Denon AVR-4308CI A/V Receiver

Denon has forged a reputation for producing excellent A/V receivers, a status that only gained renown some 3 years ago with the debut of its gargantuan flagship, the 90-pound AVR-5805. The new AVR-4308CI - barely two-thirds the height and less than half the weight of that beast - is substantially more human-scaled and a lot less likely to collapse your furniture, while retaining much of the goodness of its ancestor. But it must be said that laurel boughs have been harder to come by for the Denon receivers' user interface, which has suffered from oh-so-20th-century monochrome text and simple ASCII-like graphics, even on the company's top-dog models. All that changes here with the 4308CI's new full-color, high-def, onscreen graphical user interface. This icon-based GUI is available for all video outputs from HDMI to composite, in all resolutions up to and including 1080p, and it makes accessing the impressive depth and breadth of the 4308CI's abilities almost easy. The supplied remote controls that run it are another story, which I'll get to later. Setup: In a thoroughly up-to-date home theater, basic 4308CI setup could entail little more than hooking up speakers and plugging in a handful of HDMI cables. The Denon upscales and converts any or all sources to HDMI at whatever compatible resolution you elect (up to 1080p) - although, depending on source formatting and resolution, standard-def sources may result in picture-boxed images via HDMI, as was the case on my Samsung LN-T5265F 52-inch LCD TV. As usual, the default HDMI Auto mode lets the monitor request signals from the receiver in its own maximum resolution. Interestingly, the 4308CI provides two HDMI monitor outputs, though both carry the main-room signal. (There's a Zone 2 component-video output that can serve up source-independent HD video to a second room. Rock on!) I also connected my XM MiniTuner, a conventional dipole antenna for the Denon's HD Radio tuner, and the supplied Wi-Fi stubby for the 4308CI's wireless networking.

the listDenon has forged a reputation for producing excellent A/V receivers, a status that only gained renown some 3 years ago with the debut of its gargantuan flagship, the 90-pound AVR-5805. The new AVR-4308CI - barely two-thirds the height and less than half the weight of that beast - is substantially more human-scaled and a lot less likely to collapse your furniture, while retaining much of the goodness of its ancestor. But it must be said that laurel boughs have been harder to come by for the Denon receivers' user interface, which has suffered from oh-so-20th-century monochrome text and simple ASCII-like graphics, even on the company's top-dog models.

All that changes here with the 4308CI's new full-color, high-def, onscreen graphical user interface. This icon-based GUI is available for all video outputs from HDMI to composite, in all resolutions up to and including 1080p, and it makes accessing the impressive depth and breadth of the 4308CI's abilities almost easy. The supplied remote controls that run it are another story, which I'll get to later.

The Short Form
Price $2,400 / usa.denon.com / 800-497-8921
Snapshot
Outstanding performance, a sexy HD interface, built-in Wi-Fi, and a host of useful functions overcome a poor remote in this high-end receiver.
Plus
•1080i/p scaling to HDMI of all inputs •Colorful high-def GUI over HDMI •Four full-function HDMI 1.3a inputs •Extensive multiroom/zone options, including second-zone HD video •Built-in Wi-Fi/wired networking •Accurate auto-setup/calibration; extensive EQ and processing
Minus
•Poor remote-control ergonomics •Some modest operational glitches/oddities
Key Features
•7 x 140 watts (2 channels driven) •Four HDMI 1.3a 1080p-capable inputs •Transcodes all video to HDMI, scales output to up to 1080p •Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, DVD-A, and DSD/SACD bitstream decoding •HD Radio and XM satellite compatible •Onboard Wi-Fi (and wired) networking •Networked control via any Web browser •Optional iPod dock •IR in/out, (2) 12-volt triggers, RS-232 •17.75 x 7.6 x 17.8 in; 41.75 lb
Test Bench
Denon's AVR-4308CI impressed, with very good power results and virtually perfect noise and linearity performance. Stereo power handily bettered the 140-watt spec, and 5-channels-driven power was only a scant half-dB shy. S/N on PCM signals was spot-on the theoretically "perfect" mark, and a couple tenths "better than perfect" with Dolby Digital signals (a lab-only anomaly). The 4308CI's only technical issue was a subwoofer output that was on the brink of digital-clipping when driven by a 6-channel full-scale 30-Hz signal. This is meaningless in real-world terms for several reasons, not least of which is that program material almost certainly never calls for full-scale output from all 5.1 channels simultaneously. Full Lab Results

