Shootout: Three Mid-Price A/V Receivers Page 3

MUSIC PERFORMANCE It's hard to fault the Denon AVR-3806's sonics. Stereo music converted to multichannel by its basic Dolby Pro Logic IIx and DTS Neo:6 Music settings sounded great, and if forced to make a pick, I'd probably give this receiver the nod, by a hairsbreadth, for best multichannel sound quality among this trio. Denon's home-brew music-DSP modes, which include Super Stadium and Rock Concert, proved largely too reverb-drenched and processed, but performance from Dolby Digital, DTS, and DVD-Audio or SACD sources was uniformly impressive.

The Denon's XM Radio functions worked as expected. You can set and select station presets as you would with FM or AM, and audio quality is a function more of the signal on a particular channel than of the receiver. "Quality" channels like Classical 110 sounded quite good: I listened to an entire performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 and was surprisingly pleased by the source's very decent clarity, and by the AVR-3806's natural spaciousness via DPL IIx/Music mode.

MOVIE PERFORMANCE The Denon seemed to have the most dynamic reserves of this group - though real-world differences among these three receivers were pretty minute. The AVR-3806 delivered the DVD of the special-effects blockbuster War of the Worlds at truly awesome levels. And it produced equally impressive dynamic detail and spatial realism: On a PBS/BBC adaptation of Dickens' Bleak House that I TiVo'd, complete with its 5.1-channel Dolby Digital soundtrack, the Denon dramatically communicated the cramped, claustrophobic atmosphere of the maniacal rustlings (and rodent squeakings) as Smallweed rifled through the late Krook's papers. Short version: This Denon will deliver performance to spare for even the most challenging film (or television) soundtrack.

EASE OF USE Denon equips the AVR-3806 with a remote control that combines some two dozen "hard" keys with a rectangular "touchscreen" (actually an icon-imprinted translucent membrane covering an array of microswitches). The buttons on the membrane change legends based on which component you've selected. This seems like a good idea, but it's not - the smooth membrane and close proximity of the tiny button zones make it virtually impossible to control by touch. Fortunately, the main hard keys manage basic receiver functions (volume, input selection, and others). But if, for example, you want to control a DVD player while trying different surround modes, you have to toggle back and forth between the "AMP" and "DVD" remote buttons on the membrane, which proved the hardest to select. Did I like this receiver, bottom to top? Yes I did, and quite a lot. Did I like this remote that Denon got? No I did not, not one little jot.