How does it compare to the Denon AVR-X7200WA?
The Denon AVR-X8500H has the same AKM AK4490EQ 192kHz, 32-bit DAC as the AVR-X7200WA – and that’s where the similarities end.
The build quality of the AVR-X8500H seems a bit more polished, with a noticeably reinforced top panel and solid aluminum front panel. It’s about ~2″ deeper, but wasn’t a problem for my media console. It is substantially heavier though – you should get one of those Audioholic guys to help.
As far as design, in order to process 13.2-channels, it has to use two ADI Griffin Lite DSPs. There are eight discrete stereo 32-bit DA converters at work. Also with Denon’s Advanced AL32 processing, all signals are upconverted to 32-bits.
And of equal importance, there’s also a larger, proprietary transformer and a straight signal path to the amplification stage. This means beefier heatsinks and four silent fans – and a presumably more transparent output.
Ok, Ok, how does it sound?
I actually went through the trouble of swapping in and out the two receivers over the course of a few weeks. The connections were very similar between the two so it took less than 3 minutes to swap.
The first thing you’ll notice is how much more intelligible and focused the dialogue is with the AVR-X8500H. You’re able to decipher every word – no matter how busy the soundtrack gets. In comparison, the AVR-X7200WA sounds warmer but slighted muddied and mumbled.
As far as tonality, the AVR-X7200WA has a warmer tone. The AVR-X8500H sides more on clean and neutral. The AVR-X7200WA is also a bit thicker and more “generalized” in its overtones. It relays a more intimate atmosphere rather than the spacious, well-delineated one of the AVR-X8500H.
The AVR-X7200WA does miss out on a bit of useful resolution. I think this resolution helps relay more lifelike details in a person’s voice or special effects – making them more believable (and refreshing) on the AVR-X8500H.
You then start to realize how quiet and transparent the AVR-X8500H is in comparison. It seems to lift a few veils off of the mix, allowing you to hear the finer and more granular bits. This results in a much more accurate articulation of the sound field, especially with the immersive formats. It’s much easier to hear how the engineers moved the sound objects around the listening space. With the AVR-X7200WA, there’s more “bleeding of the lines” and directionality is more vague.
Although both AVRs sport 150 watts per channel into 8 ohms, the AVR-X8500H has
Extra Height Speakers
From an immersion perspective. I didn’t really think the addition of the two front heights would make much of a difference.
I was wrong.
Although I did feel the void between the front height to the listening seat with the AVR-X7200WA (9.1.2), I didn’t think I was missing out on any critical information.
What those extra two height speakers provide is a much better sense of scale and weight. It gave monsters stomping upstairs a much more accurate sense of size and shape. Fighter jets that zoom past your head have a more realistic wingspan. Rain sounds like it blankets with more palpability and delicacy. Going back to the AVR-X7200WA, the sonic gap becomes obvious – as well as the substantial loss of dimensional cues.
In short, once you’ve experienced 9.2.4, it’s difficult to go back.
Should I upgrade?
The AVR-X7200WA is a very fine piece of gear. If you’re maxed out at 11 channels, you’d be fine with the AVR-X7200WA with external amps. However, if you could manage two more height speakers (or wides), I personally would upgrade to the AVR-X8500H. The continuity it provides in respect to immersion is undeniable and takes the enjoyment of film up more than a few notches.
With 4 extra channels of amplification, if you want a one-box solution, that’s another good reason to go with the AVR-X8500H.
Lastly, if you’re yearning for a more neutral tone, better resolution, transparency, soundstage, and more dynamic prowess – the AVR-X8500H is your ticket. The AVR-X7200WA uses broader, coarser strokes whereas the AVR-X8500H draws with a finer tip. Some of those details you just won’t get with the AVR-X7200WA – no matter what you do.
The choice is yours.