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February
2001

Reviewed by
Jeff Fritz
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2001


Denon
AVR-5800 Audio/Video
Receiver

Features SnapShot!

Description

Price: $3800 USD

Dimensions: 17.1"W x 8.5"H x 19.15"D
Weight: 62 pounds

Warranty: One year parts and labor

Features

  • Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic,
  • DTS, DTS Extended Surround Discrete 6.1, DTS ES Matrix 6.1, DTS Neo:6 Cinema, and Neo:6 Music Matrix
  • Lucasfilm Home THX Cinema 4.0 and 5.1 post-processing
  • THX Surround EX decoding
  • THX Ultra Certified
  • Dual Analog Devices SHARC 32 bit floating point DSP processors

Features (continued)
  • 24-bit, 96KHz A/D conversion
  • Analog Devices AD-1853 24-bit, 192kHz DACs
  • Pure Audio Mode, features four DACs per audio channel in dual-differential mode
  • Eight sets composite and S-video inputs, three sets component video inputs
  • One AC-3 RF digital input for laser disc
  • Two sets of 7.1 external inputs for future multichannel formats
  • Nine assignable digital inputs
  • 13 analog inputs
  • Built-in AM/FM tuner
  • Multi-Zone capability
  • RS-232C port for external controller
  • IEEE 1394 Firewire prepared DSP section and interface panel
  • AKTIS RC-8000 LCD touchpanel remote with Charger/RF Base Station

The Denon AVR-5800 is priced at $3800 and weighs almost 65 pounds. These facts alone blur the line between a high-value component that combines several functions to save space and money and separate components that offer a clear advantage in terms of sound quality. The AVR-5800 is not a typical receiver; it has much higher aspirations. It was designed to be the centerpiece of a high-end home theater without making apologies for not being separates. Does it succeed on all accounts? In most cases it does, and in some it even appears to be close to the top rung. Either way, it seems the home-theater market is changing much the way the high-end-audio market adapted with the comeback of the integrated amplifier, now as "high end" as separates.

Processing

The features included with the AVR-5800 are dizzying. I will not attempt to sort through them all, as it would quickly consume the entire review without getting to actual performance. There are, though, some particular processing modes that are useful and add to the day-to-day functionality of the unit. DTS Neo:6 has proven to me that there is a surround-sound processing format that can be used to enhance the performance of some two-channel music CDs. This is an important step forward in the functionality of a home-theater system in my opinion, because you really don’t have to always have multichannel software to utilize surround sound. In a direct comparison, I found DTS Neo:6 to be superior to Dolby Pro Logic on all accounts. I could not get comfortable with Pro Logic due to what I perceived as degraded overall sound quality, but the DTS format seems to let the fidelity of the front channels coexist with the added ambiance of surround speakers. Although I still enjoy pure two-channel listening for much of my musical fare, I did employ the DTS Neo:6 Music Mode for quite a few of my live CDs. The enhanced sense of space and envelopment overcame the occasional sonic drawbacks associated with any processing. Speaking of pure two-channel sound, the Denon handles that well also, as you will read.

The other mode that appealed to me was Pure Direct. In this configuration, the video-display circuitry is disabled and the DACs are used in a dual-differential configuration -- four per channel. This is Denon’s attempt at ultimate fidelity with the AVR-5800. The verdict? It is very good indeed. I would say that it is very competitive with entry-level separates featuring a power amplifier and preamp each in the $1000+ price range. It became even more interesting when I used the Pure Direct mode and the pre-out connections to an external power amplifier. The combination of the Denon and the Citation 7.1 was startlingly good considering the price. With the added gusto of an external power amp, the AVR-5800’s performance reached a level of transparency I would not have thought possible with a receiver. I would suspect most audiophiles could be quite happy with a dual-purpose setup like this.

Setting up for surround

In my particular system, I needed some flexibility in setup configurations. I got most, if not all, of what I was looking for. Although I used a number of speaker systems for purposes of this review, my main system features Wilson Audio X-1 Grand SLAMM Series III speakers and XS subwoofer. It would be completely counterproductive to cross over the X-1s to the XS at 80Hz, thereby wasting the bass potential of the mighty X-1s. In fact, in my system, it is warranted to treat the X-1s as additional subwoofers, in effect creating a three-subwoofer array. The Denon AVR-5800 allows me to configure the mains to act in this fashion with what Denon calls "LFE + Main" playback mode. In this configuration, the main speakers are fed the low frequencies just as the subwoofer is, allowing a smoother room response throughout the bass range. I must say that this worked beautifully in my system, allowing the three speakers to combine bass output. This has little relevance in my system to absolute driving ability, because the XS certainly can drive a room (or shopping mall) by itself, but it does help achieve uniformity in loading the room.

There is one area where the functionality of the AVR-5800 could be improved, and that is the inability to select crossover frequencies. For music listening, with some of the other speaker systems I used, it would have been helpful to select a lower crossover frequency. With some subwoofers, it is simply not sonically warranted to have them play music up to 80Hz, which is the THX specification for movies. What I would suggest, even if Denon wanted to leave the movie crossover frequency alone, is to allow variable crossovers depending on the type of mode or input used. I would like to see, for example, 80Hz for movies, but then user-adjustable and storable frequencies when playing CDs.

Overall, I would say that the Denon AVR-5800 is fairly straightforward in setup and has good user interface. It does not completely configure itself -- we’re not quite at that point yet -- but it does allow you to learn its many functions and begin watching movies over the course of a long afternoon.

