Denon DRA-800H Stereo Network Receiver Review Page 2

Along with smartphone and tablet control via the HEOS app, Denon's AVR Remote app provides most of the same control available through the handheld remote. The 9-inch handset isn't backlit, but its layout is nicely spread out, and it features large buttons for oft-used keys and was intuitive to work by feel. Some key functions, such as volume and selection of streamed music, are also available via Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

Despite the DRA-800H being a simple stereo receiver, it took me a while to wire-up sources and download/configure the recommended apps. Denon's onscreeen set-up assistant will be helpful for newbies. My sources included a cable box (HDMI), Ultra HD Blu-ray player (HDMI), a CD player (my spare Oppo universal player, which I sourced from its high-quality analog outputs), and a turntable (phono input). To this I added the HEOS app loaded with my Pandora, Tidal, Spotify, and Amazon Music account info. I fed the receiver high-res via its USB port. I also downloaded the Denon Remote app and accessed the Denon HEOS skill set in the Alexa app to enable voice control.

1219den.remAll listening was done on a pair of Revel Concerta2 M16 ported bookshelf speakers, with sporadic assistance from a Revel B10 10-inch subwoofer. The M16s (review at are extremely neutral to about 60 Hz, where they start rolling off. They're neither particularly efficient (just 86dB sensitivity) nor an easy load for an amplifier at 6 ohms, though the DRA-800H is spec'd to deliver a full 120 watts per channel at that nominal impedance. I set up the receiver's subwoofer output with my usual 80 Hz crossover.

Listening Tests
The sound from the DRA-800H and Revel pairing was characterized by tons of sonic detail, an extremely dimensional soundstage, and dynamics and headroom that usually rocked the house and did well handling sudden transient demands. But it did occasionally expose the amplifier's limits on extended, high volume playback if I pushed it too hard.

There were many outstanding test tracks that I played again and again just to luxuriate in what I was hearing. For example, "You Look good to Me" by the Oscar Peterson Trio is a deliciously clean and close-miked cut from the We Get Requests album released on Verve in 1964. The band is perfectly spread across the stage with drummer Ed Thigpen at forward left, Peterson's piano at dead center and slightly back of the other players, and bassist Ray Brown opposite Thigpen at forward right. The track begins with all three musicians easing into it—Peterson starts up a delicate melody, Thigpen issues a series of dings from a hanging triangle, and Brown is slowly pulling his bow, with pressure and determination, across the strings to extract wheezing vibrato notes from his instrument. Hearing the detail and imaging the DRA-800H delivered from this CD-quality Tidal stream put a grin on my face. Peterson's piano notes projected with body across the wide middle of the soundstage, while the triangle leaped out into the room and floated appropriately above all else, its sharp strike and lengthy decay perfectly intact, and its tone emanating with almost tuning-fork purity. The thickness of the bassist's notes, and the depth of inner detail and texture audible as the bow tugged across the strings, was just stunning. After the introduction, Thigpen's brushed snare and cymbal sounded as close to being in the room as I've ever heard it on any system.


It's been a while since I've had a record player in my system, and I took the occasion of the DRA-800H's arrival to retrieve the old spinner from storage and check out the receiver's phono stage. I admit I'd forgotten how easy vinyl sounds—I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting some of my old classic LPs. The Mobile Fidelity remaster of Eric Clapton's Slowhand got a full Side 1 play. The Denon hit its stride nicely on the toe-tapping honky-tonk of "Lay Down Sally," providing an eminently listenable, crank-it-up experience with no hint of hardness. The system delivered a driving bass line, crisp transients on Clapton's plucked solo, and a seductive smoothness to his lead vocal. When the soprano backup singers break in at the left of the soundstage, the receiver's widely spread and dimensional image set them in strong relief against Clapton, the instruments, and—critically—each other, despite their close proximity.

Scottish vocalist Julienne Taylor has, quite simply, the voice of angel, and listening to the 24-bit/96kHz hi-res FLAC of "Toybox" from her album When We Are One was a little bit of heaven. I noticed that switching from Stereo mode to Direct or Pure Direct (both sounded about the same) on this track removed a subtle layer of grunge I hadn't been aware of and added a touch of additional transparency to Taylor's velvety delivery. The string accompaniment had a similarly satisfying body and smooth texture with no hint of edge; ditto for the sax that came in on the break for a short solo. Indeed, all the elements of this multi-layered recording were easily pulled out from the mix.

