Review: Denon DRA-800H

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This week we had the opportunity to review the Denon DRA-800H stereo network receiver. This review will include both sound and image, as the Denon DRA-800H stereo network receiver is one of the few stereo hi-fi amplifiers on the market to have HDMI connectors (5 inputs + 1 ARC output). Therefore, it can be positioned between a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player and a UHD 4K TV, with either an OLED or QLED display. For €649, what can we expect from this stereo hi-fi network receiver that resembles an A/V receiver? Find out in our review of the Denon DRA-800H… 

Thanks to its network connectivity and the HEOS app, the Denon DRA-800H stereo network receiver provides access to many audio playback sources.

Denon DRA-800H: the brand

Denon took its first steps into the world of high fidelity in 1910 by manufacturing small batches of gramophones. Right from the start, the Japanese brand used technological innovation to provide very high quality sound.

In 1939, Denon launched its first disc recorder, intended for professionals, before releasing a tape recorder in the early 1950s. Recordings made with Denon devices were recognized as superior, both technically and artistically, with the Japanese brand winning numerous awards around the world.

The Denon DL-103R moving coil cartridge is a declination of the legendary DL-103, which made a name for the Japanese brand in the phono cartridge field.

1963 was an important year for Denon. The company released its legendary Denon DL-103 moving coil cartridge. Still available today, it provides exceptional musicality that appeals to many audiophiles.

During the 70s Denon released its first hi-fi components: turntables, cassette players, stereo amplifiers, tuners, speakers. Denon also entered the digital age with its first 8 channel digital recorder in 1972. As the decades went by, the manufacturer continued to innovate, notably offering exceptional CD players and CD/SA-CD players, along with powerful stereo amplifiers.

The Denon PMA-1510AE stereo amplifier.

Memorable examples were the Denon PMA-1510AE amplifier and the Denon DCD-1510AE CD player, which received the EISA award in 2011 for best midrange stereo amplifier and CD/SA-CD player. 

Denon has also been a frontrunner in the home theater domain for many years, with very capable DVD players and A/V receivers that made a strong impression. This is the case of the high performance Denon DVD 2800 II and Denon DVD-3930 DVD players, as well as the Denon AVC A1SE A/V receiver, for example.

The Denon AVC A1SE A/V receiver: a hefty 28kg!

To this day, Denon’s catalog features many products with noteworthy qualities, such as connected amplifiers, DAC amplifiers, stereo hi-fi amplifiers, A/V receivers, soundbars, phono cartridges, compact hi-fi systems, multi-room speakers, CD players, network receivers and turntables.

The Japanese brand also made its mark with Heos, a multi-room technology that allows you to stream music wirelessly throughout your whole home. Denon Heos is a cross-functional technology used in the majority of connected products from Denon but also from Marantz, as both brands belong to the same parent company.

The Denon DRA-800H fuses the characteristics of a stereo hi-fi amp with those of an A/V receiver.

The Denon DRA-800H stereo network receiver is part of a long line of audiophile electronics and benefits from the latest audio and video technologies: it features a hi-fi design, takes advantage of the possibilities offered by network (Heos) and Bluetooth connectivity, and is equipped with HDMI connectors, formerly only found on A/V receivers.

Denon DRA-800H: packaging & accessories

Denon DRA-800H review: unboxing. Unfortunately, Denon has decided to leave out the calibration microphone included with its home theater models.

The Denon DRA-800H stereo network receiver comes in a large box which also contains:

  • A remote control
  • Two AAA batteries
  • A power cord
  • An antenna for FM/DAB+ radio
  • A quick start guide in multiple languages
  • Two leaflets about Denon’s products
  • A booklet with recommendations and warnings
Denon DRA-800H review: the remote control.

Denon DRA-800H: presentation

When you first look at the Denon DRA-800H stereo network receiver, you could almost mistake it for the Denon AVR-X1500H A/V receiver. With good reason: both are a similar size and apart from a few details, their font panels are almost identical. This could be quite confusing for those who are used to the brand’s stereo hi-fi amplifiers…

The Denon DRA-800H looks a lot like one of the brand’s A/V receivers.

