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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I think I've finally got enough time under my belt with the Denon AVP-A1HDCI preamplifier to offer up a bit of a review.
Some background first;
I'm not an "audiophile" at least not in the strictest sense of the word, I'm more what I'd call a "hobbyist", because I've always approached my gear changes from the "best bang for the buck" perspective first. I certainly don't have a "golden ear" at least not to the point where listening to or critiquing the equipment takes precedence over enjoying the material.
I've been in this hobby since the early seventies so I've had a lot of gear through those years starting with budget stuff and I've bought and sold my way up into the "higher" end over the last four or five years. Obviously I started from two channel vinyl background but I embraced CD's the instant they came out. It didn't take too long before my hobby morphed and I got into multi-channel for both music and movies. Somewhere along my travels I came across AVS Forum and this site and that's when the real AV education began. Probably the best investment I've made for my system over the years is the time I've spent in the AVS Forum "Audio theory, Setup and Chat" section. It never ceases to amaze me when see I pictures of super high end gear in barren acoustical nightmare rooms - what a waste. It's like driving a Ferrari on a gravel road. If you're reading this with interest in the AVP and haven't spent some time to learn at least the basics on room acoustics/treatments, you're really doing yourself a disservice.

My HT is in a dedicated room with the best DIY acoustical treatments I could come up with given the space and budget I had to work with, I used a room mode calculating program to determine the best length given the fixed width of the space. My speakers are Paradigm Signature S4's, C3 and ADP surrounds and a temporary pair of Infinity RS35's in the back. The amp powering them is a modified PS Audio GCA MC (500w X 3 & 125w X 4) and my main music/movie sources are the Denon DVD-3930ci and Panasonic BD30 Blu Ray player. If you want to know about streaming audio or analog capabilities you'll have to read elsewhere, I'm using HDMI Toslink and Denon Link only. For subs I run a pair of DIY Rythmik Audio 12" servo sealed subs and a line array infinite baffle sub with four 15" drivers. Here's a couple of pics;

Other front ends I've had of note before the AVP were the Yamaha RX-Z9 & SMS-1, the NAD M15 & Audyssey SEQ and most recently the Integra DTC 9.8. My musical tastes are quite varied but I do have a preference for blues based guitarists. I probably spend music listening sessions evenly divided between CD's, SACD/DVD-A, and live concert DVD's. I would have to say I probably enjoy the last medium the most and I can see that increasing as more Blu Ray material in DTS HD MA becomes available from artists I enjoy. I've got over 400 LP's from days gone by that I plan to revisit at some point, but just haven't gotten around to hooking up my turntable for a few years now.

I've become a big Audyssey fan over the last few years, I was impressed enough with it when I had the Denon 4306 as a stop-gap before I bought the NAD Master Series M15 that I dropped the coin on Audyssey's stand alone SEQ to run with the NAD. I also bought the Pro kit and registered as an installer. The relevance is that I'm a firm believer that accurate bass brings the whole sound-field into focus the same way focusing a projector lens does to an image. I found with inaccurate bass that finer details and the "naturalness" of instruments and vocals got lost to a certain degree. The quest for great bass led me to a variety of EQ's both automatic and manual and in those travails I found I could do no better than what Audyssey did in my application, and thankfully it didn't require much brainpower on my part. The on-board Audyssey Pro and HBR processing of the Integra DTC 9.8 is what made me switch out the NAD & SEQ. Had the M15 been able to do HDMI audio and HBR decoding I wouldn't be writing this review, it was that good combined with the SEQ.

My experience with the SEQ and NAD M15 really brought into question all the hype that 2ch purists spout about EQ being some kind of blasphemy. I was blown away by the 2ch performance of this combo, the walls of my room literally disappeared and I was enveloped in sound almost equivalent to 5.1ch SACD. By comparison the 9.8 was incredibly close but with 2ch never quite got there for me, however with multi channel music and movies it really shined. I think it was the L/R/LFE three sub configuration that I run that didn't give the 9.8 a fair shake in 2ch. I used passive high pass filters on the L/R XLR outs and ran the subs off the RCA outs so Audyssey had to work with the best I could do to blend them with my mains using REW and the subs' controls. With the NAD/SEQ I used the speaker level inputs of the subs and their x-overs and I think the added resolution of the SEQ was better able to cope with my ability to tweak the set-up.

