Denon AVR-4806 7.1-Channel Receiver 
Home Theater AV Receivers AV Receivers
Written by Andrew Robinson   
Thursday, 01 December 2005

Introduction
There is a short list of manufacturers that come to mind when you’re considering building a high-end home theater on a budget, and Denon has to be close to the top of the list. With product offerings in just about every price range, the one word that has never been equated with Denon is “average.” While some high-end purists may balk at the idea of a receiver, Denon’s line-up has always performed above and beyond the masses and has done so in a very matter-of-fact sort of way, making many people ponder the need for separate components.

The AVR-4806 7.1 THX Ultra2 Certified receiver is the latest offering from Denon to challenge the idea that a receiver-based home theater can’t be state of the art. Retailing for $3,500, the AVR-4806 isn’t Denon’s flagship receiver. That title falls to the massive AVR-5805. However, I’ve seen many “flagship” receivers from other manufacturers that don’t begin to touch the AVR-4806’s lists of features and performance. Out of the box, the AVR-4806 is quite large at a little over 17 inches wide by seven inches tall and almost 20 inches deep. Be sure to brace yourself, because the AVR-4806 tips the scales at a whopping 52 pounds. Clearly, catchphrases like “lifestyle” or “mini” do not apply here. The AVR-4806 sports an attractive semi-gloss black finish (also available in silver) from stem to stern and the faceplate is fairly barren in terms of controls. In fact, minus the two large dials that control function and volume, the AVR-4806 has only nine small buttons visible on its face. If you’re searching for manual controls, you’ll find them neatly hidden behind the large aluminum faceplate just below the AVR-4806’s FLD (Fluorescent) display. Along with the on-dash controls, there is also a set of composite audio and video inputs, as well as an optical input for digital audio signals and lastly a headphone jack if you don’t feel like pissing off the neighbors. This would be a good place to point out the auto set-up microphone input that is used in conjunction with the supplied microphone and Audyssey MultEQ for room EQ software. The AVR-4806 isn’t the first receiver of its kind to feature an auto set-up program. However, it is probably the most complete incarnation of it that I’ve seen yet. Turning my attention to the display, the AVR-4806 has one that is rather large but not too imposing visually. It provides adequate space to display all of the AVR--4806’s numerous functions and when you’re satisfied with your settings, it can also be turned off or defeated so it does not impose on your movie-watching experience.

You might want to take a deep breath before moving on to the rear of the AVR-4806, because it’s quite an eyeful and can easily become a bit overwhelming. Thumbs up to Denon for making the best of what could be a very messy situation. First off, and most notably, are the binding posts, all 10 of them. They’re of the five-way variety and in theory can accept anything from bare wire to spades. However, they do have a little plastic “box” around the base which does make it tricky if not impossible to use your spade-terminated cables. Also, the binding posts flank either side of the AVR-4806’s rear, which is very common in receivers in this price class. They can also help in reducing cable clutter. Focusing on the center of the AVR-4806, you first come across its DVI and HDMI inputs. For starters, it has three assignable HDMI inputs, as well as one DVI input, but the digital monitor out falls to single HDMI output, which means those of us with DVI needs will be forced to invest in an adapter. Residing directly below the digital video inputs are the standard component video inputs and outputs. Again, all are assignable by the user, who will have three inputs to choose from, as well as two monitor outs. I’ve yet to come across another receiver with two component monitor outs. I found the second monitor out to be a nice feature, as I often use a smaller LCD screen to help with set-up menus. Rounding out the remaining video input/outputs, the AVR-4806 has a total of 13, comprised of both composite and S-video options. It’s important to point out that not only will the AVR-4806 do full video switching, it will also convert your composite signal to either component or HDMI, depending on how you choose to set it up.