The Denon DRA-800H’s hi-fi functionality is mainly visible due to the presence of a bass control dial, a treble control dial and a stereo balance dial under the screen. But when you turn the Denon DRA-800H around to have a look at the connectors there is a second surprise: it features five HDMI inputs and an ARC-compatible HDMI output.

Denon DRA-800H: design

The Denon DRA-800H receiver is a purely stereo model, designed to power two pairs of speakers (A and B). Its amplification totals 2 x 100 watts into 8 ohms in high fidelity listening conditions, from 20Hz to 20kHz with a total harmonic distortion of 0.08%. It incorporates a discrete high-current power amplifier and an OFC (oxygen-free copper) power transformer.

Denon DRA-800H: inside view.

The Denon DRA-800H is comprised of carefully selected hi-fi components such as custom-made resistors and high-quality audio capacitors. This Denon receiver features a symmetrical design, a 32-bit AKM DAC and an analog preamplification section that is isolated from the power supply circuits. Like all of Denon’s hi-fi amplifiers, it features circuits with short, straight paths between the power supply, the signal and the amplification, ensuring detailed and precise sound with all types of speakers.

Denon DRA-800H: streaming and Hi-Res Audio

With an Ethernet network connection and a WiFi controller, the Denon stereo network receiver is compatible with many online music services via the Denon Heos app (Deezer, Spotify, Tidal or Amazon Music, Napster, SoundCloud and TuneIn web radios). Moreover, the Denon DRA-800H can read WAV, FLAC and ALAC high resolution audio files up to 24-bit/192kHz, as well as 2.8 and 5.6 MHz DSD files. Hi-Res Audio files can be played via a USB flash drive, but can also be streamed from a smartphone or tablet via the Denon Heos application. 

Denon DRA-800H review: high resolution audio playback via USB.

Denon DRA-800H: Heos multi-room

To top it all off, the Denon DRA-800H stereo network receiver includes Heos technology. Consequently, it can be added to a Denon Heos multi-room system to easily stream your music in each room of your home.

As a reminder, Heos is the name given to the multi-room audio technology developed by Denon which can also be found on several Marantz connected electronics (Denon and Marantz belong to the same D+M group).

The Heos system is intended to be simple and intuitive. It is designed to wirelessly play and stream multiple musical sources throughout your home. The Heos control app for iOS and Android handles audio playback and provides access to several online music services and numerous web radios (TuneIn).

The app also lets you play audio files stored on a NAS or computer and shared over the local network. Lastly, any external source playing music via the Denon DRA-800H stereo network receiver can be streamed simultaneously to one or more Heos-compatible multi-room audio devices.

Denon DRA-800H: AirPlay 2 & Bluetooth

The Denon DRA-800H receiver is compatible with the AirPlay 2 protocol. Therefore, it can receive music, but also any audio stream from any application (YouTube, video games, replay TV, etc.), streamed wirelessly from a Mac, iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. Simply choose the Denon DRA-800H as the playback device in the application used. The receiver will automatically turn on when playback starts.

Denon DRA-800H review: wireless Bluetooth connection.

The Denon DRA-800H stereo network receiver also features a Bluetooth receiver to stream music from a smartphone or compatible tablet using a direct wireless connection, without going through the local network.

Denon DRA-800H: connections

The Denon DRA-800H stereo network receiver’s exhaustive range of connections includes:

  • 6 HDMI inputs (compatible with 4K/60Hz, HDCP 2.3, HDR…)
  • 1 Phono input (MM)
  • 2 analog audio inputs
  • 2 optical digital audio inputs
  • 1 coaxial digital audio input
  • 1 USB-A port
  • 1 jack terminal for a DAB+/FM antenna
  • 1 HDMI output (4K/60Hz, ARC)
  • 1 analog Zone 2 output
  • 2 preamplified outputs for subwoofers
  • 1 headphone output (stereo jack 6.35mm) on the front panel
  • 2 sets of speaker (A and B) terminals
Denon DRA-800H review: efficiently disposed, the connections allow easy access to the different cables and connectors.

Denon DRA-800H: configuration

Denon DRA-800H: test conditions

For our review of the Denon DRA-800H, we decided to connect the receiver to a pair of Elipson Prestige Facet 8B compact speakers using NorStone W250 speaker wire. We added the REL Acoustics T-9i subwoofer to bring more depth and substance to the restitution. The Elipson speakers were placed on NorStone Stylum 2 speaker stands. 

