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Denon’s 15.4CH AVR-A1H: Return of the Super AV Receiver?

Denon AVR-A1H

Denon AVR-A1H


  • Product Name: AVR-A1H 15.4 Channel AVR
  • Manufacturer: Denon
  • Review Date: February 08, 2023 00:35
  • MSRP: $6,500
  • First Impression: Gotta Have It!
Denon Goes Beast Mode: 15.4CH AVR-A1H 8K Receiver - Details Revealed!
  • 15-channel amplifier
  • 150 watts per channel into 8 ohms (20-20,000 Hz) at 0.05% THD, with 2 channels driven
  • 17.4-channel preamp outputs, including four discrete line-level subwoofer outputs for more precise multi-subwoofer setups
  • Dolby®, DTS®, and Auro-3D® surround sound decoding
  •     Dolby Atmos and DTS:X Pro processing for use with in-ceiling or "height" speakers for more enveloping home theater sound
  •     Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization and DTS Virtual:X® create three-dimensional effects without height speakers
  • IMAX® Enhanced reproduces the full dynamic range of specially encoded IMAX soundtracks from compatible sources
  • Audyssey speaker calibration and system optimization includes: MultEQ® XT32 auto setup and room calibration delivers balanced, dynamic sound with enhanced surround performance
  •  Dirac Live Upgradeable
  • HDMI 2.1 audio/video switching: 7 in, 3 out
    •     all inputs and 2 of 3 outputs support 8K/60Hz and 4K/120Hz video
    •     all inputs and outputs support 4K/60Hz video
    •     HDCP 2.3 technology ensures compatibility with Ultra HD sources and TVs
    •     HDR-compatible for extended picture contrast and brightness with compatible TVs and HDR-encoded content
    •     supports HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision®, Dynamic HDR, and HLG
  • Dimensions: 17-1/8"W x 7-3/4"H x 19-5/8"D (10-3/16"H with Wi-Fi antennas raised)
  • weight: 70.5 lbs
  • warranty: 5 years

Denon AVR-5805Denon’s flagship AV receivers have a well-earned reputation of being among the best in the business. I have used a Denon since 2008, and have recommended the company’s AVR’s to countless friends and family members over the years. At the end of 2022, when I first heard about the brand-new, top-of-the-line 15-channel AVR-A1H ($6,499), I couldn’t help but think back to January of 2006, when I had just moved into my first apartment on Alcatraz Ave in Berkeley. It didn’t have a dishwasher or a view, and the carpet smelled like somebody else’s feet. But the living room was the perfect shape and size to accommodate a makeshift home theater. Because I had worked full-time for a couple of years before going back to school, I had managed to save up enough coin to buy my beloved 5.1-channel Monitor Audio speaker system, just a month before moving into my first college apartment. But my old 27-inch TV and Sony receiver would have to suffice for the time being; there was no money to replace them as I returned to life as a full-time student. That didn’t stop me from researching and fantasizing, though. And it was right around this time that I decided that my next AVR would be a Denon. I was led to this decision by an article (in Home Theater Magazine, if I recall correctly) about Denon’s colossal AVR-5805, which sold for $6,000 back then. This thing was the King Kong of receivers. It was over 11 inches tall and weighed 97 pounds. It packed 10 channels of Class AB amplification, with an advertised power rating of 170 watts per channel. And it looked absolutely ridiculous, in the best possible way. It was like three of my Sony receivers stacked on top of each other and fused together. Reviewers raved about its potent performance and audiophile-level fidelity. Audioholics founder Gene DellaSala called it a “masterpiece,” and still considers it one of the best AVRs ever made. I was sold. There was just that pesky $6,000 price tag to contend with. By the time I had saved up enough for a new AVR, it was 2008. After a brief reality-check, I chose Denon’s AVR-4308CI, which served me well for many, many years.

