This innocent-looking multichannel amplifier is hiding a secret: the AVC-A11XV is the offspring of the real flagship of the Denon range, the AVC-A1XV.
If you don’t remember that model by name, you may remember it by sight. The behemoth is the amplifier that weighs a practically unheard of 44kg, stands a definitively unheard of 28cm high and can drive two complete 5.1 channel systems in different rooms and from different sources at loudspeaker level. The AVC-A11XV calls upon much the same technology as is crammed into its sibling, but it is more conventional-looking and will be much easier to accommodate.
If the AVC-A11XV passes on some of the AVC-A1XV’s party tricks, it doesn’t lack for much else. It is still a massively well-endowed, 7.1-channel, THX Ultra2-certified multichannel amplifier rated at 140 watts per channel, and it has every significant sound processing algorithm under the sun. What sticks out when first getting to grips with the Denon, however, is that, as well as a full range of analogue audio and video inputs of the usual kinds, and a raft of S/PDIF coaxial and optical digital inputs and outputs, there is an unprecedented concentration
of hi-tech digital interfaces.
The list includes three v1.1 HDMI inputs, each of which can be fed with composite, S-Video or component video, so that the display screen can be connected using a single cable. DVI-HDCP encrypted inputs and outputs are also available, and can talk directly to HDMI sources and displays, using adaptors. FireWire, also known as IEEE 1394 or i.Link (audio only – PCM and DSD) is also available.
An Ethernet port is fitted for IP Protocol and software upgrades, and an RS232 connection can be used to plumb in external controllers from AMX and Crestron. The Denon is also the first amplifier to boast the new SACD/DSD compatible 3rd Edition Denon Link. Without a similarly equipped source available, it was not possible to test Denon’s assertion that SACD sound quality is better through this interface than via i.Link, but on paper, Denon Link’s superiority is beyond doubt.
Other highlights include a sophisticated control system which includes a programmable electroluminescent remote control, a very comprehensive on-screen set-up display system and, the jewel in the crown, the MultEQ XT room measurement and calibration algorithm. Not just another microphone-driven set-up process, MultEQ XT is an a uniquely comprehensive scheme that does everything from detecting what speakers are available, their size and phase, setting levels, crossover frequencies, distances and the like, to optionally providing nine-band room EQ, and making adjustments for a number of different listening positions.
It is hard – perhaps impossible – to conceive of a single system that makes use of all, or even most of the interconnection possibilities available here. But this is missing the point. The flexibility is there to provide multiple options in the present, and to provide flexibility for the future by anticipating forthcoming hardware trends.
All the component video and digital video connections are fully HD compliant. Of course, the Denon will not bring you HD video by itself, but provides the mechanism by which it become useable in the home, as long as you use a Plasma or other display. A brief word of warning here: many displays being sold as HD ready are standard displays with HDMI (or even DVI) inputs. Don’t be conned as so many already have!
Similarly with audio, i.Link and Denon Link 3 interfaces provide a virtually transparent transmission path for high-resolution audio, the latter being significantly superior to the former in principle. Using either means, the conversion to analogue takes place as close to the loudspeaker as can be contrived, bypassing as much of the front-end analogue circuitry as possible. This is always a good thing in the electrically noisy environment of a complex multichannel amplifier like this one.
Even using only the analogue inputs, the Denon is a very impressive amplifier. It is genuinely powerful, with over a kilowatt available for a multichannel system – the stereo or front main speakers may be biamped, with further improvements in performance, if the rear back speakers are sacrificed. For audio-only sources and in particular when working in stereo, the Denon has some powerful and effective bypass options that can also shut down the video circuit when not required.
With music, the result is an unusually transparent, well disciplined and highly detailed sound. The bass is deep and tuneful and has much, though not all, of the solidity and inevitability of a good stereo amplifier. Stereo imagery is precise with two-channel sources, displaying highly localised placement of individual instruments and voices.
The overall balance remains marginally lightweight under most circumstances, and although it is always possible to apply some equalisation to the sound via tone controls, you may find the results a little disappointing. Perhaps this is because of the subtle group delay that even relatively minor variations in low frequency voicing can cause.
In many ways, the overall character of the AVC-A11XV is reminiscent of Denon’s own PMA-S1 stereo amp, a pricey beast with a similar lightness and transparency. But the AV amp doesn’t offer the same subtle nuances, or the finesse with which the more costly stereo amp addresses complex recordings. And at the price, nor should it.
As a home cinema amplifier, using the internal processors, the Denon is as close to state of the art as can be achieved at this price level. With the usual caveat about the superiority of DTS over Dolby Digital (where the choice is available), the Denon is expressive, fluid and very articulate, with first rate dialogue reproduction, and devastating authority on high-octane soundtracks.
The operative word with this remarkable tour de force is flexibility. It provides a hugely comprehensive toolkit for making the most of your source components, of almost any kind, but with particular relevance to digital audio/video source components, while being a superbly transparent window able to drive high performance projectors and plasma displays. It also supports high-resolution audio (and video) formats of all kinds. Last but not least, it offers superior legacy support for analogue source components. In all, it’s a highly sophisticated multichannel amp that’s brilliant with movies – and impressive with music too.
Denon AVC-A11XV | $6999 | Amp |
The best bits of the flagship A1XV are put to use.