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Denon AVR-2803 Review

Discussion in 'AV Receivers & Amplifiers' started by Dimmy, Mar 13, 2004.

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  1. Dimmy

    Dimmy
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    I'm writing this as I'm sure many of you are thinking about buying this receiver at some point. I bought the receiver today from these very forums from 'Witters' for a price of £368. I'm 'Upgrading' from an AVR-1803, and I've had extensive listening periods with the 3803, so was both curious and hopeful as to how this receiver would lie between the two.

    First Impressions

    Unpacking it from the box I immediately noticed that it's heavier than my 1803. Build quality is essentially the same, save for a very slightly different layout of buttons on the fascia and an improvement on the 'solidity' of connections on the rear panel. As with pretty much all Denon receivers, it looks gorgeous, especially with my DVD2800mkII on top of it.

    Connecting everything up I also noticed that the binding posts are of higher quality than those on my 1803, and was also pleased to find a forest of connections on the back (I'd seen it in pictures before but it looks even more bewildering when you have the receiver in your listening room).

    As soon as everything was hooked up, I immediately delved into the setup. Thus far, I haven't found a way to disable the on-screen-display (which, personally, I find infinitely irritating to use, as you have to change the input on your television whenever you want to change a surround parameter).

    Admittedly, the OSD was very intuitive and easy to use. The Test Tones of the 2803 were also 'different' sounding to my 1803, and as a result it was easier to balance channels (the ability to change channel volume in 1/2 decibel increments, as opposed to the 1803's full decibel increments was also a welcome convenience). Although this benefit is then outweighed by Denon also choosing to have 1/2 decibel increments in the Master Volume control too, which I found more frustrating than beneficial.

    The Remote Control is essentially the same as that of the 1803 and 3803, but with a few minor differences. Personally, I found the remote of the AVR-1803 to be the most intuitive, the buttons of the 2803 have all been minaturised in comparison, and the position of many have been changed on the remote (and, seemingly, there's many buttons which don't do anything).

    Sound

    First things first, I put the Sound Format into 'Direct' mode - bypassing all tone controls - and placed Norah Jones' 'Come Away With Me' into the disc draw of my DVD player. This is a disc I'm particularly familiar with, and have always in the past used as a means of assessing the performance of many-a-system I've heard.

    As I began to turn the volume up my first quibble with the receiver came to light. You really do have to crank the volume up before you get a reasonable listening volume. My speakers are extremely sensitive (92dBw-1m-1) and I still had to put the volume to at least -40 on the volume scale before getting a useable volume from the amp. It's been my experience that this is often a dead certain sign of current starvation - try the same thing with a top equivilantly priced stereo amp and you only have to nudge the volume control before getting useable volumes.

    But what about the sound quality? Well, despite the need to 'crank it up' before getting a useable volume level, this receiver is certainately willing to go loud. On the whole, I didn't venture beyond -10dB on the volume control, simply because it was much too loud.

    Sound 'Quality' wasn't, IMHO, a massive advance over my old AVR-1803. The sound was more controlled, a characteristic most noticeable in the Bass and Treble regions (midrange character was essentially the same as that of my 1803). But none-the-less, it's certainately a noticeable improvement. The amp doesn't have the finesse to disguise vocal sibilance (which is what I was really hoping for) and the higher you push the volume level the lesser the sound quality becomes - in an almost exponential fashion. Listening above -10dB loses much of the stereo focus, and instrumental contributions to a song - such as the high Violin from Norah Jones' 'I've Got To See You Again' and symbals throughout the album - take on a 'raw' and slightly 'harsh' quality. A budget Rotel RA-01 dedicated stereo amplifier, for example, quite easily outshines the 2803 with straight stereo music material. And an AVR-3803 - in Pure Direct mode with its highly advantageous 'AL 24 Processing' - also outshines the 2803 for straight stereo playback.

    Rushing through a few more discs including everything from Hendrix to Tracy Chapman confirmed my initial impressions from the Norah Jones disc - the sound isn't hugely better than my AVR-1803 was in Stereo, just 'Louder' in every sense.

    Pro-Logic II music mode provided an interesting alternative to straight stereo listening, and was much more succesfully implemented than on the AVR-1803 - an immediate testament to the processing panache of the 2803 and an indication of things to come with its Movie performance.

