Well now that I've actually been using my AVP-A1HDCI for about two weeks, I can now give my impressions of it's sound quality.
The thing with this pre/pro, and any other pre/pro for that matter, is that it needs time to sound its best. Straight out of the box with only 2 or 3 days will not give an accurate description of what this engineering marvel can offer. While I will honestly say that I was impressed with what I heard the first time I fired it up, now after two weeks the sound is getting even better. And I'm sure that after two to three months of use, this Denon pre/pro will fully reveal its sonic splendor.
Home Theater use (DTS-HD MA, Dolby TrueHD, Uncompressed PCM, DTS, Dolby Digital)
First I must say that each and every HDMI device (Blu-ray, HD DVD, Satellite), work perfect all the time. Video and audio goes through without a hitch. Kudo's to Denon for this.
1080p signals go through in all their glory, high def that goes in the Denon AVP goes out to the TV crystal clear. And standard DVD's going through the Realta processing makes standard DVD's look the absolute best they can look. The Reon chip in my Toshiba XA2 is really good, but Realta takes it up a notch. The video processing in the Denon AVP works extremely well for DVD's.
Bitstreamed audio via HDMI from Blu-ray, HD DVD, and DVD, all sound phenomenal decoded by the Denon AVP. I usually watch at least one movie a night, and on weekends two a night, so over the past 14 days I've seen at least 17 movies through the Denon AVP. With 12 on high def, and the rest on DVD. One thing I must note is that not all players sound the same when bitstreamed. I carefully compared my Sony S300 to my Denon 2500 using uncompressed PCM. Just so you know, I adjusted the sub level up +5db when listening to the Denon 2500 to compensate for the LFE bug, and then lowered the sub level -5db when listening to the Sony S300.
The thing that was apparent was the soundstage, the Denon is a bit smoother and not as forward in character as the Sony is. With certain movies (War, 3:10 to Yuma), the sound while very dynamic was a bit too forward for my taste. The Denon on the other hand was smoother, but still had all the impact and dynamics of the Sony. So I say not all players are created equal when sending out a bitstreamed uncompressed signal. I also had the opportunity to compare internal decoding done by the player (Toshiba HD-XA2), and done by the pre/pro (Denon).
While many claim "there is no difference", I totally disagree. I listened to a number of HD DVD's that have Dolby TrueHD soundtracks, and each and every time I much preferred the decoding done by the Denon. The sound character with internal decoding on the player gave a brighter sound that when listened to for long periods can be a bit fatiguing. The same movies via HDMI and decoded by the Denon sounded superb! Not bright, but open, detailed and rich. The sound is wide and deep, very dynamic, but never fatiguing. It's exactly what lossless should sound like! I have been extremely impressed with what this Denon pre/pro does with DTS-HD MA (Night at the Museum, Rush Hour 3, Hitman, etc), and TrueHD (Spider-Man 3, Bourne Ultimatum, V for Vendetta etc.).
Even the legacy Dolby Digital and DTS formats sound amazing on the Denon AVP. I rent a a lot of standard DVD's from Netflix, and each and every movie I've played through the Denon has sounded excellent! While the new high def audio codecs take the sound to a whole other level, plain DD and DTS still sound very impressive. And easily as good as I remember hearing from my Sunfire TGIII. That says a lot as my Sunfire did a fantastic job with DD and DTS soundtracks. So rest assured that the Denon AVP does a splendid job with legacy audio formats.
So IMHO this pre/pro definitely delivers the sonic goods!
Music sources (CD, SACD, DVD-A)
I have extensively listened to a number of 2 channel and mulichannel sources. I have my CD player connected to my Denon AVP via analog, and have listened to the Denon in "Stereo", "Direct", and "Pure Direct" modes. SQ in stereo is quite good, and pretty spacious (width and depth of sound is moderate). The sound is forward in character with "Stereo" mode, and to my ears could get tiring after long listening sessions. SQ in "Direct" mode takes CD music to another level. The difference between Stereo and Direct is huge. The sound character in Direct mode is very refined and very accurate, but much more pleasing to the ears, and is more neutral in its presentation. I really enjoyed listening to CD's in Direct mode.
