Denon AVR-E400 AV Receiver
AT A GLANCE
New binding posts
Denon has successfully rethought the budget receiver, a real achievement, and produced an all-around good performer at a reasonable price.
The Denon AVR-E400 reminded me that I’m a guy who gets excited about speaker terminals. Make of that what you will.
The receiver had been out of its box for only a few seconds before I noticed something different on the back panel. There I found speaker terminals of a type I’d never seen before on a receiver. Press in on Denon’s new spring-loaded binding posts, and a hole opens at the side to accept the cable tip or banana plug. This is a different arrangement than the collared binding posts on most receivers—which accept cable tips through a hole on the collar, or banana plugs through a second hole in the center of the plastic nut, before you tighten the nut to secure the cable. The new posts are an upsized version of those used on some satellite speakers. The practical result is that the terminals grip the cables so tightly that it’s nearly impossible for them to fall out without your permission.
Why has Denon chosen to rethink something as prosaic as binding posts? Because the designers have rethought everything in the new E series receivers. In Denon marketing-speak, the letter E has four meanings: Easy, Exciting, Entertainment Experience. The E series mixes traditional receiver features with new ideas in an effort to create something just a little more user-friendly in a product category not renowned for user-friendliness. And the Easy-Connect speaker terminals are only the beginning of the story.
Two New Series
The E series consists of three models. In addition to the AVR-E400 ($599) reviewed here, it includes the AVR-E300 ($399) and AVR-E200 ($249). There’s also a new X series, a step-up line offering more power and upgraded room correction, among other features, ranging from $449 to $1,299 for the top-of-the-line AVR-X4000. The two existing lines are the full-featured custom-integrator-friendly CI series, ranging from $649 to $2,499, culminating in the AVR-4520CI; and a line of basic models ranging from $199 to $579.
The front panel has a new look. A matte plastic frame surrounds a glossy plastic rectangle divided in half. The top half is the display, the bottom half sports the HDMI and other front-panel jacks, and a row of thin buttons runs between them. Interestingly, the buttons allow two ways of selecting sources. You can cycle up or down among sources. Or you can hit one of four dedicated presets, each of which associates a source selection with a listening mode. To cycle among listening modes within a source, you’ll need the well-organized remote, where prominently color-coded buttons select modes for movies, music, games, and no-processing pure direct. Denon’s user interface includes large type, readable even on a small screen, and a setup assistant that makes good use of graphics as it helps you populate the back panel and run the Audyssey MultEQ auto setup and room correction.
That back panel has exactly what an intermediate user might expect in a six hundred dollar receiver—and, notably, nothing that doesn’t belong in a four-E worldview. There are six HDMI inputs and one ARC-capable output, one component video in with no outs, and two composite ins with no outs. Audio ins include four analog and two digital; the only analog audio out is for the sub. There are no multichannel analog audio ins or outs, but what remains is more than enough to cover a full rack of current and/or legacy components for most people. About 40 percent of back-panel real estate goes unused, but what remains is highly organized, so you can see what goes where at a glance.
For wireless connectivity, Denon has taken a stand in favor of Apple AirPlay, and Bluetooth is notable in its absence. Denon doesn’t offer an optional Bluetooth adapter but does recommend the Avantree Saturn, Belkin F8Z491TTP, and HomeSpot Bluetooth receivers, none of which costs more than 40 bucks. While AirPlay offers better audio quality than Bluetooth, it also has a few downsides. Android devices don’t support AirPlay (though iOS devices do support Bluetooth). And AirPlay goes through the home network while Bluetooth is a direct device-to-device connection.
There is another method of streaming from an Android phone, though it requires you to work a little harder. Like AirPlay, it relies on your home network. Unlike AirPlay, it involves the DLNA protocol, which may be factory-installed in the phone or available through a DLNA app (Denon recommends Twonky). This would enable the phone to show up as a device either in the receiver interface or in the Denon Remote App. You may then pull content from the receiver or push it from the DLNA phone app. I don’t have an Android phone and therefore didn’t try it.
Wired smartphone connectivity is also Apple-centric. The front-panel USB jack is iOS-capable for iPhones, iPads, and iPods, but the front-panel HDMI jack is not MHL-capable. An Android phone will stream but not charge. However, Denon does support Android as well as iOS for the Denon Remote App.
Via Ethernet and DLNA, the receiver offers a nice selection of network audio features. Spotify is the newest and hippest among them (though maybe not so hip if you’re a musician trying to get paid more than a pittance). There’s also Pandora, vTuner, the Web version of SiriusXM, and Flickr photo sharing.