Denon AVR-2803 Digital Surround Receiver

Photos by Tony Cordoza As much as we'd all like to own a flagship model receiver, they aren't for everybody. Though well equipped and high powered, they tend to be massive and extremely expensive. If you set your sights just a little bit lower - especially when it comes to power - you can get an awful lot of receiver for substantially less money. Denon's AVR-2803, standing square in the middle of the company's extensive receiver line, is a superb example.

Fast Facts
RATED POWER 90 W x 7, channels driven individually into 8 ohms, from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, with no more than 0.05% THD DIMENSIONS 17 1/8 inches wide, 6 3/8 inches high, 16 3/8 inches deep WEIGHT 28 3/4 pounds PRICE $799 MANUFACTURER Denon Electronics, Dept. S&V, 19 Chapin Rd., Pine Brook, NJ 07058;; 973-396-0810

Actually, if you do the math, the AVR-2803's rated output power isn't low at all. At 90 watts per channel - and here that means seven channels, including two back surround outputs - the receiver will deliver only about a half decibel less power than a receiver rated for 100 watts per channel, if both are driven to full output. This difference is so small as to be irrelevant in most home listening rooms, where the volume control is usually set to deliver less than movie-theater sound levels anyway.

Turn the volume down even slightly, and in most setups you'll probably never run out of power. (By "slightly" I mean anything lower than the reference volume settings we give for our lab tests.) In any case, the AVR-2803 ably surpassed its 90-watt power rating, which is based on one channel being driven: my one-channel-driven measurement was 124 watts. The results with five and six channels driven were also impressive (see "in the lab," at the bottom of this page).

HIGH POINTSExcellent 6.1-channel sound quality.

Easy to use remote control.

Nicely priced.

LOW POINTNo bass management for multichannel analog input.

What should be of more interest at this point are the receiver's multichannel options. The AVR-2803 doesn't skimp here either, being able to decode both standard 5.1-channel Dolby Digital and DTS as well as 6.1-channel Dolby Digital Surround EX and DTS-ES. For 5.1-channel playback of two-channel stereo sources and four-channel Dolby Surround-encoded TV programs and soundtracks, there's Dolby Pro Logic II (DPL II), including its Music mode complete with fine-tuning adjustments for Panorama, Dimension, and Center Width. Rounding off the surround complement are DTS Neo:6, for 5.1- or 6.1-channel playback of stereo and four-channel sources, and seven digital signal processing (DSP) ambience modes.

denon avr-2803 remoteBeing of less-than-flagship status, the AVR-2803 has "only" a pushbutton remote control - no fancy-schmancy touchscreen here, and also no extra buttons hidden behind a door. I actually prefer such "primitive" handsets, and their quick and direct access to functions, to the battery-eating touchscreens with their often more roundabout operation. This one is both a preprogrammed and learning remote that can control up to seven other components.

There are two macro functions and "punch-through" capability for certain source components, meaning that you can be operating the DVD player, say, and still change the TV station without having to change the control mode first. On the whole, the remote was extremely easy to use, with excellent differentiation in shape, size, and color between the buttons, which are also grouped logically. For instance, the transport controls - play, stop, fast forward, and so on - are together in the middle, and to top it off, they glow-in-the-dark.