Denon AVP-A1HDCI Surround Preamp/Processor and POA-A1HDCI 10-channel Power Amplifier Real-World Performance
High-end audio components like these have a way of bringing out all the details of a fine recording, allowing them to breathe and exhibit greater air and delicacy. The Denons created a wide, full, and enveloping soundfield with all sources, and I detected a distinct sense of space and positioning.
Perhaps it's an odd place to start my sonic evaluation, but I pulled a couple of WAV, AIFF, and M4P (Apple Lossless) files onto a flash drive and plugged it into the USB port on the front panel of the AVP. To access the music files, I selected the source NET/USB. From the OSD menu, I searched for the folder with music, but only the WAV files were recognized. The AIFF file didn't come up in the OSD, and the M4P file indicated an error.
After checking with Denon, I discovered that files accessed from the USB port must be MP3, WMA, WAV, non-DRM AAC, or FLAC. It doesn't support Apple Lossless, which is why I got the error message on that file, or Windows Lossless unless it streaming from a PC using the AVP's networking functionality.
So the one song I could play from the flash drive was "Wasso" from Stereo Spirit by African songwriter Daby Toure. The guitars were so delicate, I could hear every note with distinction as they appeared to float inside the mix. Bass was powerful and distinct.
Next, I played the track "My Mini and Me" by Gwenyth Herbert from my Apple TV. It was so visceral, I swear the slide guitar and double bass were right in the room with me.
I wanted to use the same 24-bit/96kHz recording from AIX Records that I used on the Marantz pre/pro and power amp. The song "Cold Outside" from the duo Lowen & Navarro can be found on an AIX sampler. There are two ways to listen to the same song—both are in surround, one from the audience perspective and the other from the stage perspective.
Both mixes are revealing with a glass-like transparency. Most interesting is the effect of the two mix perspectives. When I first heard this track, I preferred the stage mix because there was a sense of intimacy due to the relative closeness of the instruments. The sound of the guitars is robust and vibrant, yet on the Denon gear it felt like they were being held captive in a confined space. When I switched to the audience mix, it just opened up. It still had the intimacy and pure, clean vocals, but this time, everything just had more air and room to expand.
I have always loved closing my eyes and just listening to music, hearing every note and imagining myself floating inside the music—my idea of nirvana. The Denon pair gave me just that kind of experience. The purity and clarity of this system is something audiophiles will really appreciate. As I said earlier, it is the perfect solution for 2-channel audiophiles that also have a passion for multichannel movie soundtracks.
For my movie testing, I used the AVP to decode the audio, so I set the Samsung Blu-ray and Toshiba HD DVD players to output audio bitstreams. I watched a number of movies from a variety of sources, and the sound quality was stellar in each and every case. I would expect exceptional performance from Blu-ray movies, but I detected greater definition and coherency from all other sources, including DirecTV and the Vudu on-demand movie player.
In fact, surround coherency was perhaps the most defining and outstanding sonic feature from these components. I only have a 5.1 system because the back of my room does not have a solid wall, making surround-back speakers impractical. However, the Denon AVP's immense soundstage gave the impression of back surrounds—I was sensing sounds coming from behind and above me. I suspect this was due to the Adaptive Correlation circuit, which changes the time and phase relationship between the two surround speakers to resemble the multi-speaker array of a commercial cinema. For instance, in Get Smart (an HD stream from Vudu), there is ricocheting gunfire that seems to bounce off the ceiling and walls. In the Blu-ray of The House of Flying Daggers during the early dance-and-drum sequence, the effect of the beans hitting the drums was unbelievably dynamic and completely immersive. When the soldier throws the entire bowl of beans against the drums, it is deafening but never distorted. Even though the overall sound was loud, it was still possible to detect the individual beans hitting the ground as if it were raining beans right in my media room.
Audyssey's Dynamic EQ does exactly what it says it will do. I didn't lose any of the detail or balance between channels regardless of the volume level. The Blu-ray of The Dark Knight is highly dynamic with several key action sequences, such as when the Joker creates a war zone in the middle of a city street. Without Dynamic EQ engaged, the sound was somewhat edgy and brittle, especially explosions and gunfire. Turning on Dynamic EQ really evened out the sound, making it much more pleasant to listen to.
Dynamic Volume also worked as advertised. At first, it was set to its Midnight mode, which compressed the heck out of the dynamic range. But when I set it to Day mode, the soundtrack had plenty of dynamic range but I didn't need to keep adjusting the volume up to hear dialog and down during the explosions to avoid permanent hearing loss. Both Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume were completely transparent, and I was never aware that these fine adjustments were being made.
I could go into a lot of detail about every movie or piece of music I listened to, but the fact is that everything sounded marvelous. Perhaps better ears than mine could find some nits to pick with these separates, but I loved the spaciousness, clearly defined channel separation, crystal-clear transparency, and total immersion. This wasn't an evaluation—it was an experience.