Full Review: Denon's Stunning PMA-150H Integrated Network Amplifier

Manufacturer & Model
Denon PMA-150H Integrated Network Amplifier
MSRP
$1,199
Link
https://www.denon.com/en-us/product/amplifiers/pma-150h
Highlights
Edgy physical design, functional front panel OLED display, vast wireless and wired connectivity, HEOS built-in, discrete headphone circuit, plenty of power to drive easy- to moderately-demanding speakers.
Summary
Denon PMA-150H Integrated Network Amplifier is sized right, offering placement flexibility, and physically designed to stand apart from the crowd. Thanks to wide-ranging wired and wireless connectivity, it can play host to a dazzling audio show. It can also be used to intelligently link to a television for audio playback over an optical connection. The 150H's playback capabilities are excellent, as is its discrete headphone circuit.
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Perhaps father time has softened me a bit, but I've recently experienced several unusually intense wow moments while unboxing review equipment. It's not that getting a first glimpse of factory-fresh gear isn't exciting, but rarely does the look and feel of a new product ignite a notable emotional reaction.

Why mention this, you ask?

Let's just say that today's review subject – Denon's PMA-150H Integrated Network Amplifier (MSRP $1199) – hit all the right notes as it emerged from its box and took its first steps.

Denon is a manufacturer that consistently scores high when it comes to packaging and product presentation. The PMA-150H upholds that reputation, shipping in a robust blue and white-colored box, tattooed with branding and technical information. Internally, Denon’s creation is expertly cloaked by protective wrap and cradled within custom form-fitting styrofoam.

At first sight, the 150H doesn’t disappoint, overloading the senses with bold physical appointments and edgy styling. It’s a product that radiates excitement in its dormant state, providing the eye with plenty of visual detail to unpack and discover. It also strikes a somewhat cold and mysterious stance, something less experienced users might find intimidating. Power cures all ills, however, as that coldness melts away when the 150H is fed some juice.

Despite a few minor shortcomings, the PMA-150H is a solid all-around performer. Yes, it can command an impressive audio show, but convenience and usability factors make this integrated a great choice for tech-challenged music fans and hardened enthusiasts alike. It’s not often that a high-performance product can accommodate that kind of broad spectrum audience.


Overview
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At its core, the 150H is a two-channel integrated amp endowed with 35 watts per channel (8 ohms, 20-20,000 Hz, 0.07% THD) or 70 watts per channel at 4 ohms, and a headphone circuit with a discrete output stage. Those specs suggest it’s the perfect candidate to pair with moderate to less demanding speakers, or speakers with an active low-end component. The former were used to evaluated the 150H during this review.

The 150H's onboard Class D amp is designed with Qualcomm's DDFA Digital Amplifier technology. DDFA or Direct Digital Feedback Amplifier is a closed-loop digital architecture that improves upon traditional Class D Pulse-Width-Modulation principles, eliminating the need for an input DAC and improving performance capabilities at max volumes. The result – according to Qualcomm – is audio playback with less noise and extremely low distortion.

A proprietary data interpolation algorithm is employed to further hone sound quality. This algorithm upconverts 16-bit audio to 32-bit and upsamples 44.1kHz signals 16-times. Predictive data interpolation is also used to render digital sound as smooth and accurately as possible. And for those looking to truly limit potential sources of interference, the 150H allows owners to internally shutdown both WiFi and Bluetooth, paving the way for a squeaky clean audio circuit.

Beyond its output capabilities, the 150H is a diverse streaming machine, featuring Bluetooth 4.1 for playback extending nearly 100-ft, Apple's advanced AirPlay 2, and WiFi (802.11 a/b/g/n). It's also DLNA 1.5 Certified, Roon Tested, and carries HEOS functionality for access to a wide range of streaming services (including TIDAL, Amazon HD, Pandora, SiriusXM, and Spotify) along with whole-home and multi-room audio capabilities.

If wired sources are your flavor, the 150H offers a traditional array of digital and analog inputs, along with access to 32-bit/384kHz audio through a direct-to-computer connection using Type-B USB. And for Hi-Res audio fanatics partial to thumb drives, the 150H's front panel carries a Type-A USB port.

