Denon AVR-5308CI A/V Receiver Setup & Tests

Setup & Tests
The Audyssey auto setup is very sophisticated, as I inadvertently proved when I wired a surround speaker out of phase. It interrupted the test to inform me of my mistake, so we started over.

At the end of the procedure, the speaker levels, distances, and overall EQ were essentially spot-on. In fact, the timbral balance of the main speakers and surrounds was superb after auto-calibration, but my two subwoofers were cranked far too high in the low frequencies—and yes, the AVR can handle a 7.2-channel system. Not a big problem, since I have a RadioShack SPL meter sitting next to my listening chair.

Assigning HDMI video and audio outputs initially baffled me, so I connected my sources directly to the projector and hit the owner's manual again. I still didn't quite grasp where I'd gone wrong, so I reconnected the HDMI sources to the AVR's inputs and followed the manual's instructions—to the letter, I thought, but still no luck.

Finally, I spotted a clear and apparently foolproof (though not me-proof) note beneath the manual's illustration of the HDMI inputs, instructing me where to adjust the settings within the menu levels and directing me to another page. Denon had even marked the instruction with a bullet point, so the fault was clearly mine.

I didn't add an XM module to the Denon, since I know what XM sounds like, and XM-ready components are dead simple to authorize—all it takes is a credit card. I enjoy some of XM's programming, but its MP3 sound quality isn't something I want to listen to through an ultra-high-end receiver. Perhaps my opinion would be different if I had actually used the AVR in a multizone system, since XM can be good enough "company" when you're doing other things—cooking in the kitchen, for example. It's nice to have the option, whether or not you end up using it.

I did connect the Denon to my computer system via CAT5 cable—the WiFi option is nice, but I had the Denon for so short a review window, I thought that typing in that long authorization number on a remote-control keypad was time poorly spent. Via cable, the Denon shook hands with my PC and added another level of time-wasting—er, I mean, critical listening—to my audition. Again, streaming audio may not be high-res, but it's an inexpensive way to hear new music, some of it extremely worth tracking down at the store.

Unlike some lesser AVRs, the 5308 passed below-black and above-white, though I saw some very minor dimpling in the Reverse Ramps & Steps pattern on Digital Video Essentials, which is used to test a component's ability to render above-white.

With my Samsung BD-P1400 Blu-ray player set to output 480i via HDMI, the Denon aced the HQV Benchmark (DVD) Jaggies Test 1, with extremely little—if any—apparent jaggification. On Jaggies Test 2, the lower bar might have had extremely mild jags, but at a level where I kept reversing myself on the issue. Either way, it was impressive performance. Same results with the waving-flag and film-detail tests—which is to say near perfect, if not actually perfect, detail and sharpness.

The reason I say "near perfect, if not actually perfect" on the HQV Benchmark DVD is that the Blu-Ray version of the disc elicits noticeably sharper response, as you would expect from its greater inherent resolution. I understand how an AVR can pass below-black and above-white, but can anything actually surpass perfection? With Blu-ray, the AVR-5308CI was eye-popping.