Back to Basics - Denon 2013 Product Launch

Steve Withers

Reviewer
Denon's new line-up of receivers stress sound quality and simplicity rather than unnecessary features

This week Denon held their annual product launch in the beautiful Italian resort of Sorrento and announced a line-up designed to give people a combination of simplicity and performance. Whilst Denon has always targeted 20-40 year olds, they've realised that when it comes to audio-video receivers (AVRs) their customers fall into two distinct types - those that are looking to upgrade their existing AVR or those that are not satisfied by other solutions such as soundbars. As a result, the manufacturer feels that sound quality remains the most important feature but there are other factors that also need to be considered. The days of people buying through brick and mortar retailers has passed and most Denon AVRs are bought online. People buying from a retailer like Amazon want an easy experience, with less box ticking, greater concentration on key features and simple setup.

Many consumers are put off by the idea of an AVR due to its perceived complexity and thus place importance on a hassle-free setup, intuitive operation, connectivity and up-to-date network features. For this reason Denon are looking to simplify their receivers this year, offering less cluttered facias, optimised remotes, easier to read displays, larger buttons, fewer connections at the rear, colour coded wiring and automated setup. To help with this some legacy connections have been dropped from the rear panel and the speaker terminals are now in a horizontal line, making them easier to access. The user interface has been upgraded as well, offering an intuitive Setup Assistant that uses helpful text and animations to take anyone through the setup process. Denon has also expanded on features from last year, such as a new iOS/Android control app, improved Web setup for both PC and Mac and a redesigned PDF owners manual.

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Whilst there tend to be less innovations in audio, especially when compared to video, there have been a number of changes recently that have allowed the AVR to develop. The audio codecs themselves have largely remained unchanged over the last few years but, with the advent of 3D and now 4K, it is important that AVRs are capable of passing these signals. Our increasing reliance on streaming and online content has also resulted in the AVR reinventing itself as a networked central hub with access to features such as Spotify, Last.fm and vTuner. Denon include all of these, along with AirPlay, DLNA support and compatibility with Windows 8/RT. Denon and Marantz are currently the only manufacturers who natively support both Spotify and AirPlay. Interestingly, Denon mentioned that networking is the biggest cause of consumer questions, although these are often unrelated to their products.

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Thats not to say that the audio side has remained totally static and there has been a move towards an increased number of channels, with many receivers now adding height and width channels and formats like DTS Neo:X even offering the possibility of 11.2 channels of audio. Denon provided a demonstration of the potential of these new multi-channel setups in a dedicated home cinema that used an incredible 11.6-channel configuration. Denon used their flagship AVR-4520 for the processing and nine of the channels whilst a number of PMA-2020AE amplifiers handled the rest. There were seven Boston Acoustics M350 floor standing speakers along with two additional height speakers and two additional width speakers. At the front there were three Boston Acoustics MSub 10" subwoofers and another three at the rear; whilst the source was a Denon DBT-3313UD Blu-ray Player connected to the AVR-4520 via Denon Link to reduce jitter.

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The initial testing for the demonstration used the Blu-ray of The Expendables 2, which includes a full 11.1 DTS Neo:X sound mix and a setup menu which sends audio to each channel individually, proving that the new format does indeed work. Whilst it may use matrix decoding to create the width and height channels there were indeed discreet sounds coming from those speakers. Unfortunately after initially using the setup page from The Expendables 2, Denon didn't actually use a scene from the film in the demonstration. This was something of a missed opportunity because after going to all the trouble of creating an 11.6 setup, they didn't then use the one film with a soundtrack that could take full advantage of that configuration. Instead, Denon used scenes from Prometheus and The Lorax, both of which have 7.1-channel soundtracks. The results however were very impressive, with the additional speakers adding a wider soundstage, better transition of sounds from the front to rear and a more immersive experience overall.

