Denon AVR-1612 A/V Receiver
Of all the sub-$400 AVRs I've reviewed, the Denon AVR-1612 is my favorite so far. It offers just the right balance of features for my needs, and its audio performance is robust and powerful. It offers the bare minimum of operational and setup features I believe are necessary to assure a satisfying user experience. Moreover, it's audio performance is quite good considering the price.
That said, like all entry-level AVRs, some compromises had to be made to meet this price point. If you have video gear with only component-video outputs, you can remove the AVR-1612 from your short list, since it has only HDMI, composite, and S-video connections. Still, this AVR is an excellent choice for anyone on a budget.
The budget-priced AVR-1612 delivers what was once considered high-end features, such as Audyssey MultEQ auto calibration and room equalization as well as an onscreen menu via HDMI. These features make set up and other operational adjustments much faster and easier.
It's fully compatible with 3D Blu-ray discs and capable of decoding the most popular surround formats, including the Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks found on most Blu-ray discs. Dolby Pro Logic IIz is also included and engaged when additional height speakers (and a separate power amp) are connected.
The USB port accommodates playback from an iPod/iPhone/iPad or USB memory device. You can also purchase the optional Denon Networked Control Dock for streaming and docking your iPod/iPhone. Moreover, compressed MP3 files can be optimized with an audio-restoration circuit.
Quick Select buttons with icons for music, movies, games, and iPod are found on the front panel for fast input switching. These buttons are duplicated on the remote, but they are labeled with lettering rather than icons. I would have liked to see some consistency there. When setting up the unit, you can assign each source to the input of your choice.
Denon employs proprietary discrete circuitry that delivers equal power to each of the five channels, resulting in improved audio performance and plenty of power. In fact, Denon's rating of 75 watts per channel is actually quite conservative (see "HT Measures").
The AVR-1612 sports Denon's distinctive curved-top chassis, giving the unit a sophisticated appearance and matching the general look of all other Denon AVRs. The front faceplate has a large and easily readable LCD screen, and the entire front panel is clean and uncluttered, since there are not that many buttons.
The remote's button layout seems odd at first glance—in a good way—because the buttons aren't tightly packed together like most remotes. For instance, the Quick Selection buttons are placed in an isolated row for easy identification. The volume buttons are separate, and the Volume Up button is larger so you can find it by feel. Best of all, the remote is backlit, making it easy to see the buttons in the dark.
The onscreen menus are well organized and easy to navigate with the remote. The top menu is a list of basic operations, and the second layer lets you adjust the settings to your personal taste. For instance, if you don't like to auto calibrate or are not completely satisfied with the results of this process, you can manually set speaker configuration and levels, and there are even manual EQ settings.
Connecting this AVR to my speakers was a breeze thanks to the binding posts for all channels, which are perfect for cables terminated with banana plugs like mine. There were more than enough connections for my components, and I didn't even miss the lack of component-video inputs.
Running the Audyssey MultEQ auto calibration routine, the Denon was up and running within 10 minutes—that is, after I connected speakers and source components. Using the supplied microphone plugged into the front-panel jack, I simply followed the onscreen prompts to run through the Audyssey test tones. No additional calibration should be necessary—and in fact, you can't tweak the Audyssey settings—but it is possible to perform a manual setup if you prefer the results of your own labor.
At a given price point, I generally expect most AVRs to sound very similar. But even before reading the details about Denon's amp design, I detected some perceptible sonic improvements with this AVR's performance compared to the other entry-level AVRs I've recently reviewed.
I'm also testing a new media streamer from Netgear, so I decided to rent a movie from Vudu, one of the content providers on that device. I figured a movie like Captain America would provide a proper test of the Denon's amp, and I wasn't disappointed—the first major action sequence almost knocked me back. It was loud without being overwhelming, and there was no hint of distortion. I couldn't even turn it up loud enough to hear any perceptible distortion—well, I could have, but my ears would have been very upset with me, so suffice to say you can crank this baby without any worries. The amp's discrete circuitry delivers a warm, dynamic sound with distinct and well-defined bass.
It demonstrated realistic coherency from channel to channel, but you can practically see the surround soundfield within the boundaries of the 5-speaker array. I like to sense more air and breathing room outside this boundary to make the soundfield seem bigger in a small room, like the Onkyo TX-NR609 I use as a reference.