Denon DRA-800H review: the A speaker terminals connected to the Elipson Prestige facet 8B speakers using NorStone W250 speaker wire.

We linked the DRA-800H to the local network using an Ethernet cable connected to one of the satellites from our Netgear Orbi RBK50 pack.

We played audio CDs and movies on Blu-ray using the Pioneer UDP-LX500 UHD 4K Blu-ray player, connected to the CD input (stereo RCA) of the Denon receiver (NorStone Jura RCA cable) and one of the HDMI inputs on our 65” LG OLED TV.

Denon DRA-800H review: the Denon receiver, connected to an LG OLED TV, the Pioneer UDP-LX500 4K UHD Blu-ray player, the Elipson Prestige Facet 8B speakers and the REL Acoustics T-9i subwoofer.

We then connected the HDMI ARC output on the Denon receiver to the HDMI ARC input on the LG OLED television using an Audioquest Cinnamon HDMI cable. We made sure that we set the TV’s digital audio output to PCM (the Denon DRA-800H receiver can’t decode Dolby Digital or DTS).

Denon DRA-800H review: a look at the connectors.

Denon DRA-800H: setup

Denon DRA-800H review: the setup screen on the receiver.

When it is first turned on, the Denon DRA-800H receiver asks if we want to display information on the television during the initial configuration using the HDMI output. Remote control in hand, we immediately selected this option to benefit from the comfort of a large screen whilst adjusting the receiver’s settings. It is infinitely more user-friendly than the display on the front of the receiver, which is limited to a line of only 16 characters!

Denon DRA-800H review: the HDMI output lets you display the menu on the TV.

After choosing the language of the menu, the setup assistant guides the user through connecting the speakers and subwoofer, connecting the sources, assigning the different inputs and connecting to the local network.

Denon DRA-800H review: the tutorial for the initial setup is very accessible. It is possible to come back to it at any time via the receiver’s settings menu.

Those who know how to set up an amplifier will be able to validate this process very quickly. Beginners on the other hand will be reassured by the pedagogic nature of each step and the possibility to go back if a mistake is made.

However, it is a shame that the manufacturer chose not to integrate an automatic calibration process via microphone to calibrate the speakers, as is the case with Denon’s A/V receivers.

Denon DRA-800H review: you must create a Heos account to use the Heos app.

We were then prompted to create a new Heos account or connect to an existing one. Those who already have an account and have the Heos app downloaded on their smartphone can skip this step: once connected to the local network, the amp is instantly detected in the app.

With the setup process finished, we were immediately able to enjoy our music and movies.

Denon DRA-800H: Alexa and Google Assistant

The Denon DRA-800H stereo network receiver is certified Works with Alexa and Works with Google Assistant. If you own a smart speaker that integrates Alexa or Google Assistant, you may initiate playback on the receiver via voice command, without having to use the remote control or your smartphone.

Denon DRA-800H review: certified “Works with Alexa” and “Works with Google Assistant”.

This requires that two conditions are met:

  • The receiver’s “Network Control” setting must be set to “Standby”.
  • The receiver must be registered in the Alexa and Google Home apps.
Denon DRA-800H review: once the Heos skill is installed, you must launch the configuration of the device on the Alexa app.
Denon DRA-800H review: once the receiver has been detected, it must be added to a group or a room.
Denon DRA-800H review: when the receiver has been added to a room or a group, it is ready to be controlled vocally using Alexa.

Denon DRA-800H: listening impressions

Denon DRA-800H: movie soundtracks

Denon DRA-800H review: with the soundtrack of Bohemian Rhapsody.

We began our review of the Denon DRA-800H by playing the movie Bohemian Rhapsody on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, then we continued with a few Netflix shows. During the musical sequences of the Queen biopic, the Denon receiver was unwavering. With each new hit sung by the band, we let ourselves be carried away by the music. The sound was smooth, the lows had impact, the soundstage was nice and wide. Despite the fact that there wasn’t a dedicated equalizer mode for soundtracks, the separation of dialogues from the background was pretty effortless.

Denon DRA-800H review: the receiver didn’t have any trouble with Queen’s music or with the movie’s dialogue.