Note: gapless playback is supported for WAV, FLAC, AAC, and DSD.

While far from a traditional AV receiver, the PMA-150H can be integrated into a media system, receiving audio from a TV through a designated optical input. This input senses when a television turns on, instantly triggering power and automatically switching playback to that source. The 150H also accepts Ethernet, carries dual WiFi antennae, and even goes old school with separate AM/FM antenna connectors. In other words, it can source media from just about anywhere, save for a turntable.


Physical Impressions
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The PMA-150H has a placement-friendly footprint (11" W x 12.6" D x 4.1" H). In fact, it's small enough to fit inside a space-constrained cabinet and attractive enough to be proudly displayed on a tabletop or under a TV. Just be sure to add roughly 1.5” of depth to account for the front volume knob and the rear power cord.

Much of the wireless amp's good looks are driven by its silvery aluminum clamshell, a color that's somewhat unusual for the North American market. This surface wraps from the top to the bottom, sandwiching jet-black plastic sides and an equally black front panel. That panel plays host to an assortment of physical and touch controls, a USB port, a headphone jack, and a nifty OLED display. Unlike more expensive streaming amps, the 150H's display isn't color nor is it capable of displaying album art. Its grayish text and graphics are easy on the eyes, though, and as I'll discuss, it relays plenty of information.

Build-wise, the 150H features quality parts and a strict attention to detail. Take, for example, its smooth turning volume knob, machined metal isolation feet, and a hollowed-out backside that lessens the physical impact of wired connections. And to top it off, the 150H has a notable presence when held in the hands. In fact, it feels much heavier than its specified 10.6-pounds of weight.


Set-Up
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Getting the PMA-150H up and running couldn’t be easier. Simply unbox, connect associated cables, download the HEOS app (iOS and Android), and follow a few prompts on the OLED display. After that, you're ready to enjoy music and audio content.

It really is that quick and painless. The entire process took me a matter of minutes, and the typical power-on cycle takes less than ten seconds from start to finish. If you’re the impatient type, then this is probably great news. And for those of you that are less technically inclined, you'll love the 150H's straightforward pathway from box to tunes.

The included physical remote features a common layout, with power and source selections stacked at the top, menu and input buttons in the middle, and numbered and hot-button functions at the bottom. The inclusion of a sleep button is a major bonus, offering quick access to shutoff times in increments of 10 minutes (90-minute max). But the exclusion of backlighting is a significant miss on Denon's part, rendering the remote useless in dark environments. All is not lost, though, because your TV's remote can also control the PMA-150H. That means less clutter and, if you're lucky, buttons you can see in the dark.

For this review, the 150H was deployed in a light-controlled home theater room to evaluate the impact of its dimmable OLED display. Overall light output was negligible during blackout situations, while remaining readable from 9-ft away on the lowest of three brightness settings. This is important to note, especially for buyers who plan to place the 150H in a bedroom or near a television frequently viewed in the dark.


HEOS Overview
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Sound United's Home Entertainment Operating System (HEOS) is a wireless multi-room and surround sound technology integrated in various AV receivers, wireless speakers, and soundbars offered by Marantz and Denon. Once linked to a home network, HEOS gear is controlled using a free app, allowing music to be shared via WiFi, Bluetooth, built-in online streaming services, and locally accessed music files.

This isn’t my first rodeo with HEOS, and my experience with the platform on the 150H mirrors positive experiences from the past. Aside from delivering quick access to popular streaming services, the HEOS app can switch between digital and analog inputs, control the150H's tuner and local music servers, and share music from a handheld device. You'll also find basic tone controls, TV input and auto-play management, and the ability to adjust network settings.

While HEOS deserves serious praise, the app has two notable shortcomings. First, it doesn't provide access to Sleep timer controls. This is disappointing, especially considering the app's utility in dark environments. Second – and more importantly – HEOS and the 150H do not support MQA playback. That means TIDAL's MQA capabilities are nullified, and Master Quality files are bumped to 48 kHz resolution. Also, Qobuz still isn't supported on the HEOS platform. Sound United says support is coming, but the exact date for rollout is unknown. Until then, Qobuz users must stream directly from the Qobuz app, through Roon, or a UPnP workaround.