Switching over to the audio side of things, the AVR-4806 has a total of 12 standard RCA inputs, as well as a built-in phono stage, bringing the total to 14. I especially liked the addition of a phono stage, since I rarely get the opportunity to connect and listen to my turntable during my receiver reviews. The AVR-4806 can also be used as a pre-amp/processor to an outboard amplifier via its 7.1 pre-amp outputs. As for its multi-channel capabilities, the AVR-4806 can accommodate everything from analog SACD signals via its 5.1 channel inputs to digital multi-channel inputs via its seven optical and three coaxial inputs. The AVR-4806 also boasts a Denon Link input that simplifies things considerably if you’re using a Denon DVD player for your digital audio needs. However, if you’re not going to be pairing the AVR-4806 with another Denon product, but your current player features an IEEE 1394, output then you’re in luck, because the AVR-4806 has two IEEE 1394 inputs. There are also several options for various radio antennas, as well as an input for an XM satellite radio antenna. Regarding the AVR-4806’s XM capabilities, you’ll have to purchase a separate third party antenna ($49.99), which can be found at most major electronics stores, and then subscribe to XM’s monthly service ($12.95 per month) before being able to take advantage of this tasty little feature. If you’re at all into sports radio or just music in general, then I consider XM to be less of a feature and more of a necessity.

The AVR-4806 also has 3 source/3 Zone capability and can play networked audio via an Ethernet port from a PC with Windows Media Player 10 or from devices that support DLNA such as the Escient FireBall, Roku or Sonos. An RS-232 connection allows for interaction with 3rd party controllers.

Lastly, the AVR-4806 has a detachable power cord, as well as three AC outlets and an Ethernet connection to facilitate future upgrades.

Under the hood, the AVR-4806 has 7.1 channels of raw horsepower at its disposal, with a rated output of 140 watts into eight ohms across the board. As for processing, the AVR-4806 supports THX, THX Ultra Surround EX, THX Ultra2, Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic IIx, DTS, DTS ES, DTS NEO 6, Dolby headphone and HDCD.

Which brings me to the remote. I’m very critical of remotes, because most of them suck. The AVR-4806 remote, I’m happy to say, is an exception to the rule. Primarily a touch-screen remote, it features two large, easy to navigate panels that become completely backlit when, get this, you pick it up. When the remote is jostled, even a little, it springs to action with controls easy enough to see in any light and laid out in such a way you can forget about needing a manual to understand them. Based on initial impressions, the remote may already be worth half the AVR-4806’s asking price in the eyes of this reviewer. Hey, when I find a remote that feels like someone who actually had to use it has designed it, I pay attention.

Set-up
The AVR-4806 took the place of the recently-reviewed Harman Kardon AVR-7300 as the big dog on my rack. While still quite large, it was a lot easier to maneuver than its Harman contemporary. Next I connected my Denon 3910 universal player via the Denon Link, IEEE 1394 and DVI outputs. To test the AVR-4806’s HD capabilities, I connected my JVC Digital VHS player via its component and optical outputs. With my HDMI to DVI adapter in tow, I connected my Panasonic PT-500U HD LCD projector to the AVR-4806’s HDMI monitor out. Lastly, my Definitive Technology ProCinema 80 system was ready and waiting to handle all of my surround sound and stereo needs.

With that little dance out of the way, it was time for the often-maddening process of calibration. Having just reviewed the Harman Kardon AVR-7300, I was a little skeptical of the AVR-4806’s “automatic” set-up. Wanting to believe in the technology, I gave it a whirl. I unboxed the small UFO-shaped microphone, plugged it into the front of the AVR-4806 and set it atop one of my many camera tripods. By pressing set-up on the remote, the first option you’ll see through the OSD (On Screen Display) is the Auto Set-up. Without consulting the manual, I was able to navigate my way through the process with little trouble. Following the instructions on the screen, I had successfully completed the auto set-up in a little less than 20 minutes. I then checked my results by going over the instructions, as well as manually calibrating the AVR-4806 with very similar results. Once you’ve completed the set-up, there are four EQ settings. First off, there is the highly touted MultEQ setting, which the manufacturer claims provides a higher sense of realism to any environment, based on data inputted from the AVR-4806’s microphone. Next up is a setting called Front, which basically balances out the response from the front and rear speakers and makes them essentially equal. Third on the list is Flat setting, which provides for the smoothest frequency response in the specific room where the AVR-4806 is set up. Lastly, you have a manual option that allows you manually adjust the sound parameters to fit your personal tastes. While the EQ settings will assist in giving you the best possible audio reproduction, they will in no way make up for a poorly designed room or system. In my set-up, I found the Flat setting to be pretty ideal in terms of overall performance and chose to carry out all of my listening tests with it turned on.

