Reviews

Review: Denon AVR-X2500H – a good middle class

This year, the AVR-X2500H leads the charge at Denon on the AV receiver segment. What it offers is familiar, but Denon has added some interesting things this year to this successor to one of the most popular receivers of 2017.

Denon AVR-X2500H

Say that the AVR-X2500H is the first device the new Denon line-up for 2018 is not quite right. There is also the AVC-X8500H. We received them a few months ago, but that is quite a different kind of receiver. With its 11 separately reinforced channels and price tag of approximately 3,500 euros, this monster receiver aims at the serious home cinema lover and the installation market. Moreover, the X8500H is a top model that stays on the market for several years, while the lower models get an update every year. Similarly, the AVR-X2500H, which is the successor of the popular AVR-X2400H. The success last year of this 7.2-model was not entirely unexpected, because it is a middle-class car that offers quite a few features for a reasonable amount of 699 euros. The new X2500 promises exactly the same.

Ready for the modal living room

The AVR-X2500H is a 7.2 channel receiver that you can combine with different speaker configurations. With an AV receiver like this, you build a surround setup for a typical living room. You may want more with a larger dedicated home theater – and Denon will be happy to seduce you with the X4500 or X6500 – but for many people the AVR-X2500H may be more than adequate. Even if you have few speakers, because the receiver comes with DTS Virtual: X to create a surround field with height channels with only regular surround speakers. We do not think DTS Virtual: X works very well, but it is better than nothing.

You can not blind yourself on the 7.2 label. The seven channels that are available can be used in various ways, for example to build a 5.1 set-up and to provide a second zone with music or to create a 5.1.2 surround experience. The Denon receiver can thus be used to display Dolby Atmos or DTS: X soundtracks, albeit only with two height channels. That is less optimal than four, but easier to install in a normal living room. Finally, the AVR-X2500 comes with a pre-out for zone 2, a feature that you only have at Denon from this price point. Thanks to this pre-out you can provide a second zone with music, while you use all loudspeaker outputs for your surround setup in the first zone. It remains a pre-out; you have to provide a separate stereo amplifier in the second zone.

Denon’s excellent interface is back on the X2500, giving you a lot of possibilities to set up the receiver correctly for your situation. For example, you can enter the height channels if you have two front or rear ceiling speakers, centrally built speakers or two Dolby speakers. The latter are special speakers that stand on your regular speakers and that reflect the sound of the ceiling. For example, you can bi-amp your front left and right speakers, which can be interesting if you want to listen to music in stereo on more difficult speakers.

The great flexibility in setting is a big plus of this receiver, but equally important is that you can easily unlock the many possibilities via the Denon interface. Denon remains the example for other brands in this area. Also the Dutch setup assistant that helps you to set up the receiver via the TV screen is very user-friendly. You are really taken by hand; you even get to see where which cables need to be plugged in. If you know what you are doing, you do not have to use it. But for a beginner it is particularly helpful.

An indispensable thing to do when setting up a receiver and speakers is to measure with the built-in Audyssey MultEQ XT32 calibration system. This ensures that the receiver takes into account the real features of your living room and the placement of your speakers, which ensures a superior surround experience. Crucial is that you perform the measurement well, which certainly requires more work at Audyssey MultEQ XT32 than competing receivers. You have to perform up to eight measurements, which means that you spend 15-20 minutes putting the supplied microphone somewhere on the sofa, letting the receiver play test tones, and then move it again. It is not difficult, but you have to do it correctly. It is extremely handy that Denon delivers a cardboard tripod so that you can carry out measurements on the height of your ears. It seems like a small thing, but it is a nice extra.

We would recommend something advanced users to recommend the optional Audyssey MultEQ Editor app. Although it costs 20 euros, it offers additional possibilities to further manipulate the noise after the measurement. You should not do it if you do not feel like experimenting, but it is highly recommended if you are willing to take some time to really perfect your surround setups (read: to suit your taste).

HDMI trendsetter

At this price point you can expect more HDMI inputs than you will reasonably ever need. Denon does not disappoint, because the AVR-X2500H has seven in the rear and two HDMI outputs for a connection to your TV and a screen in the kitchen or a projector. In terms of video technology, the device is fully compliant with the latest standards. As you would expect there is support for 4K with HDR (HLG, HDR10 and Dolby Vision), although there is no news about HDR10 + yet. But that is the case with all brands; there is still too much uncertainty about this newer HDR standard carried by Samsung and Panasonic.

