|Denon AVR-3802 Receiver|
|Home Theater AV Receivers AV Receivers|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Tuesday, 01 January 2002|
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Operation and Listening Tests
If you are sensible, you set up each input on the unit to "auto" mode, in which it tries (and sometimes fails) to work out what you are giving it to play back. This means that if you place, say, a DTS CD in your player and play it, there is only a momentary burst of noise as it works out what you did. It will correctly choose the DTS or Dolby Digital (or Pro Logic II) decoder when you play back a DVD with a front panel display. LED and on-screen display (if enabled) will tell you that you have done so. At any time, you can manually override the auto decision with various results. You can set your CD player input to Pro Logic II Mode (you could, but you won’t, will you?), or do the same thing to your DBS receiver input (which makes much more sense). You can also use the remote’s "DSP SIMU" button to impose a standard set of horrible (as usual) pretend surround environments on your audio. Their parameters can even be customized. Please do not push this button ever again. You did not buy a nice surround receiver to do this with it. There is a slightly less obnoxious "DTS Neo 6" mode which "expands" stereo sources into six-channel surround, but I did not have enough speakers to try this (or the full DTS ES mode).
In fact, you can customize quite a few aspects of this unit. You can fiddle with the dialogue normalization level in Dolby Digital if you can’t hear the dialogue well enough. You can squash the dynamic range when watching action movies late at night. And you can configure the level of the LFE channel on replay of Dolby Digital or DTS sources (i.e., not bass management, but the amount of that ".1" channel that comes in from the player). There are even tone controls, but I never found it necessary to use them.
For test material, I started with Alan Parsons' stunning On Air DTS CD. This is a wonderful piece of surround production by a true master who has been doing surround mixing even longer than I have. The album sounds exquisite on this receiver, particularly when driven at respectable listening levels. I did notice one strange thing though: playing back one of the instrumentals, I was messing with the "LFE" And "LFE+Main" settings and noticed that I was hearing some distortion in the surrounds. Putting my ear to the speakers, I noticed that they were trying to replay the significant bass part, despite being configured as "small." This points to a bug in the bass management system, which needs to be examined. Apart from this, the unit behaved flawlessly, with plenty of power on high-level transients, especially at the bass end.
One thing naturally led to another and I played the DTS CD and DVD-A versions of Toy Matinee, one of my favorite rock test records. The DVD-A version is definitely at its most impressive here, with very clean and crisp highs and plenty of nicely-defined impact in the low end. Next, it was over to the SACD player. Being in a holiday mood, I checked out a ridiculous arrangement of "Hark The Herald Angels Sing" from the delicious Mormon Tabernacle Christmas SACD on Telarc. This is also extremely impressive, and so is the Telarc "Symphonie Fantastique," pointing out clearly the somewhat overenthusiastic brass section. The Chesky "Swing Live" SACD delivered an excellent surround picture. This disc uses a surround technology that gives it markedly superior inter-speaker imaging over conventional 5.1, and it sounds better than I have ever heard it before on this system.
The remote control for this unit needs a rethink in several areas, all of which have been detailed in this review. In my view, however, you really need a programmable remote these days, such as the Philips Pronto. I noticed that there is a setup for the Denon AVR-3802 online, which I immediately downloaded and used in preference to the remote. It took only about five minutes to edit my macros to incorporate it fully into my system.
Returning to the matter of the apparent bug in the bass management system, I was only able to find it in DTS mode. The setup system is a little unintuitive at times. One coax digital input is enough for my personal needs, but I wonder if it is sufficient for everyone. TOSLink is a common digital interlink, but it suffers excessive jitter if the cable length is too long. Coax will provide better interconnect performance.
I enjoyed having the Denon AVR-3802 in my system for the time it was installed, and I rather wish I could have held on to it. I particularly liked its transient handling and input flexibility. It is also one of the few units currently available that supports surround systems beyond 5.1, and if you have somewhere to put the speakers, more is better with current surround sound practice. With a suggested retail price of $1,199, this is certainly good value for money, considering the gutsy PSU. The impressive transformer (if you think this is big, you should see the top of the line) makes the unit fairly weighty and gives the power amps the ability to drive heavy bass and transients without taking a breath (or getting particularly hot in my case, with eight ohm speakers). If you get a Pronto or similar remote for a modern system, this system will perform with extreme credibility. In fact, when my neighbor came over to watch the DVD of Jeff Buckley Live in Chicago with me (an excellent disc, with a well-mixed 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack), she commented that my audio system sounded "truly awesome." As she is a regular recording musician used to studio playback systems, this was compliment enough. Then again, she hasn’t been over to Jerry Del Colliano’s place.