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Denon is a name synonymous with high quality equipment. In 1997 Denon released the AVP-A1 preamplifier and the POA-T3/T2 power amplifiers which were the first A/V components in the world offering both Dolby Digital and THX 5.1. In AV equipment, Denon has worked hard to develop power amplifiers that deliver equal power and response to all channels in its mission to ensure high fidelity from both the likes of 2 channel audio to advanced DVD-Audio sound. Currently their catalogue has four AV receivers – the AVR-1604, AVR-1804, the AVR-2803 and the high end AVR-3803. In a name, the main difference between these and the AV amplifiers is merely the lack of radio receiver in their amplifier range however the amplifier range is designed more with the true audiophile in mind – that is someone who would have a dedicated room for home theatre and music, and that this room would be acoustically prepared for this reason. For a lot of us this a mere fantasy which brings me back to the receivers. Today’s review is on the AVR-2803. With a retail price tag of £650 this is aimed at the higher end of today’s average home cinema user however with discounts rife on the internet, this starts to become more attractive to people who were thinking this was out of their price bracket. Some of us have older equipment and I decided my 5.1 Sony STR-DB940 was looking a little long in the tooth, andwith no Pro-Logic 2 support - it’s time for an upgrade.

The Specification


The main obvious difference from my last receiver is that this box of tricks offers 7.1 decoding. That is it supports the addition of one or two rear centre speakers. Each power amplifier is rated at 90W. This might not sound a lot to those of you with 400W AIWA stereo systems but you have to understand, this is a true 7x90W system, and the 400W AWIA stereo would not stand a chance next to this. Here is a list of some of the main features:

[*]DTS 96kHz/24bit 5.1 decoding for DVD-Video
[*]DTS-ES discrete 6.1 and Matrixed 6.1 decoding.
[*]DTS NEO:6 (allows for 2 channel to be upmixed into 6.1)
[*]Dolby Digital EX decoding
[*]Dolby Pro Logic II decoding (2 channel audio into 5.1)
[*]Two Component video inputs and one Component video output
[*]Denon’s 7 or 5 channel stereo mode for listening to music in 7.1 or 5.1  
[*]Redesigned learning remote control
[*]Support for multi room speakers
[*]Tuner with 40 station AM/FM memory and RDS
[*]Available in Black or Gold

Denon AVR-2803

Installation


It is worth noting that unless you have tackled an AV receiver installation before please remember to stay calm, and breath deeply, and wire each component to the amp, one at a time. I say this as upon removing any decent receiver the casual observer could well have a heart attack at the daunting back panel of this amp. It is the same with any AV amp. Inputs and outputs are the name of the day, and while they can be quite intimidating at first, once you get going you will be thankful there are so many. So remember, wire in each component separately and you will be fine.

Firstly I wired in the speakers. The speakers can be connected using banana plugs or by simply stripping a small part of the wire, unscrewing the terminal and sliding the wire in behind followed by tightening the connector (remember black to black, red to red!). Easy. Several speakers later and the amp was ready for action. Next came the s-video to scart connector (not provided – no cabling comes with this beast save an AM and FM aerial) which connects to the MONITOR output of the amp, and to a scart socket on the TV. This allows access to the amps setup menu which is required during installation. It is possible to use a composite lead for this task.

The menus are laid out simply and easily. Those of you not familiar with the terms used should read the manual. It is very useful. I set my speakers to SMALL to ensure the correct frequencies were passed to them (not waiting too much bass getting to them as they would die) and telling the amp how many speakers I have attached. Using the amps in built test tone, it is easy to verify each speaker is wired into the correct output on the amp. Then other speaker related data can be set including the distance to the listening position for each speaker, and whether you want certain channels to have a louder output than others. Connecting the DVD player was simple. A digital coaxial lead from the DVD player to the amp, and a quick look in the setup menu to tell the amp which digital connection the DVD player was using and hey presto – we are good to go.

Since my DVD player supports DVD-Audio, I also wired up six interconnects from the player to the amp so that I can play DVD-Audio discs as remember, you cannot listen to a DVD-Audio disc using an optical or coaxial cable – they cannot carry enough information which is why analogue connections are required. The CD player followed suit with a simple digital connection to the amp, and a rummage around the setup menu to tell the amp what input to listen on when CD is selected. The TV was also connected easily and everything was all setup.

A word of warning – the speaker connectors were done up very tightly on this amp so if you are simply stripping your speaker wire instead of using banana plugs then I would advise you to loosen the connectors before putting the amp into place as one connector was so tight I have to grab a nearby set of pliers to unscrew it (do not ask why I keep pliers in my lounge!).

