Real World Receivers Page 4

I have only mild complaints about the AVR-2802's ergonomics. The supplied remote control - the same handset Denon has packaged with numerous receivers for a couple of years now - is a bit clunky, and its library of codes for DVD players, VCRs, satellite receivers, and the like is limited to the most popular dozen or so brands, but it gets the job done. Varied key shapes and colors help keep you straight, and the most important buttons glow in the dark to make low-light use easier. But the white-on-silver lettering used for most key labels is a joke even in good lighting.

Bottom line: Other than DPL II and Neo:6, this particular Denon receiver model is not dramatically different from several earlier ones - a good thing, since that means it provides very good amplification and solid surround performance all around. But I consider DPL II processing such a valuable addition to any surround receiver's standard arsenal that it gives the AVR-2802 a real edge.

Sony STR-DB1070 Sony rarely does things exactly like its competitors, and the STR-DB1070 digital surround receiver is no exception. It boasts numerous distinctions, from its inclusion of two sets of multichannel analog inputs to its bypassing Dolby Pro Logic II or DTS Neo:6 in favor of a proprietary collection of ambience-processing modes under the umbrella title of Digital Cinema Sound, or DCS. The full list of DCS modes is as long as my arm, including no fewer than five that simulate multichannel sound with just two speakers - or headphones.

All the same, the receiver's rear panel is more or less conventional except for those dual multichannel inputs. There are only three rear-panel S-video inputs, which may not be enough if you want to switch both component- and S-video signals from several components. (I do this with my DVD player, for instance, using the S-video connection to see the onscreen menus and the component hookup for serious progressive-scan viewing.) Like the other receivers in this group, the STR-DB1070 provides a single coaxial digital audio input. Unlike the others, Sony adds insult to injury with the following note in the owner's manual: "We recommend making coaxial connections instead of optical connections." Gee, thanks, guys! (Actually, there's nothing wrong with either type of hookup as long as you have enough jacks in each flavor to match your source components.)

Sony loaded the STR-DB1070 with several unusual setup options. My hands-down favorite is the bass-crossover adjustment. Not only can you set each channel (or left/ right pair) for "large," "small," or no speakers in the usual way, but you can also independently set the bass crossover for any "small" channel to any frequency from 40 to 200 Hz in 10-Hz steps. Cool! (I know some $4,000 preamp/processors that don't give you this level of control.)

The STR-DB1070 is also endowed with tremendously flexible equalization (tone) controls. You can boost or cut the bass, midrange, and treble independently for the front L/R channel pair and the center channel, bass and treble for the surround L/R pair and the back surround. What's more, you can adjust the center frequency of each control within a range of several octaves.

Onscreen menus and displays are comparatively elaborate, and informative, but accessing and navigating them is counterintuitive. One remote key turns menus on or off altogether, while another steps through the four possible menus. The remote's four-way cursor-key set does the actual adjusting. Sony's manual is on the brusque side. I had no trouble deciphering it in order to set up and extensively customize the receiver, but people who don't do this every day will likely end up scratching their heads over the more obscure options, such as Digital Power, which lets you set the receiver to automatically shut off unneeded digital circuits when you're listening to an analog source without digital processing.