/> ED I T O R S C H O I C E IN N O V A T IO N A W A R D
X

CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

Denon AVR-S910W review: Midpriced receiver flexes home theater muscle

Ty_Pendlebury.jpg
headshots_Steve_Guttenberg.jpg

Over the years Denon has been among the most popular names in home theater receivers, and offers models to suit budgets large and small. The AVR 910W sits in the middle of the price range, offers energetic performance and includes the features most people are looking for, including Bluetooth wireless audio, compatibility with 4K video sources, and the latest Dolby Atmos and DTS:X surround formats.

denon-avr-s910w-01.jpg
7.9

Denon AVR-S910W

Pricing Not Available

The Good

The Denon AVR-S910W offers a muscular home theater performance with a wide soundstage and sparklingly clear dialogue. There are plenty of features for the price, including eight HDMI inputs plus HDMI 2.0a, HDCP 2.2 compatibility, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and dual subwoofer outputs. The remote control and Denon Remote app meaningfully enhance the usability of the system.

The Bad

The Denon doesn't partner well with bright-sounding speakers. It's not as talented with music as its competitors.

The Bottom Line

The Denon AVR S910W comes fully loaded with up-to-the-second features, and delivers highly transparent sound.

Whereas sister brand Marantz is focused on music replay, this Denon performs better with movies than music. The AVR S910W provides an exciting listen with a tremendous openness to its sound that not even the impressive Onkyo TX-NR646 can match.

While you have to be careful with speaker matching -- the Denon was too bright for the Klipsch RP160M standmounters, for example -- the AVR S910W is capable of home cinema authority while also offering simplicity of use.

Design

Sarah Tew/CNET

While other home cinema components have gone through multiple design changes in the last few years, receivers still look roughly the same as they did 20 years ago. The Denon AVR-S910W has had a few tweaks over this time, but appears identical to last year's AVR-S900W .

Sarah Tew/CNET

The front boasts four source shortcut buttons and a few other functions, while the traditional volume knob sits on the right and the knob to select the rest of the sources on the left. The display is a one-line, blue LED which indicates the input and Dolby or DTS soundtracks.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The menu system offers full-color backgrounds and helpful illustrations when you're setting up your speakers.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The remote control design is borrowed from sister-company Marantz and offers a simplified layout and friendly, colored buttons. Compared to the multibutton monstrosities of yore, it's a joy to use.

Features

The Denon AVR-910W is a 7.2 channel receiver with compatibility with both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. It gives users the option of two sets of surrounds (Surround and Surround Back) or an Atmos setup with front height channels.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It boasts eight HDMI inputs and the first three offer 2.0a compatibility with 4K standards including HDCP 2.2 and 60Hz content. You also get Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity which comes bundled with Pandora, internet radio, Spotify COnnect, SiriusXM and DLNA.

If you have a smartphone and want to use it to listen to music there are a number of options available to you, the most convenient being Bluetooth.

screenshot2015-09-09-11-54-46.png
Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Denon includes a nifty Remote app on the Apple Store iPhones and iPads, and Google Play for Android devices. The app source selection as well as control of UPnP/DLNA sources on your network.

If you're trying to choose between this and the very similar AVR-X1200W ($599) the 910W has a bit more power -- 95W versus 80W (stereo) -- and a different version of the Audessey setup routine (Bronze instead of Silver).

Performance

Firing up the "Star Trek: Insurrection" Blu-ray to get acquainted with the Denon AVR S910W, the receiver immediately demonstrated its home theater stamina. Space battles and other hijinx at high volume were taken in stride. We used our Pioneer Elite SP-EBS73 monitors, an SP-EC73 center speaker, Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-240S surround speakers, and the mighty Klipsch R-110SW subwoofer for all of our listening tests.

Sticking with the space theme, we next checked out the latest version of "Gravity," the one with the Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Like the Onkyo TX-NR646 receiver we recently, tested the AVR S910W only sends Atmos height channel signals to the front left and right channels. Some more expensive Atmos-enabled receivers also deliver height-channel signals to the rear or side surround speakers.

The good news is that even with just the front left and right Elite SP-EBS73 speakers firing Atmos sound off the ceiling, we heard a remarkably seamless front-to-rear illusion of height effects. The astronauts voices floated around the front and rear of the CNET listening room (the Klipsch RP-240S surround speakers were positioned on the side walls, a foot higher than our heads).

"Gravity" really shows off what Atmos can do, better than any other film we've heard to date. It's not just the height channels that put sound above, soundstage depth and spaciousness also expands, so when we turned off the height channels the soundstage dimensions shrink. "Gravity" has even bigger dynamic range assaults than "Star Trek Insurrection" and still the AVR S910W's sound never faltered.

When we compared the AVR S910W with the Onkyo TX-NR646, the main difference we heard was the TX-NR646 was a tad warmer and richer in tonal balance. The Onkyo's soundstaging was also smaller and less expansive than the AVR S910W's. We heard the same differences with two-channel music as well, and preferred the AVR S910W's clearer overall sound.

Continuing with another Atmos release, "American Sniper," we focused on the scenes early in the film where Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is just starting to hone his skills as a marksman. The sounds of the rifle bullets echoing from off in the distance were bigger and more reverberant with Atmos engaged, but still sounded pretty realistic with Atmos turned off. The AVR S910W's clarity consistently shined through, with and without Atmos encoded films.

As for music, we used Nine Inch Nails excellent "Beside You In Time" concert Blu-ray. The band's raw power was fierce, as was the crowd's appreciative roar that filled the CNET listing room. The AVR S910W's freewheeling dynamics and floor-shaking bass satisfied our lust for power.

Finishing with quieter fare with a couple of high-res lossless albums, namely Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" and Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue," the AVR S910 summoned up subtle details. We heard the breathiness of Davis' trumpet, and the crisp definition of John Stirratt's basslines on Wilco's tunes made us stop and take notice. With great sounding receivers it's not just about the big moments; the little details that take you by surprise are just as relevant.

While the receiver sounded great paired with the Pioneers we had some reservations about pairing this brighter-sounding device with a bright pair of speakers. Using the AVR-910W with the Klipsch RP160M -- a speaker we really like -- was almost unlistenable, with overly sharp treble on some music tracks. Meanwhile the Onkyo TX-NR646 with its comparatively warmer sound didn't have this issue. If you're buying this Denon receiver it will make a better match with mellower, "British-sounding" speakers such as the Pioneers, the B&W 685 S2s or even Wharfedale Diamonds.

As usual Bluetooth lacked the dynamics and subtlety of wi-fi streaming, which was particularly plain with Sharon Van Etten's "Your Love Is Killing Me." The roiling drums in the background of the track became sudsy and less distinct when using Bluetooth, and the soundstage appeared to close in on itself. Switching to Wi-Fi streaming via the Bubble UPnP app opened up the sound and gave the choruses the dynamic swagger they lacked over the lossy Bluetooth connection.

Conclusion

It's great that the Denon AVR S910W has oodles of features, most of which you'll probably never use, but honestly, we were more impressed by the remote's simplified button layout. In day-to-day use we're sure you'll appreciate it too. As for the sound quality the AVR S910W's unerring clarity puts it ahead of other similarly priced receivers for home theater purposes.

denon-avr-s910w-01.jpg
7.9

Denon AVR-S910W

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Sound 8Value 8