Denon AVR-S760H Home Theater Receiver: Review
While soundbars can be effective for improving TV sound, nothing beats a good A/V receiver and a discrete surround speaker system when it comes to truly immersive surround sound. A/V Receivers (AVRs) not only provide better sound quality, they also typically offer greater flexibility with loads of inputs as well as support for the latest audio and video formats and codecs. Denon’s AVR-S760H is a budget-priced A/V receiver (MSRP $599) which provides all the essentials for a starter or budget home theater system with immersive surround.
The AVR-S760H supports both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X immersive surround formats. And it does this with real 7-channel processing and amplification, not virtual surround. With seven channels of amplification on board, the Denon can power a 5.1.2-channel Dolby Atmos system, a standard 7.1 channel surround system or a 5.1-channel system with power left to spare for a pair of speakers in another room. It’s rated for 75 watts per channel which is enough to fill a small to medium sized listening room with sound assuming your speakers are reasonably efficient.
Connectivity Up The Wazoo
In terms of inputs and outputs, the AVR-S760H has plenty of those. The unit includes six HDMI inputs, three of which support 8K resolution, the other three support up to 4K. All are HDMI 2.1 with support for HDCP 2.3. It includes one HDMI output with ARC and eARC so you can get sound – even Dolby Atmos surround sound – from the streaming apps in your TV or projector, assuming your display also supports ARC or eARC.
The receiver includes two fiberoptic digital inputs and one coax digital audio input as well as two composite video inputs and one output. A USB port on the front of the unit supports connection of a USB thumb drive with digital music files (PCM, MP3 or DSD format). Vinyl lovers will be happy to see that there is a turntable input here which supports moving magnet cartridges. This means you won’t need a separate phono preamp, unless you have a moving coil cartridge. (Vinyl Curious? Check out the difference between a moving magnet and moving coil cartridge).
The receiver also offers built-in Wi-Fi network connectivity for listening to music from a networked PC or supported streaming services. If you prefer a hard-wired network connection, there’s an Ethernet port on board as well. Either way, the network capability enables simple firmware updates as well as integration with Amazon Alexa or Google voice assistants. Apple AirPlay 2 support lets you stream from an iPhone or iPad. Two-way Bluetooth capability is built in so you can connect a phone or tablet as a streaming source or you can connect the receiver to a pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones for private listening. There’s also a standard 1/4″ headphone jack on the front in case you want to connect a pair of traditional wired headphones.
At 19 pounds, the receiver feels solid without being overly heavy. When you first turn it on, a detailed set-up guide walks you through all device and speaker connections with on-screen pictures and instructions. I was able to get through the entire speaker setup including Audyssey calibration in about 30 minutes. Denon even includes a cardboard tripod you can use to hold the mic during calibration if you don’t have a tripod. The input setup process identified each source by its HDMI EDID handshake: an Apple TV 4K, XBOX One X and a Samsung 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc Player. It automatically labels each input to match the source, but you can override these source names in the set-up menu if you prefer.
For speakers, I did a lot of my listening with the super-affordable Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 Premium Immersiuve Speaker System from Monoprice (available from Monoprice and Amazon). It’s a full set of five speakers with a powered subwoofer and separate upward-firing drivers on the front left and right speakers to reflect from the ceiling to provide the height channels for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. The whole speaker system sells for $250 and sometimes goes on sale for even less. Audiophile approved sound? Perhaps not, but it’s a punchy and dynamic system with a decent frequency balance and spacious soundstage at a ridiculously low price.
Toward the end of the review, I swapped in a more expensive (but still budget friendly) 5.1.2 system from NHT. Both systems were fairly low in efficiency with a rated sensitivity of 88 dB for the NHT satellites and 89 dB for the Monoprice system. This can make them a bit of a challenge to drive at high levels but the Denon AVR-S760H was able to drive both systems loud enough for a fairly cinematic sound experience in my roughly 16×16 foot listening room.
I Stream, You Stream…
If you want to use the built-in streaming or multiroom music functions on the Denon receiver, you’ll need to install Denon’s HEOS app for iOS or Android. When I downloaded the app, it found my receiver on my home network and immediately performed a software update, which rebooted the receiver. The update took about 10-15 minutes. The same was true when I connected the app to my existing receiver in another system. Using the HEOS app was pretty straightforward, though maybe not quite up to the Sonos standard for ease of use.
