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Denon AVR-3805 Receiver
Denon AVR-3805 Review

In my thoughts of upgrading to the Athena Audition line of speakers, I mentioned that I emailed Athena because of issues I had with the AS-C1 center speaker.  In response, the Athena rep hinted that problems with the C1 are often the result of poor amplification of the center channel.  Once this seed was planted I began doubting my Pioneer VSX-D912 receiver, and began looking for a replacement with the hope of resolving the dialog clarity problems I was having with the Athena center.

I looked at the Pioneer Elite VSX-53tx, the Yamaha HTR-5790 (and its RX-V1400 twin), and the Denon AVR-3805.  I find it nearly impossible to audition the sound of speakers or receivers in the stores that I have access to (Best Buy, Ultimate Electronics) for various reasons....room size and shape, variations in speakers, set-up, source, etc., so I put a lot of emphasis on what I've researched and the info I gathered in my shopping in addition to listening in the stores.  My initial impression of the Yamaha was that it did not look very sturdy or solid.  The RX-V1400 gave a better first impression with a flip-down door that offers a cleaner, less cluttered appearance, but the HTR-5790 in particular had a very low-end look to its face.  They are fairly large and heavy receivers, but the design of the front panel did not inspire me with confidence.  

The Denon felt large, heavy, and sturdily built.  It looks and feels like a quality unit, though the display was quite bland and a bit boring.  The sales person was quite proud of the flashy remote that lights-up when moved, but I'm so used to operating my Pioneer remote by touch in the dark that I was very disappointed and skeptical of the device.  

Most impressive to my eyes was the Pioneer Elite receiver.  With the glossy black face plate and sturdy construction, the Elite had an elegant look and solid feel that I would expect from a $1000 receiver.

As much as I like the look of the Pioneer, it was out of the running almost immediately.  Without PLIIx and no parametric equalization, the Elite just seemed to lack the updated qualifications of the Yamaha and Denon.  The THX certification of the Yamaha intrigued me, but mixed reviews of the YPAO function and my initial impressions of the build quality swayed me towards the Denon.  After a little negotiating, I paid $999 for the Denon, plus $65 for the set-up microphone.

Denon AVR-3805

Hook-up was straight forward, and the auto set-up was fast and simple.  I went through a variety of testing with DVDs and CDs.  Noteworthy were the power of the unit, and the crystalline clarity of the units musical capabilities.  Music with my old Pioneer never sounded that great to me, but the guitar on the James Taylor Greatest Hits CD was impressively sharp and beautiful when played using the Denon's Burr Brown DACs.  Two channel stereo, multi-channel stereo and PLIIx music modes all displayed sounds that were far superior in soundstage, clarity, depth, imaging, etc etc to my old Pioneer.  Bass management is very good (though almost too bassy at times for my tastes), and clearly in a completely different league than my old Pioneer.  The subwoofer can be incorporated in two-channel listening even if the mains are set to 'large' - an option not found in many receivers.  Quite impressive.

One thing I noticed right away was that the I was not happy with what most of the equalization settings did for my speakers.  Both the 'normal' and 'flat' settings made the AS-F2 tower speakers sound worse.  The 'front' setting (which equalized the center and surrounds to match the fronts) was actually the best setting as it left the F2s alone and did actually seem to improve the sound of the surrounds.  Unfortunately, the equalization did nothing to help the dialog clarity issue I was having when watching DVDs.  (I've since determined it was a 'lobing' problem and had nothing to do with my receiver as Athena had implied)

Though I was struggling to hear a lot of the dialog in Master and Commander, the power and clarity of the Denon were very evident in the barrage of sounds throughout the film.  My girlfriend noted that the channel separation was better with the Denon.  The sound from the surround speakers was very clean and crisp with both music and movies.  The Athena AS-R1 speakers never sounded this good with the Pioneer.

Though very impressed with the receiver, I did end up returning it after three weeks of experimentation.  As nice as it is, the main reason I bought it was in hopes of helping the issue I had with the center channel.  Since it was not a magical cure for this problem, I could not justify the cost.  Returning to the Pioneer VSX-D912 was a bit of a sound disappointment, but I can live with it for awhile.  It's actually a very good receiver for home theater (listed as one of the "must-have products under $1000" in the November 2004 issue of Home Theater magazine), and music sounds pretty decent now that I've upgraded to a Denon CD player.  I do find the Athena speakers a bit bright on some DVDs however, and I miss not having a Cinema EQ function to tame the highs. (Note that the brightness is not really an issue since replacing the AS-C1 center speaker with an AS-B2 bookshelf speaker)

I will upgrade my receiver at some point in the future.  I may try the Yamaha - it seems to have a lot of value built-in, and the updated RX-V1500 is on the way.  Then again I may wait for the new Pioneer VSX-1014tx or VSX-52tx THX (select) certified receivers due out in August 2004, but these lack some of the updated features found in the Yamaha and Denon such as lip-sync delay. The slightly lower priced Denon AVR-2805 is also in the running, and includes the set-up microphone that is an optional purchase with the AVR-3805.  We'll see.

Update:  I purchased the Pioneer VSX-1014TX in December 2004 - read my review here.

My Home Theater page


Links:
Home Theater Forum thread on VSX-1014tx
Perfect Vision Review of the RX-V1400
AudioEnz Review of the RX-V1400
Perfect Vision Review of the AVR-2805
CNET Review of the AVR-2805


Questions or comments?  Email me at chas41363a@yahoo.com

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