Setup In a thoroughly up-to-date home theater, basic 4308CI setup could entail little more than hooking up speakers and plugging in a handful of HDMI cables. The Denon upscales and converts any or all sources to HDMI at whatever compatible resolution you elect (up to 1080p) - although, depending on source formatting and resolution, standard-def sources may result in picture-boxed images via HDMI, as was the case on my Samsung LN-T5265F 52-inch LCD TV. As usual, the default HDMI Auto mode lets the monitor request signals from the receiver in its own maximum resolution. Interestingly, the 4308CI provides two HDMI monitor outputs, though both carry the main-room signal. (There's a Zone 2 component-video output that can serve up source-independent HD video to a second room. Rock on!) I also connected my XM MiniTuner, a conventional dipole antenna for the Denon's HD Radio tuner, and the supplied Wi-Fi stubby for the 4308CI's wireless networking.

Next, plugging in the supplied calibration microphone, I ran Denon's Audyssey MultEQ XT auto-setup routine. I used five different mike positions around my usual listening seat (as guided by the GUI; up to eight are possible). This took about 10 minutes altogether. The results yielded accurate channel levels and acceptably sensible crossover choices.

The routine also crunched the numbers for MultEQ XT's Room EQ, which automatically calculates both "Flat" and Denon's "Audyssey" target curve, between which the user can select on the fly. I wasn't wholly convinced by the result - there was a substantial increase in midbass output in both curves - but I've learned that the Audyssey system can produce surprisingly different results on consecutive "runs" with only slightly different mike (and speaker) positions, so I'd encourage extensive experimentation. Nonetheless, I did most of my evaluation with Room EQ bypassed entirely.

The Denon is a bit unusual among A/V receivers in its upscaling of incoming HDMI as well as the usual analog sources. I confirmed that this did indeed take my cable box's HDMI output, which was set for 1080i, and scale it to 1080p. And the results looked fine - indistinguishable from 1080i, but clean and artifact-free.

There's a vast array of further setup options, but I will take space to mention only Network Setup. Yes, the 4308CI can join a home LAN via wired Ethernet or Wi-Fi. For most home networks using a wireless router with DHCP (automatic address assignment), this is transparent to the user: The Denon found my Wi-Fi network with no prompting, and it worked perfectly. However, for more elaborate (or secure!) setups, there are manual-entry pages for fixed IP addressing, subnet mask, proxy servers, and all that happy horse - er, wonderful stuff we've learned to love so much.

Music & Movie Performance Expanded features and trick graphics are cool, but sound and (ahem!) vision are still what makes or breaks an A/V component. The Blu-ray Disc of Pixar's Cars orders up ample servings of both, and the Denon earned high marks in both disciplines. The alternation of roaring, circling engines and a quiet interior-monologue voice in the movie's opening sequence is a recent home-theater showoff fave, and the 4308CI made the most of it, with clear, nuanced dialogue and head-snapping, wholly integrated rapid-surround effects. On Cars, as well as on numerous other titles, I confirmed that the 4308CI's real-world power was more than ample for my mid-sensitivity speaker layout; I never sensed strain at any volume setting I'd use for recreational surround listening.

There's so much more to cover that I fear you might conclude I'm glossing over the 4308CI's excellent A/V qualities by choice. Don't: The Denon is an impressive performer, soup to nuts. Sonics were uniformly excellent, and video scaling looked first-class on standard-DVD and cable sources. Upscaling of S-video to HDMI was very solid as well.

The Denon's cool built-in networking feature gives access to a long list of Internet radio streams right out of the box once you've accessed your Internet connection. This worked very well. Although the receiver locked up on two occasions when peppered with multiple, too-fast stream-change requests, it generally delivered a vast world of music and polyglot talk that you might otherwise never hear. Indeed, if you haven't checked out Internet-streamed audio for a while, give it another shot: I found a number of streams, particularly European classical and jazz/New Wave, that sounded quite listenable.

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