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In a break from tradition, Denon are now employing a slightly different numbering system for the new models and instead of using the year of release as a prefix, they're using an ‘X'. Denon's marketing for this year will push the idea of “eXcellent performance and eXcellent usability” in their new range. At the top of the line-up remains the AVR-4520 but that's now joined by the AVR-X4000. This new model is released in June, will retail for £1,199 and will be available in a premium metal housing with a choice of silver or black. The AVR-X4000 can deliver 200W over 7-channels and includes DDSC-HD with AL24+ Processing and Denon's unique Link HD jitter minimising technology (when used in conjunction with the DBT-3313UD). There's also Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room calibration and Audyssey DSX 9.1 processing, along with a host of networking features.

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Occupying the middle of Denon's new range are the AVR-X3000 and the AVR-X2000, both of which are designed to offer improved sound quality and increased power output, resulting in a better performance with both movies and music. Denon's focus model is the AVR-X2000 which is available now and retails for £499. This model incorporates a seven channel platform with 150W per channel and UK/European sound tuning. It has 4K upscaling and passthrough, along with networking features, six HDMI inputs and an FM radio. As part of Denon's move to create an easier and more intuitive experience, the AVR-X2000 also includes the new advanced GUI with Setup Assistant, less rear connections, a simplified remote, larger character display, horizontal speaker terminals with colour coding and Audyssey MultEQ XT setup. The AVR-X3000 retails for £799 and adds 180W per a channel, twin HDMI outputs, 9.2 pre-outs and InstaPrevue.

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The entry level receivers this year are the AVR-X500 and the AVR-X1000, where the emphasis is on providing a five channel receiver that is comprehensively equipped, sounds good and is easy to install. The AVR-X500 is the basic entry level model that includes five channel audio at 140W per a channel, along with three HDMI inputs and support for both DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD. The AVR-X1000 builds on this to add 145W per a channel, an extra HDMI input and network features. Denon might be best known for their receivers but they make other products as well, including the DBT-3313UD universal disc transporter that can play Blu-ray, DVD, CD, SACD and DVD-Audio. It can be used as a digital transport with reduced jitter transmission via Denon Link HD, along with twin HDMI outputs. The build quality is exceptional and the DBT-3313UD includes Denon's Supress Vibration Hybrid mechanism for better playback. There is also the DBT-1713UD which includes many of the features found on the more expensive model, including universal playback, but at a more accessible price.

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Whilst the Marantz part of the group tends to be more associated with high-end HiFi, Denon also had an extensive line-up of HiFi and two-channel products on show, including their DCD-2020AE CD/SACD Player and PMA-2020AE Integrated Amplifier. The DCD-2020AE includes a 32-bit/192kHz DAC and an integrated USB-DAC, whilst the PMA-2020AE offers two-channels at 160W per a channel and a six block construction. Other HiFi products on show included the DCD-1520AE CD/SACD Player and the DCD-720AE and DCD-520AE CD Players, along with the PMA-1520AE, PMA-720AE and PMA-520AE Integrated Amplifiers. There was also Denon's D-F109/DAB Mini System and their D-M39/DAB Micro Component System, for those loking for a smaller audio solution.

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Of course times are changing and any company hoping to survive needs to adapt to reflect people's shifting priorities. As TVs have got thinner, so their sound has suffered and the resulting soundbar market has exploded, especially amongst people who don't necessarily want a full AVR setup. To address this growing market, Denon will be launching their new DHT-T100 Soundbase in October. This interesting new product is designed to sit underneath your TV and its strong cabinet design can support screen sizes up to 50 inches. This single box solution can be easily integrated and hooked up to your existing sources and the dedicated audio processing makes a subwoofer superfluous, delivering a deep bass experience.

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Another product that reflects our changing habits is the DNP-720AE Network Audio Player which allows easily accessible internet streaming - both wireless and Ethernet - and HD audio streaming, along with AirPlay, FM/AM tuner, Internet radio, high resolution file support and 24-bit/192KHz DACs. There was also the Cocoon Home wireless music system which has touch sensitive controls smoothly integrated into its curved body, a retractable tray, OLED display and a remote app for both iOS and Android. In addition, there was the smaller Cocoon Portable wireless music system for those who like to listen their music on the move. Continuing the trend for creating more lifestyle orientated products, Denon also had their new CEOL network music system on show, with an emphasis on a sleek all-in-one design that includes iDevice dock, AirPlay, built-in WiFI, 192kHz/24-bit file support, a tuner and a CD drive. For those that no longer use CDs, there is the smaller CEOL Piccolo that includes all the other features in a smaller form.

