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Denon AVC-X3800H

What Hi-Fi? 12/10/2022 What Hi-Fi?
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The latest AV receivers are so jam-packed with features that it's sometimes hard to conceive of a single user who might make use of them all. But the impressive specs of really excellent AVRs are designed not only to adapt to the changing technology of a myriad of potential source devices, but also to owners who might decide to modify and expand their home cinema in the future.

With its new mid-range home cinema amp, the AVC-X3800H, Denon has crammed in several hardware and software upgrades, no doubt intended to prolong its lifespan and make it appealing for a host of different buyers. The result is a highly flexible, well-rounded amp that owners can expect to keep for a long time and that will adapt to suit their evolving systems.

Price

Launching at £1499 / $1700 / AU$2999, the AVC-X3800H supersedes the two-time What Hi-Fi? award-winning AVC-X3700H, which was released in 2020 priced at £999 / $1199 / AU$2699. That’s quite a significant difference and it puts the formally budget-friendly mid-range AVR in competition with several higher-end models. 

But it’s not an entirely unexpected hike. The cost of the AVC-X3700H hasn’t dropped since its launch during the pandemic as markets and supply chains have undergone massive changes. Despite now being discontinued, retailers that still have remaining stock are listing it at ‎£1049 / $1599 /‎ AU$2690. 

Denon’s six-strong premium X range is amidst something of an overhaul, with a number of new models due over the coming months and into next year. Somewhat disappointingly, they all retain the same utilitarian design as the last few generations. 

The AVC-X3800H is right in the middle of the series, just below the similarly specced but soon-to-be discontinued AVC-X4700H, which launched at £1550 / $1700 / AU$3500. It sits above the new AVR-X2800H, priced at £869 / $1200 / AU$2199 and offering seven channels of amplification and 7.1ch of processing, but with less advanced processing, a smaller power transformer, lower-current power transistors and less sturdy construction.

Features

The most notable upgrade to the AVC-3800H compared to the company’s previous models is an increase in its processing from 9.2 to 11.4 channels, which is handled by a new Griffin Lit XP processor. With nine channels of amplification as a single unit, it's suitable for configurations up to 5.4.4 out of the box but can be expanded to 7.4.4 with the addition of an external stereo amp.

Of course, you might not have four subwoofers when you purchase the AVC-X3800H, but if somewhere down the line you decide that more bass is what you need in your life, then this is an AVR that can oblige.

Similarly, users can also take advantage of a new selective pre-amplifier mode that allows each speaker pair to be assigned to ‘Pre-out only’ for use with an external power amp. Previously this option could only be activated for all or none of the outputs. But now if you decide to upgrade the amplification of your front pair, for example, you can do so.

It’s touches such as this that indicate that the AVC-X3800H has been built with longevity in mind, and its connectivity spec seems to echo that. There’s almost certainly no one eyeing up this amp who has six 8K sources right now, but when the next resolution revolution happens, the AVC-X3800H is ready.

All of its six HDMI inputs and three outputs are now HDMI 2.1 ports rated to 40gbps and capable of 8K@60Hz or 4K@120Hz video pass-through. They boast compatibility with every major HDR format (HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision and Hybrid Log Gamma) and there’s a raft of gamer-friendly technology supported too, with VRR, QFT, ALLM and FRL (Frame Rate Link) all on board.

Denon says that as HDMI.org has updated its specifications for QMS (Quick Media Switching), the AVC-X38000H can handle the old standard (as the AVC-X3700H did), but not the latest changes. We can't imagine that being a major issue for anyone though.

Elsewhere there’s also 8K upscaling offered on all HDMI inputs, plus eARC on one of the outputs so that advanced audio formats such as Dolby Atmos can be received by the AVR via the same HDMI through which it sends video signals to the connected display.

There are plenty of ways to wirelessly connect to the AVC-X38000H too, with support for Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Roon and HEOS, Denon’s multi-room software that integrates streaming services including Tidal and Deezer and lets users stream to compatible products. 

The front panel of the AVC-X38000H includes a USB port for a mass storage device, with playback support for high-resolution formats, including FLAC, ALAC and WAV files, and DSD 2.8/5.6MHz, and at the rear there’s also a phono input for vinyl playback.

