I purchased the 8500H to replace an Onkyo 7.1 receiver after its
HDMI board failed a second time. I chose the Denon X8500H as it offered Atmos, Auro 3D and DTS-X and it delivered sound at 150 WPC, with 15 speaker outputs, 13 powered channels, dual subwoofer outputs and the ability to switch between Atmos and Auro-3D configurations.
At nearly 52 lbs, unboxing is a bit unwieldy and may require two people to extract it from the double box. Once released from its confines, I found the 8500 to be a gorgeous silver beast with thick milled aluminum which conveys a sense of luxury and durability.
In contrast to other receivers, the 8500 offers 2 lines of LED display which can be read from one’s seat at 12 feet.
Prior to setup, I installed 7 ceiling speakers for object based sound (RFH, LFH, LMH, RMH, RRH, LRH and VOG) along with the standard 7.1 surround configuration for a total of 14 speakers and 1 subwoofer. I used this configuration to allow for all three object based sound modes.
With 15 speaker wires, 6 HDMI cables, 3 RCA cables, 2 CAT6 Ethernet cables, a coaxial cable and two wire antennas all converging into one point, one must accept a veritable rats nest of wire. Regardless of what anyone says, no amount of cable management will eliminate this mess. Fortunately, it isn’t visible behind my entertainment credenza. To simplify setup, I added speaker labels (Denon also includes these) and banana plugs from Monoprice. With these steps, connecting the speakers went quickly.
The Denon setup mode leads you step-by-step through each of the connections and plays test tones to make sure everything is connected properly. Hooking up the TV, one should use the latest 18 gbps HDMI cable and using the ARC port on both the 8500 and the TV (if it has one).
After completing all of the connections, Denon then leads you through Audessy room correction which sets distances, cross-overs and checks phase (basically, assures that positive and negative connections are correct). I felt that Audessy improved the sound although it recommended cross-overs of 50hz for the front speakers. I also goosed the subwoofer a bit to increase the bass.
The last step is optional but I entered the names of each of the inputs (XBox One, WII, Karaoke, etc.) into the 8500 and added codes to operate the other remotes. This makes operation a bit easier for family members who struggle with the system. The 8500 can be integrated with Amazon Alexa and I’m really starting to enjoy the convenience of controlling its basic features through voice commands. I’m also considering a Harmony remote to further simplify operation.
After an hour or two reading the online manual (no hard copy provided), I finally was ready to test the system.
I first tried Netflix. What I discovered is that content is quite limited and most titles are sci-fi and fantasy flicks. I’m embarrassed to say that I watched a chick-flick called Ibiza (slim pickings!).
Despite the content, I was immediately impressed by the sonic improvement over my prior system. With my old system, I felt that my Polk RTI-A9 towers (84 lbs each, 48 inches tall) sounded thin and recessed and I considered replacing the speakers or adding a separate power amp. However, with the 8500’s 150 Watts per channel, improved DACs and better isolation, I found that the Polk towers and all of the surrounds sounded richer, fuller and more crisp in response.
The Atmos object-based sound did seem to improve the feeling of immersion but the biggest improvement was with the 7 floor speakers. With my old system, I only occasionally heard sound from my surround and rear speakers. The DSP and greater power on the new system is much more effective at using the surrounds and I was now hearing ambient and background sounds which significantly improves the experience.
One important thing to remember is that Netflix movies with Atmos soundtracks are not lossless Atmos but are actually upconverted from 2 channel PCM. This is apparently due to bandwidth limitations on current HDMI 2.0 cables; however, Denon will upgrade the HDMI port to version 2.1 once this becomes available.
I have only watched one UHD Blu-Ray due to the limited number of available moves of my taste but I honestly didn’t feel that it added all that much more than regular 7.1 surround sound.
In my estimation, at least for now, object-based surround marginally improves sound immersion. To fully realize the impact of Atmos, Auro-3D and DTS-X, more and better content must be made available along with the upgrade to HDMI 2.1.
I next tried sound from YouTube videos pulled into the receiver from my TV. There, I found that well recorded music videos sounded fantastic. In fact, I’ve had gatherings where we take turns picking music videos for hours. The music is good enough that we are all fighting for the remote. Also, for videos with A/B comparisons of AV components, I can finally hear differences in the sound from each component. Of course, the quality of sound is highly dependent on the recording.
The ability to remotely convey music is the hidden jewel of the 8500. With the HEOS app, I can use my phone as a remote to play music on the receiver from Spotify, YouTube, Internet radio or from a hard drive connected to my PC. I had considered purchasing a network media streamer but with the 8500 I already have one. With a HEOS speaker, I can also push music to a remote location.
The HEOS app is not perfect and one should be careful to lower the volume before activating sound or you may blow your speakers. Turning off the app can also be a problem. Similarly, the Denon remote app can also be a bit janky (don’t ask me why; it would take too long to explain) and it really doesn’t make sense to have two apps to control the receiver. Lastly, one can accidentally activate the receiver through a smart phone when watching YouTube or listening to Spotify. I accidentally turned on the receiver at 3:00 am and it didn’t go over well with the family.
That said, streaming music through the HEOS/Spotify/AirPlay is fantastic and sound quality is exceptional. Ignore Mr. GoldenEars or Mr. Audiophile; they are just plain wrong.
Finally, the 8500 offers a phono stage and headphone amp. Both seemed adequate although I plan to spend more time on both in days to come. Happily, I won’t have any need to buy these components separately.
One cautionary note is that the receiver does get quite hot and from my experience with Onkyo I know this can ruin a receiver. To address this, I will probably buy an Aircom T8 fan which sits on top of the receiver and vents heat to the rear.
To wrap things up, the 8500 is for sound and video enthusiasts. Planning, patience and time are required to fully realize its capabilities. This is a beast with great sound and functionality. Its silver chassis is like tank armor and is a defiant response to wives and decorators. It is not a system for sissies or troglodytes.
In addition to its receiver functions, the 8500 should be regarded as a comprehensive media control center for every imaginable source or component. This is an endgame receiver and offers everything one could ever want in a music or home theater setup. The only remaining question is whether you’re man enough to handle it...and only you can answer that!