Denon AVR-3805 Receiver
All of the receivers I reviewed for this roundup have learning/preprogrammed remotes, but Denon's backlit blue-membrane remote is the coolest of the bunch. It glows when you pick it up. Touch a source, and the screen layout changes to reveal controls for that source. For instance, touching "DVD" brings up numeric keys along the remote's top panel and transport controls along the bottom.
Even without the remote, the AVR-3805 would have the strongest feature set of this roundup. The proprietary Denon Link provides a true, uncompromised digital interface for DVD-Audio and SACD. This receiver also converts its composite and S-video inputs to the component video output, saving much wiring and switching hassle. For droolers who think that 5.1 channels aren't enough, it has Dolby Pro Logic IIx to translate two-channel sources to 6.1 channels (and, in this case, seven speakers). It's one of only two in this group to provide both auto setup and auto equalization to correct gross flaws in room acoustics.
For the auto-setup-and-EQ routine, you'll need a simple microphone. You may use your own or Denon's optional mic ($65). The latter is a 2-inch-wide, round object with a hole in the top and a surprisingly heavy metal housing—about 3 ounces, according to my postage scale. On the bottom is a threaded mount, which I used to place it on a tripod in the prime listening position before activating the, um, launch sequence.
What I heard was a series of test tones alternating with silences. Each tone was a two-second blast of pink noise (which drove the cat right out of the room). Between each tone was a 10-second silence during which the onscreen menu said the receiver was "analyzing." The routine finished with eight seconds of silent "calculating" time, followed by 30 seconds of "parameter storing." Then I was free to examine the settings. Each channel had its own group. There were few common denominators—possibly due to my asymmetrical speaker setup—although most channels received a slight shelving-up of the lower midrange.
The receiver actually installs three sets of EQ settings: The normal setting is suitable for a general surround system, according to the manual. The flat setting is suitable for music reproduction—hungry for objectivity, I used it for all of my listening tests. A third setting uses the front speakers as the basis for adjusting the others, presumably for systems with large front speakers. You can also apply different EQ settings for each surround mode, adjust the EQ manually, or shut it down altogether.
Perhaps recognizing that my room sounds good to begin with, the Denon EQ circuit didn't do much to alter the receiver's basic midrange personality. Whether the EQ was switched in or out, the AVR-3805 was on the dry side of neutral, and that's how I like it. There were no obvious flaws, which drove me toward recordings that I regard as perfect, like the Nonesuch releases of Debussy's Preludes and Etudes with Paul Jacobs. I revere them too much to play them on anything that skews the overtone signature of Jacobs' Baldwin piano.
The EQ's main benefit was to tighten up the bass. The value of more-accurate bass can't be underestimated for you or your neighbors. Before running auto setup and applying EQ, I configured the receiver manually and spent an excruciating night enduring The Matrix Revolutions and its nonstop barrage of low-frequency effects without bass correction. According to my neighbor, "It sounded like someone was dragging heavy furniture across the floor."
Did I set the sub-out level too high before running the auto setup? No, the level I'd chosen manually was only a half-decibel higher than what the auto-setup program chose. Quality—not quantity—of bass was the problem. Denon's room EQ solved it neatly. At least, there were no further complaints from my neighbor.