|Denon AVR-988 AV Receiver|
|Home Theater AV Receivers AV Receivers|
|Written by Jim Swantko|
|Sunday, 01 June 2008|
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Before I begin, I must admit that prior to this review, when I last spent any significant time with a receiver as the heart of my audio/video system George W. wasn’t yet in office, although his father was. Yes, it’s been quite a while. Back in the day, all a receiver was expected to do was to pick up a few radio stations, switch a handful of analog two-channel inputs, and amplify them. How hard could that be? Apparently, it was pretty hard, because my memories of receivers are not fond ones. I remember treble best described as painful and bass that was weak and bloated. When I was finally able to afford separates, I did so immediately, forever swearing off the compromises in sound quality I had been forced to make for the convenience and affordability of an all-in-one box.
Fast-forward a few presidential terms, and today’s receivers are asked to do countless additional tasks, which include surround processing, video scaling, lip sync correction, HDMI switching, room correction, iPod and XM radio integration, and supplying power for up to eight speakers. The truly amazing aspect of this is that all of the technology fits into a box that is about the same size as their predecessors.
Denon is not a name that should be new to anyone reading this. Its origins date back to the early 1900s and Denon has since established itself as a producer of very high-quality electronic products. The Denon AVR-988 that I am reviewing falls somewhere in the mid to upper end of Denon’s A/V receiver lineup, with a retail price of $1,199. The list of features the Denon offers is simply staggering and I am not going to even try to list them all, but I will highlight the ones that I think will interest most readers. As I started researching this receiver, I was quickly impressed by some of the features it boasts. Items such as Burr-Brown PCM-1791 24/192 kHz DACs, Faroudja DCDi processing/scaling and Audyssey automatic set-up with room correction were completely unexpected in a receiver in this price range.
Its power is rated at 110 watts into eight ohms, with all seven channels driven. If you already have amplifiers, then you can use it as a stand-alone processor with the pre-amp outputs. The rear panel was well thought-out, although nearly all the real estate was occupied to allow for practically every type of input imaginable. I cannot imagine possibly running out, considering it offers eight sets of analog two-channel inputs, a 7.1 input, three coax and three optical digital inputs, three component video, two HDMI 1.3, an XM input and a bunch of composite and S-video inputs as well. Just for good measure, there are another optical digital, two-channel analog and composite and S-video inputs on the front of the unit, should you need to connect a video camera or similar item. Like I said, if you run out of inputs with the AVR-988, chances are you have too many components and are more than likely going to start a fire due to the electrical draw.
In terms of surround processing power, you will not run out of that, either. The AVR-988 can process Dolby Digital signals with algorithms, including Dolby Digital EX, Pro-LogicIIx Cinema and Music, Digital + and True HD. It can process DTS signals via DTS Surround, DTS Pro-LogicIIx Cinema and Music, Neo:6, ES Matrix6.1, ES Discrete 6.1, DTS 24/96, DTS-HD and DTS-HD Master. If this isn’t enough, the Denon also provides 10 additional DSP modes to make your living room sound like a jazz club, a stadium or whatever else you can imagine. There are a few acronyms that are missing, however, namely THX, HDCD, MP3 and WMA. It isn’t THX-certified and it will not decode HDCDs, MP3 or WMA (Windows Media Audio) files, which may be important if you have a large library of ripped music.
Speaking of ripped music, the AVR-988 also has a host of accessories that make integrating your iPod a snap, including the D-Dock, which allows your Denon remote to control the iPod and also displays the files meta-data on the front of the receiver. There is also an XM radio antenna, which can be added for easy access to non-terrestrial radio, albeit for a small monthly fee.
From a design perspective, the Denon is understated and minimalist. It comes in black and has a large glass display in the center and one large knob on each side. The left knob is multi-functional and can be used to select source, tuning, zone and video output, which lets you keep listening to your audio input while selecting a video source on the fly. I’m using it right now to listen to my CD player and watch TV at the same time. This is nice, since I can configure it without having to go into the receiver’s menu, which is very convenient. In the center under the display is a large flip-down panel that hides the aforementioned extra inputs, as well as several menu item buttons that are accessed only on occasion, or if you happen to lose your remote.
Speaking of remotes, the one supplied by Denon is quite unique. It has all the most common buttons you would expect, neatly arranged and easy to discern, but flip it over and there is an unexpected surprise. A flip-open cover reveals a host of additional buttons that one occasionally needs. I thought this was a great idea and really came in handy during the set-up process. The buttons on the main side are thoughtfully laid out and well contoured to be easily identified by touch. For example, the largest buttons are concave and convex, indicating volume down and up respectively, and are placed right where my thumb lands when holding the remote. This is one of the most ergonomic remotes I’ve used.