Also eARC is not there, while it does come to higher Denons, but although manufacturers have a lot make noise over this function is not so important – yet not with a receiver where the video sources may be directly connected to this device. The advantage of eARC is that there is more bandwidth for audio on the cable between the TV and audio device, so that apps on the TV or video sources that hang directly on the television can send uncompressed Dolby Atmos to a connected audio device. It’s a scenario that does not seem as relevant when you have an AV receiver.

In terms of connections, you’ll immediately see what you get when you switch from the cheaper AVR-X1500H to the AVR-X2500H: many more HDMI inputs, one extra HDMI output, and also many more analog and digital inputs for audio sources. The X2500H remains equipped with a variety of video inputs from the distant past. Of course, it can not hurt that they are there, but they do make the back look crowded and things like Component Video are becoming superfluous. Details are important with this type of products. We also look favorably at the better loudspeaker terminals that Denon has provided.

At Denon they are not insensitive to trends, so the AVR-X2500 comes with a phono input for a turntable. That was not with the AVR-X2400H last year. Given that many people also use their AV receiver to listen to music, a phono input is a nice extra.

Many operating options

Denon again provides many operating possibilities with the AVR-X2500H. Of course there is a standard Denon remote in the box with many buttons. It works as it should and is built extremely solidly. You can also control the receiver via apps. The Denon 2016 AVR Remote has a misleading name, because it works perfectly with this receiver from 2018. The app is intended as a total replacement for your remote control. Apart from the fact that the app sometimes needs a few seconds to start up the receiver at startup, it works fine. It is optimized for a tablet screen, but also shows clearly on a smartphone display. You get a lot of buttons offered, which on a larger screen yet more conveniently appears.

Meanwhile we are the app completely normal, but we can imagine that the Denon 2016 AVR Remote for new users sometimes what illogical. So you really have to know where to tap to open the list of entries (for those who do not know: it is top left, on the name of the active entry). Anyway, compared to the rest of the playing field, this app is pretty good. Maybe Denon should consider providing a ‘simple’ mode for people who always call the same five functions.

And yes, we write above ‘apps’ because the X2500 has several. That is all about how Denon tackles the streaming of music. Since 2016, Denon receivers have had HEOS on board. For example, if you want to play music files from a NAS or songs from Deezer, you work via the HEOS app. A small icon in the top corner allows you to jump quickly between the HEOS app and the Denon 2016 AVR Remote app.

The big advantage is that the AVR-X2500H can become part of a larger music system. In the HEOS app you can see the receiver appear next to any other HEOS devices, such as wireless HEOS speakers or a music system like the brand new Denon CEOL N10, and you can play a song on multiple HEOS devices.

The HEOS app has had the same interface for years and does not look very exciting, but is functionally well put together. We do not see that the appearance remains the same as a disadvantage. HEOS rival Sonos has already given its app a radical new form a few times, which caused a lot of resentment among many users who use autopilot every day. So change does not necessarily have to be done.

The HEOS app works with three large screens, selectable via the tabs below. The first shows the list of connected HEOS devices, the middle all music sources (including all physical inputs on the receiver), the third one currently playing. Very practical is that in the HEOS app you can switch from a streaming source to, for example, your connected CD player and that you can select sound modes (such as ‘stereo’ or ‘surround stereo’). You do not have to go back to the Remote app or look for the remote between the cushions of your seats.

Thanks to HEOS, the AVR-X2500H supports important web services (internet radio, Tidal, Deezer and – via the own app – Spotify Connect) and files from USB storage or over the network. We still lack support for Qobuz. The HEOS platform offers good support for music formats (up to PCM for 192 kHz / 24-bit), and DSD files can also be played on the receiver.

Especially important for installers: the AVR-X2500H can also be accessed via a web interface, just like the higher Denon models. That was not possible with the AVR-X2400.

Alexa and Siri

On the AVR-X2500H there is a sticker with the name ‘Alexa’. Although it was also possible with the Denon x400 generation and certain x300 receivers, Denon makes it clear that this new receiver can be operated by voice. There are some ‘buts’ about this story, or still for the time being. Alexa is a service of Amazon, a company that has shipped to the Benelux but does not have its own Dutch or Belgian online store. Alexa is not officially there, though you get it with some artifice. For the time being she only speaks English (or German and some other world languages). We have been using Alexa for a while on our fixed AVR-X6300H and it works really well. You obviously need an additional device with a microphone, such as an Echo Dot from Amazon.