Menu System
The PMA-150H's menu system is perfectly suited for novice owners. Devoid of depth and complexities, it provides control over volume limits, one of three headphone gain settings, network connectivity, and a few other basics. Adjusting the amp's tone controls (treble, bass, and balance) is achieved outside the menu system using the physical remote.

Picky and advanced users may find the lack of bass management and room correction options frustrating. However, the 150H's streamlined approach places usability at the forefront, which plays well for a broad audience.


Performance
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The PMA-150H was used to drive an amp-friendly two-way bookshelf speaker (Polk Audio’s RTiA3) and a slightly more challenging loudspeaker (SVS's Ultra Towers) in a 14' W x 17.5' L x 8' T room. As you'll read, the amp was more than comfortable driving either speaker. In fact, it was surprisingly adept at conducting a wonderful show when tethered to the larger, more demanding Ultra Towers which were used first in the evaluation.

Using HEOS to access a Mac Plex Media Server, Natalie Merchant's "San Andres Fault" (FLAC 16-bit/44.1 kHz) was the first demo track. Depressing the remote's "Info" button summoned file type and resolution details on the front panel display, along with song and artist information. Track time and time remaining were also displayed, along with a visual timeline.

Sound quality was quite good – crystal clear and punchy. Little details, such as wispy breaths behind Merchant's opening vocals, were revealed with notable detail, and her silky-smooth lyrics sounded soft and effortless. Admittedly, I braced for a weak and unbridled bottom end, but bass was delivered with plenty of breadth and composure.

Goosing the volume, "Wonder" picked up the pace. This track's distorted guitar riffs can sound rather crisp and tangled at the hands of a lesser DAC. The PMA-150H delivered them with definition, allowing their edges to remain distinct and audible, playing a pleasant backdrop to Merchant's clean vocals. These kinds of qualities remained intact as volume levels approached 95dB, a volume level that’s suitably loud for most listeners.

Next up, I perused Qobuz's Hi-Res catalogs and dialed-up The Connells Fun & Games (24-bit / 192kHz, downsampled via Airplay 2 to 24-bit / 44.1 kHz). Once playback began, I holstered my iPhone and used the 150H's remote to select tracks. Results were mixed due to a delay between remote commands and executed actions (approximately 1.5 seconds). While acceptable for single commands, multiple commands resulted in a tangled mess of response times. Fortunately, this remote delay was only an issue while using Airplay, otherwise commands were executed instantaneously.

Fun & Games is a rather bright album that can sound harsh on some systems. The 150H did an excellent job keeping harshness at bay, allowing its airy, large-room sound to dominate the sonic landscape. "Lay Me Down" proved to be a great example of this feat, as did "Uninspired." Both tracks never screamed at the top end, and each threw an appreciable soundstage.

As I traveled through favorite tracks, the 150H continued to prove worthy of accurately driving the Ultra Towers to moderate and elevated volumes. Vocals were delivered with finesse, and the amp was never phased when asked to push aggressive tracks. I see no reason why most music fans wouldn't be satisfied with the results.

Switching to discrete audio, I reached for my Acoustic Research AR-H1 Planar Magnetic Headphones, plugged them into the front panel's 1/4" jack, and opened TIDAL within the HEOS app. At 33 ohms, the AR-H1 is a hair above a low-impedance device, giving me a little wiggle room to explore 150H's gain settings (Low, Mid, High). These settings are simple to find within the menu system and can quickly be switched using the remote or touch buttons on the 150H's front panel… perfect for moments when the remote is out of reach.

Ultimately deciding the AR-H1s sounded best with a "Mid" gain setting, my first destination was Norah Jones's Come Away With Me (TIDAL 16-bit/44.1 kHz), which sounded splendidly rich and delicious. Playback was graced with plenty of composure, never exhibiting any hint of buckling or unwanted distortion. Jones's voice was luscious, with all of its smokiness and texture uncolored and on full display. Vocals on both "Come Away With Me" and "Shoot The Moon" were fleshed out and loaded with detail. Bass was appropriately balanced with the rest of each track, exuding warmth and character. As for the noise floor, it was non-existent.