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Another market that has exploded recently is headphones, with literally billions being sold each year as people look for a better audio experience from their mobile devices. Denon has launched the AH-W150 wireless headphones that are light, comfortable and sweat proof for those who want to listen to music whilst exercising. There are also some more traditional in-ear headphones such as the AH-C400 and AH-C250, along with over-ear headphones such as the AH-D7100, for those who desire a more audiophile performance rather than convenience. It's that word, more than any other, that is dictating how the audio market will develop. People expect products that are easy to use, simple to setup, look attractive and work, Denon clearly understands this and is moving their product ranges in this direction. There's no doubt that AVRs, in particular, have become too complex in recent years, scaring consumers away, and Denon's back to basics approach makes perfect sense. Give people what they want - convenience and simplicity.
 
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vism

Well-known Member
It's interesting when you say the audio codecs haven't changed much over the last few years.
It raises the question why do top end CD players like the cyrus CD8 sound so much better with music?
It's high time the AV manufacturers sorted this problem out.
I want a single solution for my music and movies.
 

Jules

Distinguished Member
There just doesn't seam to be anything as high quality as my Denon AVC-A1HD coming from the Denon stable any more.

Denon used to refresh their flagship A1 amps every year or 2 years, but the basic A1HD chassis has been around for about 5 years now with no sign of a direct replacement coming.

I hope mine never breaks!
 

tausifs

Well-known Member
There just doesn't seam to be anything as high quality as my Denon AVC-A1HD coming from the Denon stable any more.

Denon used to refresh their flagship A1 amps every year or 2 years, but the basic A1HD chassis has been around for about 5 years now with no sign of a direct replacement coming.

I hope mine never breaks!

If it does break then spend the money getting it repaired. If my 3800 bd player breaks that's what I will do. There is no equivalent player, IMo
 

Steve Withers

Reviewer
Now that Denon and Marantz are both part of the D+M Group, I get the feeling that Denon is being aimed at the mass market, whilst Marantz represents the higher end. Having said that, I'm looking forward to getting the AVR-4520 and BDT-3313UD in for review at the end of the month.
 

stevos

Distinguished Member
I like that they have dumped most of the legacy connectors.

Makes things a bit neater and less scary for new people moving into AV.

I wonder if 4k will be enough to make me and others like me interested in upgrading. It seems a long time since any new features were added (HDMI was the last major one, I think) that added to the core job of the movie experience.

Saying that if they brought out a decent AV amp with room correction and decent 2 channel, I would splash the cash.
 

Jules

Distinguished Member
if they brought out a decent AV amp with room correction and decent 2 channel, I would splash the cash.
That's what the A1 amps did. They were about 3 times more expensive than the highest end Denon model currently available.

Nowadays I suspect you need to look away from Denon if 2 channel sound quality is important. Maybe Marantz, but even then I don't see anything there filling the gap either.

The upside might be that my A1HD might actually start appreciating in value asnthere's not much out there to touch it at the moment.
 

LicensedTaximan

Well-known Member
Like you Steve (unless you have changed it) I have the AVC-A11XVA, does this mean with the discontinuation of their last iterations of their AV amps (e.g AVC-A1HD) that Denon are no longer making AV amps but manufacturing AV recievers only?
 

Steve Withers

Reviewer
There seems to be a deliberate move away from multi-channel power amplifiers and AV processors towards AV receivers only, although Marantz still produce processors and amplifiers. My coverage of their new product line-up should be posted today.
 

vism

Well-known Member
I think it's just a sign of the times.

When we all have more money than sense again, the processors shall return.
 