Soon you will get an extra option. The AVR-X2500H comes with support for Airplay, but will soon get the update to Airplay 2. When is not officially known – it depends on Apple – but is probably around the beginning of August. Airplay 2 opens the door to some extra possibilities. You will be able to operate the X2500 together with other Airplay 2 speakers and in principle also play music synchronously on these devices. Does this mean you’re going to hear a song at the same time on a Sonos speaker and a Denon receiver? In theory, but after the release we will have to test what is really possible. Airplay 2 also introduces operation via Siri. You do need an Apple device with Siri, such as an iPhone or iPad, and the Siri control is only concerned with streaming – selecting and controlling music. With Alexa you can do more, such as certain receiver functions, including switching inputs. We assume that with Airplay 2 you can also adjust the volume via Siri, because volume control is embedded in the Airplay protocol.

Denon is not the only one offering voice control via Alexa and soon Siri, but the company was the first to do it. It does not really work perfectly, but that has more to do with the fact that services like Alexa are actually still in their infancy. You really have to pronounce the right sentence to get something done. Hopefully there will be some more intelligence behind Alexa and co in a couple of years to get you truly natural communication.

Testing with 5.1

We tested the AVR-X2500H with a 5.1 package consisting of speakers from the brand new Q Acoustics 3000i line and (rather short) with our fixed 5.1 arrangement from Dali Rubicon and Monitor Audio W12 subwoofer. In terms of controllability both sets are not extremely difficult to control, but also not very easy. Somewhere in the middle.

As stated earlier, setting the Denon AVR-X2500H to AV receiver standards is very simple. Which means that you still have some work, because an AVR remains a relatively complicated device. The 8-fold measurement of the X2500 is more extensive than with certain other brands (for example, Sony only has one), but fortunately it is something that you have to do once. The setup assistant makes the setup quite painless. Just take your time for it, you’ll really reap the benefits afterwards.

When watching some films on disc via Oppo UDP-203 and Netflix streams on the Denon-Q Acoustics combination we heard a very familiar sound image on the receiver side. Just like its predecessor, the AVR-X2500H has a relatively large amount of power, so the dynamic soundtrack at ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ (on UHD Blu-ray) is well represented. Gunshots and fist battles sound very sharp and accurate, and at the final confrontation on the basis of Poppy, the Denon knows how to reproduce that flashy, intensive skirmish. Many things move through the sound image in this long scene, a challenge for every receiver. The experience that the AVR-X2500H offers is in any case much more impressive than you get with a soundbar or a simple HT-set.

Denon states that the X2500 offers 95 watts per channel, but that is measured with two loaded channels with an 8 Ohm speaker. With a full surround setup that power per channel will be lower, but this is the way how most receiver manufacturers like to recommend capabilities. In practice, the X2500 has enough capacity to play loud in an average living room without the sound getting too loud. It is clear that with the step to this segment you are no longer in the budget part of the market. Yet there is certainly more potential for people with a home cinema. A six times more expensive Denon AVC-X8500H or a four times more expensive Marantz SR8012 for example, are devices that simply have much more reserves, which is also reflected in more control. But again: in an ordinary living room you can become very happy with an AVR-X2500. Also for music, because the Denon receiver, like its predecessor, serves a light-warm but not woolly or slow sound. Speakers are very decisive in the story of course, but the modest coloration of the Denon receiver makes it very compatible with all kinds of speakers.

Conclusion

The AVR-X2500H is basically not much different from the AVR-X2400H. from last year, with a few interesting additions. But that is not bad. The X2400H is rightly a very appreciated entry point in the middle segment – and the AVR-X2500H too. With the Denon AVR-X2500H you get a very complete receiver that offers a lot for its price. The inclusion of the HEOS platform and support for Airplay 2 make it a strongholder in terms of streaming and music. It is also a very user-friendly device, thanks to that clever interface from Denon. That may be shown in native 4K and the associated apps may also be tweaked, but the very good user experience remains a reason to choose this Denon.

Negatives

  • No Chromecast
  • Streaming a physical source via HEOS is not always easy
  • No Bluetooth output for headphones

Pros

  • Good streaming options
  • Sufficient power for a living room
  • Easy to set up and great user interface
  • Alexa and Siri (via Airplay 2)
  • Phono-entrance
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