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Following on from my look at the Denon 2803 receiver (click here), I have now been fortunate enough to spend time with their flagship receiver, the 3803. This is a real high end piece of kit which has several very interesting features including component video switching and a LCD learning remote control.

Denon AVR-3803

The Specification


This receiver, like the 2803 is also a 7.1 channel system however the 3803 supports 110 watts per channel as opposed to the 90 watts the 2803 supports. The 7.1 configuration can be used exclusively in one room using up to two rear centre speakers, or a 5.1 configuration in one room for home cinema and a 2.0 configuration in another for pure music enjoyment.

[*]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
[*]S-video or composite to component video switching
[*]Audio delay for Plasma screens or progressive scan DVD players
[*]Denon’s 7 or 5 channel stereo mode for listening to music in 7.1 or 5.1  
[*]Redesigned LCD learning remote control
[*]Support for multi room speakers
[*]Tuner with 40 station AM/FM memory and RDS
[*]Available in Black, Gold or Silver finishes

Installation


As with the 2803, installation was a doddle. Please feel free to read my other review for the installation process as it is very similar. One of the main differences here was that now the device supports Component Video Switching which is the first time a receiver in this class has provided such a useful feature. More on the feature later, but the result is that I only needed one lead running from the amplifier to the screen. One thing I did notice, was that the device uses such a powerful power supply, with such large coils that even at a foot away from my TV, in the rack below it still discoloured the screen as a magnet would do. I am not sure if it is just my TV being very sensitive, or the fact that the amp has little shielding but if purchasing to place close to a CRT television, I would be wary. As I will talk about further down, this was designed to be used professionally, rack mounted and not positioned below a television. Neither my previous Sony STRDB-940 nor the Denon 2803 discoloured my television.

Aesthetics


This device looks very similar to the 2803 but it does weight more – a whole 3.5 kilos more. This weight is more uniformly distributed in the receiver making it feel more solid when moving it around. It also makes it easier to move around (even though it is heavier) since it is easier to estimate how much effort is needed when trying to get it into the rack/on the shelf. Other than this and some logos, the box is pretty much identical from the front. It is even the same physical size. One thing that might influence a buyer is the colour of the AV equipment and this amplifier is available in the full range of standard finishes - black, gold and silver. Several finishes do allow for a more coordinated room which can be important so it is good to see such a choice available. I do wonder if it would have looked nicer if the two dials were the same size; however that might be more of a 'Marantz' design feature. There are no front inputs to ruin the sleek facia, but this might put people off from buying it. At this price and level, I would have thought even if hidden, inputs at the front of the device might have been included. So it wins on looks, but looses out on potential functionality.

Denon AVR-3803

Ergonomics


I have already mentioned the more uniform weighting of this 16.5kg receiver which while is only a minor point, it does make it easy to handle and gives a better impression to the user. As with the 2803, the onscreen menus are easy to navigate and the dials and buttons feel solid with nice tactile feedback <img border=0 src="http://www.dvdanswers.com/misc/daveb/denon/deno...; align="left">present where buttons are concerned. The remote control is similar to that of the 2803 however this time it features a tiny LCD screen to inform what current mode it is set to control. This is a very similar remote control to the previous device however the addition of the LCD makes a few areas different to control. One thing I did notice here which would probably be the same with the previous remote (although do not quote me there) is that when the very useful backlight is activated since it is dark, not all buttons have writing on them which means until you learn your way around a little, it is not easy to use in darkened rooms. Of course, a little use and you soon learn what each button is and most of the time it is only volume or PAUSE/PLAY that is required. The MUTING button was one I had trouble getting used to at first as it is small and when dark, unlabeled. As before this is a learning remote control so it means it is relatively easy to condense most if not all your home cinema remote controls into one device if you so feel the need to.

Sound


This is the hard bit. Is this receiver better than the 2803? The 3803 gives a stunning sound and yet for all its extra power and better quality components I could not tell a vast difference, if any from the 2803. Now this is probably because this bit of kit outstretches my speakers; that and I have not had my room set up by a home cinema technician as when getting to this point, it is the little differences that matter. A spokesperson from Denon mentioned this to me when I took the item for review, and now I can see what they meant. It is the sort of receiver that should be professionally installed in a dedicated theatre room with sound meters used to correctly position the speakers to optimise the sound for the listening position. For a lounge/theatre this is overkill. That does not mean the sound form this 3803 is anything but beautiful however. Rich bassy undertones and clear, distortion free high frequencies make both DVDs, DVD-Audio discs and CDs as well as video gaming an absolute pleasure. The same 5.1/7.1 stereo playback is supported here as in the 2803 as well as a multitude of other audio features making this not only very compatible but also desirable. However while it is becoming more attainable price wise, it is by no means a step down, opting for the less expensive AVR-2803 as I doubt anyone bar a trained professional would be able to tell the difference unless it was in a dedicated setup. It is worth mentioning that this receiver also has a useful feature for those with progressive scan DVD players – audio delay. Since processing the video in a progressive scan system can take a little more time, in some cases the audio can then be ever so slightly out of sync with the video. The 3803 can put a delay on the audio so that it can be aligned to the video – most useful indeed!

Video


This is one of the main reasons for taking this device to review – component video switching. The only receiver in its class to do this, the 3803 can take a composite, component or s-video signal and output it as component video. This means that only one lead is needed trailing from the Denon to say a projector. With two component video inputs, seven s-video and seven composite inputs it is unlikely that you will run out of video inputs. Perhaps in a European market, there should be a few RGB enabled SCART connections (which Yamaha amongst others provide if memory serves) however for me at least, this was no problem.

Denon AVR-3803

Overall


So, this is very similar to the superb 2803, but including the s-video to component switching, the audio delay feature, an LCD remote control and more power. The device is really for a dedicated room which is setup precisely for home cinema ideally by a professional installer. For many punters, this amp is more than is needed. However with it falling in price (with the 3805 soon to be released), it is very tempting with its useful video switching, it might be a more attractive option for some. Sound quality wise though, unless you have incredible speakers (and no, KEF Eggs do not count) I would recommend the 2803 over this one to save you a few pennies. Mind you, there is certainly no reason not to buy big if you can afford it – just be wary that it is not designed to go too near to your television or old VHS tapes.


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