Can this next-generation mid-range AV receiver uphold Denon's legendary legacy?
Denon has high hopes for its 2013 X-series of AV receivers, with the new range boasting an unapologetically modernistic feature set and some welcome refinements, including a reworked user interface, clearer front panel display and hand-holding Setup Assistant to demystify installation. The model featured here tops the lineup, but at £1,200 and tipping the scales at 12.3kg, it’s more cruiserweight than heavyweight.
The AVR-X4000 is a seven-channel design, but supports nine-channel processing should you want to lace up an additional stereo power amp. In the brand's AV stable, it lords it over the lookalike AVR-X3000, cheaper at £800, but looks up to the £2,300 AVR-4520.
Cosmetically, this receiver is slick without being idiosyncratic. The fascia itself has a neat, brushed finish and lightweight symmetrical control knobs that frame a central trapdoor. The roof of the AVR sports a couple of plastic heat mats, secured over the front-facing vents with little plastic clips. These slightly ugly toupees are designed to prevent the roof of the unit exceeding predetermined temperature levels when the receiver is run at high volumes. Overly cautious perhaps, but Denon and Marantz have been using them for years.
Beneath the lid lurks Denon's Dynamic Discrete Surround Circuit D.D.S.C.-HD tech, plus Denon Link HD anti-jitter wizardry – the latter only comes into effect when partnered with a sibling Denon Link-toting Blu-ray player, and went untested during my audition. To optimise fidelity, signal paths have been minimised. The TI PCM1690 DAC used within is common to most of the X-series models.
The layout of the rear panel is measured and manageable. The horizontal speaker terminals are colour-coded and there’s a sheet of matching labels provided in the box to help sort your cable spaghetti. The HDMI provision is generous, with six inputs (plus a seventh around the front), coupled to InstaPrevue thumbnail previews. There are three HDMI outs, two of which can serve the main viewing room, with an independent feed for a second zone (note that the InstaPrevue doesn't function when this Zone 2 HDMI output is active). The receiver can also distribute audio only to a third zone.
Room EQ is achieved via Audyssey’s multiple-position MultEQ XT32 system and supplied mic. In terms of distance and level it proved pleasingly accurate in my room, but I still felt the need to make my own extra manual adjustments. Another Audyssey offering on the AVR-X4000 is LFC, which purports to control the dispersion of deep bass without adversely impacting the LFE performance in room. The system has seven levels of ‘low frequency containment,’ but my advice is to avoid all of them like an Uxbridge nightclub on a Friday night. When engaged, pretty much every thud of bass is exercised from the soundtrack, leaving nothing but shrill squawking. I may have been playing The Expendables 2 on the Blu-ray player, but my neighbours must have thought I was culling parakeets.
Thankfully, there’re plenty of useful features on board, too, including Apple AirPlay and Spotify (in itself a rather exclusive combination). The latter’s onscreen presentation is somewhat simplistic but it works well enough and for Spotify subscribers it’ll hit the right notes.
The boffins at Denon claim they’ve taken big strides in making its AVRs more approachable, and they're half right. The setup and main menus of the AVR-X4000 are easily navigated, enlivened with engaging graphics. But despite the refresh, some aspects of the receiver remain less than intuitive; you’ll still need to consult the manual, which is supplied as a PDF on a CD ROM or as a download.
With a name like 'X4000' you’d expect this receiver to be clad in spandex and boast secret superpowers, such as integrated Wi-Fi or Bluetooth streaming. But it doesn’t. However, I suspect neither will be crucial to the type of serious home theatre buyer shortlisting this model. And this doesn’t diminish the receiver’s connected performance – the Denon shines when networked. Selecting the Network input brings up a collection of icons representing internet radio, Last.fm, Spotify, media servers and Flickr. It's DLNA 1.5 compliant and handles disparate codecs well; from USB and across a LAN it taps its feet to MP3, M4A/AAC, FLAC, WMA and WAV. Those running a music server NAS are well served.
You can experiment with height and width exotica (DTS Neo:X, Audyssey DSX and Dolby Pro-Logic IIz), although with only seven channels on hand, you'll need to forgo rear surround channels. The AVR also features a variety of picture presets plus a user mode which allows you to tune contrast, brightness, saturation, hue and noise reduction. Personally, I feel your source and display are the more logical calibration point.
The AVR-X4000’s sonic characteristic is full-blooded but sweet – it’s the musical equivalent of a Ferrero Rocher box. Digitonal's electro bop Seraphim (Angel Mix), streamed as a FLAC Studio Master from Linn Records, is rich and gluttonous. And call me a heathen, but I preferred the receiver’s multichannel stereo presentation to its direct two-channel delivery.
Indeed, the immersive nature of the AVR-X4000’s surround soundfield is a consistent joy. When tuned into Sky Sports' F1 HD race coverage, transmitted in Dolby Digital 5.1, my viewing room sounded as if under siege from angry bees. Engines were panned front to back, left and right, in a glorious cacophony.
With pumped-up actioners, like the aforementioned ...Expendables 2 and its DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix, the AVR-X4000 stomps around like a belligerent teenager, kicking cans and debris into every corner of the room with gusto. As Sly and his team unleash their ordnance, the Denon responds with quick-fire transients. It’s impossible to suppress a grin at its antics, even though centre channel dialogue delivery occasionally sounds a tad polite. Clarity and definition remain admirable.
The amplifier is rated at 125W (into 8ohms) with all channels driven. While not an out-and-out volume monster, it doesn’t strain when cranked loud; the integrity of the soundstage isn’t compromised, remaining classy and controlled across the range.
Overall, the AVR-X4000 delivers on its modern promise. It may lack the wild invention of Sony’s STR-DA5800ES and the astounding dynamics of Arcam’s FMJ AVR750, but both those models compete in price divisions a magnitude higher than this well-behaved slugger. I would have liked to see THX post-processing, and find the operating logic at times inscrutable, but this model’s forward-looking feature set has undeniable appeal. And it’s indisputably a fine-sounding receiver for the price.
Price: £1,200 Approx
Highs: Engaging multichannel delivery; generous connectivity; excellent network streaming and content support; versatile multiroom options
Lows: At times, almost too refined; no Bluetooth; ugly remote; not quite as intuitive as Denon would have us believe; only seven channels of amplification
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