Denon Electronics (USA), LLC
P.O. Box 867
Pine Brook, NJ 07058
(973) 396-0810 (voice)
(973) 396-7455 (fax)
7.1 Digital Surround Receiver with DD EX, DTS ES, DPL IIx (music/cinema/game modes), DTS Neo:6, 10 DSP enhanced audio surround modes, HDCD, Auto microphone setup and Room EQ function, 120 Wpc x 7 channels, 24-bit and 192kHz A/D conversion, Pure Direct mode to turn off certain circuitry to improve analog audio performance, video upconversion, 3 component video inputs, 7 composite and s-video inputs, 7.1 channel analog inputs, audio delay (0-200ms) to match video, Denon Link digital multichannel input (for compatible Denon DVD products), 5 optical inputs, 2 coaxial inputs, 2 optical outputs, 8 analog inputs, phono input, and built-in AM/FM tuner, 3 source and zone control, RS-232 control, IR ins and outs, 12V triggers (2), 2 assignable amplifier channels to drive Zone 2 or 3, allows connection of two different types of surround speakers to be used for music or movies, LCD touchpad Remote Control. 2-year warranty. 17 3/32” W x 6 47/64” H x 16 57/64” D, 37.5 pounds.
Bowers & Wilkins 703, HTM7, 705, ASW750 speakers, Monster 2000 Power Conditioner Strip, Rotel RSX-1056 receiver (for comparison), Denon DVD-3910 DVD player, Audioquest Cables.
Setup and Options
Setup was fairly easy. Denon claims that you can adjust the unit without connecting it to a monitor, but I preferred to go through the on-screen menu system for all setup. Unfortunately, I was not supplied with a microphone to utilize the automatic setup and EQ function of the unit. I was told by a fellow industry veteran that many of these auto setups don’t work all that well, and I don’t mind doing the adjustment manually anyhow, so it wasn’t a big deal.
The equalizer can be used for each speaker individually and works at 63/125/250/500 Hz and 1/2/4/8 kHz. You have an adjustment range of +/- 6 dB in .5 dB increments. This can be done per surround mode or for all modes. I did not use the EQ during the auditioning.
The speaker distance adjustments can be made in .1 foot increments, so you can get the delay very exact. The other adjustments are typical and include speaker size, crossover frequency 40/60/80/100120/150/200/250 Hz, 5- or 7-channel setup, and levels. Additionally, you have the option to select one of the two sets of surround speakers for the different surround modes. You could use a dipole and a direct-firing set in different locations and turn one on for movies and the other for music. I used a single set spaced in an SACD configuration for the entire review.
The manual is extensive and covers all the adjustments of the unit. You may want to take it in during a few different readings—it’s 101 pages.
DSP Surround Modes
I’m not a huge fan of DSP modes, but truth be told, they are getting much better sounding than they used to be. Like most surround receivers today, the Denon offers multiple surround modes to enhance your listening pleasure. These include: Wide Screen, Super Stadium, Rock Arena, Jazz Club, Classic Concert, Mono Movie; Video Game, Matrix, Virtual, and 5Ch/7Ch Stereo. The manual goes into detail about what the idea behind each of these modes is—see Page 80.
I didn’t really have the need to make use of the multi-zone audio/video setup, but the Denon is very flexible in this regard. Zone 2 or 3 can be powered by the internal amplifier if you are not using the receiver in a 7.1 configuration. Zone 2 also offers a video output. Zone 3 is fixed analog audio only, but this shouldn’t pose a problem for most people. The idea is to make use of a common set of equipment and run it to multiple rooms of the house. With remote extenders you can then control them from these other rooms—see the manual for more specifics.
Component Video Switching
Unlike some units, the component video inputs are assignable, so you don’t have to worry about what source uses which input. I tried switching component video through the receiver and used a few test patterns from Video Essentials to see if there was any loss. Everything looked fine. Denon rates the bandwidth of these inputs up to 100 MHz, so you really shouldn’t have any trouble (if the rating is accurate).
The receiver offers an auto-tuning function that I tried right away. It took half a minute or so and programmed a bunch of stations into memory. Unfortunately, it programmed stations that didn’t exist—didn’t have a signal at all. I briefly tried the tuner and it sounded okay. It was a little harsh and there was more static than I expected on a few stations that are fairly strong. It was most likely due to the inadequate antenna that came with the receiver. My suggestion would be to put up a good outside antenna if radio is important to you, otherwise get an external tuner. The tuner section on the AVR-3805 should work for most people, but it is nothing to call home about.
The remote control that accompanies this receiver looks quite different from many of the other remotes I’ve used. It’s got a blue backing with two screens that light up with blue lettering above and below some hard buttons. In the light visibility is fine, but in the dark it is easier to read than just about any other conventional remote I’ve seen. It worked the Denon DVD-3910 without any programming, and the buttons change in the screens depending on what you control. I did all the receiver setup via the remote control through the on-screen menu system. It can be programmed to control cable boxes, CD players, cassette players, laser disc players, satellite boxes, vcrs, DVD players, televisions, CD recorders, Minidisc players(!), and DVD recorders. When you move the remote at an angle it will light up automatically and then go off after several seconds if nothing is pushed.