The PMA-150H also drove the AR-H1s to jammin' levels of crystal-clear punch-you-in-the-face power with Dr. Dre's 2001 - Explicit (TIDAL 16-bit/44.1 kHz), an offensive hard-hitting reference album by one of the 90s premier hip-hop artists. To give the experience a tad more presence and kick, I switched the PMA-150H's gain setting to "High" and explored several favorite tracks. An evenness of presentation and tight snap on tracks like "Still Dre" and "Next Episode" was notable. Details throughout both songs were defined, and Dre's signature voice retained its haunting nature and metallic highlights.

I combed through a heap of favorite tracks using the AR-H1s, and the PMA-150H delivered zero hiccups along the way. Better than tethering the AR-H1 to an iPhone, you ask? Leaps and bounds better… in fact, there's no comparison. The 150H drove a balanced attack that didn't thin or distort as volume levels were elevated to reference levels, making the inclusion of a discrete headphone circuit a highlight feature.

Shifting gears, I linked my MacBook Pro to the 150H via Type-B USB for access to TIDAL. Setting-up this sort of arrangement isn’t exactly plug-and-play and requires visual access to the backside of the 150H. Once connected, PCs require a driver download prior to playback; Mac users aren't required to download a driver, but they need to make a few changes within their system's Audio MIDI Settings. And to further muddy the waters, the PMA-150H needs to be power cycled and its input status must be manually switched to USB-DAC to initiate playback.

While far from a true audiophile showpiece, the RTiA3 is a speaker my ears know inside and out, and it just so happens it's reserved for review scenarios just like this. While perusing TIDAL's Bob Marley (16-bit/44kHz) catalog, I experience notable dynamics and composure with SPL measurements hitting above 100dB, but easing back on volume really allowed the speakers to take flight. Such was the case with "Three Little Birds,” as its bassline was tight and punctuated, remaining lock-and-step with the song's upper dynamics. And the soundstage projected by "Waiting in Vain" was also pleasing, loaded with separation and placement of various sounds across the image.

Despite being a modest pair of speakers, and the Polks and the PMA-150H paired for a great musical show. Take, for example, Dead Can Dance's mesmerizing "Yulunga (Spirt Dance)" (16-bit/44kHz) which sounded phenomenal at moderately elevated listening levels. While the 150H was content pushing the SVS Ultra Towers, it was much more comfortable driving Polk’s less thirsty bookshelves.

Through hours and hours of reliable use, the PMA-150H did prove to be a tad bit of an oven, with its top and bottom becoming very warm to the touch. This isn't a problem, per se, but I wouldn't suggest jamming the 150H into a closed cabinet or an area with poor airflow. It definitely needs proper ventilation.


Final Thoughts
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Denon's PMA-150H is proof positive that performance and simplicity can comfortably coexist without one interfering with the other. Those, above all, are characteristics that the 150H nails without hesitation, making it a device capable of pleasing a wide range of owners. While it lacks features found on a traditional AV receiver (HDMI comes to mind), the 150H can still hold court in a family room media center, which is perfect for a casual music fan that wants a little more oomph from a TV show or movie. Of course, its user-friendly design also plays well to the casual owner looking to experience more from their favorite audio content.

On the other hand, the 150H's HEOS integration, varied streaming capabilities, and information-rich display will satisfy demanding listeners. The streaming amp is attractive enough to take center stage in a multi-purpose room and stately enough to be the brains and the muscle in a dedicated listening space. While hardcore enthusiasts may bristle at the 150H's lower power capabilities and lack of advanced EQ settings, it’s fully capable of powering a refined audio show that most enthusiasts will love.

One of the PMA-150H's sticking points is its price tag. At $1,199, many buyers may find it a bit too expensive for a second system in a home, and casual listeners may be better off purchasing a less expensive AV receiver. That said, the 150H is priced competitively when considering rival units (such as Cambridge Audio's CXA61), and its front display capabilities are likely best in class. For those buyers that own other Denon and Marantz HEOS capable gear, the 150H is a no-brainer buy. And for those looking to build an above-average 2-channel system, it definitely deserves short-list consideration. Solid Buy.