For the most part, music played well through the streaming service and Heos app through the receiver. On Tidal, I saw several songs show up in the HiFi (lossless) tier, with some basic album art and title graphics appearing on the TV screen. I had the option of synching the same music on two different Denon receivers in different parts of the home from the app. As with Sonos, you can also purchase standalone wireless HEOS speakers and soundbars that work as their own independent zones in bedrooms or a kitchen and use the Heos app to play the same or different music all over your home.
One glitch I noticed when using the Heos app to play music from Tidal was that attempting to play back a Tidal playlist made entirely of Dolby Atmos music mixes, I kept getting an error message, “Unable to stream from Tidal. Please try again later.” It took some sleuthing and some Googling of this not-very-specific error message to figure out this was being caused by Heos being unable to support Dolby Atmos on Tidal. Playing the Dolby Atmos mix back from Tidal in other places (like in my car) just defaults to a stereo version, but plays the music properly. As of now, the Heos platform does not support Dolby Atmos from any streaming service. If you want to listen to Dolby Atmos music from Tidal or Apple Music on a Denon receiver, you’ll need to play those back from a separate device like an AppleTV 4K or a FireTV stick.
And speaking of Dolby Atmos, I’ve been listening to a LOT of Dolby Atmos since I got the Denon receiver in: movies, TV series and loads of music titles. Hundreds of TV shows and movies are available in Dolby Atmos on Blu-ray Discs, Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs and on all the top streaming services. But I was surprised at just how many music titles are available in Dolby Atmos.
Apple Music now has over 60,000 music titles mixed in Dolby Atmos. Tidal has a good selection of music in Dolby Atmos as well, though maybe not as many titles as Apple Music. Amazon Music also offers Dolby Atmos but there is currently no way to play songs in Dolby Atmos from Amazon Music on external receivers. Learn more about your options for Dolby Atmos Music playback in “How and Why to play Dolby Atmos music on your home speakers.”
On Apple Music and Tidal, there are loads of different genres from which to choose in Dolby Atmos: classical, rock, alternative, Hip Hop, pop, electronica, jazz and more. New albums like the latest from Billie Eilish and Taylor Swift are both available with Dolby Atmos mixes. Also, back catalog tracks from artists like Rush, the Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Ed Sheeran, Elton John, Pat Benatar and hundreds more have been remixed and remastered in full Dolby Atmos surround sound. A couple of my favorite back catalog music tracks remixed in Dolby Atmos included 21 Pilots “Stressed Out” and the 80s hit “Take on Me” by A-Ha. These both take full advantage of the three dimensional space available with instruments and voices placed all over the room. Queen “Another One Bites The Dust” gets pretty trippy as well, while Rush “Tom Sawyer” offers a much more subtle but still enjoyable sense of spaciousness in its Dolby Atmos mix.
About the only negative quality in the sound that I noticed while listening to music in Dolby Atmos was that the receiver took a fraction of a second to lock to each new song in Dolby Atmos, which could result in the beginning of songs getting clipped in playback. But when I dug into this further it became clear this was not actually a problem with the receiver. This clipping only happened when I used the Apple TV 4K streaming box for music playback. When I switched over to an Amazon FireTV 4K Max streaming stick, using Tidal as the app, the beginnings of all songs were perfect in Dolby Atmos, with no clipping. So it seems this issue is actually caused by the Apple TV 4K box, not the receiver or app.
I contacted Apple support about this but they were not able to resolve the issue. Swapping in a newer High Speed HDMI cable between the Apple TV box and the receiver helped a bit but didn’t completely resolve the problem. It’s worth noting that this was only an issue with music playback. With movies and TV shows, the receiver and Apple TV box only had to lock to the Dolby Atmos signal once and then the sonic experience was seamless for the rest of the viewing/listening session.
Surrounded by Water and Sand and the Vastness of Space
Movies and TV series are equally enjoyable on the Denon receiver in Dolby Atmos. In the opening scene of the Star Wars episodic series “Andor,” you feel as if you are immersed in a light downpour with our “hero” as he braves the rain on a foreign world to follow up on a lead. Daring escapes and battle sequences throughout the series take full advantage of the height channels of course, but it’s the quieter moments where Dolby Atmos is used to create a real sense of atmosphere. In the final episode of the first season, Andor finds himself in dank tunnels below the city and the water droplets falling from above with their slight echo and reverberation give you a sense of confinement and dread as Andor hides from the oppressive Imperial forces storming the city above.
The movie “Dune” also offers several magic moments in Dolby Atmos, such as the first time we see the massive sandworm as it attacks the Atreides spice harvester. With a combination of Hans Zimmer’s music, grains of sand blowing in the wind, the rumbling of the beast’s passage and the mystic sounds of a spice-induced vision, the viewer is drawn into the action quite effectively. And this immersive soundscape is perfectly captured by the Denon receiver.
