Denon S-5BD Blu-ray Receiver
Looking for the Right Fit
Let’s say you hit the mall looking for a leather jacket. You find a store with an especially nice selection and immerse yourself in the joy of leather. At first, you just walk around enjoying the sights. But then you refine your search: by color, style, material, lining, presence or absence of shoulder padding, the mechanical integrity of the zipper, and the little things, like whether there’s a fastened interior pocket the right size for your iPhone. Finally you hit the target, finding the jacket line that meets all of your specifications. You begin pawing through jackets, at first enjoying the little thrill of handling something you actually may buy. You paw through some more, getting nervous. Finally, you reach the end of the rack, and you’re frantic. You turn around, find a salesperson standing there, and ask: “Is this jacket available in a small?” The salesperson smirks and answers: “Sorry, sir, we only have that in large or extra-large.”
This is not unlike the predicament that confronts feature-conscious home theater buffs when they shop for A/V receivers. Desirable features are sometimes trapped in AVRs that are too big, too bulky, or too complicated for some consumers. While manufacturers conscientiously allow features to migrate lower into their lines when they are no longer brand-new, it can still be hard to find a scaled-down model that has all the stuff you want. And if that’s hard, imagine how much harder it is to find one with an integrated Blu-ray drive. There just aren’t many choices out there.
But Denon offers a pretty good one with the S-5BD Blu-ray receiver. This product has a desirable suite of Audyssey features including MultEQ, one of the best auto setup and room correction programs I’ve used, plus Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume, which facilitate lowvolume listening. And if you’re dying to experiment with Dolby Pro Logic IIz height channels, Denon provides line-level outputs for that purpose (but not the two extra amp channels).
Smaller Than a Breadbox
Fittingly, the S-5BD is smaller than most A/V receivers but larger than an average Blu-ray player. It offers modest relief from the black-box stereotype with curves on both the front panel and sides. Transport controls run along the right side of the softly sloping top front edge, with a power on/standby switch in the usual front left spot. The front side edges maintain the rounded shape but flip open to reveal, on the left, microphone and headphone connections plus an SD card slot. Behind the right-hand door are an HDMI input and an iPod-capable USB jack. Yup, you can plug your iPod right into the Blu-ray receiver without buying an extra-cost dock.
Compared with even a budget AVR, this product’s back panel has been carefully pruned. It has three HDMI inputs and one output, although it isn’t 3D capable. The output is HDMI version 1.4 with the Audio Return Channel; the inputs are version 1.3a. Component video connections are completely absent, although S-video is present for iPod use and composite video out for second-zone use, the latter complemented with analog audio out. Audio inputs include a dedicated coaxial digital input and two inputs with your choice of optical digital or analog stereo connections.
If you’re looking for analog 5.1-channel ins or outs, you’ll look in vain, although there is a sub-out (of course) and a pair of stereo analog outs that you can assign for back-surround or height channels. To take advantage of one of those two options, you’ll need to add an outboard stereo amp or amplified speakers somewhere. They needn’t be too powerful—DPLIIz height channels typically add sweetening, not rambunctious bassheavy effects.
Power is officially rated at 75 watts times five into 4 ohms, although Denon says the more common 8-ohm rating would be the same because “digital amplifiers do not double or halve their output depending on speaker rating.” As with Denon’s AVR ratings, this one specifies driving one or two channels at a time: front left/right, center, or surround left/right.
The Ergonomic Personality
Ergonomically, the S-5BD is a mixed bag. The front-panel display is illuminated entirely in a deep blue color. It’s beautiful to look at but too small to read from across the room, so I depended on the onscreen display even when I was just playing music.