Music and Movies
I started my two-channel listening tests with Darren Hayes’s second solo album The Tension and the Spark (Columbia). The once-front man for the highly successful Australian duo Savage Garden, Hayes has managed to carve out a very respectable solo career with his first album Spin and continues to do so with The Tension and the Spark. On the opening track “Darkness,” the AVR-4806 treated me to some of the cleanest high frequencies I’ve heard in my room to date. At first, I thought the highs were a little rolled off, but as the song progressed, I began to realize I had become accustomed to my previous gear. With the highs kept nicely in check, the midrange gained some much needed emphasis and weight. As for the bass, the AVR-4806 was no slouch. It maintained a very tight grip on my subwoofer, providing for a very articulate and weighty performance that on several occasions made me rethink the overall capabilities of my sub in general. Moving on to the track “Dublin Sky,” the AVR-4806 saved Hayes’ vocals once again from sounding overly synthesized while placing some of the more acoustic elements of the song virtually in the room with me. Again, the bass plunged deeper than I had previously experienced, but this time it seemed to lack just a bit of the weight that I had achieved with other receivers. Overall, the AVR-4806 was very dynamic and rhythmic when called upon and, with its 140 watts at the helm, it never ran out of juice. In terms of soundstage, the AVR-4806 tended to favor width over depth, which is consistent with my previous experiences with Denon gear. For me, I’d rather have a soundstage that is well defined, with the appropriate amount of air between the performers, than one that shows off by placing the drummer waaaaay in the back of my room. If I had to make an analogy based on my recent review of the Harman Kardon AVR-7300, I’d equate the Denon AVR-4806 to European roadster, with the Harman Kardon representing a more classic American muscle car.

Moving on to multi-channel music, I focused my attention on the DVD-Audio release of Metallica’s Black Album (Electra). On the opening track, “Enter Sandman,” the AVR-4806 dished out one of the more true to life performances in terms of scale and weight I’ve ever heard. When the drums finally kicked in (and kick in they did), the AVR-4806 punished my chest with truly deep bass. Neighbors be damned, this was one hell of a ride. The cymbals sparkled without a trace of glare and melded beautifully with the screeching guitars. James Hetfield’s vocals were raw and in your face without being over-pronounced or pulling too far away from the rest of the band. When the child’s voice floats in about halfway through the track, the effect was downright eerie. On the track “The Unforgiven,” the opening drum roll appeared from complete blackness and exploded into my room, then quickly faded into nothing. The simple guitar melody was crystal clear and well-defined, allowing me to hear every pluck of the strings. Again, the AVR-4806 struck the appropriate balance between rocking out and not punishing my ears to the point of bleeding. Overall, the AVR-4806 proved to be a jack-of-all-trades, maintaining its focus and musicality amidst the onslaught of heavy metal soup that Metallica has a tendency to dish out.

Turning my attention to movies, I started things off by watching the D-VHS version of director David Fincher’s “Fight Club” (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment). There isn’t a whole lot that needs to be said about this film, outside of the fact that it’s cinematic genius. During the scene where Tyler is laying out the rules of the Fight Club, the AVR-4806 reproduced the damp, inhospitable surroundings of the cellar wonderfully, with the appropriate amount of echo mixed with the feeling of stagnant air. When the men of Fight Club begin to throw down, every punch sprang from the screen as if they were swinging directly at me. The Dust Brothers’ dark score was kept in check again by the AVR-4806’s wonderful bass prowess. In fact, the bass was so taut that I could immediately tell the difference between whether or not the bodies were hitting concrete or the makeshift cardboard mats without ever having to consult the image on my screen. As far as the image, the AVR-4806 passed the information faithfully to my projector without editorializing and/or adding any trace of artifacts. For those of you who have not experienced this film in true HD, I can only say you’re missing out. The black level was terrific through the AVR-4806. The brightest whites weren’t anything to cry about either, never beaming or bleeding into their surroundings the way they can through lesser receivers. What I really appreciated was the AVR-4806’s ability to keep even the minutest details like sweat and small grains of dirt and debris from becoming indecipherable.