Denon's PMA-150H Integrated Network Amplifier Specifications
General
  • 35 watts x 2 channels into 8 ohms (20-20,000 Hz) at 0.07% THD
  • 70 watts x 2 channels into 4 ohms
  • built-in DAC with high-resolution support
  • advanced AL32 Processing Plus
  • OLED display
  • built-in AM/FM tuner
  • signal-to-noise ratio: 110 dB
  • remote control included
Wireless
  • built-in Wi-Fi for streaming from networked PC, internet radio, and music services
  • free HEOS app
  • works with Amazon Alexa and Google Home
  • Apple AirPlay 2
  • supports multi-room audio with HEOS equipped gear
Connectivity
  • 2 optical, 1 coaxial digital inputs
  • 2 stereo RCA inputs
  • rear-panel Type-B USB with Hi-Res PCM files up to 32-bit/384kHz or 11.2 MHz DSD
  • front-panel Type-A USB
  • 1/4" headphone jack
  • Ethernet
  • RCA subwoofer output
Dimensions
  • 11"W x 4-1/8"H x 12-5/8"D
  • weight: 10.6 lbs
 
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Comments

Sonnie

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That is really a wow there to be able to drive the SVS Ultra Towers as such. Good looking unit... and Roon certified to boot. Impressive.

Nice review Todd :T
 

welldun

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Nice review(s) Todd! With the two recent reviews for the integrated amp entries from Marantz and SVS, and now the Denon, what type of system would you recommend each of these for, and which would you keep for yourself?
 

Todd Anderson

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Nice review(s) Todd! With the two recent reviews for the integrated amp entries from Marantz and SVS, and now the Denon, what type of system would you recommend each of these for, and which would you keep for yourself?
Thanks @welldun. Glad you enjoyed reading them. Interestingly, each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

SVS is the obvious choice if budget is paramount. If budget is no factor, I'd look to SVS if you're looking a system that you can hide or jam into a small space. Also, I'd go SVS if you have other DTS Play-Fi gear. It's a very capable amp in a crazy small package. I actually purchased my review unit and have it powering in-ceiling speakers in my kitchen. It sits on the top shelf of a big walk-in pantry. Tucks away nicely. Because it has visible light output from its vents (and front), I probably wouldn't put SVS into a bedroom or in plain sight under a TV... I'm picky about things like that, though. Some folks might not care.

Marantz gets my nod if you have a turntable. It's the only one that can accommodate phono (MM) without external equipment. It also really excels at stereo playback. Very neutral soundings. It's nice. I think it would make a great brain and muscle to a bookshelf system.

Denon gets a huge nod for its physical design (unique), excellent headphone capacities, and stereo output. It also offers the direct-to-computer USB connection. If I were building a dedicated 2-channel system (like the bookshelf system described for Marantz), I'd probably go with the Denon unit.

Honestly, my biggest knock on both Denon and Marantz is the lack of MQA support (and in-app support for Qobuz). That said, you really need to ask yourself if you can hear a definitive difference between CD-quality res and MQA? Personally, I think the answer (on speakers I can afford) the answer is no. BUT, there's something to be said about knowing you're sourcing the best. And I know some folks won't be able to get past that. I could (and can) tho.

So, I'd buy the SVS for any situation where space is an issue OR where DTS Play-Fi is in play. No hesitation.

And I'd by the Denon for its manageable footprint, interesting design elements, added USB-computer connectivity, and the bonus of a discrete headphone circuit. I'd be lying if I claimed to have heard notably distinct differences between the Marantz and Denon when it came to stereo playback. Both sounded wonderful! So, going Marantz is hardly a mistake (it really comes down to what you need it to do).
 

Tom L.

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Nicely done Todd! The Denon is is a great looking piece! Cosmetics are somewhat reminiscent of the monolithic Harman Kardon designs of a few years ago but is still fresh and unique.

As far as the lack of phono input most wouldn’t miss it. Those that would, have a pretty good selection of turntables out there with built-in phono preamps that would connect nicely to one of the two Aux inputs...
 
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