Denon AVR-4520CI A/V Receiver Page 2

The iPad mini, running iOS 7, did not display the AirPlay icon in its Music app, though the receiver’s and tablet’s firmware were both up to date. This was an Apple glitch, not a Denon glitch. The mini had the same problem with my Pioneer VSX-53. And the Denon had no trouble with an iPad 2 running iOS 6.1. I found a workaround for the mini: If I selected the Denon as output device in the Amazon Cloud Player app, then switched to the iPad Music app, the latter streamed normally.

414denrec.rem.jpgRoom Correction Symbiosis
What was most unusual about this receiver was the integral role of room correction. Normally I find a tradeoff between imaging and comfort. With room correction on, effects and voices are often better defined; with room correction off, my overall comfort level usually rises. My preference often varies from one piece of content to the next. But with this receiver, keeping Audyssey MultEQ XT32 on was nearly always the right decision with movies and (more remarkably) with music. Not only did it deliver the best imaging and soundfield integrity; along the way, it also induced little or no fatigue, unlike most receiver and room correction combos I’ve tried up to now. With it off, the Denon presented a top end that was reticent compared with that of most same-priced receivers I’ve heard. Turning it on was like switching on a lamp: Hello, fidelity! The AVR-4520CI’s voicing interacted with XT32 to produce close-to-ideal results in my room.

The Cold Light of Day (with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack) is a standard-issue espionage-and-deception thriller starring Henry Cavill, the 2013 incarnation of Superman. There was nothing XT32 didn’t improve here: vocal timbre and clarity, imaging detail, soundfield construction, even the overall balance of frequencies (something I’ve found room correction to often worsen). Room-corrected bass was deliciously powerful. Pounding house music in a nightclub was stimulatingly steroidal. The receiver delivered dynamics worthy of a top-line model, and this was an intrinsic quality, independent of XT32.

In No One Lives (Dolby TrueHD), some characters are sadistic criminals, and then there are the bad guys. I’m citing this as the one exception to the rule: Using XT32 made voices too top-heavy, effects too blisteringly bright, and music too sizzling. Switching to Direct mode (which bypassed XT32) made mids and highs easier to take. My cumulative experience with this receiver and XT32 led me to believe the fault was with the content. The only way to make this movie listenable was to blunt its leading edge by reverting to the receiver’s less crisp, un-room-corrected sound.

Aftershock (DTS-HD Master Audio) tells the story of tourists caught in a Chilean earthquake and its bleak, harrowing aftermath (definitely not for kids). For this evening demo of a soundtrack with aggressive low-frequency effects, I invoked Audyssey Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume with the latter at its lowest (Light) setting. The sub action—in a series of cheerful nightclub scenes as well as during the disaster itself—was still enough to rattle my fingertips when I held them against the driver. Here the components of the Audyssey suite pulled together as a team, with Dynamic Volume subtly reshaping the dynamic envelope, Dynamic EQ shoring up surround envelopment, and XT32 improving bass, imaging, and overall clarity. Yet I never had the feeling that I was listening to heavily manipulated sound. What I heard was clean, proportionate, vivid, and absorbing.

The Clocks Explode
The 5.1-channel mix of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon arrived in 96/24 PCM on the Blu-ray Disc included with the Immersion Box Set (it’s also available in the more affordable, decade-old SACD edition). This is as close to perfection as demo material ever gets. The room-corrected version was vividly imaged, spatially precise in its delineation of sounds and instruments, and full of tone color, with no gratuitous zing at the top end—“just the facts, ma’am,” my notebook says. Trajectories of natural and synthesized effects practically left neon trails as they moved front to back and side to side. The increased prominence of bass guitar in recent mixes paid off in the receiver’s room-corrected bottom end, balancing the naturalness of voices in the midrange and reverberant guitars soaring over the top. Turning off XT32 didn’t make side one (as people of my generation call it) any richer—just more vague. Only with “Money” did the Denon’s unvarnished sound offer any improvement, allowing my room’s modest natural reverberation to sweeten the sound.


Time for an AirPlay demo or two. I’ve been slowly upgrading my music library’s ripped CDs to include more Apple Lossless material, such as Vladimir Feltsman’s disc of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Glenn Gould’s celebrated traversals add up to 38 and 51 minutes; Feltsman plays the repeats indicated in the score, producing a 79-minute epic. It’s beautifully recorded, too, and the Denon fully captured both the instrument’s timbre and its interaction with the room it was recorded in, including a short but delectable decay. When I turned off XT32, the decay all but vanished.

Even MP3 files at 256 kilobits per second via AirPlay sounded good, in the no-longer-available ReverbNation download of Jan Akkerman’s The Beauforthouse Austerlitz Live. (I’m hoping it will follow the rest of his catalog to iTunes.) I liked the way the receiver rounded off the harsh digital edge of the heavily processed acoustic guitar while illuminating and shading the undulating dynamics of the trumpet. Only when the trumpeter upped the volume and reverb did the lossy files’ treble become too hard and grating for the Denon to tame. But the receiver made this recording sound listenable for a larger percentage of the time than I’ve previously heard.

