Denon DHT-700DV HTIB Page 2

The DSW-27 subwoofer could disappear into a crowd. It's only 11.2 inches high, 8.3 wide, and 12 deep. The 13-pound sub has a 35-watt amp that drives a 5.25-inch woofer and a circular vent in the top-left corner of the cabinet's front wall. Studying the rear panel takes about 15 seconds. There's a volume control, a line-level input, a variable crossover-frequency control (50 to 250 Hz), and a power LED—no speaker-level inputs.

Although they're parts of the same system, the members of the DHT-700DV act is if they've never seen each other. Perhaps it's a language thing. The receiver is produced by Denon in Japan, while the speakers and subwoofer are designed and manufactured in the United States. Denon thus creates the illusion of separates packaged as a complete system. The receiver comes with a staggering 85-page instruction manual (certainly unlifestyle), yet the manual lacks a single mention of the accompanying speakers and subwoofer. For that, there are two more manuals—luckily, only four pages each. Despite the bulk, these manuals will stupefy most home theater novices who attempt anything beyond the most basic setup. The subwoofer manual, for example, neglects to even mention the variable crossover control.

Without a coherent how-to manual, this system invites problematic setup. The basic connections, however, are easily navigable. The speaker wire is labeled and color-coded. Most people will have no trouble accessing the onscreen menu and choosing the 5.1-channel speaker configuration under the Quick Setup menu. This configuration setting tells the receiver that a sub is in use, automatically identifies each speaker as small, and sets the distance from the listener for the front (9 feet), center (8 feet), and surround (7 feet) speakers for purposes of selecting the delay time. In its auto-decode setting, the receiver will be in cruise control, identifying each disc loaded into it and selecting a surround format. That sounds easy enough. However, with no protocol, what is the novice to make of the subwoofer's crossover-frequency control? In Quick Setup, it's possible that both the delay-time and the subwoofer settings will be inaccurate, which will compromise the system's performance. So let's say you get courageous and demand more-precise settings: Maybe your front speakers are 5 feet away and your surrounds 4 feet away. The Advanced Setup menu allows you to make those adjustments, but part of the procedure includes choosing a subwoofer crossover frequency: 80, 120, 180, or 240 Hz. Now you're double-dipping on the crossover frequency, using both the receiver and the subwoofer as filters. There's no instruction on how to avoid cascading crossovers, which can cause a loss of bass output.

As a remedy, I set the receiver's crossover at 120 Hz, which corresponds to the satellites' frequency response, and dialed the sub's control fully clockwise to 250 Hz. In this setup, the DHT-700DV finally sounded like a home-theater-in-a-box that might cost $1,000. Denon was so painstakingly thorough as to design a receiver that displays the time and spells out "Time" on the display, then created manuals that contain sentences like "Connect this unit video outputs to the TV either directly." Denon needs a quick rewrite and maybe a brief quick-start manual.

Once I had it set up, though, the DHT-700DV sounded surprisingly good for an HTIB. Dolby Pro Logic II was particularly attractive because—unlike budget receivers that offer only music or movie settings—the DHT-700DV adds adjustments in the music mode for panorama, dimension, and setting width. I couldn't distinguish between the DHT-700DV's music and cinema settings, though. The other times I've listened to Pro Logic II, the movie/cinema setting was center-channel heavy, and the music setting was a surround mode. The center-channel prominence dominated both settings on the DHT-700DV.

I was, however, able to manipulate Alison Krauss' vocals on "The Lucky One" from her New Favorite album with Union Station. First, I adjusted the dimension level, which shifted the soundfield toward the rear, and then I selected the pan-orama setting, which created more of a five-channel-stereo effect. Krauss' vocals weren't pinched or sibilant. The subwoofer couldn't quite dig into the low frequencies. In a small system like this, however, low-frequency shadings suffice. Just a hint of the low end was enough. I like how the DHT-700DV reproduced the squeak of Ralph Towner's fingers sliding down the guitar neck on "Very Late" from his Anthem solo album. It had the rich, you-are-there, closed-mike sound of the earliest ECM recordings, and the DHT-700DV pulled it off.

So, the system has got some nuance—probably more nuance than punch. When Hannibal Lecter escapes from his cage in The Silence of the Lambs, the helicopters and sirens don't overwhelm, but the effects are certainly adequate. The French Connection, that chestnut from the early 1970s freshened up for DVD with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, is a great reclamation project. Hearing the famous car-chase scene in 5.1 channels is worth the price of this two-disc set. Through the DHT-700DV, though, the experience was bittersweet: The DVD player locked up repeatedly during "The Chase." Ever pick your feet in Poughkeepsie?

Although Denon says the DVD player's Super Sub Alias Filter increases horizontal resolution and decreases noise, the picture looked like that from a basic $200 standalone machine—that is, colors were vibrant, and edges were clearly defined.

Although its retail price is over the $1,000 mark, the DHT-700DV's street price could let it join other top contenders in the under-$1,000 home-theater-in-a-box category. It does deserve a caveat because of the inadequate manuals, though. Denon needs to do something about them. Until it does, get some help from your dealer if you really want to set up this system properly. The DHT-700DV isn't the last word from Denon in the HTIB arena. The company has a home theater system in the works that includes Mission loudspeakers. Although I liked this system, I'd be tempted to wait.

• Denon joins the HTIB club
• Attractive, versatile receiver

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(973) 396-0810