Denon S-5BD Blu-ray Receiver Page 3

The Merry Gentleman, also in DTS-HD Master Audio, is about a hit man who falls in love with a potential victim. Michael Keaton stars and, for the first time, directs. A pure psychological drama with few splashy effects, this movie was in no need of Dynamic Volume or Dynamic EQ, so I switched them off. It cruised along at a much higher master volume setting than the previous horror movie, about half the control’s range, which proved to be the average setting for most content. I had no problem understanding the dialogue, although much of it was at a low level.

The Informant! comes with a relatively rare Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. (Given the dominance of Dolby Digital in DVD, I’m surprised how few Blu-ray Discs I rent have TrueHD.) Again, the low-volume listening modes weren’t needed. The few sonic highlights came via the goofy score, which used James Bond–style surf guitar and other 1960s spy-movie musical clichés to signal comic moments. The Denon handled dialogue well and music beautifully.

Brass Propellors
I left the HDTV on during the music demos and took advantage of the onscreen display for track and timing information. Unfortunately, the display would soon be obscured by a screensaver with a BD-SD logo. Although you can disable the screensaver in the AVR menu, I just pressed a button on the remote. This was sufficient to torpedo the screensaver without derailing the music (excuse the mixed metaphor).

Herb Alpert’s Passion Dance is available both as a conventional CD and a DTS-encoded CD (not DVD). When I played the latter, I was gratified to find that the mix takes full advantage of the 5.1channel medium. The bandleader’s trumpet was smack in the center channel, exactly where it belonged. (I loathe surround mixes that shun the center under the assumption that the listener is too incompetent to choose a timbre-matched center speaker.) Other instruments are arranged largely but not entirely in the front soundstage, and a few creep along the sides toward the surround channels. This lets the music breathe—and this large Latin-jazz band needed the breathing room. The Denon Blu-ray receiver (and NHT sub) were happy in these 5.1 environs and didn’t have a problem with the syncopated percussion that operated both above and below the sub crossover. If you’re familiar with Alpert’s lightweight, effervescent pop albums of the mid-’60s, you may be surprised at the Caribbean-tinged jazzy sophistication of this 1997 album, where he moves deeper into the heart of the territory he obviously loved.

Propellor Time is Robyn Hitchcock’s third CD with the Venus 3 (swap out hitchcock for Michael Stipe, add Mike Mills, and you get the current touring lineup of R.E.M.). The album is only 10 songs and about 40 minutes long, the classic length of an LP, and is available on vinyl. This is a more reflective and emotionally accessible Hitchcock than the nervy verbal gymnast of yore. He travels in a highly refined mix, lush with vocal harmonies and richly textured guitars that are at their most potent in the brooding, serpentine title track. The Dolby Pro Logic II Music mode generated a coherent soundfield without tampering with the essential feel of the stereo mix. The Denon didn’t seem to have any more trouble with 5.1 channels than it did with 2.1. It struck the right balance between detail and restraint. It would be hard to imagine any budget to mid-priced AVR doing significantly better with this material.

The Beethoven Trio Project (Cedille CD) contains three works, including the never-before-recorded Piano Trio in E-Flat Major with pianist George Lepauw, violinist Sang Mee Lee, and cellist Wendy Warner. The tidy stereo soundstage lost some of its imaging when adapted to DPLII, especially in the strings, but it made up for it with greatly expanded and more concert-hall-worthy ambience.

Denon’s S-5BD Blu-ray receiver offers much of the functionality of a full-featured surround receiver and Blu-ray player, with the best sound I’ve heard from any unit with an integrated disc drive, Blu-ray or otherwise. And it does all this in an impressively scaled-down box. In one respect, it isn’t scaled down: price. At $1,799, it’s more expensive than an entry-level (or even midrange) AVR and Blu-ray player combined. But otherwise, it fits the leather-jacket metaphor perfectly, delivering a lot of desirable stuff in a sweet package that just might be your size.

Denon Electronics USA
(201) 762-6500