    Speaking of which, the Movie Performance of the AVR-2803 is probably what most potential buyers are going to be intersted in. And surely enough, it's a better home cinema amplifier than it is a Stereo Amp.

    The first DVD I spun was - inevitably - The Matrix Reloaded. Another personal favourite of mine and with material I'm extremely familiar with in both a comercial cinema environment and a home cinema environment.

    Playing the first through scenes of Zion through and the initial encounter between Neo and three agents had me worried. The 'processing' feel to the 2803 is actually worse than my old 1803, but louder.

    Surely enough however, I'd accidentally put the sound into Pro Logic II Music Mode. Switching over to the Digital Co-ax input brought the expected improvement & 'Dolby Digital' lighting up on the fascia confirmed I had the right sound field this time around :D.

    So, in Dolby Digital, how was the sound?

    Well, Denon's extremely ambitious claim of the AVR-2803 having the same processing capabilities as the A1SR are immediately layed to rest. The processing is most definitely better than my old AVR-1803 (most noticeable as Trinity falls from the Sky-Scraper at the very start of the movie, and bullets are flying around the listening position, they actually sound like Lead cutting through air with the AVR-2803, whereas it was a rather brash mess of sound moving across your head with the 1803), but the sound isn't up to the same standard as the AVR-3803 in processing terms. There isn't the same level of smoothness, and it's certainately not as 'Cinematic'.

    That said, great things can be said about the AVR-2803 as a home cinema amplifier. It's poweramps easily more powerful than those of the AVR-1803, and has a much firmer grasp over the frequency range, especially bass frequencies, which really do sound like bass now (rather than a booming mess with the AVR-1803). Of course, the AVR-3803 is more powerful still, but you'd expect it to be.

    Sticking T2 in the disc tray in Reloaded's place really began to test the 2803. The DTS track of the Ultimate Edition of T2 is one of the 'grandest' and most demanding soundtracks I'm yet to hear, the AVR-2803 just about coped. The sound was very 'clean' and 'Polite' in nature and never became harsh. There still wasn't the cinematic 'Smoothness' to the sound I'd hoped for from such a capable processor, but it was most certainately entertaining.

    It's worth noting at this point that I'm not using an Active Subwoofer in my system currently, so the poweramp channels of the 2803 are most definitely being stretched in driving my speakers (Mission 775e's, 77C1 and 771e - the main 775e's having an extremely well extended frequency response).

    Summary

    So, am I happy with the amplifier?

    Well no, not really. It's not the upgrade I was planning for but because I was fired I couldn't buy the HK-AVR8500 I was going to in the first place.

    That said I can still say that it'll be bringing me a lot of both music and movie enjoyment in the coming months.

    What Hi-Fi's review of this amp was most definitely over-egged IMHO. It's not a revolutionary product and it doesn't completely redefine what you've any right to expect from an amp in this price category. IMHO, the AVR-3803 represents the better buy, especially since its prices will be falling further still in the following weeks.

    Hi-Fi Choice's group test review was much more accurate and down-to-earth. More accurately describing the amp's capabilities.

    Is this amp worth the upgrade over the 1803/1804 I hear you ask?

    IMHO, yes. It offers significantly more flexibility and the extra poweramp channels are most definitely useful for most applications. If you've a larger room, the budget (and are wanting a Gold amplifier) then the AVR-2803 represents a descent choice. I don't think you should be too ambitious with it however. I wouldn't recommend you partnering it with demanding full range speakers, and it'd be best suited to descent sub/sat systems.
     
  2. Dom_k

    Dom_k
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    Nice review dimmy! :smashin:
     
  3. rscott4563

    rscott4563
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    Second that, great indepth review Dimmy, just the reason this forum is so good, big thumbs up for your effort... :smashin:

    Ryan
     
  4. Tejstar

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    Great review Dimmy :smashin:

    I was thinking of getting one of these but am now waiting to hear the Denon 3805 and to see how much of an improvement that is.

    Sorry to hear about your job.
     
  5. ditton15

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    "It's worth noting at this point that I'm not using an Active Subwoofer in my system currently, so the poweramp channels of the 2803 are most definitely being stretched"

    I would think that an active sub would make sizeable difference. Also, I would still recommend a s/h stereo amp for music.

    Nice balanced review though.

    Hope you find another job soon.
     