Like my AVR-4308 and the venerable AVR-5805, Denon’s new flagship 15.4-channel AVR-A1H is made in Japan — in the same Shirakawa Audio Works facility where the company builds the PMA-A110 110th Anniversary Integrated Amp that so impressed Gene in 2021. Marantz also makes its high-end home theater and 2-channel gear in this prestigious facility, which is known for “a combination of scientific precision and artisanal craftsmanship.” (Both Denon and Marantz manufacture less expensive products in Vietnam and in China.) Weighing in at an impressive 70.5 pounds, the AVR-A1H might not be quite as massive as the (frankly absurd) AVR-5805, but the new receiver’s pedigree is plain to see. Is the AVR-A1H a callback to Denon’s heyday of building monster receivers — like the 5800 series — in the early 2000s? Perhaps, but the A1H’s name might suggest that this new receiver is in fact the spiritual successor to other “A1” products from Denon’s past. Throughout the years only a handful of the company’s most significant products have had A1 in their names. For example, back in 1996, the ground-breaking AVP-A1 home theater processor gave early adopters of the DVD access to Dolby Digital and DTS processing, for mind-blowing 5.1-channel audio. The unparalleled AVP-A1HDCI AV Processor and POA-A1HDCI 10-Channel power amplifier, each of which sold for $7,500 when Gene reviewed them in 2008, have surely earned spots in the Shirakawa hall of fame, as well. Now it’s the turn of the AVR-A1H to make history. So, what makes it so special?

The AVR-A1H Amplifier Output Details

The most obvious thing that stands out about the AVR-A1H is its 15 channels of on-board power, enabling the user to drive 15 speakers and 4 independent subs for a 9.4.6 speaker configuration without any additional/external amps. In Dolby Atmos terms, that’s a traditional 7-channel layout with both side surrounds and surround back speakers, plus an extra pair of wide speakers at the front, 6 overhead speakers, and 4 subs. The receiver is rated at 150 watts per channel, with 2 channels driven. But according to Technical Editor Matthew Poes, whose recent visit to Masimo Consumer (formerly known as Sound United) yielded a goldmine of insider knowledge, we know that the amp itself not limited to 150 watts; it’s “a beast capable of quite a bit more output,” he said. (The THD+N vs Output showed the clipping point closer to 175 watts.) Denon says that it has measured the AVR-A1H to output 190 watts (6 ohm, 1 kHz, 0.7%, with 2 channels driven), but that was “at full steam in a test environment.”

This is one AVR we are eager to get on the bench to test but suffice it to say, our experience with Denon flagship products like these has proven them to be overachievers and capable of hitting 70% of rated power (105wpc) with up to seven channels driven. The fact that the A1H has an even larger power supply than the AVR-X8500H gives us high hopes for the amount of power this behemoth can deliver. In fact, we confirmed with Denon engineering that they bench tested the A1H is able to maintain 70% power for up to 9 channels driven! We can't wait to verify this with our own measurements.

Denon AVR-A1H topless

Denon’s press materials promise electrical and mechanical parts that are “Hi-Fi grade,” but thanks to Matthew’s reporting, I can offer more detail. The AVR-A1H uses a new amplifier module (shared with other models in the Denon lineup) that uses a high-current 4-pin transistor. The 4th pin is a thermistor that allows the amplifier to track temperature changes and re-bias itself automatically. Very cool. As you might expect for a 15-channel amplifier, the power supply is enormous —  the E-Core transformer is reportedly the largest ever included in a Denon receiver. Not since the venerable AVR-5805 have we seen such a beefy power supply in an AVR.

Editorial Note About the Denon AVR-5805 Power Supply by Gene DellaSala:

The AVR-5805 had a fifth foot at the center of the chassis to support its massive toroidal power transformer (borrowed from the AVR-5803) and two additional E-Core transformers borrowed from the AVR-2805!) The AVR-5805 employed multiple high voltage (80V) capacitors (4 x 33,000uF = 132,000uF, or 66,000uF per rail). According to Denon, the two additional EI core’s for the AVR-5805 were to supply power on both analog and digital circuits individually, not for driving the power amplifier section. Due to advancements in circuit design, the AVR-A1H doesn't need such a huge power transformers any more to power analog or digital circuity.

