Denon AVR-4308CI A/V Receiver Real-World Performance
One of the first movies I watched was Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End on Blu-ray. As with all the Pirates films, the audio is extremely complex and quite aggressive. The 24-bit PCM mix is very detailed and envelops the listener in a 360-degree soundfield that hits on all cylinders. The Denon handled this complex sound mix without breaking a sweat. From the lowest of lows to the highest of highs, the soundtrack was reproduced with excellent clarity and fidelity.
Since the AVR-4308CI can decode DTS-HD Master Audio, I eagerly awaited the release of New Line's Pan's Labyrinth on HD DVD in order to test the bitstream output from the Toshiba HD-A35. Up to this point, my only experience with DTS-HD MA was from the PS3, which decodes only the lossy core of the stream internally and outputs it as PCM.
I didn't expect to hear a big difference in the sound, but I was most pleasantly surprised. The audio presentation couldn't have been better. Dynamics were particularly strong, and the surround speakers were fully engaged with discrete effects flying around the rear of the room. There are currently no players that can decode DTS-HD MA, so audiophiles will relish the opportunity to listen to these lossless mixes through AVRs that can handle them.
Although I don't watch many DVDs any more, I did watch Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith with my son. The audio on this disc is a paltry 448kbps Dolby Digital mix, but the Denon was able to provide a very satisfying experience, specifically with a very active soundfield throughout, but especially in the climactic battle between Anakin and Obi-wan at the end of the film. At times, it felt as if the heroic lightsaber battle was "live" and not being reproduced from an optical disc!
The majority of my tests involved HD DVDs and Blu-ray discs, but I didn't leave music out of the mix. Utilizing the Oppo DV-970HD as a transport, I listened to CDs, DVD-Audio discs, and some SACDs over the HDMI connection.
Overall audio performance from this configuration was very good. Whether I was listening to Top 40 songs from the likes of Pink, old favorites like the Beach Boys or The Beatles, or even some Mozart, I never once had the feeling that the AVR was taking anything away from the recordings. Bass was nice and tight with an ample midrange and accurate highs. I thought the Audyssey room correction really helped to compensate for some of the negative aspects of my room.
I especially enjoyed listening to Billy Joel's "An Innocent Man" on the SACD of the same name. The imaging was excellent across the front soundstage, with enough presence that I had difficulty localizing the sound from my left and right speakers. It was if my whole front wall was part of the studio where the album was mixed. I never felt that my M&K speakers were gasping for more power, even though their nominal impedance of 4 ohms is a heavier load than the Denon is spec'd to tolerate, which says a lot for the quality of its amplifiers.
My final listening test was HD Radio, the new terrestrial digital-broadcasting standard. Feeling pressure from XM and Sirius satellite radio, local radio stations have been rolling out digital broadcasting, calling it "the most significant advancement in radio broadcasting since the introduction of FM stereo more than 50 years ago," according to hdradio.com.
I noticed a distinct improvement in sound quality with HD Radio compared with conventional analog broadcasts. Utilizing an outdoor FM antenna, I was able to pull in a variety of stations from the surrounding area, and I even found a jazz station from California State University at Sacramento that I never knew existed. The sound quality of HD Radio is touted to be of CD quality, which I think is a fair assessment. The signal was crystal clear; at one point, my wife asked where I bought the CD with the great jazz music. When I informed her it was HD Radio, she was astonished. This wouldn't be my primary reason for buying this AVR, but it's certainly a plus.