Denon AVR-S960H AV receiver assessment: Heavy on options, gentle on innovation

Denon might be the primary identify that involves thoughts if you consider AV receivers, and with good purpose. The model has been pumping out glorious fashions with nice sound high quality for years. Its opponents are slowing their receiver launch schedules — Sony hasn’t made a brand new mannequin since 2017, and Onkyo will not have a follow-up to its 2019 merchandise till mid-2021 — however not Denon. The AVR-S960H is a current recent that brings up to date options, together with HDMI 2.1 connectivity with eARC and 8K video compatibility, whereas sustaining the efficiency Denon is understood for.

LikeBalanced sound with music and moviesUp-to-date characteristic set and connections

Do not LikeDesign is getting fairly lengthy within the tooth.Yamaha RX-V6A presents extra for much less.No Chromecast

Whereas Yamaha seemingly went again to the drafting board for its futuristic RX-V6A, the Denon AVR-S960’s updates are extra incremental. Evaluating the 2 receivers head-to-head, the Denon sounded smoother and but it additionally lacked among the dynamic heft. I discovered myself reaching for the Yamaha distant extra usually than the Denon, and it was as a lot for the glossy new design as for the sound high quality. Total the Yamaha is solely extra enjoyable, and that, plus its lower cost, make it a better option total. 

With their new releases, Denon and Yamaha have proven they’re devoted to the class, and each of the merchandise I’ve examined have been very sturdy. In case you do not look after the Yamaha’s whizz-bangery and ahead sound, the Denon AVR-S960H is a strong various.

What’s within the huge black field?

The Denon AVR-S960H appears to be like just about the identical as each different receiver: black shade scheme, LED show, choice/quantity knobs and a handful of shortcut buttons for the most-used inputs. It is effective, but it surely pales compared to the glossy futurism of the Yamaha RX-V6A.

Ty Pendlebury/CNET

The Denon is a Dolby Atmos receiver whose foremost improve is the 8K-ready, HDMI 2.1 specification. On condition that mainstream 8K TVs are nonetheless a couple of years off, the receiver additionally provides a bunch of stuff that is really helpful now. The primary is eARC, which is the power to transmit high-quality audio streams (Atmos particularly) out of your TV to the receiver. The opposite HDMI 2.1 options of notice are the gaming-related Variable Refresh Fee (to scale back body tearing) and Auto Low Latency Mode, each helpful for avid gamers who wish to get essentially the most out of the PS5 and Xbox Sequence X. 

The receiver has six HDMI inputs (together with one with 8K functionality) and two outputs (one with eARC). The Denon is ready to decode Dolby Atmos and DTS:X along with upscaling applied sciences like Dolby Atmos Top Virtualization Know-how and DTS Digital:X. On the video aspect it additionally helps Dolby Imaginative and prescient and HDR Plus video codecs.

Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Seven channels of amplification are on faucet. The official ranking is 90 watts per channel (stereo, 20Hz-20KHz) which makes it barely much less highly effective than the Yamaha RX-V6A (100 watts per channel) although the distinction is indistinguishable in actual phrases. Doubling the facility will solely get you an additional 3db of quantity, which is barely noticeable. The receiver presents the corporate’s personal HEOS multiroom system (however no Chromecast built-in) and a 32-bit AKM DAC. There’s additionally AirPlay 2, Spotify Join and Bluetooth streaming and the receiver could be voice-controlled with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Josh.ai and Apple Siri.

The distant management is kind of an identical to the one Marantz and Denon have used for years. It is a jolly little clicker with easy-to-read buttons and helpful shortcuts to your entire inputs on the high.

What does it sound like?

Denon and its stablemate Marantz have a “home sound” in the case of receivers, which tends to be extra relaxed than the Yamahas and Pioneers of the world. Whereas this normally means they carry out higher with music, I discovered the Yamaha RX-V6A was extra readily capable of get the heartbeat racing with out tipping into harshness. Compared the Denon provided a workmanlike method to no matter I used to be listening to — it did not gloss over some particulars or hype others. It merely offered me with my music or film, which might make it a terrific match for brighter audio system. 

I began with the comparatively laid-back He Lays Within the Reins from Iron and Wine and Calexico. The Denon provided a pleasingly balanced sound, however with the Yamaha I used to be capable of choose up on extra hidden particulars within the track such because the percussive, clicking tongue noises in the course of the bridge. With the more difficult, tambourine-focused You Acquired Yr Cherry Bomb, the Yamaha once more sounded fuller than the Denon, however the Denon organized the elements in a extra logical order — reining within the thrashiness of the tambourine and firming down the bass to set my toes tapping.

It was with motion pictures that the Denon’s knack for setting a scene actually got here to the fore. Watching Avatar, It offered the jungles of Pandora with loads of spaciousness — each bug and breath of wind introduced the dense environment alive. The footfalls of the monstrous fauna have been felt reasonably than heard, and the bark of Jake’s gun reverberated across the listening house. The Yamaha wasn’t as eager with the small print, favoring a extra bass-heavy combine but it surely was simply as (excuse the pun) impactful. It is more durable to separate these two fashions on motion pictures alone, as each did a sterling job. 

Do you have to purchase it?

Yamaha went for one thing new, leaving Denon because the reliable possibility. Little or no has modified from earlier years, however because the saying goes “if it ain’t broke, do not repair it.” The Denon presents gutsy house theater sound, refined musicality and chunky, huge receiver vitality. 

Ultimately, nonetheless, that is not sufficient. The Yamaha is just not solely cheaper than the Denon, but it surely presents higher specification — extra energy and extra HDMI inputs — and sounded extra gratifying as a complete. If you do not have HEOS multiroom or have another purpose to purchase Denon, the Yamaha is a greater guess for a contemporary 8K receiver.

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