Steve Withers

Reviewer
Along with the Marantz product line-up, I've also got a piece coming that covers 60 years of Marantz and another where I discuss the future of the AVR.
 

vism

Well-known Member
You've been busy. Look forward to it.
 

golden phoenix

Distinguished Member
i have a modest denon 1910 avr..but i find although it gives me the warmth im seeking from the sound it doesnt have the punch, i realsie there could be other elements in my set-up that contribute to this, but still...i hope this is addressed under the new AVR, im interested in the 2000 range, will you be reviewing the X 2000 Steve?
 
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Steve Withers

Reviewer
i have a modest denon 1910 avr..but i find although it gives me the warmth im seeking from the sound it doesnt have the punch, i realsie there could be other elements in my set-up that contribute to this, but still...i hope this is addressed under the new AVR, im interested in the 2000 range, will you be reviewing the X 2000 Steve?

Yes we'll be reviewing the X2000 at some point.
 
So what amp will be replacing the AVC A1HD, as this dose not do 4k unless they have an upgrade like they did with 3D board.
 

Steve Withers

Reviewer
The AVC-4520 is Denon's current flagship, I'm not sure there are any plans to replace the AVC-A1.
 

Widmark

Standard Member
Steve - probably tough to judge from a reviewers spot without a full dismemberment of the test unit, but are you getting any sense that Denon is trying to improve the quality of the units? Hopefully the time and money saved by not putting in legacy connections will go into bettering the quality of what is left.

I look at the decline in quality in Onkyo and Denon as they seemed to be targeting a more mass market... And whereas in the old days these AV receivers were built to last a lifetime, in the past 5 or 10 yrs it seems they are making these practically disposable with all the latest features but flawed firmware, integration and components. I suppose its due in part because the tech changes so quickly that folks no longer buy for lifetime ownership...But for 5 or so years. But it's frustrating! I have a Denon 2312 which began to degrade after a month and now on a second warranty unit.
 

Clem_Dye

Distinguished Member
For many years I had a Denon A1 surround amplifier and overall it was pretty good -- I had it for 7 years before I upgraded to Arcam kit. Although I don't have any Denon gear at present, I'm tempted by the DNP-720AE Network Audio Player, but it does seem a little half-baked to me. FM/AM and no DAB/DAB+? Yes, I appreciate that it has Internet radio, but no DAB support seems a glaring omission to me. Likewise, I'm not 100% clear if the unit does gapless flac playback, even with the latest firmware. Denon used to be very much audio as well as a/v to my mind, but I think that they're heading towards 'me too' territory. Still, all big brands, like empires, come and go ..... any one remember Microsoft? :D


Clem
 

Widmark

Standard Member
For many years I had a Denon A1 surround amplifier and overall it was pretty good -- I had it for 7 years before I upgraded to Arcam kit. Although I don't have any Denon gear at present, I'm tempted by the DNP-720AE Network Audio Player, but it does seem a little half-baked to me. FM/AM and no DAB/DAB+? Yes, I appreciate that it has Internet radio, but no DAB support seems a glaring omission to me. Likewise, I'm not 100% clear if the unit does gapless flac playback, even with the latest firmware. Denon used to be very much audio as well as a/v to my mind, but I think that they're heading towards 'me too' territory. Still, all big brands, like empires, come and go ..... any one remember Microsoft?

I have been eyeballing arcam for years... Great sound. They always seemed to be behind on the video, calibration and net capabilities... Hdmi switching, networking, dlna, etc... Have they caught up with everybody on the feature set? Years ago when arcam didnt have hdmi switching the sales guy told me that its better not to have hdmi switching within the AV receiver because it distorted/buzzed the audio. Of course I was comparing the arcam against receivers that had built in hdmi switching and he knew it. : )
 
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Steve Withers

Reviewer
Steve - probably tough to judge from a reviewers spot without a full dismemberment of the test unit, but are you getting any sense that Denon is trying to improve the quality of the units? Hopefully the time and money saved by not putting in legacy connections will go into bettering the quality of what is left.

As I mentioned I'll be reviewing the AVC-4520 soon, which will give me a better idea of the overall quality of higher-end Denon kit.
 

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