Denon AVR-4806CI 7.1-channel Audio Video Receiver

"The new phone book is kinda' slim. Everyone must be switching to cellular," Gina remarked seeing what I was holding.

"Phone book? No, this is the user manual for the Denon AVR-4806CI," I offer, looking up from the section on Advanced Setup – Part 2.

"Very funny," she says, not believing me. "Did they spell MANTEGHIAN right this time?"

That's right. The Denon's user manual is over two hundred pages, including 36 pages of preset codes for operating equipment from other manufacturers via Denon's super-slick RC-1036 remote control. There are preset codes for satellite box manufacturers Cyfra+, Daeryung, and yes, even AssCom. You can't make this stuff up.

The 411
$4,000 and fifty-two pounds of receiver usually bespeaks internals like beefy transformers, large heatsinks, metal shielding and vibration damping, all of which would tip the scales in Denon's favor. But without pulling things apart I'll never know, as there's no mention of any of that in the user manual. Still, pound for pound, feature for feature, there's no Denonying, er, denying that the Denon AVR-4806CI is truly a state-of-the-art receiver. And while there is a more expensive receiver in Denon's lineup, only the AVR-4806CI currently offers 1080p video upconversion, but I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

Denon was among the first (maybe the first, if memory serves me correctly) manufacturers to incorporate IEEE 1394 ("Firewire") connections between its "universal" players and receivers for SACD and DVD-Audio signals. That "Denon Link" connection passed multichannel digital audio signals securely between components in the digital domain. And what a boon it was not having six audio cables running from your player to your receiver. More importantly, bass management could be implemented in the digital domain, meaning whatever crazy combination of crossovers and delays you defined for use with Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks would work equally as well with DVD-Audio or SACD discs. Denon's latest generation is called the Denon Link III Although the prospects and demand for Firewire connections like Denon Link are fading fast in an HDMI world, if you've made an investment in high quality multichannel audio, and have a player with a compatible Denon Link output, the AVR-4806CI is here to validate and preserve your choices.

You needn't be concerned with power. Here, Denon offers up seven channels rated at 140-watts per (into 8 ohms, 165-watts into 6 ohms). Besides what has become the de facto channel configuration for high-end receivers (front, center, rear and now side channels), the AVR-4806CI is equipped with two pairs of speaker terminals for your side channels labeled, somewhat nostalgically, A and B. You can then program different surround modes on the Denon to use either the A, the B, or both pair of outputs. If both pairs are used, however, the manual warns you that each speaker's impedance should not be lower than 8 ohms, to protect the amp. For the normally configured speaker outputs the manual states that the 4806CI can drive speakers from 6 ohms to 16 ohms impedance, but my experience driving MartinLogan speakers, which average 4 ohms and dip as low as 1 ohm at the highest frequencies, indicates that Denon is just being conservative.

Not to pick on Denon, but I really hate the speaker terminals it, Pioneer, and just about every other AVR manufacturer uses. They're bred of an age when speaker wire was actual "wire" that came on a spool that you picked up from Lafayette Electronics (remember them, Pennsylvanians?). They'll accept banana connectors, but with varied degrees of success. The oversized bananas on my cherished Audioquest Mont Blanc cables fit snugly enough, but the very convenient and otherwise well-engineered Monster Cable spade-to-banana converters would fall out if you looked at them sideways. In the end, I resorted to packing tape to exert enough side-wall pressure to keep the cables in place, sort of. Come on, manufacturers! Lose a few composite video inputs on the back panel and free up some real estate for speaker terminals befitting a four-figured receiver!

On the video front, the Denon AVR-4806CI is pretty exciting. There are three HDMI inputs and a DVI input, and one HDMI output to service them all. I'd prefer a 2nd HDMI output, so I could send HDMI video to the plasma and the front projector without swapping cables as I had to throughout this review. Denon offers two component outputs, but of course, with so many high-definition sources available, HDMI is really the way to go. [Sure Fred, because who doesn't have a front PJ and a plasma in the same room these days?! –Ed.]

The Denon's HDMI-1.2 compliant inputs will accept and process Dolby Digital and DTS signals over HDMI, was well as multichannel PCM, which means you're good to go with hi-res audio from HD DVD and Blu-ray players over HDMI. But like all receivers currently available, the Denon will not accept or decode Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks as native streams from HD-DVD or Blu-Ray players. That task is still relegated to the player, which converts these streams to multichannel PCM signals that get to the receiver only through the HDMI cable. If you go about hooking up a hi-def player using HDMI for video but coaxial or Toslink optical for the audio, you'll lose out on the high-definition audio tracks. [As of April 2007, not all players will decode all of the new audio formats and convert them to multichannel PCM. In fact, no player will as yet decode DTS HD Master Audio at all. High definition discs with this soundtrack will currently play back in basic DTS only, at a data rate of 1.5Mb/sec.—Ed.]

There are only three coaxial digital audio inputs, which might seem limiting but is actually one more than the Pioneer Elite VSX-84TXSi I recently reviewed offers. There are also four Toslink optical inputs, which are fine for video games and DVRs, provided you can stand their "HDMI-like" grip (it's just one more cable you have to hand trace and plug back in when the wind blows!). The 4806CI is also XM satellite radio-Ready and Internet radio capable.

The receiver earns THX2 Ultra2 certification. Say what you want about THX, I've never run into an amp or receiver wearing a THX badge that ever had a problem driving my MartinLogan speakers, and this new Denon is no exception. The 4806CI offers the THX mainstays of post-processing: re-equalization to tone down too-bright soundtracks, timbre-matching, which limits high frequency information in the surround channels to hide differences in timbre often encountered between front and surround channel speakers, and "adaptive decorrelation," which plays with phase in the rear channels so that both surround speakers can be effectively heard even if you are sitting closer to one than the other. Deeper in the speaker setup menu, you can turn on other THX functions such as boundary gain compensation, which uses equalization to subjectively provide more even low frequency response when you're sitting with your back up against the wall.