I’ve never known a receiver to have such a symbiotic relationship with its room correction. So often, room correction seems an afterthought, or even a compromise; here it is a vital ingredient that improves nearly all content. Without XT32, this receiver would rate a solid four stars in the performance rating, with solid dynamics and a gentle but not especially detailed top end. With XT32, it’s a five-star product with a fine tonal balance and some of the best imaging I’ve heard in my room. I ended up splitting the difference and making it 4.5 stars. The Denon AVR-4520CI and Audyssey MultEQ XT32 seem literally made for each other.


6311's picture

Get serious invest in receiver without DisplayPort 1.2 or hdmi 2.0 Not serious

miller68ny's picture

I've read reviewers, possibly you, comment on how these room correction software improve on the sound of a receiver and I couldn't agree more. I purchased an Onkyo AVR after reading many reviews but wasn't thrilled with the way my Paradigms sounded. The old Sony AVR was much richer in the midrange and better integrated with my subwoofer. Only after I ran it through the Audyssey EQ did it approach the sound of the Sony. The manual even recommended running the MultEQ as the first step of the speaker set up so this begs the question, why did I just upgrade? If the sound of my old clunker sounded better with my speakers right out of the box, why did the Onkyo need all this processing to sound close to an AVR that clearly was it's inferior? Can we just make do with a middling AVR just as long as it has killer room correction?

Mark Fleischmann's picture
I once asked the Audyssey people whether their room correction systems would compensate for flaws in amplifier design -- in other words, would it flatten out an amp that didn't measure flat? They said yes. However, in practice, I still find that room correction interacts with amp design in unpredictable ways. In this case, the amp needed room correction to provide adequate detail and imaging. In other cases, I've found that room correction firmed up detail but at the expense of comfort, especially with music. My best advice is to buy a receiver based on a good-sounding amp -- that is, one that sounds good when all the enhancements are stripped away. Your room may respond to correction differently than mine. And you may want to use it only with certain content or not at all.
biaubill's picture

I have an Integra DHC-80.3. Setting up my speakers (which are full range) with the XT32, it set cross-overs at 40hz (L,R), 45hz (C), and 45 (LS, RS). Why did you set your crossover to 80hz?? I read the same thing on various forums about setting the cross-over to 80hz to utilize better bass management, but I just don't get it why. Isn't setting it to where the XT32 wanted it appropriate? I understand you used bookshelf speakers for your demo, so would it be appropriate to set the crossover to 80hz for full range speakers? Also, what other tweaks did you do on the receiver? Thank you the excellent review! I look forward to you reply.

Mark Fleischmann's picture
80Hz is the crossover recommended by THX though that's not the reason I stick with it. I use it because my speakers have limited bass response (which is not the same as no bass response) and they begin rolling off below that point. Most room correction systems detect them as "large" speakers, but that leaves a notch in bass response where the rolloff begins, so I reset to "small" and 80Hz. To determine whether this is right for you, find some reviews of your speakers with measurements (if possible) and determine where they roll off bass. If your speakers have more bass than mine, you might prefer a lower crossover; if they have more bass than mine, you might prefer a higher crossover. The other consideration is how much bass your receiver can handle before it goes into clipping. If a low crossover makes your receiver clip, you may need to use a higher crossover to give it an easier workload, avoid clipping, and improve dynamics.
mnc's picture

Mark, I'm very curious how this sounds compared to the Marantz 7008?

Mark Fleischmann's picture
While I didn't have them in the room for a direct comparison, in general Marantz had a better-sounding amp once all the room correction and other digital enhancements were stripped away.
palmharbor's picture

Since the Japan Nuclear issue...production for both units are in the same factory using the same parts. I know this for a fact.

palmharbor's picture

I have owned the AVR 4310 CI for a year now and I am totally pleased with it...its easy to set up, telephone support is great, you do not wade through 10 different selections. I used to have Emotiva separates but had problems with getting the subwoofer to work and they were not able to fix it. I would recommend this unit highly.

PeterC's picture

Wouldn't the AVR 4520CI be a better comparison to the Marantz AV8801 which also has XT32 processing ( I realize that it would require a separate amp)?
I have been considering the AV8801 based on the great review by S and V.
How would the 4520CI compare to this Marantz?

Macahan's picture

Mark, I have a pair of PSB Stratus Silver speakers that I bought in the 90's which are bi-wired with a Definitive Tech Supercube 8000 sub, just a simple 5.1 system. When I run the Audyssey program it wants to set the PSB's as large and full band. I called up a local installer and said if you have a sub are you not supposed to run them as small? He said not if they are bi-wired and also said that audyssey made the right call. What do you think?