The AVR-X3100W is a 7.2-channel midrange AV receiver, which comes with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and AirPlay out of the box, alongside a mind-boggling array of cutting-edge home cinema tech. And at a shade under £500 it’s not ridiculously expensive either – all the ingredients for a must-buy product, provided its performance is up to scratch…
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AV receivers aren’t renowned for their sexy looks, but to its credit Denon has made the AVR-X3100W as fetching as possible. The gleaming brushed black fascia is eye-catching, while light reflects alluringly off the volume and input knobs like vinyl on a turntable.
Unsurprisingly, build quality isn’t as luxurious as Denon’s high-end amps – up close, parts of the fascia have a plasticky feel – but on the whole it’s a robust and well made unit.
Once you’ve peeled off all the stickers, fascia clutter is minimal. The buttons blend into the black finish and the dot matrix display doesn’t take up much space. It displays the source and audio format in large digits, although other information is too small to read from the sofa – thankfully any commands are also displayed onscreen.
Below the display is a row of Quick Select keys that switches to favourite sources, stations and settings, plus an HDMI input, a USB port – which charges and plays music from Apple devices – and a headphone output.
The rear panel expands connectivity further with seven more HDMI inputs, all of which pass through 4K and 3D, and two outputs – one of which is ARC capable – that can send different signals to two different displays.
Other sockets include two component and three composite inputs, five sets of analogue stereo inputs, four digital audio inputs – two optical, two coaxial – and 7.2-channel pre-outs. There are dual Wi-Fi antennae on the back, but those who require a more stable web connection for music streaming can connect to the Ethernet port.
There are seven pairs of binding post speaker terminals, which allow you to power a 7.2 channel system in the main room, or power a 5.1 system in the main room while using the surround back outputs to send stereo sound to another room. There are also stereo Zone 2 pre-outs.
How long have you got? The AVR-X3100W is packed with features, including 4K upscaling up to 60Hz at 4:4:4 colour resolution, Imaging Science Foundation-certified video calibration and support for Dolby Pro Logic IIz, Audyssey DSX and DTS Neo:X. In fact the only major omission is Dolby Atmos, which is reserved for receivers higher up Denon’s range.
Wireless connectivity is the X3100W’s main claim to fame (hence the ‘W’). Built-in Wi-Fi lets you connect to your home network and stream music from DLNA devices or from iOS devices using AirPlay.
There’s even support for Spotify Connect and internet radio, putting a wealth of music at your disposal. As for Bluetooth, the Denon will remember up to eight devices so you don’t have to pair them every time.
According to Denon, the AVR-X3100W musters a mighty 180W per channel. But anyone concerned about power consumption will welcome the Eco mode, which lets you reduce how much it guzzles and view the reduction using an on-screen meter. The Auto Eco mode automatically turns on and off according to the volume level.
Format support is excellent – as well as decoding Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio and all their subsidiaries, the Denon also offers gapless playback of hi-res FLAC (192/24) ALAC (96/24), WAV (192/24), AIFF (192/24) and DSD, as well as lossy MP3, WMA and AAC.
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The AVR-X3100W is easy to install and use thanks to its superb onscreen presentation. The Setup Assistant walks you through every step of the process, using pleasant graphics and clear descriptions. This slick, attractive presentation pervades the entire GUI, making this an ideal receiver for beginners.
Seasoned veterans can quickly skip straight to the setup menu. Here you’ll find a comprehensive range of tweaks including input assignment, video adjustments, HDMI settings and of course audio configuration. The setup menu presentation is white text on a black background, but this simplicity makes it easy to follow and few stones are left unturned.
If you’re not confident about optimising the sound yourself then Audyssey’s MultEQ auto setup system does it for you. Connect the supplied microphone to the front panel, run the system and it measures the in-room response of the speakers, then sets digital filters to tease out the best possible performance. It measures up to eight positions to get the most accurate readings. It’s quick and effective but always check the results in the setup menu for any anomalies.
The receiver can be controlled in two ways – using the supplied remote or Denon’s Remote App for iOS and Android phones. Denon has also introduced a tablet app that’s optimised for the larger screen size. This superb app uses a jazzy, icon-heavy layout that makes it easy to control the receiver or browse content.
The physical remote isn’t bad either. The stripped down line-up of buttons is neatly organised, with the direction pad for menu navigation helpfully placed under the thumb. All the keys are clearly marked and the all-important volume buttons are easy to find.
Past Denon receivers have been accused of sounding too smooth for movie playback, trading excitement for refinement. But that’s not the case here. There’s plenty of bite in the X3100W’s sound, which makes action movies sound urgent and dramatic.
Load up Captain America: The Winter Soldier on Blu-ray, for example, and the freeway fight scene really gets the adrenalin flowing. Jeeps crash into each other with a feisty crack that jabs your eardrums (in a good way). Gunshots sound fierce and hand-to-hand combat is conveyed in a whirlwind of fast, powerful blows.
Some forceful effects sound a little brash here and there, particularly at loud volumes, but that can be the price you pay for a more exciting tone, and in any case it won’t ruin your enjoyment.
This more exciting side to Denon’s character doesn’t come completely at the expense of finesse. The soft, emotive strings in the score sound wonderfully silky, and the Denon teases out minute effects like the rustle of clothing and the crackle of fire.
At the other end of the frequency spectrum, bass notes are deep, punchy and tightly integrated. They lend a sense of depth and scale to big action scenes, a crucial component in a thrilling home cinema experience.
We’re also impressed by the Denon’s ability to steer effects quickly and accurately around its expansive soundstage. Cap’s shield pings between the speakers at great speed and surround effects emerge cleanly and precisely from the relevant speaker.
The combination of the Denon’s zippy steering, attacking tone and weighty bass results in a wildly entertaining experience where you truly feel part of the action. And while all of this is going on, dialogue punches through clearly, laced with detail and depth.
Switch over to music and you’re in for a treat. Love Meeting Love by Level 42 is a funky delight – the Denon locks the tight bassline tightly to the drums and sprinkles sparkling percussion, pure vocals and warm keys on top.
It also preserves the frantic energy of All Will Surely Burn by Sons of Kemet and ekes out all the detail present in the 96kHz/24-bit FLAC file. We played tunes from a variety of sources – USB, CD, DLNA, Bluetooth – but the result was always the same: a sweet, detailed and well-balanced sound.
The AVR-X3100 is a magnificent AV receiver for the money and you’d be a fool not to stick it on your shortlist. It’s packed with features – including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and AirPlay – and offers one of the slickest and friendliest operating systems we’ve encountered.
But the real beauty of the AVR-X3100W is its sound quality. With a more exciting and attacking tone than previous Denon efforts, it’s a thrilling listen, a fact augmented by the sparky detail, thumping bass and agile effects steering.
Occasional brashness at loud volumes takes the shine off a touch, but it’s not serious enough to stop the AVR-X3100W earning our recommendation.
Easy to use, packed with features and a top-drawer performer, Denon’s midrange receiver is deeply impressive.