As for movie watching, I quite expected to badly miss my 9-channel Marantz Atmos receiver when I swapped it out with the 2-channel DRA-800H. But that wasn't the case. Even minus a center or surround speakers, the Denon/Revel combo proved quite capable of projecting a broad, tall, and solid enough image to complement my 92-inch projection screen. Dynamic soundtracks like Aquaman came alive nicely with the subwoofer active, and the system's engulfing front stage allowed me to become engrossed in the story and forget there were no sounds coming from behind or directly overhead. Meanwhile, more subtle, dialogue-heavy soundtracks, such as the dark and moody First Man, benefitted greatly from the system's detail and delicacy.

Overall, I came away feeling like the Denon DRA-800H was highly capable with music, a kick-ass A/V platform for movies and TV, and, at $500, one heck of a value. It wasn't a total home run all the time—the DRA-800H and my Revel speakers proved a brutally revealing combination that exposed less-than-stellar recordings and could make them sound flat or edgy. And as mentioned, despite the receiver's generous power rating, I could definitely push the amp out of its comfort zone and into hardness if I rode the volume too high. Fortunately, there was always plenty of volume to spare before I got there, and it's worth noting that other speakers, perhaps ones with a soft-dome rather than an aluminum tweeter, or a more efficient pair, may make for a better match.

That said, the DRA-800H sounded great with the Revels 99 percent of the time, and for much of that it was simply amazing, delivering incredible levels of detail, soundstaging, and dynamics. Perhaps equally important, Denon's modern take on the classic stereo receiver was just downright fun—it made music so accessible that it encouraged many hours of happy use. I'd call the DRA-800H a real bargain that, if mated with good-quality speakers from a high-value audio brand, will put you in good sonic stead for a long time to come for well under a grand.

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drny's picture

I was perplexed as to why Sound United is marketing a Stereo Receiver through their Denon brand, which normally is focused on low to mid budget multi-channel Home Theater receivers.
But wait, I get it. Their strategy is to entice the hipsters that have discovered Vinyl, and to the multitude that subscribes to Hi-res streaming platform but their delivery gear is mostly junk.
Good luck SU in trying to get that crowd into spending $2,000 + on quality Pre-amp processors and amps from your higher end brands. They are likely to stick to their airpods and their smartphones as their delivery method for their music.
Rob, I've never owned a Stereo receiver. In my college sophomore year (79') one of my buddies had Adcom pre-amp and Amp, with Polk Audio Monitor 10B. I was hooked. I do have a Multichannel Receiver that processes Atmos with all the modern bells and whistles, but that is for my Home Theater. Though Denon's $500 Stereo Receiver probably outperforms high end separates from 30 years ago, Millenials and GenX are unlikely to go for a bulky Receiver with god forbid speaker cables coming out of it.

mgfarr's picture

This would have been a great opportunity to review Denon's latest AV receiver, their AVR-X3600H AV receiver, rather than an old school stereo receiver.

Neuromancer's picture

I get it. This magazine is run by a bunch of old farts like me who have fond memories of hedonistic 1970's dorm life where vinyl records and two channel stereo was king. I remember those times... just not as fondly as your reviewers do.

I remember always being broke, leeching money from my parents, and the fact that every two channel stereo system on the planet sounded like crap. We compensated for that (and perhaps some other issues) by buying the biggest speakers we could afford and playing it way too loud (later we added another two speakers and called it "quadraphonic" because we were the cool kids who understood how sound systems worked).

Nostalgia is great if you're into it but did you know that a Denon 8500H can also produce two channel audio? Yep, it's called STEREO MODE.

Does anybody else find it a bit wasteful for you to spend four pages of S&V reviewing what is essentially a mode setting for the rest of us?

Ah well... at least it's not another $1,500 earbud review.

EEWdad's picture

Thanks S&V for giving this receiver your consideration! I have a modest 2.1 A/V setup in my garage/shop where I'd been using a Yamaha stereo receiver (no video switching) for years.

To be able to add video, I re-purposed one of my older, smaller 5.1 Denon receivers. Though I've been running it in stereo mode, it lacked current/robust network streaming chops and have used an outboard wireless DAC to connect to my music library. Like many, I've burned my entire CD library to FLAC and have since augmented with online purchases of HD audio, including 192kHz24bit and some DSD 2.8/5.6. I've just recently begun to explore what's available on Tidal.

A receiver like the DRA-800H is just what I was hoping to find. My experience with Denon has been very good over the years and this unit is at the right price point for my application. Thanks again -

Mr_Music_Lover's picture

Mgfarr and neuromancer, thank you for your communiques assuring us the the Troll Nation is still alive and well. But you’re missing the point. If you want to read about the latest 11.2 receiver hardware, there’s many articles out there for you. But don’t criticize Rob and this great publication for simply trying to present balanced coverage of the receiver market. There’s lot’s of us that are here for information on reproducing high-quality two channel audio that emulates the live music experience played by real human beings on real musical instruments. Anyway ... great article Rob on a very nice Denon piece.