Design and Connectivity
All the main controls are present and correct under the flap, handy if you ever lose the remote, and there are also some additional inputs, including an extra HDMI input. However, the chances are that once you've set the AVR-4520 up, all your interaction will be via the remote, so putting these controls out of sight makes sense. The AVR-4520 is a decent sized receiver, although not quite as big as some of the behemoths we've seen from Denon in the past. It measures 434 x 195 x 423mm and thanks to its solid all-metal construction and thick aluminium front plate, it weighs in at a decent 16.5kgs.
At the rear are a comprehensive set of connections, including six HDMI inputs and, unusually, three HDMI outputs - two of which include ARC. There are speaker terminals for a standard 7-channel configuration and additional speaker terminals for either side speakers, height speakers or biamped front channels. There are 7.1-channel inputs and 11.2-channel outputs, which allows you to run a full DTS Neo:X configuration if add two extra channels of amplification and active subwoofers. In addition there are optical and coaxial digital inputs and analogue inputs, including phono with a ground terminal for those with turntables. There are inputs and outputs for both composite and component video and four Ethernet ports, which means you can use the AVR-4520 as a network hub. Finally there is an RS232 connector for serial control, a Denon Link HD connector, an FM aerial socket, remote control in and out connectors, two 12v triggers and a USB port for connecting an iDevice.
The remote control provided with the AVR-4520 is a good example of how to design a receiver remote. All the buttons are sensibly laid out, every control you would need is present without making the layout too cluttered and, best of all, for those with a darkened home cinema, there is a back light. The remote itself is made of gloss black plastic, that nicely matches the receiver. It's light, comfortable to hold and easy to use - even with one hand. There is a small display at the top and it's a learning remote which means you can also control other devices.
Setup and Menus
The Setup Menu offers six basic sub-menus that allow you to fine tune and change your setup after the initial configuration using the Setup Assistant. These six sub-menus are Audio, Video, Inputs, Speakers, Network and General - we will cover the Audio and Video sub-menus later in the review. The Inputs sub-menu allows you to assign inputs; rename sources as shown on the display; hide sources that you aren't using; adjust the playback level of individual sources; and combine the video of one source with the audio of another.
The Network sub-menu includes options to display the network information; to set the network function on or off when in standby; change the name of the receiver shown on your home network; select the settings for a wired LAN; set whether or not to display Last.fm on the menu; and a maintenance mode for use by a Denon service engineer or a custom installer. Finally, the General sub-menu allows for selecting the language; setting up a second zone; renaming the second zone; creating quick select names; setting the 12V trigger; setting the auto standby; adjust the brightness of the front display (there's also a button on the front panel); show information about receiver settings; set whether or not to check for firmware updates, update the firmware, display the update and upgrade notifications; and lock your setup to prevent accidental changes.
The AVR-4520 includes video processing with scaling up to both 1080p and 4K and whilst 4K scaling is largely pointless, the receiver does provide 4K pass-through, 4K HDMI switching and 4K GUI overlay, providing a degree of future proofing. The connectivity also reflects this desire for future-ready expandability with HDMI that supports 3D, Audio Return Channel, Deep Color, “x.v.Color”, Auto Lipsync and HDMI CEC control functions. In terms of other features, there are 11.2-channel pre-outs for maximum system expandability, Audyssey Dynamic Volume, for real-time volume adjustment, AMX, and Crestron third party control support, lower power consumption in stand-by and Auto Power Off.
The AVR-4520 comes with a host of next-generation lifestyle features clearly geared towards making the receiver easy to integrate into a modern networked home. The AVR-4520 can be connected to your home network using a standard Ethernet cable, making streaming audio and internet radio simplicity itself. It is also DLNA compliant, allowing for content to be easily streamed and you can of course hardwire your iDevice into the receiver’s USB inputs and control music playback via the remote. In terms of file support the AVR-4520 is fairly comprehensive, providing DLNA streaming and playback for formats such as MP3, AAC, 24bit 96kHz FLACs, WAV and WMA.
This enhanced network capability includes the addition of support for Last.fm, Flickr and Spotify. The addition of Spotify is particularly useful because it means you have access to a vast amount of music, as well as certain aspects of your account like pre-saved playlists and any music you've "starred". As you might imagine, you can't access your imported music this way, but since the AVR-4520 can connect with your home network via DLNA, you can also listen to your own music collection. In addition to the built-in FM tuner, there is a full suite of internet radio stations, which means access to literally thousands of global channels and if you find any good ones, you can save them to your favourites.