Finishing up my review period, I stuck in the newly released “Batman Begins” (Warner Bros. Home Video). Again, the AVR-4806 showcased its ability to recreate true to life spaces. When Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) enters the heart of the Batcave for the first time, the AVR-4806 placed the massive waterfall precisely to my left while allowing all of the screeching bats to swirl effortlessly around my listening position. During the test drive scene, the AVR-4806 balanced the abrupt changes between being inside the Tumbler and outside it with such immediacy it almost became jarring. Every time the Tumbler accelerated forward, the AVR-4806’s sheer horsepower caused not only myself but also my guests to reel back in our chairs as if we were in the passenger seat. When the Tumbler finally came to a halt, the sound traveled around in a true 360-degree arc that began with gut-churning bass, then gave way to the sound of screeching rubber, yet regardless of the frequency or dynamic swings, the AVR-4806 never lost its composure. It was during my time watching “Batman Begins” that I realized that I was quickly running out of speaker, as opposed to running out of power. If you have a slightly larger room like mine, and you’re thinking about purchasing the AVR-4806, you might want to consider floor-standing speakers. I know I am. Turning my attention to the image, the AVR-4806 showed no signs of degradation. During the sword fight on the glacier, the AVR-4806 maintained the steely blue quality of the ice while keeping the characters’ faint reflections apparent in all but the darkest areas of my screen. “Batman Begins” isn’t a film I’d say pushes the envelope in terms of color, but in the scene featuring the mob boss’ club, the rich golden hues were wonderfully saturated without seeming like “Moulin Rouge.” While I consider image quality to ultimately be in the hands of your source components, it’s nice to know that the AVR-4806 isn’t there to rob them of their abilities and if they come up a little short, well, it’s there to lend a helping hand.

The Downside
It’s hard for me to fault the AVR-4806 in terms of sheer performance. However, no product is perfect and there are a few things to keep in mind if you’re considering making the AVR-4806 your next purchase.

First, it is rather large, so make sure you have adequate space to accommodate its substantial size and allow for proper ventilation, since the AVR-4806 can get a touch warm. Next, if you want to take advantage of the easy set-up option, be sure to have a tripod handy. I consider it to be an absolute necessity in aiding in proper calibration.

The rear of the unit, while cleanly laid out, can become a bit jumbled with cables if you’re not careful. It’s not that I want the AVR-4806 to be any larger to allow for more space between connections, but if you’re at all messy with your cables, you might begin to curse the day you were born. While the remote is one of the best I’ve seen in a while, the fact that it does turn on and off rather frequently will cause you to burn through batteries quicker than most. To me, this is a small price to pay for such a thoughtfully designed and easy to use remote.

Lastly, the AVR-4806 is a receiver that I consider to be fairly neutral, which means you’re going to get only what you put into it. More so than most receivers, I’d take special care in selecting your other components. You may find that with the wrong equipment, your experience with the AVR-4806 could be drastically different from the one I’ve just described.

Conclusion
At $3,500, the AVR-4806 isn’t cheap by anyone’s standards. However, if it’s on your list of receivers to audition, you’ll know you’re getting nothing but the very best your money can buy at this price point. With connection options up the ying-yang, the AVR-4806 seems poised to weather the future format wars for years to come. Throw in a truly kick-butt remote and a functional easy set-up feature and the AVR-4806 quickly becomes a no-brainer in getting my highest recommendation. By striking the proper balance between power and performance, the AVR-4806, when set up and mated with the right components, should provide you with some of the most true to life cinematic and musical experiences you can find this side of $5,000 and possibly more.
Manufacturer Denon
Model AVR-4806 7.1-Channel Receiver
Reviewer Andrew Robinson
# of Output Channels 7.1





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