The AVC-X3800H is compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri voice assistants, and it can also be controlled via the Denon AVR Remote app and the included remote, which has had a new shortcut button added to it for quick switching between HDMI outputs.

The AVC-3800H is the most affordable model in the X series to offer support for Auro 3D, IMAX Enhanced, 360 Reality Audio and MPEG-H formats alongside Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and it’s also where support for Audyssey’s more advanced MultEQ XT32 room calibration software as well as Dirac Live (as a new, optional extra) begins.

For all of its new AV receivers, Denon has revamped its graphic user interface to make the entire set-up process even slicker. Not all brands include full-screen video output, and it's incredibly beneficial for buyers planning to install their AVR themselves.

Those wanting to get more granular with their calibration can further customise settings using the Audyssey MultEQ Editor app (available for purchase on iOS and Android), while a Dual Speaker Presets feature lets users store and switch between two different speaker configurations and Audyssey settings. Users now have a choice of optimisation programs, with Dirac Live supported on the 3800 after a firmware update in early spring 2023 for an additional fee that’s still TBC.

Sound

In our test room, we use Audyssey MultEQ XT32 to calibrate our 7.2.4 system, which uses Dolby Atmos toppers. For most of our reviewing, the AVC-X3800H is in its Pure Direct Mode.

Watching No Time To Die on Blu-ray, we quickly discern that, like the 2800, the 3800 has had something of a retune that results in a slightly leaner low end in favour of a more balanced, quick and precise sound overall.

The explosive scene at Vesper’s tomb early on is dynamic and weighty, but the tumbling debris that scatters the mountainside remains distinct and nicely textured. In the aftermath, all the audio is filtered to indicate Bond’s temporary deafness. On the 3700, this can seem a little boomy and unwieldy, but with the 3800 we can still hear the subtle details of his gasps and the orchestration as it gradually creeps in, and the moment that the bullet cuts through the soundfield and the entire frequency spectrum bursts to life once more has an even more significant impact. Effects are well spread but accurate, and the result is exciting and immersive while remaining authentic.

Compared to the impressive and strident Yamaha RX-A6A, the AVC-X3800H can feel a touch more gentle and laid-back. The Denon is perhaps a safer, more all-around option, but which you prefer will depend on taste, the speakers you pair it with and possibly the type of content you enjoy watching.

Switching to Dune, we listen to the dialogue in the Ornithopter as the family flies out to the spice field for the first time. Set in a small enclosed space with a hefty dose of exposition, this scene can often suffer from feeling muted and certain characters overly sibilant, thanks to reflections from the headsets that they’re wearing. 

Through the 3800, though, there are rich-sounding voices with a warmth and naturalism that’s more engaging than the 3700 and even some of its pricier competition. There’s more sense of the space that the characters are in, too, with the short reverb of the cockpit and the background whirr of the engine adding plenty of depth.

Streaming SBTRKT’s Trials Of The Past, the AVC-X3800H delivers a surprisingly nuanced musical performance with an assured attack at the start of each synth note and the envelope of each reverb tail given space to breathe. The hefty bass is solidly controlled, while at the top end of the spectrum, the shakers are nicely defined and spread wider than with the 3700.

Switching to James Blake's Limit To Your Love, we can appreciate the fluidity and rhythmic coherence of the 3800. While the Yamaha RX-A6A is livelier, the Denon still produces a snappy performance with surefooted timing and an emotive vocal that’s full of character.

Verdict

The increased price of the mid-range Denon AVC-X3800H puts it in the path of some exceptional AVRs. But despite this increased competition, it still proves to be a force to be reckoned with, combining future-proofed connectivity, flexibility and a mature, authoritative but expansive sound.

If you’re looking for an all-round performer with plenty of features and ample scope for system expansion, then the 3800 is a superb choice.

SCORES

  • Sound 5
  • Build 5
  • Features 5

Read our review of the Denon AVC-X3700H

Also consider the Yamaha RX-A6A

Read our Arcam AVR5 review

Best AV receivers: excellent home cinema amplifiers for every budget

See all the What Hi-Fi? Award 2022 winners

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