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Denon AVR-X4400H, my first entry into Atmos (1 Viewer)

Carlo Medina

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Oct 31, 1997
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12,673
Saturday was a day of many firsts:
  • My first Denon (after a decade of Pioneer Elite receivers, the SC-05 in 2008 and the SC-79 in 2013)
  • My first Atmos enabled speakers (Elac Debut 2.0 A4.2 - seated on top of the L/R main towers)
  • My first 6th and 7th speaker setup (I never thought I'd own more than a 5.1 system)
  • My first Audyssey MultEQ XT32 setup (Pioneers used MCACC which I was never happy with the results)
Overall impression of the Denon vs. the Pioneer Elites

At first I was a little worried going back to Class AB amps, since the Pioneers used Class D amps. The Denon does indeed run warmer than the Elites, which I would say even under load only became warm to the touch on the top panel. The Denon is easily 10F hotter, maybe more, but I still wouldn't qualify it as hot. I can rest my hand on it for quite a while without fear of burns. Luckily I also use an open-air rack shelving system and the amp sits at the top, so it's fully exposed to the air and nothing prevents heat from escaping. I also live near the ocean so I rarely ever need to run the A/C. Temperatures stay between 60-80F for 90%+ of the year.

Build quality seems to be on par with the Elites. A few less "shiny" surfaces in the front, Denon sticks with a matte finish, but that's okay, less of a fingerprint magnet. Bluish-white LED vs. the amber makes readability easier, but a complaint I have is that the remote lacks a dimmer button. That's on the front panel, behind the downward swiveling door. Fortunately my receiver is about 3' to the left of the TV so if I leave the display on it doesn't really draw the eye away from the screen.

Setup and MultEQ XT32 (vs MCACC)

Wow, GUI and setup have come a long way from 2013. Or perhaps Denon has always been better than Pioneer at this? Pioneer's GUI and setup on the 05 and 79 were...mediocre, and that's me being polite. By contrast Denon's is much clearer, and the initial walk-through setup is a godsend. I'm not HT novice, I didn't need the step-by-step, but I sure did appreciate it greatly. I was up and running within 10 minutes--meaning I got to the Audyssey step. Another 10 minutes of the Audyssey and I was listening to music and watching movies. Even HT novices won't take too long to get everything ready.

I only did 4 listening locations with the Audyssey mic on my camera tripod. From all three positions on the couch and one on the loveseat. That's generally all the places my my guests sit, so I didn't feel the need to do all 6 (or was it 9?) positions that Audyssey will allow you to do.

The result: Fantastic, balanced sound. Deep bass. Uniform and immersive soundfield. All without compromising dynamics nor significantly altering the frequency response. I say all of this because after I ran MCACC on my Pioneers, and then I toggled between the calibrated result and Pure Direct...I always preferred Pure Direct. Something about the MCACC eliminated (or greatly reduced) midbass frequencies, which were magically restored when I toggled to PD. The Audyssey is the first auto-room correction software I've used where I have preferred the results over PD. The Pioneers never got the LFE output right either, most of the time it was too low and if I adjusted it, there would be some unwelcome boominess. I don't know if the Audyssey runs any sub EQ or if it just calibrates the LFE level better, but my sub now sounds like it's seamlessly integrated into the soundfield like it never was with the Elites. In fact the Elite did such a poor job of sub integration that when I ran pure 2.0 stereo, I disabled the sub. Now I leave the sub on when I run stereo sources from the Denon.

Sound Quality

Here I won't be able to compare it to the SC-79 because I've stowed that receiver and can't do a proper A/B. And to be honest the sound of the Elites was always good to my ears. So I can't in all honesty say "one blows away the other". Both sound very, very good.

What I will say about the Denon is that the soundfield is more uniform. Harder to pinpoint where the speakers are when you close your eyes. I think that's due to the Audyssey more than any difference in DACs or Class AB vs D amps. I've sampled my favorite CDs, SACD, and BD/4K movies and have been nothing but impressed with the result. I've even streamed using both the network and Airplay from my iPhone and laptop and the sound of 320AAC was still impressive. Also, I'm no longer playing the "volume adjust" game. With my SC-79, often I'd have to turn it up to hear dialogue, and then turn it down when action sequences start. Now I don't have to do that. And no, I don't have any night-mode or those dialogue-enhancer, dynamic-range-compressing features on. Everything is off except for the MultEQ calibration results. Don't get me wrong, loud passages still pack a wallop, but for whatever reason dialogue is easier to understand at a reasonable overall listening volume.

Finally, Dolby Atmos. It wasn't as huge a jump as when we went from 2.0/Dolby Pro Logic to 5.1 in my opinion. But it definitely is a more enveloping experience. I've only tried Atmos discs for now, I haven't tried DTS:X yet. Going with ceiling-bounce Atmos speakers may be the limiting factor for me, perhaps if I'd purchased direct radiating speakers and mounted them at the wall/ceiling junction I would have noticed a more pronounced difference. But for $250 the Elacs were a relative bargain for what they provide.

