unit from any computer or other device with a web browser via its built-in web page functions.

Denon AVR-X7200WPERFORMANCE
The receiver sports an extremely detailed wizard to guide you through set-up. It will even tell you which speakers to wire to which terminals. Unless you're going for a basic 5.1 system, this is probably worth going through, for things are getting complicated with all the possible surround options available! Of course, once you've specified things the system will whoop its way through the Audyssey system and room calibration. It requires you to use at least three microphone positions. A cardboard microphone holder is provided so you don't need a mike stand.

You can set up the wireless network in the usual ways, or if you have a recent-enough iOS device that's already connected to your network, you can use this to set up the unit automatically either wirelessly or via a USB cable connection.

At the end of set-up we're happy to report that the two Audyssey processes Dynamic EQ (which is like a supercharged 'Loudness' control) and Dynamic Volume (a dynamic range compressor) can be set off without having to conduct a search through the menus.

There is one weakness of the menus (this applies across the Denon range): you can't arrow up from the top item to get to the bottom item. So if you open the 'General' setup sub-menu, you will find 'Language' boxed and ready to be selected with a press of the 'Okay' button. But if you want the 'Information' section (something we reviewers use a lot) you will see it at the bottom of this sub-menu and would love to press 'Up Arrow' to get there. But that doesn't work. You have to press 'Down Arrow' ten times to get to it.

It will be well worth your while to duck back into the set-up menus after you've finished the auto calibration, because there's a killer feature (which other brands really ought to pilfer). Go to Setup, Speakers, Manual Setup. Down the bottom you'll find an option called '2ch Playback'. Choose it. Change the top item from 'Auto' to 'Manual'. Auto simply copies across the settings from the automatic set-up that you've previously run. Once in 'Manual' you can set the sizes, distances and levels for the front left and right speakers, plus whether or not you want the subwoofer on (and the crossover if you do). These will then be the settings used if you choose 'Stereo', 'Direct' or 'Pure Direct' as your sound modes. (If you choose one of the surround ones, the normal settings will be used.)

Denon AVR-X7200WWhy? Let's say you have gorgeous stereo loudspeakers which are good to 40Hz. It's probably wise to set these to 'Small' with a 40Hz crossover for movie watching, so all the really deep bass goes off to the subwoofer. But for fine stereo listening you likely want to minimise processing. 'Direct' and 'Pure Direct' switch off most things — EQ, tone controls and so on — but do not change the speaker configuration. Unless you're playing pipe organ music, you likely don't need the subwoofer.

Anyway, that's what we did for our music listening: had the two-channel setting to 'large' front left and right speakers, subwoofer off, distance and level set to the zero settings. We set the phono, media server, CD and network audio inputs to 'Direct' mode, while we left our set-top boxes and Blu-ray player on Dolby Surround to take advantage of its sound field.

And the result was wonderful with stereo music.

Truth is, we had interrupted our use of this receiver to deeply delve into an extremely high quality stereo system, and we were a little reluctant to go back after experiencing its wonders. Our hesitation proved to be silly. As a stereo amp running in direct mode, this receiver delivered a fine and musical performance, with great control over the loudspeakers, superb imaging and excellent detail. Try as we might, we could pick no audible difference between the Direct and Pure Direct modes (the latter switches off video circuitry, in addition to all the audio processing switched off by Direct). We spent way too much time immersed in beautiful music delivered to our loudspeakers by this receiver. If you have stereo loudspeakers with which you'd prefer to listen to your music au naturel, you're going to find this receiver very satisfying.

Denon AVR-X7200W

And while we're talking sound, we should note that the surround sound performance was thunderously good. We did most of our movie listening with Dolby Surround engaged (we used a 5.1.4 speaker system, i.e. with four ceiling speakers) and it did just the right job at extracting material that appropriately belonged overhead and sending it there. For the most part this was more in the style of ambient sound, engaging us in a space that included an area above our heads in addition to around us. But occasionally there were specific sound elements clearly identifiable and properly placed in precise locations overhead.

Likewise with bona fide Dolby Atmos soundtracks. These were properly detected by the receiver and it switched instantly to Atmos mode. The Atmos material we have so far is limited, but we spot-tested our three movies and ran through the Atmos Demo disc, and the receiver performed exactly as it ought to, delivering sharp images precisely to where they were supposed to be, behind, to the sides, to the front and, of course, anywhere overhead.

The receiver did tend to be running rather hot at the end of a good nine-channel movie workout, so make sure you install it in a well-ventilated place.