The block capacitors for the power amplifier are indeed of “unprecedented size” for Denon, rated at 33,000µF each (compared to 22,000µF each in both the AVR-X8500H and the 110th Anniversary AVR-A110). The power supply capacitors are custom-made for Denon by Japan’s Nichicon Corporation. These are 4-pole capacitors — a 4-pole filter is created by the arrangement of the internal capacitor coils, yielding a filter that leads to much lower inductance, according to Matthew Poes. The power transformer, which sits on a 2mm-thick copper plate, is 41% heavier than the one used in the X8500H. In fact, at a whopping 25.4 pounds, the power transformer in the AVR-A1H is nearly 4.5 pounds heavier than an entire AVR-X2800 receiver!

The AVR-A1H represents the absolute pinnacle of 8K A/V receiver performance for discerning home cinema enthusiasts. With a massive power supply supporting 15-channels of high-power, internal amplification and the flexibility to create up to a 9.4.6 immersive surround configuration, the AVR-A1H has been engineered and meticulously manufactured to achieve unprecedented refinement, establishing a new standard for AVR features and performance.

— Trip Randall, Denon brand president

 Denon AH1 Backpanel

Denon AVR-A1H Back Panel View - Note 17 Speaker connections and 4 XLR sub outs!

State of the Art 8K HDMI - Ready for Gamers!

Denon HDMIThe AVR-A1H supports both 8K pass-through and 8K upscaling of 4K content thanks to a brand-new 8K HDMI board. 4K at 120Hz is also supported on all inputs. Next-gen gamers, take note. The brains of the operation lie on a cutting-edge, dual-core, 1GHz digital signal processor (DSP), with enough number-crunching ability to power a smart phone. Denon says this represents a major upgrade over the last-generation chips. Compared to the 2-chip DSP in the AVR-X8500A, the AVR-A1H’s DSP can deliver 25% more MIPS (Million instructions per second) and works at a clock speed that’s over twice as high. All of this processing power is needed in order to support the high channel count and latest HDMI features. It also helps enable the AVR-A1H to offer a great deal of flexibility. For example, all four of the subwoofer outputs can be individually tailored with crossover, level, delay, and so on. If you prefer to use RCA outputs for your subs instead of XLR, those XLR outputs can be reassigned, allowing you to take advantage of a balanced connection between the AVR-A1H’s preamp and an external 3-channel power amp for your front left, right, and center-channel speakers. No, you don’t need a separate amp for your front stage, but why not try a Parasound Halo A31, a McIntosh MC303, an Anthem MCA 325 (Gen 2), or an ATI AT543NC if you're craving more power? Alternatively, if you don’t plan to use all 15 channels of the AVR-A1H’s built-in power for a 9.4.6 setup, you can reallocate unused amp channels to bi-amp the front stage speakers or reassign them to other zones or bypass them entirely for the purest preamp out signal.

Directional Bass?

Back to those subwoofer outputs for a moment. The top few Denon and Marantz models for 2023 feature “Directional Bass,” which works with either two or four subwoofers. When you’re using multiple subwoofers — let’s say one in each of your room’s four corners, for example — the AVR-A1H can send the low-frequency information from any given speaker to the sub that’s closest to the source location of the sound. So if Thor smashes his hammer into a baddie’s helmet and the sound comes from the front left speaker, the low-frequency impact will be routed to the front left subwoofer. Theoretically, these directional concussive effects could add an extra degree of realism and immersion to the cinematic experience by letting viewers feel (rather than hear) these bass cues coming from a specific direction. (We’re withholding our judgment on the efficacy of this system until we can try it for ourselves, but there is some skepticism among the Audioholics staff.) Before now, only top-shelf AV processors from the likes of Storm Audio and Trinnov were capable of this kind of location-specific bass management. The AVR-A1H also features a bass-exciter/ButtKicker output, meaning you can use one of the four subwoofer outputs to control a haptic transducer with its own crossover and level controls.

Audyssey & Dirac On Board!