Sonic character

The Denon AVR-5800 is completely at home playing two-channel music. It is surprisingly powerful, with full-power bass reaching down seemingly to the lower reaches of the speaker systems I used. It does not lack for punch in two-channel mode, with the available power from its 1200W power supply completely capable of supplying wallop when called upon. The midrange is clear and relaxed with no hardening of vocals, either male or female. Diana Krall’s When I Look Into Your Eyes [Verve IMPD-304] was creamy and smooth, the way this performance by her is recorded. The only area that is notably inferior to a good power amp/preamp combination is the upper treble, which is contaminated slightly by the noise floor. I don’t want to overstate this because the sound is on a par with many separate combinations, but compared to a great setup like the Coda 04r preamp and Model 11 amp, the AVR-5800 is not quite as pristine in the upper reaches.

By and large, the sonic character of the Denon approached neutrality. It is not perfect, of course, with the noted high-frequency masking by the noise floor, but is very good indeed. From what I have heard from receivers in the past, the Denon AVR-5800 is a notch above what we high-enders would call mid-fi. In fact it really defies pigeonholing due to its performance, except to say that we have a new breed of super-receiver upon us, and I have a feeling the landscape will never look the same again. I feel confident in saying that all but the most hard-to-please audiophile will find the Denon a capable music component.

The main event: movies!

The Denon AVR-5800 was created for the ultimate in movie surround, so it is not surprising that this is where it excels. Feed it a digital signal from your source and the intelligent AVR-5800 will configure the appropriate processing mode using an auto sensor. Gladiator is stunning with its DTS soundtrack and musical score by Hans Zimmer. The movie begins with a hauntingly intense battle scene. The expertly mixed soundtrack sets the stage with an explosive combination of arrows passing overhead, catapulting fireballs, and horse hooves pounding the ground. The AVR-5800 sounded utterly unflappable, giving me the whole scene in a totally realistic manner. It is hard to fault the performance in a scene like this unless there is a noticeable discontinuity of sound or an inability to handle the power demands of your system. I could not put my finger on anything the Denon receiver was doing wrong. Bass was strong and ultra-low where called for. The dialogue was clear and full-bodied with appropriate speakers, and the highs were detailed and crisp. The quieter scenes where the musical score is highlighted revealed good clarity and precise imaging. Again, this could be improved upon somewhat with the same scene played back with the addition of an external amplifier such as the Citation 7.1. The lowering of the noise floor did unmask a more pristine top end, but this is really being picky and had very little overall effect.

M:i-2 is another Hans Zimmer-driven masterpiece. The musical score and the surround effects are combined for one of the most well-balanced soundtracks around. It would be all too easy for a component to lose its touch with vocals while all the effects are happening. The Denon AVR-5800 produced the myriad of sounds while maintaining dialog intelligibility and good musical imaging. The M:i-2 soundtrack is also one of the smoother around, making it a great test piece for an amplifier. I really heard no confusion or congestion in this, a sonic cornucopia. There is little harshness or brightness to be found. This makes you want to play the movie loud, and the AVR-5800 did this without adding fatigue-inducing distortion at whatever level I was listening.

Power comparison and common sense

There really should be little difference in processing quality from receiver to receiver, although some variation is certainly present. The even larger issue with many of today’s receivers is the quality of the power-amplifier section. With the number of channels offered by many of the top models today, it is painfully obvious that one important limiting factor in receivers is the amplifier section. Of course, receiver manufacturers have recognized this and given us pre-outs for connection to external amplifiers, but given the $3800 price tag of the Denon AVR-5800, one would expect a more than competent power amp.

Peering through the top cover of the 5800, you will see a large centrally located toroidal transformer and two 33,000-microfarad capacitors. A good sign indeed! The Denon delivers an abundant amount of real-world power for all but the most power-hungry systems. To give you an example, driving the Silverline Corona II in stereo mode, it was hard to note much difference in sound versus the Citation 7.1/Denon combination. Adding in the SR-16 surrounds and the Center Stage II was no problem either. In fact, I even pushed the system a little further than normal, trying to determine if the AVR-5800 would shut down under a heavy load, but I could not get to that point before I felt that my hearing and the speaker system were reaching their respective limitations. There is a limit to everything, though, and I would recommend that if you have a passive subwoofer or very difficult main speakers, you should consider an external amp if you are utilizing a complex system. I have no hard evidence to support this other than common sense. Keeping an amplifier within its comfort zone, however, will yield better fidelity and a longer life span. The bottom line, though, is that the Denon AVR-5800 is a powerhouse by almost any measure and could only be improved upon slightly with the addition of an external amplifier.

Conclusion

The Denon AVR-5800 offers the home-theater buff an impressive package. It has an excellent power-amp section, all the current processing modes one would likely need, and a good user interface that includes the AKTIS RC-8000 LCD touchscreen remote control. Your $3800 buys you one of the most advanced and capable components of its type. If cost is no object, you can get some additional features from separates such as balanced outputs, even more power, and an adjustable crossover, but this would cost quite a bit more than the AVR-5800 and not insure the owner of the excellent user interface and seamless performance this unit offers. I have no problem in giving a hearty endorsement to the Denon powerhouse, and would consider it a reference piece for home-theater processing and stand-alone receivers.

Review System
Speakers - Wilson Audio X-1 Grand SLAMM III, Cub II, Watch Center, XS subwoofer; EdgeAudio 502D speaker system; Silverline Audio Corona II, Center Stage II, SR-16 surrounds
Amplifiers - Citation 7.1, Coda 04r and Model 11
Sources - Pioneer DV606D DVD player
Cables - JPS Labs speaker cables, Apature interconnects, Audio Alchemy digital cable
Monitor - Sony WEGA FD Trinitron direct-view
 

Manufacturer contact information

Denon Electronics Ltd.
19 Chapin Road
P.O. Box 867
Pine Brook NJ 07058-9777
Phone: (973) 396-0810
Fax: (973) 396-7459

Website: http://www.denon.com/

 


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