Denon offer a remote app has been developed for use with either iOS or Android and it allows for easy selection of input sources, network content, zone control and more. It is available free of charge and we found both versions to be quite effective. The interface is well designed and the app provides control of the basic functions of your AVR-4520 such as on/off, volume, input and surround mode selection. There are eight customizable home screen short cut buttons allowing you to tailor the look and function of the Denon Remote App to suit your needs. There's also a multi-zone control page which lets you adjust power, volume and input selection for all zones from a single screen. You can browse the Internet Radio and preset and recall favourites, as well as access your digital media library with thumbnail browsing, library search and playlist creation. It certainly ranks as one of the better receiver remote apps we have used recently.
One of the biggest features of the AVR-4520 is the inclusion of Apple's AirPlay which allows you to stream iTunes music from your PC or Mac via your home network, to the receiver. From the AVR-4520, artist information, album art and elapsed time can be accessed and you are also able to control some major navigation features of your iTunes account from the AVR-4520. In addition, Apple offers a free-of-charge app called 'Remote' for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, which allows you to control the content of your complete iTunes library, as well as the volume of the AVR-4520 itself. The AirPlay connectivity worked very well and once we had configured the unit over wired Ethernet, we had no problems streaming music from various AirPlay-compatible devices.
Perhaps more usefully from a future proofing perspective, the AVR-4520 can also pass a 3D signal and a native 4K signal. When it came to handling standard and high definition content, the AVR-4520 delivered an impressive performance, deinterlacing 480i, 576i and 1080i signals and scaling up to 1080p over HDMI. It will also passed through 1080p/24 signals from Blu-rays without any problems and passed a 3D signal without any problems as well. We were pleased to see that the AVR-4520 had no problems detecting both 3:2 and 2:2 cadences, as well as scaling standard definition content without introducing unwanted artefacts or jaggies. As long as you left the picture adjust controls in their default zero or off positions, then the AVR-4520 could passthrough the video signal without tampering with the image accuracy. Thanks to the inclusion of three HDMI outputs, you can also use the AVR-4520 to feed a signal to two different displays, perhaps a TV and a projector and to a third display in a different location.
Within the Speakers sub-menu there are a series of screens dedicated to different aspects of speaker setup. Whilst these are setup automatically by Audyssey, you can manually adjust or fine tune the settings, if you so desire. The main screen allows you to assign the amps to different setups, configure the speakers, select the subwoofer, set the distances and levels, set any crossover from 40Hz to 240Hz and select the front speakers to be used. The speaker configuration sub-menu allows you to input your layout and the type of speakers in your system. The second screen relates to the distances in metres of the speakers from the main listening position, whilst the final screen uses test tones to set the levels of each speaker from the main listening position. If you're going to do this manually, then you will need a sound pressure level meter.
For the purposes of reviewing the AVR-4520, we used a number of Blu-rays allowing us to gauge its performance with both Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio soundtracks. We also tested the receiver with stereo and multi-channel PCM from a number of sources, along with Direct Stream Digital (DSD) from SACDs. We also streamed various music files to the Denon over our home network and via AirPlay. The use of Audyssey MultiEQ XT32 to correct for the room certainly helped as well, giving the system a more integrated feel, although we don't think it's as effective as Anthem's ARC. There is DTS Neo:X and Audyssey DSX for those who wish to add either front height or width channels to the basic 7.1-channel configuration, with Dolby Pro Logic IIz also provided as a height-enhancing alternative. As we have discovered with other receivers, switching to DTS Neo:X or Audyssey DSX in a 9.1 configuration with additional width channels at the front really paid dividends in widening the soundstage and aiding front to back pans.
The AVR-4520 delivered the kind of audio performance that we've come to expect from Denon - it's well defined and accomplished. The manufacturer has been producing excellent receivers for years and the AVR-4520 has inherited that shared pedigree. The Denon was particularly effective with surround sound, especially movie soundtracks, delivering an enjoyable and immersive experience. We watched a number of Blu-rays including the remake of Evil Dead and the AVR-4520 replicated the sound design with skill, anchoring the dialogue clearly to the centre channel whilst producing a wide front soundstage. This sense of width could be increased by adding width speakers and utilising the extra two channels of amplification. Both DSX and DTS Neo:X proved quite effective at creating this extra width and both plus Dolby Pro Logic IIz can also add height speakers, although we weren't able to test this. The AVR-4520 produced lively side and rear channels that created an immersive surround field and localisation of effects was excellent. The overall integration of the front and rear channels was excellent with smooth pans around the room.
