There are two new kids on the block in the best home cinema amplifier category in the What Hi-Fi? Awards this year, and it should come as little surprise that they are both from Denon.
In a market it has historically dominated, Denon doesn't make things easy on itself by bringing something new to the table with every release. But that hard grafting has paid off. With updated connectivity and a sophisticated new sound, both the brand's latest AVRs have stormed straight to the top of their respective price classes.
Denon’s AV receivers have been synonymous with high-quality home cinema at a range of budgets for some time now, and it's a reputation it well deserves. The regularly refreshed line-up includes a formidable combination of exhaustive features, abundant amplification channels and an all-around captivating performance.
In the What Hi-Fi? Awards' sub-£1000 category, the Denon AVR-X2800H sets a new benchmark at the more modest end of the price spectrum. In some ways, the X2800H's spec isn’t that dramatically different from the predecessor it replaces. But that’s partly because the older AVR-X2700H was already one of the most comprehensive, reasonably priced AVRs available (and yet not an Award-winning one).
Not only does the AVR-X2800H up the ante with more HDMI 2.1 inputs and a new user-friendly interface, but it also boasts a more responsive, coherent and spacious sound that retains Denon’s signature authoritative weight and balances it with a bolder top end that does better justice to both music and movies. It may only just skirt under the category's price ceiling, but it is proof that high-quality and affordable home cinema sound is achievable.
Move up to the next price bracket and Denon secures a brace, putting in its second appearance with the mid-range AVC-X3800H. This is a versatile, well-rounded amp that will appeal to customers looking for longevity and the capacity to adapt to their evolving home cinema systems.
The AVC-X3800H offers future-proofed features with all its HDMI ports rated to 40gbps HDMI 2.1 and capable of 8K@60Hz or 4K@120Hz video pass-through. Marking it out as an AVR with serious appeal is support for Auro 3D, IMAX Enhanced and 360 Reality Audio alongside Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, plus the option to upgrade it with Dirac Live room calibration software. But as with the AVR-X2800H, the AVC-X3800H's sound is what sets it apart from some particularly stiff competition, with a fluid, rhythmically coherent performance full of character.
Returning for another year in our top price band is the JBL Synthesis SDR-35. A clear-cut above any AV amplifier we’ve tested in recent years, the SDR-35 has an immaculate, clear sound and a thrilling mix of subtlety and scale, backed up by an abundance of format support.
Although its spec sheet seems a little lacking in terms of amplified channels and HDMI 2.1 in today's market, its sheer sound quality puts it in a rarified league, delivering music and movies with a distinctive sophistication.
That's three winners of Best Buy Awards to consider for your next home cinema upgrade, but anyone with a budget midway between two models may want to hold off purchasing for a another fortnight. On November 9th, we will be announcing which of these three stellar AVRs has gone on to win the coveted Product of the Year gong in this category – not to mention Product of the Year winners in other hi-fi and AV categories, plus a few more special Awards.
Our longer list of the best AV receivers: budget to premium
See all 109 What Hi-Fi? Awards winners