The network music performance was excellent. As far as we could work out there was but one limitation: double-rate DSD (variously known as 5.6MHz DSD or DSD128) wasn't supported, although our rather more extensive collection of regular DSD64 tracks were, as were FLAC, WAV and AIF up to 24 bits, 192kHz and ALAC up to 24/96, and regular WMA, MP3 and AAC (including iTunes style).

Denon AVR-X7200WWe used both the Denon Remote app on an iPad Mini and our favourite DNLA streaming app on a small Android tablet. Both worked well. The Denon app was compatible with all the DLNA servers in our network. Both apps provided the all-important gapless playback. The push-style DLNA one was able to grab control of the receiver and switch it away from whatever it was doing in seconds so it could start playing music as directed by the app. We soon developed plenty of confidence that the receiver would respond to the demands of the network device swiftly and cleanly.

Just as it did with Apple's AirPlay. We streamed music from the iPad Mini, from iTunes on a Windows computer, and from a Mac, with the Denon receiver readily appearing on the drop-down list under the AirPlay icon and accepting the music we sent to it. Just, indeed, as it did with Spotify from our desktop app, plus the apps on Android and iOS. Since the receiver supports Spotify Connect, rather than streaming the music from the device (like AirPlay), the receiver connects directly to Spotify's servers.

The other network streaming functions available on the receiver are Flickr (for photos) and internet radio, using the popular and effective vTuner portal. You can add 'Favorites' from any network function by pressing the 'Option' key and selecting it on the pop-up menu. With all the network audio functions, details on the currently playing content along with its cover art is displayed on the TV, and also in the app if it's in use.

The 4K handling by the receiver was extremely solid and reliable. On principle we recommend that you stick with 1080p within your system and let the TV do the scaling. Having said that, if it's plugged into a TV that supports 4K signals, the receiver delivers its own screens — for network functions and so forth — at 4K, and they did look rather nice. We had access to some 2160p/60 test material and the receiver happily passed this through to our TV, and even overlaid its on-screen display over the top of it when required.

The progressive- scan conversion (HDMI scaling is off by default, so you'll need to switch it on if you want to use it) was automatic in its detection of film- and video-sourced material. Actually, there were three settings in total: 'Video', 'Auto', and 'Video and Film'. The first one forces video mode and should be avoided in most cases. The latter two seemed to perform the same on our tests, which was generally very well. They correctly detected the film-source nature of almost all the difficult material, both in 1080i/50 and 576i/50 content, flipping into video mode only reluctantly.

Most receivers don't support photos delivered via USB or the network, although Denon's do. In this model handling has been somewhat improved: their aspect ratio is now correct and when viewed from a reasonable distance they look OK. Up close it's clear that they've been pushed through a lowish resolution format somewhere between the USB file and the 4K signal with which they're delivered to the TV. But quite a few wouldn't display at all, with the unit displaying a placeholder image instead.

CONCLUSION
That's neither here nor there. For all the important functions, it's hard to see how the Denon AVR-X7200W (A, when it comes) can be surpassed.

Denon AVR-X7200W

Denon AVR-X7200W networked AV receiver
Price: $4999

FOR Excellent audio performance;  Excellent network functionality; Excellent stereo support
AGAINST: HDCP 2.2 an extra-cost return-to-dealer upgrade until X7200WA released

Tested with firmware: 6745-4461-9132-06

Power: 9 x 150W (8 ohms, 20-20,000Hz, 0.05% THD, two channels driven)

Inputs: 8 x HDMI, 3 x component video, 0 x S-Video, 5 x composite video, 7 x analogue stereo, 1 x phono, 1 x 7.1 analogue, 2 x optical digital, 2 x coaxial digital, 2 x USB, 1 x Ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth

Outputs: 2 x HDMI, 1 x component video, 0 x S-Video, 1 x composite video, 0 x analogue stereo, 1 x 13.2 pre-out, 11 pairs speaker binding posts, 1 x 6.5mm headphone

Zone: 1 x HDMI (dedicated), 2 x analogue stereo, 1 x composite video, 1 x component video (assignable), assignable amplifiers

Other: 1 x IR in, 1 x IR out, 2 x trigger out, 1 x RS-232C, 1 x Denon Link HD, 1 x set-up mic

Dimensions (whd): 434 x 196 x 427mm

Weight: 17.8kg

Warranty: Three years

 

Contact: QualiFi Pty Ltd

Telephone: 1800 24 24 26

Web: www.qualifi.com.au