Audyssey MultiEQ XT32 did a good job of eliminating the negative aspects of the room, allowing the AVR-4520 to manage the bass effectively. We used a couple of bass heavy scenes from Kung Fu Panda and Terminator Salvation to see how well the subwoofer was integrated into the rest of the sound field. The results were excellent, with well timed bass that added impact to scenes when required without swamping the rest of the channels. The receiver certainly had plenty of power with enough headroom to produce an effective dynamic range. The performance with multichannel music was also impressive, whether it was DVD-Audio or SACD, with well defined instruments and an impressive level of clarity. The Denon was surprisingly good with music, not as impressive as an Anthem, but still better than some of receivers we've reviewed. We found instruments and vocals were well reproduced, whilst the AVR managed to create a cohesive soundstage and excellent positioning. We connected the AVR-4520 to a DBT-3313 using the Denon Link HD connector, thus syncing the two by using the clock on the AVR and thus reducing jitter. The results were impressive, giving the audio an added sense of transparency that brought out all the detail in the recordings.
- Excellent sound quality
- Comprehensive connections
- Impressive video processing
- Solid build quality
- Flexible setup and configuration
- Well designed and user friendly menus
- Great remote app
Denon AVR-4520 9 Channel Audio/Video Receiver Review
It's fair to say that the basic design of the AV receiver hasn't changed much over the last 20 years but then if it ain't broke and all that. In fact, Denon's receivers have always had a very attractive look, with a solid chassis, thick front panel and well engineered finish. The AVR-4520 is a worthy addition to Denon's famous lineage and whilst we prefer the black finish, it's also available in premium silver. The layout is classic AVR with an input dial on the left, a volume dial on the right and a power button. That's it, aside from an informative central display, because all the other controls are behind a drop down flap - although it does make for a clean and elegant front panel. Besides the chances are that once you've set the AVR-4520 up, you'll never touch most of these controls again, preferring to select inputs or change the volume with the remote. The remote itself is comprehensive but a little busy and includes a backlight, which is handy in a darkened room.
The rear panel is the usual mass of connections, many of which are now largely historic. Given that Denon's own DBT-3313 Blu-ray player only has HDMI outputs, it would be great to see them make a similarly brave move when it comes to their receivers. There are seven HDMI inputs including the one on the front and, rather excessively, there are also three HDMI outputs. The setup is surprisingly straightforward given the inherent complexity of the modern AVR and this is largely thanks to Denon's informative and well designed user interface. The AVR-4520 comes with a setup microphone, Audyssey MultEQ XT32 and Auto Setup, making it easy for even a novice to get the best out of this receiver. Whilst there is no built-in WiFi, the Denon does include four Ethernet ports allowing it to be used as a network hub. If you have a suitably equipped Denon Blu-ray player there is also the option to connect the AVR-4520 using Denon Link HD, thus reducing jitter.
The AVR-4520's internet platform isn't as evolved as some of the competition but covers all the bases with Internet radio, Spotify, Flickr and Last.fm. There is also a built-in FM tuner and DLNA certification, allowing you to access all the content on your home network and the file coverage was more than adequate, including support for FLAC HD. The remote app that Denon offer for both iOS and Android is excellent, with a nicely designed interface and useful features. If you have an iPod/iPhone/iPad, the AVR-4520 also supports Apple's AirPlay which allows you to play music directly to the Denon from either your iDevice or iTunes. In terms of the amplification the AVR-4520 has nine channels at 190W a channel, allowing you to add height or width speakers. It also supports all the audio formats including Dolby TrueHD, DTS HD Master Audio, DTS Neo:X, Audyssey DSX and Dolby Pro Logic IIz. There are eleven channels of pre-outs, so if you add extra amplification you can deliver the full 11.2-channel DTS Neo:X experience.
In terms of video, the AVR-4520 is able to pass both 3D and 4K and it also includes some highly effective deinterlacing and scaling, although it's debatable how useful 4K upscaling will be. The Denon uses high-performance 192kHz/32-bit digital-to-analogue converters for all channels and the resulting performance with multi-channel soundtracks was superb. The AVR-4520 might not offer the exceptional room correction that Anthem do with their receivers but they have plenty of power, delivering a lively and enjoyable sound. There is a suitably wide soundstage at the front and this can be augmented further by utilising the extra channels for width speakers, whilst the rears provide plenty of immersive surround. The overall performance was precise and detailed, with excellent localisation and nicely integrated bass. The addition of Denon Link HD made for an extremely transparent experience and the AVR-4520 proved to be surprisingly adept when it came to music.
Denon have been making AV receivers for a long time, producing some real classics over the years and this experience shines through on the AVR-4520. It clearly shares that illustrious heritage and delivers a knock-out performance in all the key areas. It combines looks, features, power and performance in equal measure and in doing so manages to distinguish itself in a crowded and competitive marketplace.
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