Test Report: Denon AVR-991 A/V Receiver

Denon has been making A/V receivers for about as long as there have been A/V receivers, and it's rarely produced a bad one. The brand usually gleans more attention for its über-dollar high-end models than for the kind of high-value, midprice models that win the credit-card swipes of most buyers. But this new AVR- 991, with its suggested price under $1,000 and its rich feature set, may change that perception in a hurry.

The AVR-991 is, frankly, a fairly ordinary-looking receiver: two knobs, one display, and the usual plastic knockout panel concealing front-panel jacks instead of the hinged panel you'll find on many lux-ier models, including Denon's own. And it's a bit smaller, lighter, and simpler-looking than typical kilobuck receivers -pluses all, in my book.

Installation required no special skills, being, as is almost universally the case today, a mere matter of plugging in speaker, HDMI, and a few audio cables. (That said, like many midprice models, the Denon incorporates the cheaper type of multiway speaker outputs that do not fit standard half-inch-spacing dual-banana plugs, such as those on all of my speaker cables. File under "reviewer pet peeves.") Although the player doesn't decode DSD, I noted that it has no analog multichannel input for connecting an SACD player. Another small nail in the SACD coffin.

After hookup came calibration, and since the AVR-991 includes Audyssey MultEQ XT, this, too, was a simple matter of plugging in the supplied microphone and "playing" the auto-calibration routine as prompted by the graphical user interface. By now, MultEQ requires little review here. As usual, I found the sound demonstrably tighter in the bottom two octaves and a shade 'clearer" or "crisper" or something - without sounding "brighter" per se - in the upper mids. Nonetheless, in the interest of parity, I as usual did the bulk of my listening with Audyssey disengaged.

Since the Denon also incorporates Audyssey's DSX expanded-surround option, I hooked up my usual "height" speakers (small two-way on-walls). But the AVR-991 offers only seven channels of amplification and has no preamp outputs other than a subwoofer jack, so I couldn't find a way to simultaneously configure DSX with both its height and front-wide channels - Audyssey's preferred arrangement. Very odd, indeed.