Denon AVR-4310CI A/V Receiver Page 3

The Machinist, in Dolby TrueHD, stars Christian Bale as a factory worker whose suffering is hauntingly mirrored by his emaciation—you can’t fault Bale’s dedication to the role. The tease is whether his troubles are external or internal; is he being persecuted, or is he paranoid? It comes as no surprise that this classic Hitchcockian scenario is serenaded by a score that’s strongly redolent of Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigo, and that became the focus of my DSX obsession. In the opening scene, with low strings, there wasn’t much difference with or without width. But a later passage with louder strings and brass got a slight but definite benefit from width enhancement. When I switched in Dynamic Volume/EQ, it didn’t detract from the beauty of the soundtrack or the pathos of the story.

In Disaster Movie, in DTS-HD Master Audio, an early scene with thundering monster footfalls reminded me of the MultEQ XT bass boost. It convinced me that I didn’t need to experiment with the other modes. I left DSX, Dynamic Volume, and Dynamic EQ on throughout and went with the reckless flow of film parody and broad humor. Amazon user-reviewers hated this movie, but I couldn’t resist MadTV’s Nicole Parker in multiple roles, including a deranged princess and a fanged, whiskey-chugging Amy Winehouse.

Preparations, Part II
For the music demos, I continued to leave Audyssey MultEQ XT on the whole time, and I didn’t use Dynamic Volume or Dynamic EQ. These acts of restraint left me free to meditate on the DSX width channels and the receiver’s two direct modes, Pure Direct and Direct. (To further distinguish them below, I refer to Direct as plain Direct.)

As I switched among the listening modes, I began to get to know the remote’s sometimes oblique nomenclature. By oblique, I mean the second definition from “not straightforward: indirect; also: obscure, devious, underhanded.” From the movie demos, I already knew the SPKR button turned the DSX width channels on and off.

STD invokes whatever surround listening mode was selected as a default for that input. I had to go into the GUI to switch from the default Dolby Pro Logic II Cinema mode to my preferred DPLII Music mode. There didn’t seem to be a remote-control option. D/ST toggles between the plain Direct mode, which bypasses tone controls and reduces the number of channels to directly correlate with the nature of the input signal; and stereo, with tone controls and bass management. The agreeably well-named PURE button toggles the Pure Direct mode, which took about seven seconds to turn off the GUI and front-panel display and otherwise behaved the same as the plain Direct mode. I elected not to use the SIMU button, which activates various DSP junk modes.

Toggle Fest, Part II
Richard Thompson’s Live Warrior is an in-concert CD with songs drawn mainly, but not entirely, from Sweet Warrior, his latest studio album. Buy it via, and many of your hard-earned dollars will reach the pockets of a deserving artist. Thanks to simpler live arrangements and superb recording and mixing jobs, the disc has a pristine clarity. It focuses the potency of both the songs in general and Thompson’s voice in particular—and the significance of the latter soon emerged.

Initial comparisons showed that stereo CD in Pure Direct mode sounded cleaner and warmer than in plain Direct, plain stereo, or DPLII. I was surprised by the contrast between Pure Direct and plain Direct. The sound was notably more listenable when I turned off the displays and extraneous signal processing. However, there was more detail, layering, and spatial expansion in DPLII than in any other mode.

I toggled between DPLII with and without DSX width, and the difference was modest. For a while, I felt ambivalent. But after more toggling, I decided I preferred to leave the width channels off because I felt they picked up too much of the lead vocal, which gave the front soundstage a more processed sound. Of course, DPLII itself is a form of processing, so the choice, really, was between one (DPLII) or two (DPLII + DSX) layers of processing. When Jim Fosgate invented DPLII, he did a better job of adapting stereo sources to surround than anyone has before or since. I preferred to hear his handiwork without any further width processing.

I switched over to vinyl and applied surround magic to Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, with Charles Munch conducting the Boston Symphony in the Classic Records reissue of an RCA Living Stereo chestnut. The built-in phono circuit didn’t do full justice to what should have been ravishingly beautiful source material—it was bland, and at high volumes, it hardened. Probably for the same reason, the Pure Direct and plain Direct modes easily yielded to my preference for DPLII. The addition of DSX width offered a slightly broader front soundstage—and notably, it was without the processed artificiality that had bothered me with the Richard Thompson CD. Perhaps the too-much-processing feeling was more noticeable with a single familiar human voice than with the blended instruments of an orchestra. Orchestral sound also reminded me of the way DSX strengthened the side fill between the width and surround speakers. Again, the difference was most noticeable when I turned DSX off.

David Van Tieghem’s Safety in Numbers is the second of his three (and all too few) studio albums. What at first seems to be conventional electronica takes on a new dimension when you realize that Van Tieghem supplements his electronic and acoustic drums with bells, scrap metal, jingle bell toys, a ray gun, Japanese stones, finger claps, a plastic mailing tube, aluminum soda cans, corrugated plastic hose, and lamp parts. That’s only about a third of what’s listed on the jacket, and I’ll stop there. Between the electronic elements and the fact that 1987 wasn’t exactly the golden age of digital audio technology, the album benefited from both DPLII/DSX processing and the smoothing effect of vinyl.

The Verdict, for Now
Does DSX width have any aesthetic merit? When I average my various personae together, this is what I get: The enhancement is not a game changer, but it’s rarely less than benign. It’s sometimes a subtle plus depending on whether you choose movies or music as your program material. To my ears, the primary benefit wasn’t greater width—it was greater soundfield uniformity at the sides, between the various front and surround speakers.

Offsetting this modest benefit was the extreme annoyance of placing the width speakers where Audyssey wants them. Height channels require a relatively easy wall mount; width speakers may require potentially unpalatable changes to room layout and seating area.

In future reviews, I’ll delve into the DSX height enhancement. Meanwhile, if all of these new listening modes leave you feeling unsettled, my advice is not to worry. The 5.1-channel array is still the bedrock standard in surround sound, and to my way of thinking, the best beyond-5.1 investment you could make is a second subwoofer. Even if you’ll never experiment with expanded surround, the Denon AVR-4310CI more than earns its keep in your home theater. It’s highly recommended whether you go wide, get high, or stick with 5.1.