Listening to "Pure Direct" mode took the accuracy a step further, and makes even the most intricate of sounds come to life. With Pure Direct there is no coloration to the sound at all. What is on the CD (good and bad) is exactly what you will hear. On perfectly mastered reference recordings the use of Pure Direct is an audiophiles dream come true. But beware when listening to material that is a bit too brash and bright in nature, as these things will faithfully come through. So for "most" of my listening I preferred Direct as it brought a good balance in sound, offering great sound quality to most CD's. Stereo mode is great for casual listening, but Direct and Pure Direct are definitely for true audio enthusiasts who want accurate sound.
For people who have subs, I highly recommend using them for 2 channel, even if the speakers are of the large full range variety. The use of the subs just takes the whole music listening experience further. So for me setting Main+Sub was a no brainer. And the ability to set the Denons crossover frequency to the setting you prefer is a major plus. The 70Hz setting sounded the best for my setup.
Now to see what the Denon's internal DAC's would do for 2 channel music, I used the Denon Transport via HDMI and listened to the same CD's (Yello-Zebra, John Mayall and Friends, and Johannes Linstead-Cafe' Tropical). I'm happy to say that the Denon easily matched and even slightly surpassed my dedicated CD player (Sony CDP-XA20ES). This really impressed me, as my Sony has always bested anything I've compared it to in my setup (Integra Research RDC-7, Sunfire TGIII). So this says a lot about the DAC's and dual differential circuitry in the Denon. I sure wish I owned the Sony CDP-XA7ES (the XA20's big brother), as that has balanced outs and I could report as to how it sounds connected that way. Maybe I'll find one for a good price and try it out.
For both analog 2 channel and digital 2 channel the Denon AVP delivered in spades. It's an excellent 2 channel pre.
A couple of days ago I finally got to try out multichannel SACD and DVD-Audio. Since my old Yamaha DVD-S2300 universal player only has analog outs for high rez sound, I connected 6 cables to the Denon's EXT IN. For years I have been using an Outlaw ICBM-1 bass manager for my Yamaha S2300, as the player has no internal bass management. While the Outlaw "works" it's a bit cumbersome to use. Since all discs are recorded at different levels, I always had to physically go to the ICBM-1 and either raise or lower the bass volume. Sure once set for a certain SACD it was fine, but once I changed SACD's I then had to dial in the right bass level.
So when I learned that the Denon AVP offered A/D conversion on its EXT IN. I was very anxious to try it out and see how the bass management in the Denon would work for my SACD's/DVD-A's. After I connected it I listened to the SACD of Peter White "Glow", and was totally blown away with the sound! The bass was 'THERE", it was deep, tight, and not boomy. But when listening , the bass was only part of the story, the whole presentation was the best I have heard in my setup, ever! The whole multi-channel audio landscape was wide, deep, dynamic, and rich with detail. I was hearing things that I had previously never heard before. And the sound oh the rich sound was smooth and very easy on the ears. DVD-Audio was just as impressive, when I put in Esteban-Enter the Heart, the same sonics and smoothness I experienced from SACD I also experienced from DVD-Audio. I had previously never been too impressed with SACD's/DVD-A, as the sound was just too sterile and digital sounding.
SACD and DVD-A sound through the EXT IN. using the Denon's A/D conversion offers a wonderful sonic experience. If I had to describe the sound I would say that it was almost like listening to tubes. 6 channels of nice warm, silky smooth sound. The sound produced was very intoxicating. I am so impressed with the sound that I am now interested in SACD/DVD-A once again, and will be buying many more SACD's/DVD-A's very soon. So for any of you who own older SACD/DVD-A players that only have analog outs and were curious as to what this Denon could do for your player, rest assured it's awesome! A++++ on the Denon's A/D conversion on the EXT IN.
In conclusion, the Denon AVP-A1HDCI has to be the most fully featured preamp/processor on the planet right now. And while it's learning curve is quite long, and many (myself included) will no doubt get a bit frustrated with setting up this beast of a pre/pro and figuring out all it's many functions, features and settings. Once it's finally setup,calibrated, and adjusted, the sonic attributes of this gem will ultimately win you over. I have to say that Denon has raised the bar very high with it's new preamp. From lossless high def movie soundtracks to 2 channel music to multichannel SACD, the Denon AVP-A1HDCI does all of them effortlessly and gracefully. The Denon is expensive, but well worth the price of admission.