Denon AVR-4800 Receiver
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in your living room, the consumer electronics industry has come up with yet another home theater surround scheme: THX Surround EX. If excess truly is the path to the palace of wisdom, then it will be home theater products, not those retro hippie Gingko brain supplements, that make us all smart really quick. Wisdom will, however, probably have to take a back seat to confusion before all is said and done. Nonetheless, THX Surround EX is here, although its entrance was not celebrated with the carnival-like fanfare that heralded the entrance of Dolby Digital and DTS.
So, what does the Denon AVR-4800 have to do with THX Surround EX? According to Denon, the AVR-4800 is "the world's first A/V receiver with THX Surround EX." But that's just one of the things this incredible THX Ultra-certified receiver can claim. Denon has produced "everything you need in one box" A/V solutions before, and they've done it again here. When I first saw the suggested $1,999 list price, I thought it was a misprint. How can a receiver that does all this be only $2,000? That's still the great unanswered mystery.
One look at the back panel of this unit elicits a "madre de dios" or (if you're a Star Trek fan) an "oh my!" The 4800 offers Pro Logic, stereo, Dolby Digital, DTS, THX 4.0 and 5.1 post-processing, and (of course) THX Surround EX. But the fun doesn't stop there, as the AVR-4800 affords you so many different options—in both what it can process and how many ways it can route these signals—that you could theoretically run a wholehouse system from this one receiver.
Denon consistently includes options in their receiver line that go beyond what you'll find in the majority of products available, and the 4800 is no exception. For those who take their surround sound seriously, the 4800 offers dual-surround-mode speaker switching. In simple terms, it has two sets of surround-speaker terminals: one set for dipole (or more-diffuse) movie surrounds and one set for direct-radiating multichannel-music surrounds. As you'd guess, multichannel music and movie soundtracks sound better (or worse) depending on the type of surround and where it's located. The conclusion I reached as a result of this test was that, if you have the room in your theater for dedicated music and soundtrack surround speakers, you will be rewarded with superior imaging. The 4800 makes switching between these two as simple as pushing a button.
With the addition of a two-channel amp, such as the Denon POA-5200 (see sidebar), you can take advantage of three- or four-channel rear surrounds (as called for by THX Surround EX). The unit will automatically detect a THX Surround EX soundtrack from a disc with the appropriate data flag in its metadata. If no flag is present, the receiver will allow you to activate the EX system manually. Unlike other receivers or non-THX-certified 6.1 add-ons, the 4800 includes the full specified THX Surround EX decoding function, with the required re-equalization, bass management, time delay, and level adjustments for the surround back channel(s).