Speaking of bargain, if you live near a Fry's Electronics and Southern California, you should get on their email list. They email special deals (they're an authorized Denon dealer) to their list which contains way lower prices than they can advertise--they'd be violating M.A.P. rules. Near as I can tell they sometimes sell things sometimes at Dealer Cost (which is approximately 60% of MSRP). Suffice it to say I got the 4400 for a huge discount. I don't want to violate any forum price discussion rules, and I do not work for, nor am I affiliated in any way with Fry's.

Remote

I felt I had to make a comment about the remote, because seeing the new remotes on the new Pioneers (which I was contemplating buying before I settled on the 4400) it feels like they're cutting corners on the remotes. Denon still provides a fairly full-featured remote. My only two complaints are the aforementioned lack of a dimmer button, and also a lack of backlight.

Other odds and ends

I really prefer the Denon's speaker terminal layout, all horizontal, running along the bottom of the rear of the receiver. Much easier to plug things in than the Pioneer, which employed the classic red-above-black terminal per pair.

I admit I'm just scratching the surface. I have my turntable hooked up to it but I haven't had a chance to try it out yet. I'm sure the Denon has a bunch of bells and whistles that I'm not even aware of, let alone used. Being a "signal purist" I run HDMI directly from my Oppo 203 to my TV, so I don't use the passthrough feature of the Denon and won't have any quality assessment of it or the upscaling features of the Denon.

The Denon just impressed me so much that I was compelled to share my experience with you all.

Happy to answer any questions if you got 'em!
 

Scott Merryfield

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Carlo, thanks for the detailed thoughts on your new receiver. I did a very similar upgrade about a year ago, buying a Denon X3300W (one model below and a year older than your 4400H) after my two previous AVR's had been Pioneer Elites -- a 94TXH and 47TX. I have not added any Atmos speakers yet, but I will probably eventually get those same Elac speakers at some point, as mounting ceiling speakers in our family room is not an option.

My experience with the Denon versus Elites pretty much parallels yours. Setup was a breeze, and I really liked what Audyssey did for my room over Pioneer's MCACC.

A few suggestions, based on your comments:
  • If your receiver is running a little warm, try using ECO mode. The AVR should run much cooler, and I couldn't notice any difference in sound or performance with it turned on -- I run all my speakers as SMALL, even though I have large tower mains, so that offloads some of the heavy lifting from the receiver's amps.
  • Check out the thread regarding Audyssey setup on AVS Forum. The multiple microphone placements are not intended for different seating positions, but instead to take multiple measurements around the main seating position. Each mic placement should be no more than a couple of feet form the primary listening spot.
  • I have not used the Denon remote since I finished the initial AVR setup about a year ago. I am using a Harmony 650 universal remote to control my entire system -- all OEM remotes are packed away with their batteries removed. I have a button on the Harmony programmed to change the brightness on the Denon's front display, but I never use it, as I found a brightness setting that works for me, and I rarely look at the receiver's display anyway. Instead, I use the Denon's on screen display so I can see things when I need to on my 70-inch Vizio 4K display. I have a button programmed on the Harmony remote to toggle the OSD display information on/off. The Harmony 650 is under $40 on Amazon, and probably the best "bang for the buck" upgrade you can do if you are still using your OEM remotes. I've used a single universal remote to control my system for at least 20 years, and this Harmony is the best one yet -- and the least expensive.
  • If you don't like the idea of a universal remote, Denon does make a remote control app for Android and Apple smartphones. I have the app installed on my Samsung Galaxy S8, but really have not used it other than to make sure it could see my Denon receiver.
 
Last edited:

Carlo Medina

Senior HTF Member
Joined
Oct 31, 1997
Messages
12,673
Thanks for the pointers Scott. Sorry for your title game loss, but Villanova looked downright unbeatable this year.

Re: heat. I already run my speakers at Small and crossover at 80hz for all speakers. It’s warmer than my Elite (unsurprising since Elite uses Class D amps) but I wouldn’t say it runs hot enough for me to be worried.

Re: Audyssey, if I’m ever dissatisfied with the sound (or bored) maybe I’ll run it from more positions. As of now, I’m pretty happy with the results I got.

Re: universal remote, I have a Harmony One for many years. Got sick of programming it. And also I’m one of those who for whatever reason uses a lot of the less-used buttons on all my remotes which Harmony doesn’t normally map to their universal’s buttons. I have had to map them individually. I find it easier to just have the distinct remotes. Plus it’s like those brain puzzle games, keeps me sharp as I age, having to figure out all these remotes. :rolling-smiley:

I have downloaded both the Denon and the HEOS app. I haven’t had a chance to dig very deep into either though.
 

Scott Merryfield

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Thanks for the pointers Scott. Sorry for your title game loss, but Villanova looked downright unbeatable this year.
Thanks, Carlo. The result wasn't unexpected, as Villanova was by far the best team Michigan faced in the tournament. More heartbreaking was last night's loss by the hockey team in the Frozen Four semi-finals. Notre Dame scored the winning goal with just 5 seconds left in regulation. At least I will not annoy our friends while trying to watch the Finals on Saturday evening while we are out with them.:mellow:
 

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