Denon AVR-X3400H A/V Receiver Review Page 2

I also spent some time viewing The Lost City of Z via an Amazon 4K stream. Since my Vizio TV won’t display its Info screen while streaming to the set, nor will the Denon show its equivalent while digesting ARC-sourced signals, I couldn’t confirm whether this carried the Atmos metadata or not, but I doubt it. Still, whatever mode the Denon auto-selected (most likely Dolby Digital + Dolby Surround), it steered sound elements to the elevations, with the result that the jungle susurrations gained in eeriness and pervasiveness. Not that this production, which is overly mystical-ized for my taste, needed much of either. (Still, I wonder: What accent exactly is Charlie Hunnam projecting here? The actor is a Geordie, by way of Oz, while his character, Percy Fawcett, is an upper-crust Devonian. Yet his dialogue sounds as much like an Estonian tinge as anything British I could identify.) But to return to my central topic—did I have one? Oh, yeah: The receiver performed admirably throughout, with no sign of clipping or brightening, at the enthusiastic levels I employ. So unless you have quite a large home theater (mine’s about 3,300 cubic feet) or quite low-sensitivity speakers, you should have no worries when it comes to oomph.

318denonrec.rem.jpgVirtual Heights
And then, there’s the notable and newsworthy inclusion of DTS:X Virtual (unmentioned on the data sheet or the instruction manual, except in those tables in the appendices listing surround mode options). This mode, available to all DTS bitstreams and to most other non-Dolby signal types—is a DSP-processing option that aims to conjure up virtual height and surround speakers from a fronts- only system; it’s scalable, so it can virtualize heights only, or surround-backs only, or whatever you need. This magic it performed with no small success, most effectively from multichannel programs, and was by far the most impressive with DTS:X- encoded soundtracks.

The potential usefulness of this feature seemed obvious: Those aching for immersive audio but reticent to add the required height speakers might just get some semblance of it with virtual overheads. So I tried adding virtual-front-heights to a 5.1 layout—and was happy to discover a decided new verticality. After first setting my Oppo BDP-105D to output multichannel LPCM (to get around the “no-Dolby” pro- scription), I played the Dolby Atmos demo Blu-ray. Clips like the “Amaze” and “Unfold” trailers delivered added height to discrete, over-flying effects, like the bird-flaps in the former and chattering in the latter, but even better was the heightened “dome” of ambi- ence in the rain and thunder of the first. (A somewhat flattened dome, to be sure, but a clear improvement nonetheless. There was also a very slight brightening of effects, but not enough to trouble me.) Though comparisons were more difficult, I heard the same from selections from my limited stash of DTS:X Blu-ray Discs. 

But the most dramatic demo came when I reconfigured my system to 2.1 channels and played the oddball thrill-ride DTS:X movie American Ultra. I was quickly wowed by the breadth, height, and depth of the sonic dimension projected. No, the surround bubble did not extend very far behind my shoulders, and discrete rear effects sounded vaguely “up- and-back-ish” rather than truly rearward. But the height dimension, the virtual-center channel solidity, and the openness and detail of the front-half surround ambience were all highly impressive, including the hovering helicopter at the end of chapter 6, which was strikingly overhead. These effects were still present, though somewhat less powerfully, on other multichannel programs. Though, as alluded to above, due to legal restraints, Virtual X will not be available to any Dolby Digital–encoded bitstream regardless of channel count. In a permanent setup, one could opt to set one or more sources’ outputs from DD bitstreams to PCM, where possible, to make Virtual X available to Dolby Digital–encoded sources.

With the advan- tages of operating upon a “real” speaker system rather than a soundbar or middling HTIB system, and of processing true DTS:X content, Virtual X really did bring my two- speaker system closer to subjective surround-ness than any other such DSP algorithm I’ve yet encountered. Of course, these caveats are restrictive: The effects, though still quite good, were less notable from non-X program and rather less so again from typical two-channel broadcast/cable streams. And, as with all other DSP-surround magi I’ve tried, it’s really a table-for-one proposition: Move out of the sweet spot—this proved to be slightly forward of my calibrated listening position in my studio—or even turn your head much beyond 45 degrees or so, and most of its virtues collapse, at least to some extent. 

