Surrounded With Surround Choices

Surround formats are coming on the market fast and furious, which means yet more buttons on equipment. Last week, Denon Electronics announced the introduction of its new $3,800 flagship AVR-5800 A/V Surround Receiver, which the company claims is the world's first audio component to offer DTS-ES Discrete 6.1, DTS-ES Matrix 6.1 and DTS Neo:6 surround sound decoding. The receiver also boasts THX Surround EX decoding, 24-bit/192kHz D/A conversion, FireWire capability and seven channels, each capable of 170 watts output power.

Denon says that the DTS-ES Discrete 6.1-channel decoder has been developed to provide improved 360-degree soundfield reproduction and surround sound localization. DTS-ES Discrete adds a discrete surround back channel to the traditional 5.1-channel loudspeaker configuration, "enabling more faithful reproduction of the multi-channel sound mix originally designed by the film or music producer at the dubbing stage." The company adds that when a 6.1-channel DTS-ES Discrete source is played, the AVR-5800 automatically detects the signal and plays in 6.1 discrete mode.

The AVR-5800 also supports DTS-ES Matrix and DTS Neo:6 matrix 6.1-channel processing. Denon says that DTS-ES Matrix decoding produces the effect of 6.1-channel sound by extracting a surround back channel from the left and right surround channels, and is compatible with the growing number of movies released on DVD with DTS-ES encoding. The DTS Neo:6 matrix surround function provides up to 6.1 channels of surround sound audio from stereo program material, and can be used with most two-channel digital or analog stereo audio sources.

In addition to the new DTS formats, the Denon AVR-5800 includes THX Surround EX processing, which provides an additional surround back channel when decoding Surround EX-encoded sources, to create a 6.1-channel soundfield. The AVR-5800 also provides unexcelled Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1-channel surround sound decoding, THX 5.1 and 4.0 post-processing and a variety of useful DSP modes. For heightened surround sound music listening enjoyment from stereo program material, the AVR-5800 includes Denon's exclusive 5-Channel Stereo mode, in which both sets of left and right speakers (front and rear) reproduce full fidelity unprocessed stereo and the center channel provides an L + R blend.

According to Denon, the AVR-5800 also utilizes the latest-generation Analog Devices AD-1853 24-bit/192kHz D/A converters. In addition to the digital processing, the receiver features a parallel stereo analog pathway that keeps the main stereo signal information in the analog domain (above 80 Hz). Denon says that "this preserves the high quality analog output from LP, or a CD player or CD changer with HDCD decoding, with no A/D and D/A digital artifacts or added noise." The analog pathway also includes a parallel bass management level memory function that duplicates the speaker and subwoofer level settings of the digital sources and keeps speaker and subwoofer levels consistent when switching between analog and digital sources.

Denon clearly designed the AVR-5800 for flexiblity with all existing surround sound formats and program material with Dual Surround Mode Speaker Switching featuring two pairs of left and right surround channel speaker outputs. The company explains that this feature allows the user to install two sets of surround speakers—diffuse surround and direct radiating—and choose the best set of surround speakers for either movie or music listening without compromising either listening mode. For example, Denons expects that the listener will choose between side-mounted dipole/bipole speakers when listening to Dolby Digital or DTS movie soundtracks, and direct radiating speakers mounted at the rear corners when listening to 5.1-channel music surround program material.

With typical hyperbole, Denon's David Birch-Jones states that "Without question, the AVR-5800 is the finest A/V receiver ever created, and includes a number of technological breakthroughs that significantly expand the capabilities of high-end A/V receiver design."