With I Am Mother (Netflix), the cold, dehumanized and often oppressive atmosphere inside the repopulation center was accurately reflected. The subwoofer was frequently put to use, but the receiver managed to skillfully balance the bass so as not to submerge the listener. Once again, dialogues were precise, and voices were realistic.

Denon DRA-800H review: the acoustic atmosphere of the movie I Am Mother was well-reproduced, fully immersing the spectator in the almost constant tension.

Denon DRA-800H: music

We continued our listening session with MP3 streaming at 320 kbps on Deezer via the Denon Heos app, then by playing a few Hi-Res Audio FLAC and DSD files stored on the internal memory of an Android smartphone and on a USB flash drive.

Denon DRA-800H review: listening to tracks on Deezer via the Denon Heos app.

On Deezer, despite the compression of audio streams performed by the French streaming service, we weren’t frustrated when listening to music. The sound sometimes lacked definition and nuance, but it was still smooth and pleasant to listen to. The Denon receiver didn’t seem to highlight compression defects.

Denon DRA-800H review: listening to audio CDs via the Pioneer UDP-LX500.

When listening to CDs with the Pioneer UDP-LX500, we were rather impressed with both the HDMI connection (decoding by the Denon’s DAC) and the RCA connection (decoding by the Pioneer’s DAC). On Millie Jackson’s album Still Caught Up, we were swept away by the singer’s intoxicating voice. The soundstage was pretty wide and the instruments sounded “authentic”.

Denon DRA-800H review: listening to Hi-Res audio files (Flac HD 24/96).

When we switched to FLAC and DSD formats, we won on all fronts: the sound was rich, more well-defined and spatialized. The lows were sturdier, vocals were reproduced more efficiently. The magnitude of the soundstage was significantly better.
Lastly, listening via Bluetooth, the Denon DRA-800H stereo network receiver proved to be dynamic and didn’t suffer too much from the compression caused by this kind of transmission. It is a pity that compatibility with the aptX codec isn’t included…

Denon DRA-800H: compared to…

Marantz M-CR612: there are a lot of similarities between these two amplifiers which both feature dual speaker terminals, network connectivity, HD playback (FLAC & DSD), the Heos app and all of the subsequent services, compatibility with Alexa and Google Assistant, AirPlay 2, an FM/DAB+ tuner… and a very similar remote control. When listening, despite not being as powerful, the Marantz seemed a little more agile. More bulky and less elegant than the Marantz M-CR612, the Denon DRA-800H still maintains its advantage thanks to its HDMI connections which make it more versatile. 

Sonos Amp: a single HDMI ARC terminal, only one RCA stereo input, one subwoofer output and only two powered speakers for the Sonos Amp. When it comes to connectors, the clear winner is the Denon DRA-800H which also almost matches the Sonos regarding network connectivity. However, the American device integrates more services and it handles movie soundtracks more efficiently, with voices that are more accurately centered and genuine surround sound effects. That said, the Denon receiver has a more balanced musical restitution (the Sonos tends to put more emphasis on the midrange).

NAD M10: almost five times cheaper than the NAD M10, the Denon DRA-800H clearly isn’t in the same category. You only have to listen to both devices to be convinced. The NAD has a bigger power reserve, offers a more musical sound restitution, and is capable of powering very demanding speakers… but the Denon receiver still provides an honorable performance given its price. The network functions are similar, but the Denon has a wider range of connections.

Denon DRA-800H: conclusion

Appropriate for both audio and video entertainment, the Denon DRA-800H stereo network receiver is an effective solution for a new challenge: streaming sound from both traditional analog and digital stereo audio sources, but also from Ultra HD 4K HDMI video sources, including TV sets via their ARC HDMI input.

The Denon DRA-800H receiver is ideal for centralizing the audio and video sources in your living room, including a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player whose image it can receive and transfer, without alteration, to an OLED, 4K UHD or QLED television via its HDMI output. It is suitable for audiophiles who are looking for an audio-video amplifier, who don’t want to install a home theater system and who prefer a stereo setup.

What we liked:

  • The 5 HDMI inputs and the HDMI ARC output
  • The simplicity of configuration and use
  • The soft and balanced sound

What we would have liked:

  • A more refined design
  • Compatibility with the Bluetooth aptX codec
  • For the Heos app to include Qobuz
  • Automatic calibration with a microphone

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