Denon AVP-A1HD & POA-A1HD review

Is Denon’s massive Pre/Power pairing the world’s most outrageous AV solution?

TechRadar Verdict

The Denon performs well above spec. Measured power, fidelity firewall, distortion and signal-to-noise figures are amazingly impressive


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    Unbelievable features count

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    Stunning sound with music and movies

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    Truly awesome power


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    Price tag

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    Not exactly demure-looking

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I've been in a personal lather about the Denon AVP-A1HD duo since I first saw them at the IFA exhibition last September.

Now they are here, in the flesh and hot under the casework.

I have played and I have listened, and can confirm that my initial desires have turned into a full scale love affair.

Amazingly powerful amplifier

Let me start backwards in the sound chain, at the outputs for all ten of the POA-A1HDs amplifier channels.

Not only do these offer 150W a piece - enough for two complete 5.1 systems in different rooms or some combination across four zones for multi-room - there are two sets of outputs per channel for bi-wiring (yes, that is 20 pairs of terminals on the back.).

However, to use these ten channels would be missing the POA's best feature; each adjacent pair is independently bridgeable, giving you over 300W for a five-channel system if desired.
If desired? If desired!

If you have a very serious speaker system then the bridged power mode is simply awesome. I don't just mean it will go a bit loud, it goes absolutely bonkers loud with such spectacular grip and dynamic impact it will take your breath away.

Stupendous audio

During a very high volume romp through Aeon Flux on HD DVD, the beast drove a huge £20,000 five-channel speaker system to the limits.

Bass notes on the soundtrack's score, and effects like gunfire, have a very physical impact, literally thumping into your chest and making your flares flap wildly in the aftershock.

The sheer involvement is stupendous and, assuming you haven't already got an ASBO for noise at this point, the grace and aural comfort even at high levels is close to (if not better than) the best commercial cinemas.

With the mad peak level meters on the frontpanel hitting the 0dB attenuation level, the POA was pumping some 600W per channel into the speakers' 4Ω load without a hint of distortion, grain or top-end glare.

This grace and effortless power is as addictive as Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and the way it can stop and start a big bass driver is just stunning. Never before have I heard my speakers' bass cones hit the end stops at 118dB - without a hint of distortion beforehand.

Denon's home cinema behemoth

And just look at the thing - it's the size of a garden shed, weighs over 60kg and is built to withstand a small nuclear blast. Once in position (on the floor ,as I couldn't find a table strong enough) it has a presence scarier than Freddy Krueger and its own gravitational field.

If it had dropped out of that tree rather than the apple, Newtonian physics would be entirely different (not least of which because Isaac would have looked like roadkill). It comes with handles to lift it, perhaps possible if your surname is Schwarzenegger.

It's a good job, though, that it has a range of connections including standard phono sockets, XLR balanced inputs and a selection of control ports and triggers so you hopefully won't have to move it out too often.

Even better/funnier, depending how the AV lunacy has taken you thus far, Denon recommends you use two POA-A1HDs in bridged mode to bi-amp all five channels. Would I, oh yes. Should you?

Well, if you have a spare £5K after you have bought the standard A1HD pair, why the hell not.

A perfect pre-amp

By contrast the AVP-A1HD processor pre-amp is slim, lithe and lightweight. In reality it is significantly bigger and almost as heavy as Yamaha's flagship DSP-Z11 amplifier.

The full features list (on Denon's website) reads like a pre-flight check for a space shuttle and leaves no AV stone unturned.

The highlights include very high-quality build with audiophile grade components throughout; 6-in and 2-simultaneous-output v1.3 HDMIs, Silicon Optix' Realta HQV two-way scaling and processing; full networking with built-in 802.11b/g wi-fi; and 9.3 channel processing.

The latter takes the form of standard 7.1 set-up, plus Denon's mid-position rear channels (ideal for 5.1 music and for a better spread of effects in 9.x modes), and two additional subwoofers.

The set-up positions these left and right of the screen and one on a side wall giving improved low-frequency dynamics - or lung-crushing bass depending how gratuitous you are with the gain control.

Inside the Denon AVP-A1HD

Internally this is a processor/firmware-based device so it's eminently upgradeable in the future, and is driven by three new 32bit floating point DSPs. An enormous high-current transformer powers individual supplies for audio, video and pre-amplifier duties.

It's iPod-ready with an optional dock (of course), and comes with the 3rd edition of Denon Link, which is going to be a huge boon to owners of Denon DVD players and, shortly, the matching Blu-ray player.

USB ports front and rear cater for just about any compressed audio format from 64k MP3 to 1080kbps FLAC. The graphic user interface has a function map more complex than the London Underground.

The GUI is positively huge, but so gloriously logical that the CD-Rom user manual can double up as a drinks coaster from day one. On something this complex that is a big plus point for day-to-day usability.

Dynamic duo

Day-to-day use is what the A1HD pair is built for, because the sound comprehensively sweeps away all that has gone before. From the opening of the 20th Century Fox clip-logo on Hitman (Blu-ray) the sound is just stunning.

It's so clean and crisp it makes lesser AV receivers sound congested and fuddled. Dynamic power is breathtaking.

The gratuitous and game-stylised shoot out scenes have an edge that lends a fabulous sense of realism. Each gunshot has explosive power and a detailed resonance.

In the deeper, moodier moments of the film, the A1HD is nothing short of sensational. It calves out a massive three-dimensional scene with consummate ease. Dialogue is as crisp and natural as the real thing.

No chestiness, no added sibilance, just finely-articulated voices full of emotion and detail.

The main character 'Agent 47' played by Timothy Olyphant (... have you considered a stage name Tim?) has a rolled accent that is neatly portrayed with just the right amount of depth and natural leading edge sibilance to make it both calm and menacing throughout.

Dramatic sound

Elsewhere, the classic opening to Ice Age on DVD gains a whole-new dimension.

When Scrat drives the acorn into the ice the thump is so deep it seems to be more of a feeling than a sound, and the subsequent cracking and splitting is by far the most dramatic and detailed rendition I have heard of this effect to date.

There's a real glass-like edge, but without any overt hissing or splashiness at the very high frequencies. You'll think a glacier has collapsed in two in your living room.

The characters' voices again impress with their tonal range and the overall effect simply elevates even children's animated movies to new heights.

A week of intensive use on and I'm yet to find fault with the sound, from the most complex DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack to the stunning hi-fi sound with CD in Pure Direct mode.

The resolution, sparkling top-end detail and massive deep-down power with music is right up there with some very esoteric hi-fi brands, and makes for a stunning all-round hi-fi and home entertainment solution.

Add to this the mind-boggling flexibility, full Audyssey RoomEQ with auto-setup, great remote controls, simple plug-and- play networking and future-proof architecture - and you have an absolute 'must-have' winner of a product.

An intimidating asking price

So here's the beef; a five-figure price ticket sadly puts this combo out of reach for all but the most well-heeled of home cinema enthusiasts.

But, looking at it another way, there aren't too many multichannel processor and amplifier packages at the Denon's £10k asking price, and those that are (Krell, Lexicon etc) are way, way behind the A1HD combo in features, facilities and technology.

The only real mainstream competition is Yamaha's fabulous DSP-Z11 and the Denon shows that the door in sheer power and grunt alone. Of course, if your budget stretches to five grand then the Yammy AVR simply cannot be touched.

But if you have twice the cash to splash, and the room to fit it, then Denon's state-of-the-art AVP-A1HD & POA-A1HDA1HD pairing is the simply the best AV solution in the world

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