|Denon AVP-A1HDCi AV Preamplifier|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Ken Taraszka, MD|
|Tuesday, 01 July 2008|
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Music and Movies
One of the last things I listened to prior to adding the AVP-A1HDCI to my system was the Yes classic Fragile (Elektra/WEA) on DVD-Audio. This is absolutely one of the best progressive rock albums of all time and one of the best-sounding DVD-Audio discs in my collection. I used the Denon 5910 player via the D-Link III connector for this album and it didn’t let me down. The opening track “Roundabout” had excellent balance and energy. There was a slight accentuation of the upper frequencies, but it was in no way harsh. The strings were clear, yet lacked a bit of the weight and separation that they had in my reference Meridian system, though this combo cost less than a third of that system’s price. The energy and surround effect of the song were wonderful and bass had a solid depth to it without getting blurred or muddy. The opening of “South Side of the Sky,” with the closing door and footsteps was great. Then the drums kicked in with power and authority. The delicate details of “Heart of the Sunrise” stayed distinct and contrasted well with the more intense passages, making the song a joy to hear.
In keeping with the Yes theme, I loaded up Yes: Live at Montreux (Eagle Rock Entertainment) on HD DVD. This disc has Dolby Digital + and DTS HD High Resolution Audio. Both of these codecs offer twice the bandwidth of conventional Dolby Digital or DTS, and the benefits were clearly audible. Switching back and forth, I found that I slightly preferred the DTS HD track, as it offered better air and separation and gave a more natural tone to the instruments, but the difference was subtle. “Clap” had a great openness; Chris Squires’ Rickenbacker bass seemed true to life, while the drums filled the soundstage with rhythm. The delicate strings at the beginning of “I’ve Seen All Good People” were crisp with perfect attack and decay. While Steve Howe looked a bit like your aged grandmother in this video, he played the song to a T. The rest of the band joined in and each instrument was clearly portrayed; you could just feel the energy from the crowd and the band. The band closed the show with “Roundabout” and this song really shone through this combo. Yes has aged, but if you close your eyes listening to this disc, you wouldn’t know you weren’t back in the 1970s.
I listened to a lot of two-channel discs during my time with the Denon AVP, fed from the Denon 5910CI via Denon D-Link III and the analog inputs. When I used the D-Link, the sound was very pleasant and only had the slightest enhancement to the highs. Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble’s debut Texas Flood (Sony) on stereo SACD was lively and fun, but did show a bit of edge up top. Some of this is the recording, but there was also a lack of separation that I didn’t have with the DVD 5910 or my Meridian 861v4. This was especially noticeable on the jam “Testify” and “Texas Flood.” I continued to hear the slight accentuation and edge in the upper end, particularly with older recordings, such as Blind Faith’s self-titled album (Polydor). “Can’t Find My Way Home” is a classic tune and, while the recording isn’t the best, it was brighter than I am used to through the AVP, both via the analog and Denon’s own D-Link III connection. When using the music server with totally uncompressed tracks, I found a similar sound. The added convenience of WiFi and ease of set-up of the music server function was huge and one I’ve never seen in a pre/pro before. Denon must be praised for adding it to their new reference gear. It is to be hoped others will follow suit and add Mac support.
I had been so busy going through all the features in the Denon, and so happy to be able to fully exploit the new audio codecs of HD DVD and Blu-ray, that I had to remind myself to listen to a standard DVD. I went to an all-time favorite, Fight Club (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment). The surround from the AVP was very good and the famous scene where Tyler finds his animal, a penguin, had wonderful echoes and really gave you the feeling of being in a cave. I can’t wait for this disc to come out on Blu-ray so I can hear how it will sound with uncompressed audio, because after spending weeks with all the new codecs, plain old Dolby Digital sounded soft and somewhat compressed. I am not saying that the AVP did a bad job with the soundtrack – it did a great job – but once you hear what the new codecs can do for your home theater, you won’t be able to do without them.
I also took this opportunity to test the internal scaler of the AVP. I chose the component video, as none of the DVD players I own output 480i over HDMI, and I wanted the Denon AVP’s video circuitry to be the only processing the signal saw. The scaled video was excellent on this and on my cable channels. Though not as good as native 1080p, it greatly improved lesser video. The scaler also immediately recognized the native rate of any TV to which it was connected.
To further test the scaler, I popped in The Fifth Element (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) on Superbit in my Toshiba HD XA2 and ran the HDMI video output at 480p, its lowest setting. The scaling from the AVP was excellent, and though it didn’t get the first pass at the native 480i SD DVD output, it was tough to tell. In fact, on my 70-inch Sony KDS R70XBR2, it was the same as when the HD XA2 did all the scaling to 1080p. This is quite a feat, given how good the XA2 is at scaling video.
This is the first AV preamp I have had in my reference system that could decode every new audio codec on HD DVD and Blu-ray, so I quickly set about trying them. I first went to the HD DVD of Inside Man (Universal Studios Home Video), with the Dolby True HD bitstream from my Toshiba XA2 feeding the Denon. Well, if you haven’t heard the new uncompressed audio codecs, you are sorely missing out. Every minute detail, from the tapping of shoes on stairs to the massive width of the soundstage of the strings and piano in the background, were precise and rendered with incredible detail and separation. Explosions are one of the most heavily used demos for a home theater and, while they show off dynamics and subwoofers, after hearing the increased clarity of an uncompressed codec, I think we will see people getting away from such demos. I found that being able to clearly hear and almost feel the actor’s hand sliding down a rail or the breeze softly blowing by in the background made the movie truly seem real, and the Denon AVP made for the best rendition of a movie soundtrack in my reference rig to date. Yes, explosions and gunshots rang true, but I was more impressed by the subtle nuances that came through clearer than I had ever heard before.
I spent time with the tuner and HD radio of this unit. I hate to say it, but the components of my reference rig are surrounded by brick and concrete, so the tuner had its work cut out for it. I was able to adjust the antennas to receive all my local stations and, when they were available in HD, it was clearly better, though I never found a good way to A-B regular radio to HD with this preamp.