Test Report: Denon AVR-991 A/V Receiver Page 3

Denon has whipped up an all-new graphical, onscreen user interface for the AVR-991. It's simple and mostly text- based, and it fades quickly and smoothly up or down over the full-screen source image. (As far as I could tell, opacity of the superimposed graphics isn't user-adjustable.) Menu and command arrangements are mostly straightforward and logical. Overall, I give the new Denon interface strong marks.

The remote controller shipped with the 991 is a plain-Jane model with "Glo- key" buttons, though mine did not glow very energetically. And while the keypad is amply and sensibly laid out, reading the gray-on-black key-labels without strong lighting ain't happening. One key grouping is used both for input-select and to choose the remote's own component-command mode. For this reason, you must frequently key AMP to return the controller to its native duties - an occasional stopper, but a common exigency among A/V receivers.

A couple of other operational choices were a bit more puzzling. For instance, the remote dedicates four different keys to toggle through its surround- mode families, but you still must travel a full four levels deep into the menus to switch between the Cinema and Music modes of Dolby PLII and DTS Neo:6. Navigating long lists in the Net/USB streaming input is aided by a Search function, but all this does is let you page down by sets of seven. There's no alphabetic or numeric search, so finding a track among the 3,000 or so on your hard disk can be a chore.

On the other hand, the remote has a Ch Level key that's always on call for center- and surround-channel or subwoofer tweaks, and there's a direct-access key for Audyssey MultEQ and Dynamic EQ/ Volume. There's also onscreen prompting for remote configuration. The AVR- 991 won't actually set your other-brand codes for you, but it does guide you onscreen through brands and models and then displays the key-pressing sequence to enter the code. You also get Web control from any browser, and Denon even has its own iPhone/touch control app at the iTunes store.

Denon's current lineup still shows four A/V receiver models above the modest AVR-991, culminating in the AVR-5805 at a lofty $5,500. But candidly, I pity the salesperson tasked with stepping up customers from the AVR-991 to, say, the AVR-4311, introduced at roughly the same time and precisely twice the price. The up-market model offers a little more power and a few more features, but it's difficult to see how one might argue the case. Put another way, if you're shopping for an A/V receiver between, say, $750 and $1,400 (and don't require a multichannel analog input), the AVR-991 belongs on your must-see list. And, very possibly, in your home theate.