I listened to two five-star AVRs – and it reminded me why home cinema should be fun

What Hi-Fi?
(Image credit: Future)

At What Hi-Fi? we are firm believers that the factors that make “good” sound are the same, regardless of whether you’re listening to music or watching movies.

Common factors we talk about in our test rooms include detail, rhythmic precision, transparency, low-end heft and more. But this week, while comparing the What Hi-Fi? Award-winning Arcam AVR31 with the new Denon AVC-X6800H, I was reminded of an incredibly important, but often overlooked ingredient for good sound: fun.

The reminder occurred when we were running the two AVRs head to head playing a scene in Dune using our reference PMC Twenty5.23 5.1 speakers – a package transparent enough to lay bare any audio hardware’s sonic character.

During the test, the Arcam was undeniably brilliant and delivered the same stellar performance that earned it an Award last year. 

The scene sounded wonderful, featuring a surprisingly gentle touch, that let the cast’s voices and quiet environmental details shine, with each holding a distinct audible spot over the booming background noise. This precision, clarity and control make the Arcam AVR31 a stellar home cinema amp I would 100 per cent welcome into my lounge.

But running the same test there was a key moment (don’t worry, I’ll avoid spoilers) where the Denon reminded me how magical a good sound system can be. The scene we used features an intense drumming soundtrack, that ends with a huge bass drop as a [redacted] rises out of the desert floor. This drop is where the magic happened, with the Denon's impactful delivery hitting the pit of my stomach and drawing me fully into the scene, despite having seen it 100 times over.

I wasn't the only one in the room to feel it either. All of us did. That's why we stated in our Denon AVC-X6800H review:

"The Arcam offers a more disciplined yet energetic approach, while the Denon’s powerful, gut-punching sound serves up Hans Zimmer’s score with goosebump-inducing flair. There is a greater sense of scale and authority through the Denon and that serves to pull us into the action with more conviction.”

The experience pulled me back to my childhood and the moments that made me fall in love with movies in general.

Feeling my adrenaline spike as Brian Blessed bellowed “Gordon’s alive!” in Flash Gordon while sitting in the sweet spot in my parent’s lounge. 

The hairs slowly standing on the back of my neck as Darth Vader’s raspy breath crept ever closer watching Star Wars

The bombastic joy I felt listening to jet engines thundering over Kenny Loggins' iconic Danger Zone while watching Top Gun (the first one) with my friends.

These are the experiences that made me love movies and the title's stellar sound is a big reason they have remained cemented in my brain for the past 30-plus years.

And that's why I was delighted to feel that excitement listening to the Denon, which once again reminded me how important the “fun” factor is, even at the top-end of home cinema hardware. 


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Alastair Stevenson
Editor in Chief

Alastair is What Hi-Fi?’s editor in chief. He has well over a decade’s experience as a journalist working in both B2C and B2B press. During this time he’s covered everything from the launch of the first Amazon Echo to government cyber security policy. Prior to joining What Hi-Fi? he served as Trusted Reviews’ editor-in-chief. Outside of tech, he has a Masters from King’s College London in Ethics and the Philosophy of Religion, is an enthusiastic, but untalented, guitar player and runs a webcomic in his spare time.