One of my Dolby Atmos go-to clips is the beginning of the film “Gravity” (Diamond Luxe edition on Blu-ray Disc). After a powerful, visceral crescendo of white noise, the sound abruptly ends with a wide silent shot of the earth as seen from space. Sound slowly grows from the right side of the screen as the Space Shuttle appears as a tiny dot and approaches the center of the screen. Sound builds as astronauts carry on a radio conversation with Mission Control back on Earth. Every voice comes from a distinct point in space, but these voice objects move to track the position of the shuttle as it rotates the earth. This precise tracking allows us to pick up on fine details of the conversation which are harder to make out in the standard 5.1 mix. The Denon had no trouble with this decoding, maintaining the individual voices easily as they tracked around different positions of the listening room. I did hear some strain during the earlier crescendo portion which suggested that the receiver was running out of steam when driving a multi-channel signal to high decibel levels.
Moving in Stereo
For two-channel stereo listening I sampled a variety of CDs and high-resolution lossless digital music files as well as some lossy MP3s. The Denon has a few music listening modes including Stereo (which uses the front two speakers and any connected subwoofer with minimal additional processing), Dolby Surround, which “upconverts” 2 channel or 5.1 channel material to use all connected speakers, DTS Neural:X” (DTS multi-channel upconversion) and a “Direct” mode which passes the original audio signal directly to the speakers with no digital processing.
For stereo playback, Direct Mode is only suitable if you have full range left and right speakers as it does not send any low bass information to a connected subwoofer. Stereo mode creates a nice deep and well defined soundstage on well recorded material. The surround enhancement modes like Dolby Surround and DTS Neural:X can add some spaciousness to the sound but I found most 2-channel material sounded better in Stereo mode. This also gives the receiver a bit more room to breathe as the amplifier only has to worry about providing power to two channels instead of seven. This gave the overall sound more headroom and mid bass heft which enhanced the overall sound quality.
Lossy MP3s encoded at 256K sounded a bit brittle. The Denon receiver includes an adjustable “Restorer” mode which the company claims will restore the sound lost due to lossy compression. I found it to help restore some of the fullness to the sound, but accessing this mode is awkward as it’s buried deep in the receiver’s sound settings menus. Adding a button for it on the remote would make things simpler.
Back in Black (Vinyl That Is)
In addition to the plethora of digital inputs (HDMI, coax and fiberoptic), the Denon includes analog audio inputs as well, notably a turntable (phono) input. This means you can connect a record player to the receiver without the need for a separate phono preamp. I took this opportunity to unpack my old Systemdek turntable with Linn K9 cartridge. It had been sitting in a box since 2001. I put the belt on, spun up the platter and played a few classic discs from the 80s: ASIA, Berlin and Rush among them. That warm full analog sound took me right back to my high school days, hanging out with friends in the basement and trekking up and down the stairs to the living room sound system every 22 minutes (or so) to flip the record over or put on a new one.
I can easily see why vinyl is making a comeback. There’s something supremely seductive about the tactile experience and full-bodied organic sound of vinyl that sets it apart from today’s somewhat sterile digital precision. Again I experimented with the multi-channel “enhancement” modes but found that nothing compared to plain old “Stereo” mode for vinyl playback. It was a nice trip down memory lane and kudos to Denon for including a phono section in an already feature-packed budget-priced receiver.
- Excellent 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos Performance
- Plenty of HDMI inputs (with HDMI 2.1, HDCP 2.3)
- Clear guided set-up with on-screen instructions
- Great Bang for the Buck
- Solid sound quality in stereo or multi-channel listening modes
- Intuitive operation
- Includes turntable input
- May not be powerful enough for a large listening room or inefficient speakers
- Some constraint in dynamic range at louder listening levels (with all channels driven)
- No preamp outputs, tape loop or room for expansion beyond 5.1.2 channels
The Bottom Line
With support for 5.1.2 channel immersive surround sound with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, six HDMI 2.1 inputs with HDCP 2.3 and enough power for a small to medium listening room, the Denon AVR-S760H gets our highest recommendation for an entry-level home theater receiver. Add in a budget 5.1.2 channel speaker system and you’ll have a great-sounding starter home theater system for less money than the cost of a high-end soundbar.
Where to Buy the Denon AVR-S760H:
Note: The Denon AVR-S760H was first released in late 2021 but is still current in the Denon line-up as of January, 2023.
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