So that was all a long winded way of saying why the three sub output with the ability to configure them legitimately as L/R/LFE and have the Audyssey Pro EQ them all independently was a major calling card of Denons' AVP in my books. Add to that two simultaneous operating HDMI outputs with HQV Realta Teranex processing, HBR decoding and fully balanced independent L/R architecture plus a whole host of other features and it just sounded too good to pass up.

It took almost two months for the AVP to arrive after I ordered it, but it was worth the wait. On arrival the sheer size of it is the first thing one notices, the Integra was bigger than the M15 and the Denon dwarfs them both, at nearly 70lbs the AVP is a beast. While the front face plate is pretty much "receiver" looking, the rest of the unit just oozes build quality. It has a very sturdy chassis, with a feel that seems built to support the weight with ease. It has a well thought out rear panel that confirms the separate L/R architecture mentioned above. Hooking it up was a breeze and the preliminary set up was not unlike any other pre-pro or receiver I've had. The GUI is exceptional and makes up for Denons' less than perfect manual.

Eager to get it up and running I just ran the on-board Audyssey XT in 8 positions and switched the crossovers to what I know works well in my room. I'd have to say I was somewhat concerned with what I first heard. It was a very utilitarian sound common with most of the mid-priced receivers I'd heard a bit too forward and dare I say bright. Since it had been a while since I'd had my ICEpower amps on, which I find take a while to warm up and for some reason that time seems proportionate to how long they've been powered off, I didn't panic and just put the sat pvr on a music channel in PLIIx and let it run for almost two days. I'm sure most of you have read something about "burn in time" for electronics and it's a hotly debated topic which I don't want to get into but for whatever reason - be it the ICEpower amps or the AVP - I returned to a much more refined sound. It still wasn't on par with what I'd been able to accomplish with past gear though, but I could tell there was something better lurking.

Time to break out the heavy artillery; the Audyssey Pro kit. The Pro Kit has a high quality calibrated mic and pre-amp along with software that runs on a laptop or PC. The mic/pre-amp plugs into the front L Aux input on the AVP and the laptop connects via the #1 RS232 input on the back. You have to purchase a license key for each unit you want to calibrate and I had purchased that key a couple of days after ordering the AVP so I was good to go. The Pro software is capable of up to 32 measurements. My HT is a six seater in two rows and is fairly narrow at only 13.5' and 32 would be overkill so I usually do around 12 to 14 with some extra weighting to my sweet spot. I ended up running it twice because I didn't check the speaker levels it set the first time and didn't realize it had dropped my IB sub to -12db which is as low as it can set it and every other speaker to at least -6db. The end result of that wasn't close to what I was after. I turned the sub's volume down and re ran it. Finally I got the results I was after and the AVP was sounding as I had hoped.

This is the part where reviewers will usually run through their various reference CD's, SACD's, DVD's and Blu Ray's and wax poetic about how the gear sounds with each format, using adjectives I really find redundant after reading so many reviews. I'm going to keep this short and sweet. It doesn't matter what media I play through the AVP, it is the best sounding front end I've yet heard, or had in my system. Two channel with HDMI is extremely good but using Denon Link from the 3930 just kicks it up a notch. Where the M15/SEQ combo had a totally enveloping sound in 2ch the Denon does the same but with a bit more separation between the instruments which also gives the perception of more top end definition. I could pretty much repeat this with every format. I haven't mentioned the bass yet, but let's just say it's also the best I've been able to achieve in my room, the three sub output has proved to be the asset I thought it would be. Simply put, it sounds exceptional.

The video processing of this thing is excellent, all images are pristine with excellent color rendition. Upscaling 480i over HDMI to 1080p works as good as anything I've yet seen, and having the processor and volume display on has no ill affect on the picture that I can discern. Plus it's the first processor I've had that made an appreciable difference with SD TV content.

In summary, I think I've finally found the pre-pro to end upgraditis for the foreseeable future. I seriously doubt that if there was something better sounding out there that I would be able to hear or appreciate the difference. With the AVP, I now have a front end that does everything I want flawlessly, has every feature I covet, and sounds as good I could possibly ask for. I've just skimmed the surface of what this thing can do and maybe now that I'm not going to be spending as much time looking over my shoulder for the next best thing I can hook up my turntable! You might ask if the product merits the price, well, to me it does.
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