Listening, Part I – Multichannel Analog vs. Digital
Having a single connection to transmit multichannel digital audio has been a dream for many years. Companies like Meridian offered it on the transport to preamplifier connection for a long while, but they don’t do SACD, and much of their components are priced well out of the range of most people. In the past year or two a few mainstream audio products have addressed this issue. The Denon Link system is one of these. Via a CAT5 cable, a connection is made between a compatible DVD player (I used the DVD-3910) and receiver to transmit digital audio both stereo and multichannel.
Given the relative costs of the components involved (the DVD is $1500); I felt that perhaps it would be good to compare the quality of sound via both inputs (the analog 5.1 input and the digital Denon Link). I used Kelly Rowland’s Simply Deep SACD and switched back and forth on the amplifier and DVD player. I did my best to match levels in the receiver and in the multichannel analog outputs on the DVD player. I thought the audio was cleaner and clearer in both the high frequencies and the voice with the analog connection. I wasn’t using more than $50-75/pr interconnect cables either. It was enough of a difference that I chose to use the analog connections throughout the testing and would recommend others do so with this combination of equipment. With a higher model receiver (or lower model DVD player) it is possible that the digital connection would be the optimum choice.
Listening, Part II—Stereo Sound vs. Rotel RSX-1056
To compare the digital decoding inside the receiver as well as the analog circuitry, preamplification, amplification, etc. I connected the digital output from the DVD-3910 and ran it into both the Denon receiver and a Rotel RSX-1056 ($1300). The Rotel is strictly 5.1 amplified and lacks some of the features offered by the Denon, but I’ve always thought highly of its sound. I matched levels and switched speaker wires back and forth. I was lucky enough to have two co-workers sit in and help with the judging and the cable swapping.
The first track we tried was off a Cello Demo Disc,Volume 4 and the track was by Julian Rachlin—piano and horn. The Rotel was sweeter sounding and all thought the Denon was not as open and made the piano sound slightly compressed.
Next was track 2 from Sade’s Lover’s Rock CD. With this track the consensus was split. My co-workers liked the bass better on the Denon claiming that it was tighter and more controlled (as if having a better damping factor). Still, it was thought that the Rotel had more air around the instruments and transitions in the music and phrases seemed more punctuated and less homogenous. I felt the Denon definitely had more bass although, for me, it was hard to judge what was correct with the electronic music.
I moved onto a favorite, track 5, from Candido and Graciella’s Inolvidable. The Denon was tight, punchy, but dynamically softened at the extremes. The Rotel again had more air and made the instruments sound more realistic. These differences would likely be missed without the direct comparison. The Denon sounded very good, it was just the Rotel sounded more…right—one of those difficult to describe experiences.
For the last stereo test I put on track 8 from a London Sampler DCI-21088, Bizet’s Carmen Entr’acte to Act 4. The Rotel clearly sounded sweeter, richer in the midrange, had more top end, and greater delicacy. The Denon sounded edgier, rolled off or toned down—something that seemed to permeate throughout the various recordings.
Listening, Part III—DVDs
The best part of the reviewing process is when most of the note taking is done and you get to sit back and (hopefully) enjoy using the product. After being critical about varying aspects of the receiver, it was a pleasure to just sit back and enjoy some movies. I put on the first Spider-Man flick—and watched some of the more exciting action scenes (like the first appearance of the Goblin at the fair). The Denon always had more than enough power to convey the excitement and volume of the sound effects and musical score.
This was also the case while watching Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. This film has several “surrounded” sequences and the Denon didn’t get in the way of the film. Using speakers that were well matched made the receiver’s job easier and when characters and objects moved from speaker to speaker, the effect was effortless.
Power was in reserve and when I turned it up on a few occasions, the AVR-3805 handled it with aplomb. The unit never made any strange noises, and always locked onto the signal quickly and without error.
There is no doubt that the receiver market around $1000 is quite populated. Denon has always strived to be a cut above the mass market models in both features and sound quality. I have to say that there wasn’t a single feature that I’d want missing from this unit (though some might desire HDMI switching—I can surely do without). The remote worked well and was easy to see in the dark. It accommodates many sources and offers sophisticated automation control for more advanced users. The unit worked flawlessly the whole time it was in use and sound was consistent throughout. If you have a Denon DVD player with the Denon Link option and want to make connections simpler, then this receiver offers an answer to that need. Its sound was on the smoother side and had a lightly rolled off top end, so if you are sick of brightness in your system, ear-bleeding due to harsh-sounding CDs or DVDs, or general fatigue, then this receiver might be a great solution for you.
Reflections on System Configuration