If you have north of £5000 to invest in a home cinema system, a tasty smorgasbord of delights awaits you. Not only can you enjoy premium-grade picture quality and design, you will also benefit from a level of immersive sound quality that makes you feel as if you are sitting in your local multiplex.
- Television: Sony XR-65A95L (£3499 / $3500 / AU$5995)
- Streamer: Apple TV 4K (£149 / $130 / AU$219)
- AV amplifier: Denon AVR-X2800H (£599 / $799 / AU$1699 )
- Speaker package: Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 HCP (£999 / $1270 approx / AU$ 2599)
- Total price: £5246 / $5699 / AU$10,512
TV: Sony XR-65A95L
Right now, TV technology is moving faster than an asteroid on steroids, and Sony is hurtling through the gogglebox galaxy as quickly as anyone, as the recent appearance of the XR-65A95L attests.
The reason? It is a second-generation QD (Quantum Dot) OLED, and the successor to the A95K, arguably the best TV of last year. The promise of second-gen QD-OLED panels is an even brighter and more efficient picture performance – Sony claims the A95L can go twice as bright as the A95K it replaces.
Picture processing is handled by Sony’s Cognitive Processor XR, widely recognised as one of the best in the business, and the key processing upgrade in the A95L is something called XR Clear Image. This is an adaptive technology that cleans and clears up source material to optimise it for the screen’s 4K resolution.
In terms of operating system upgrades, the A95L carries an update to Sony’s menu system, which sits alongside the standard Google TV operating system. This adds new, stylish graphics to the pop-up menus as well as improved feature descriptions. A small change, perhaps, but one that only strengthens this screen’s credentials as a properly cutting-edge product.
After testing the XR-65A95L against a number of its direct rivals from other leading brands, we have concluded that it is without doubt the best of the lot. Those claims of improved brightness are fully verified in its dazzling picture performance, which combines wonderful colour vibrancy with subtle shading, increased contrast and lots of texture detail that passes those rivals by.
With Blade Runner 2049, which is mastered well within the brightness of even a standard OLED TV, the Sony A95L puts in a top-grade performance. It is just as supremely detailed and sharp as its A80L sibling and has equally brilliant motion handling, but its colour reproduction is a cut above that of its stablemate, the consistency of its skin tones proving particularly pleasing.
A step down from 4K to 1080p with the compelling True Grit sees the Sony rendering colours with rich authenticity, presenting deep but insightful blacks and offering generous amounts of detail
Streamer: Apple TV 4K
Now in its third-generation guise, the Apple TV 4K carries a number of subtle upgrades to its predecessor, from general usability improvements to a super-fast new processor. It is also cheaper than the old model. It’s that new processor that really makes the difference here, turning this device from an efficient performer to one that flies through menus and operations with no hint of a stutter or glitch.
This box supports all the main HDR formats, including HDR10, HDR10+, HLG and Dolby Vision, making it the perfect partner for the technically advanced Sony A95L. Its rich colour palette and deft touch with contrast also combine to great effect with the Sony’s prowess in these areas.
Other video streamers are available, as they say, but the fact that this consistently capable little device has just won our video streamer Product of the Year Award for a remarkable fifth consecutive time means our decision to include it in this next-gen system was never really in doubt.
AV amplifier: Denon AVR-X2800H
A full-fat home cinema system means one with a stand-out AV amplifier and an equally distinctive speaker package on board. And, with the Denon AVR-X2800H and Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 HCP respectively fulfilling those roles, our quartet is complete.
Denon’s dominance of the home cinema amp arena is so established that it is no surprise to see this 7.1 channel, 95W per channel receiver winning a place in this system. Just as well established is the Denon family look of brushed black finish with monochrome display, and the company has seen no reason to change that approach with the X2800H – nothing fancy, nothing to draw your attention – except, that is, its quality build and smart but sober finish.
Round the back you will find a generous HDMI count of six inputs and two outputs, three of which are HDMI 2.1 ports capable of 8K@60Hz or 4K@120Hz video passthrough at up to 40Gbps. The three remaining HDMI 2.0 ports have a bandwidth of 18Gbps but all inputs boast 4:4:4 chroma sub-sampling and compatibility with various HDR codecs, including HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision and HLG. All of which makes it a great fit with the Apple TV 4K box and the XR-65A95L.
Denon’s trump card here is that the X2800H has been tuned to produce a more open, well-spread soundstage than its 2700 predecessor – one that is less reliant on heavy low-end prowess in the way it produces a mature and authoritative sound.
High-frequency surround effects are clear and crisp, helping to build an expansive soundstage that feels precise but not overly diffused. The weighty delivery and warm sound that Denon AVRs are known for is still there, but with a slightly less dominant bass. The overall effect is snappier timing and a more balanced top end.
This timing advance also makes the Denon a more musical performer than its predecessor. Streaming Ani DiFranco’s Little Plastic Castle reveals a nice attack to the opening acoustic guitar, and there’s a clean feel to the vocal that helps us to pick out her lyrics.
Speaker package: Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 HCP
Wharfedale’s Diamond range is now in its 14th – yes 14th – generation. That extended heritage has spawned a number of different speakers and, accordingly, there are several ways to configure a Diamond 12-based package. Here we have gone for four of the excellent, mid-sized, rear-ported two-way 12.1 standmounters (fronts and surrounds), along with the 12.C centre speaker and SW10 powered subwoofer, the latter of which houses a single 25cm long-throw driver.
The package is available in four shades of matte wood grain and its classic design is neatly offset by a high-shine baffle, available in solid black or white.
When the tautness and dexterity of the subwoofer combine with the impressively integrated low end of the standmounters, the result is a rich and lively sound, particularly with films that have a heavily featured musical score. There’s plenty of authority and cohesion here, too, as well as a real flair for detail and subtlety.
When we give these table-top-sized boxes a bit more of a vigorous challenge with Blade Runner 2049, they project the meaty, sonorous score with both composure and charisma. In the scene in which Ryan Gosling flies to the orphanage there are plenty of delicate nuances, from the sound of the raindrops landing on the windscreen to the wiper cleaning them off.
Large enough to make the most of everything the Denon AVR-X2800H throws at them, and to provide cinematic scale with a wide soundfield (but discreet enough to be practical), this talented speaker set makes a fine choice for both music and film. Oh, and it has also just won our 2023 Award for Best speaker package £500-£1000. We can’t think of a better combination with which to complete our next-generation home cinema TV system.