Audyssey MultEQ XT32 is the built-in tool for fine-tuning the system to your room, but the big news for 2023 is that Dirac Live will become available, for a fee, starting in March. As of the time of writing, neither Dirac nor Denon has confirmed whether the AVR-A1H will eventually get the excellent multi-sub Dirac Live Bass Control feature, but it seems likely. Our friends at Audio Advice believe it will be added next year. As for whether the AVR-A1H will also get the brand new Dirac Live Active Room Treatment feature when it becomes available later this year, that’s anyone’s guess. The AVR-A1H can store two presets with customized setups for each. So you could have a Dirac preset and an Audyssey preset, or one for Dolby Atmos content and another for Auro3D. (You have tons of Auro3D content, right?) Or Directional Bass on one preset, and standard bass on another. The folks at Denon are looking into the possibility of adding more presets in the future via a firmware upgrade, which would certainly be welcome. In any case, the audio will be treated to Denon’s new DAC board, using no fewer than 10 ESS Sabre ES9018K2M chips. This is a 2-channel chip, with one DAC channel per output channel on the receiver. The HEOS board that controls the receiver’s streaming platform is also new. Supply chain issues forced Denon to design a new board, and the company used the opportunity to upgrade to a more capable board with a new HEOS processor, allowing for a more complex setup menu, 1080p graphical user interface, and an improved setup assistant that walks you through the optimal settings and even answers some questions. The preamplifier circuit board has moved to a quad-layer design (compared to a dual-layer PCB on the AVR-X8500H). The engineering team reportedly made considerable effort to minimize noise contamination at every point. This included designing independent power supplies for different parts of the receiver, and separate boards for different functions. In lesser products, it would not be uncommon to see the DSP, the DAC, and the HDMI all stuffed together on one board. Ultimately, the engineering team found that the ubiquitous supply chain issues were both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, they weren’t able to continue using tried-and-true board designs because too many parts became unavailable or unaffordable. On the other hand, these circumstances presented an opportunity to innovate and design from the ground up, taking advantage of small performance gains wherever possible.

New Denon & Marantz AV Product Details from our Factory Tour!

All of the expected audio/video formats are present and correct on the spec sheet, including Dolby Atmos, DTS:X Pro, IMAX Enhanced, Auro3D, Dolby Vision, HDR10+, and HLG. The new HDMI board promises ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode) pass-through and VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) for all you gamers out there. As expected, the AVR-A1H works with Denon’s HEOS streaming platform, but it’s also usable as a Roon endpoint via Apple AirPlay 2. For those choosing to eschew the HEOS app, the AVR-A1H can be controlled by a new back-lit remote control with an aluminum top and a substantial-feeling 7.3-oz weight. As is often the case with flagship Denon receivers, there are really too many features to count, let alone list here. But a couple of small things stood out to me. Unlike the AVR-X8500H, the AVR-A1H has a stereo balanced XLR input, perfect for the analog output of your favorite high-end DAC. It also comes with a 5-year warranty, instead of 3 years on the X8500H.


Denon InsideI’ve no doubt that one of my colleagues at Audioholics will be getting an AVR-A1H in for review, so I don’t feel the need to sum up everything here, but I do have a few thoughts. As I write these words on February 3rd, 2023, the AVR-A1H has officially begun shipping. On paper, it looks fantastic. 

The addition of Dirac Live will, in my opinion, elevate the best offerings from Denon (and Marantz) into the top tier of AV products, just short of the Trinnovs and Storm Audios of the world. I can’t for the life of me understand why Dirac Live wasn’t included at launch, however, and considering that it comes standard on some much less expensive receivers from Pioneer and Onkyo, having to fork over another few hundred dollars for Dirac when it becomes available for the AVR-A1H feels less than generous. And given that the AVR-A1H boasts 4 independent subwoofer outputs, I was sorely disappointed (and more than a little surprised) that the Dirac Live Multi Subwoofer Bass Control feature isn’t yet a sure-thing for the AVR-A1H and its Denon/Marantz stablemates. The similarly-priced Arcam AVR31 offers it, after all. Other than that, the AVR-A1H looks like a worthy successor to Denon’s fabled super-receivers, and I look forward to finding out how it performs from a formal Audioholics review. The build quality of this AVR is above and beyond anything else currently on the market and if it performs as good as it looks, some of these initial shortcomings about DIRAC implementation can be forgiven.

Are you ready for a new super receiver war between the brands? Share your comments in the related forum thread below.

Unless otherwise indicated, this is a preview article for the featured product. A formal review may or may not follow in the future.

About the author:
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Jacob is a music-lover and audiophile who enjoys convincing his friends to buy audio gear that they can't afford. He's also a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles.

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