  6. Dimmy

    Dimmy
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    Agreed. The simple experiment of switching off all frequencies below 80hz on the poweramp channels and easing the load on the poweramps of the 2803 yields encouraging results. The sound is even louder, more even and better still controlled.

    Either a dedicated Stereo amp (most likely) or an external poweramp are the next planned upgrade paths. Rotel is almost the default choice in both of these categories.
     
  7. Flimber

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    Dimmy, re: volume. Not all volume controls (and I'm talking both analogue and digital) have the same linearity/nonlinearity. That probably accounts for your issue with this amp.

    Mike.
     
  8. Flimber

    Flimber
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    When/where did Denon claim that the AVR-2803 had "the same processing capabilities as the A1SR" ???

    Mike.
     
  9. rscott4563

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    I think the comment would have come from the fact that the 2803 and 3803 now use the Hammerhead Sharc DSP processor, which is what has always been used in the higher end Denon AV amps or receivers, though it should be said that the higher end A11SR and A1SR have dual Hammerhead Sharc DSP processors, so not quite on the same level.... :nono:

    Ryan :smashin:
     
  10. Dimmy

    Dimmy
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    Denon claim that the main Dolby Digital/DTS processor in both the AVR-2803 and 3803 are the same as the one used in the A1SR - they're not.

    The A1SR does use two, but the second is only used for THX Post-Processing. So by all accounts you'd expect - if denons claim were true - the processing abilities of all three with 'basic' Dolby & DTS soundtracks (with THX-Post Processing taken out of the equation) to be essentially the same. They're not.
     
  11. Jase

    Jase
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    The A1SR (and upgraded A1SE) get the most potent 600 MIPS versions of the Hammerhead Sharc Processors. The other Denon models have processors from the same "family" but less potent versions (as far as I'm aware). :)

    Nice review Dimmy.:smashin:
     
  12. Dimmy

    Dimmy
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    And with a completely different name & specification.

    They're all from the same "Sharc" family of processors, but are all completely different. But that's Manufacturers/Magazines for you.

    Another thing worth clearing up:

    Analogue Devices Sharc processors are only called "hammerhead" when more than one are used in dual differential configurations.
     
  13. rscott4563

    rscott4563
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    Looks like someone needs to inform Denon of this fact?

    Ryan
     
  14. rscott4563

    rscott4563
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    From the USA Denon site (this always seems to give more detailed info than the UK site) the differences in processors is given as:

    2803
    • Analog Devices Melody 100, 32 bit floating point DSP processor

    3803
    • DDSC-Digital featuring Analog Devices Melody 100 (HammerHead SHARC) 32 bit floating point DSP processor

    3805
    • DDSC-Digital featuring Analog Devices HammerHead SHARC 32 bit floating point DSP processor

    4802
    • DDSC-Digital featuring dual Analog Devices SHARC 32 bit floating point DSP processors

    5803
    • DDSC-Digital featuring dual Analog Devices HammerHead SHARC 32-bit floating point DSP processors

    So I'm assuming that the Melody 100 processors are different to the Sharc processors used in the 3805/4802/5803, does anyone know what the exact chip versions are used in the above receivers, or even what the specs are, such as MHz or MFLOP ratings are as this would enable me to identify them from the Analog Devices product list??

    Cheers

    Ryan :smashin:
     
  15. rscott4563

    rscott4563
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    Well I found the exact chip used in the 5803, its two of the SHARC 21161 and I take a guess that the 2803 uses a SHARC Melody 100 such as this which can handle bit rates up to 96kHz and the 3803 I'd guess would have this slightly better SHARC Melody 100 which can handle bit rates up to 192kHz (I assumed this as the 2803 has 96 kHz high resolution DACs on all eight channels, whereas the 3803 has 192 kHz high resolution DACs on all eight channels, but I'm not sure if I've got my head round it all properly), as for the 4802, it will probably have two of the older versions of the SHARC 21*** processors.

    Ryan
     
  16. Dimmy

    Dimmy
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    Both What Hi-Fi and What Video TV magazine can be quoted as stating that the AVR-2803 shares its chief Dolby/DTS processor with that of the A1SR.

    Clearly it doesn't.
     
  17. sneaky

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    Cheers Dimmy,

    Great honest review, Im of to buy a 3803 and at less than £600 has to be a steal.

    Chris
     
  18. Dimmy

    Dimmy
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    Excellent sneaky :smashin:.
     

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