Aesthetics


Not too much to say here. It is a large box, that is true but all decent AV receivers are – if you think this one is large, check out the Denon THX Ultra 2 certified AVC-A1SR – it is bigger than a Mini Cooper! Never the less, this box of tricks might not be the prettiest receiver out there, but it is not the ugliest either. A fairly simple front with a few buttons and dials leave it uncluttered and pleasing to the eye. Available in gold or black, this might be a tough decision for some as a lot of TVs these days are in fact, silver. I did try the gold at first but it just doesn’t quite go and so the black was decided upon to match the close by CD player and the DVD player. The display is bright enough to view, but not distracting in its intensity. There are three main dials with a selection of buttons which can control the main features of the receiver. There are two small lights to tell you if the amp is decoding Dolby Digital or DTS along with various other blips which are less important. Smooth lines with bevelled edges and discrete labels for each button make this a decent looking addition to any home cinema.

Denon AVR-2803

Ergonomics


The amp is not especially weighty (in fact the weight is not spread out uniformly which feels a little strange when moving it) but the controls feel solid and smooth. The dials turn effortlessly allowing for easy selection of the chosen feature. The onscreen menus are very easy to understand, and they certainly do not overpower the user with complicated terms. Simplified is the order of the day each section clearly defined. Selecting each input is very easy as is applying any processing to the signal. All new pieces of hardware take a little while to get used to however this one is very easy to pick up, plug in and play with.

One thing that may be seen as a plus or a negative depending on your preference – there are no front audio/video inputs which means that if you want to plug anything in temporarily then you will have to turn the amp around to have access to the rear inputs. However this does mean you do not spoil the receiver’s sleek lines with unwanted holes in the front of the device (aside from the headphone output).


<table border=0><tr><td width=170>Denon AVR-2803</td><td valign=top> Remote Control
The remote control is not particularly pretty, but it does cover a lot of functionality and has a learning option. The volume buttons are probably the most used and are easy enough to find in the dark. The remote has been redesigned from its predecessors and is indeed not a bad effort. It is however not brilliant. However saying that, I have not found a great remote control on a receiver at the lower end of the market before. This remote does have a learning functionality however which means it can be used to control all the other devices in the home cinema. With houses starting to fill up with remote controls, learning remote controls are a must.

Sound


The important bit then. This is certainly an impressive receiver spec wise, and it delivers in the audio stakes as well. The AVR-2803 has been designed to deliver the same power to each channel and while I cannot confirm this happens without some form of sound meter, I can tell you that it sounds pretty safe. Not the most scientific of studies, but I always prefer to trust my ears over digital readouts. The sound is delivered well and with a precision that I have not heard at this level. All 5.1 decoding is delivered beautifully and with an openness which seems to expand the listening area. As with most (all?) AV receivers (especially in the sub £1000 bracket), stereo sound is not handled as well when it comes to standard music fare. That is not to say it is poor by any means! It just lacks a certain something and at times sounds slightly too harsh. It certainly does a lot better job than the Sony range however its forte seems to be the up-mixing of a stereo source into 5.1 (or 6.1) music. This is surprising as I was not expecting much from this feature however it does a great job of extending the sound field of a bog standard CD into the surround domain. It is also quite unobtrusive which makes it ideal for when guests are visiting as the sound at low volumes is almost omnipresent which makes a change from all the noise emanating from two points and fading as it crosses the room. This mix of definition involves the listener more as sound dances around the stage and therefore this feature was a welcome surprise.

I won’t bother wittering on about DVD-Audio or SACD performance as the amp does no decoding for these and since I have already established its great audio performance, I do not feel I can add anything here. It is worth noting that the 2803 does not have an output for a passive subwoofer since it just has the preout required for a powered sub however, who has a passive sub these days?</td></tr></table>

Video


As well as all that audio processing, this receiver also acts as a video hub allowing several devices to be plugged in, and then connected to one output. This is particularly useful if your display device has a limited number of inputs, or your AV equipment is not near the display and you only want one wire between the devices. I tested the device with a standard s-video input/output and the results were as expected – no difference save the convenience. The amp also allows two component devices to be input to share one component output. Unfortunately I could not test this at this time. The 2803 does not do component switching - that is, it will not convert an s-video signal into a component signal - for that I believe you need to take a step up to the AVR-3803.

Overall


A tight package with many strengths including the relatively low price. The remote is not fantastic but useable but otherwise this receiver does a great job in adding to any home cinema. The retail price is £650 however I have seen this online for under £500 and at that price it really should be looked into if you are in the market for a receiver around this price bracket. Always demo any AV equipment before you buy it as your own eyes and ears are your best guide and this piece of equipment will brighten up many home cinemas out there. Sound is what you want most out of a receiver, and Denon have presented a package which they can be proud of.


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