DTS:X Virtual is distinct from the AVR-X3400H’s native Virtual surround mode, which appears on the pop-up Movie and Music mode menus for all non-DTS signal types. I found plain Virtual decidedly less effective than Virtual X in most cases; both are available to non-Dolby signals. There’s also DTS Neural:X, which maps content, whether two-channel or mulitchannel, to all available speakers, much as “new-era” Dolby Surround (as distinguished from the original, 4.1-channel analog surround, also named Dolby Surround) has done since the advent of Atmos.

Think consumers might be confused? Nah…why would they be? 

Extras & Ergos
The menu of extra stuff for the AVR-X3400H is comfortably modest but includes most everything that many desire. Onboard multiroom capabilities are confined to a single Zone 2, which may be powered at speaker level if you don’t deploy front-elevation or surround-back speakers, or which can be digital audio/video via the second HDMI output. Of course, the receiver also hosts Denon’s HEOS wireless multiroom ecosystem, which effectively integrates many-zoned audio via a variety of extra-cost powered speaker and adapter add-ons—but since this family has appeared in these pages several times, we’ll pass over it here.

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Denon supplies a dedicated remote that’s simple, plastic, and un-illuminated, but its generous spacing and clearer-than-most labeling highlight the virtues of resisting the multicomponent, full-system-remote temptation. I tried the company’s iOS control app 2016 AVR Remote (hey, Denon, it’s already 2018!) on my iPhone 6. This proved serviceable, and though it provides no new capabilities or notable ergonomic innovations, it makes for another worthwhile option.

I have already touched upon the receiver’s audio streaming options, but note that all except generic internet radio (TuneIn) must be cast from a phone or tablet via the HEOS app; I did not try these. However, the onboard DLNA/UPnP client for harvesting media from a home computer, server, networked drive, or suchlike proved among the faster receiver examples I’ve used, and completely stable, though lacking the search and page-scrolling options I’ve found on a few others. That said, the Denon played all my stereo files—including DSD, FLAC, and ALAC—without a glitch, and it sounded uniformly pure in doing so. AirPlay and Bluetooth worked as expected, though the latter is not via the higher-quality aptX codec.

As spec’d, the receiver both passed-through UHD video and scaled regular (1080) HD to 4K when so configured. I compared its scaling with that performed by my Oppo BDP-105 universal disc player, and I concluded that the Oppo’s was maybe just barely perceptibly sharper/quieter/cleaner—something. But the difference (if it existed at all) was so small that it scarcely merited reporting.

Denon’s latest receiver strikes me as a mature and well-refined design. It includes most of the A/V baubles you might expect but isn’t cluttered with a lot of extras to get in your way. Its seven-channel configuration provides more than enough speaker outputs to fire up a basic 5.1 surround system and, for those who seek more, to add a solid dimension of height (or rear, at your discretion) ambience. If all of your speakers are confined to the front of the room, it even provides virtual surround processing for a 3.1.2 simulation of the full object-oriented surround experience. More important, it performs basic tasks, both audio and video, with a sense of quality and eminent usability. I have no hesitation in recommending it to any mid-market shoppers.

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sandoz's picture

Thanks for the review. Makes me feel confident I made a decent purchase for my first setup. Unfortunately I live quite far north and the selection is quite slim, and while I could order products over the internet and hope they were decent, I was happy to find this at a retail outlet that I had access to.

One small correction for your article. You mentioned that streaming of internet audio required you to cast the audio from your phone and this is not accurate. (To your credit you did mention that you hadn't actually tried these features and from the outset it certainly seems like this is how it's going to work.)

You do require your IOS/Android/Kindle device to setup the services and channels you would like to stream but at that point you can save them to your favourits list. Once they are setup on the favorites list they can be accessed directly from the receiver and streamed from it. You do not require your cell phone at that point to listen. I have not found a pc app or website that will allow you to log in and setup this same functionality.

sevenfeet's picture

Nice review...one small error. I helped a friend buy this receiver a few months and I set it up for him. You can ask Audyssey to only do 3 speakers or 6 speakers instead of testing for all 8 positions, at least if you used the Audyssey app. The app allows you to interrupt the process at 3 or 6 testing positions so there isn't a choice when you first start out.

Ted Timmis's picture

You state “Denon has in my view abandoned front panel knobs...so don’t lose your remote.” This is truly a bizarre statement. I can only gues that your wife is wearing the pants in your house.

Ted Timmis's picture

...only guess..

Ted Timmis's picture

...only guess..

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