November 21, 2010
Audio/video receivers play an indispensable role in many home theaters, they act as the central hub; routing, decoding and processing audio/video signals and providing the amplification for the surround channels. Receivers have come a long way since the days of routing s-video and matrixed surround sound. Today’s AVR’s, handle 1080p video, process high bit-rate digital audio, perform complex video processing, and many newer models even incorporate networked audio, DLNA servers and much more. They truly are the heart of a good home theater. Rumors of the AVR’s demise are greatly exaggerated, at least in dedicated home theaters. I do have to admit products like the Denon S-5BD are intriguing for secondary rooms but ahem, back to the topic at hand.
I’ve wanted to upgrade my receiver for some time now but that pesky lil economic downturn kept getting in the way. I felt like it might be best to wait for a good deal to present itself and.. oh what the hell is this? A new Denon AVR-3310CI for less than $600? I jumped at the chance, and I’m glad I did. Was it risky to take a chance on a receiver sight unseen, unheard rather? Yes, but as it turned out it was well worth it. The reason I say risky is that some of the early 3310CI’s suffered from network and firmware issues that proved to be rather frustrating for some users. Those early production models have most likely been exhausted from the retail supply chain for some time, however.
Ok, that brings us to the next question. Why not a 2011 model, aka the xx11CI series like a 3311CI? This was a case where I had to buy the features I needed over the features I wanted. The 2010 AVR-3310CI model has 5 HDMI inputs and 3 component inputs whereas the 2011 AVR-3311CI has 6 HDMI inputs and 2 component inputs. I’m sure one day in the future I’ll be able to get by with 2 component inputs but I’m just not quite there yet. I also have no pressing need for HDMI 1.4 yet (on the 2011 models) as I’m sitting out the whole 3D craze for the foreseeable future. So it really just boiled down to the 3310CI having the features I needed at a price I could afford, versus the 3311CI having some features I wanted at a price that I wasn’t prepared to spend.
Initial Thoughts: Before we get started, I want to point out the Denon AVR-3310CI originally listed for $1,499.00 and can now be found at Amazon for $567.80 (as of 11/21/10) and I’m going to recommend it at the end of this review. I just thought it was worth pointing that out before the 2000 or so words to follow. So flash forward a few days from the time I ordered mine and I’m unboxing it on my living room floor. Physically the receiver is a little shorter both in height and depth, but roughly the same weight as my aging Marantz SR-7500. The Denon feels sturdy and I can see through the case that it has a toroidal transformer. I believe some of the newer models have a switched power supply but ill leave the merits of the former vs. the later to debate for another day.
Connections: Hooking everything up was relatively easy, easier than I was expecting, to be honest. Maybe the dread of unhooking everything was worse than the actual work. One minor annoyance was the lack of an un-switched outlet on the rear of the receiver. It took some cord wrangling but I was able to get everything powered back up, not a major loss but one I could have done without. I sat down to catch up on my notes as soon as I was able to get the speaker leads and my airport express hooked up. I wanted to take a little break and listen to some music while I typed. Ah not so fast, I still had to assign that input via the menu.
Needless to say the menu system has changed a little since the last Denon I setup and it took me a few minutes to get the feel of it. Menu, source, aux to optical 2 and success! Hey, iTunes sounded quite a bit better than my last method which included an adapter and analog audio. Who knew the airport express could sound this good? (‘Butterfly’ by Talvin Singh on Radio Paradise was playing, it sounded much better than the 128k stream quality would have suggested.) Don’t get me wrong, we’re not talking about audiophile nirvana here, but it was certainly a step up from the shrill, tinny sound I was getting with my last set-up. Speaking to those on-screen menu adjustments for a second. Allow me to save you some of that potential headache and direct you toward this guide for setting up a Denon AVR by “Batpig”. Weird name, good guide.
Setup and Operation: Ok mission one was a success it was time to move on, I wanted to get the speakers and the Blu-ray player setup for some HD audio. The Audyssey MultEQ ran through its series of chirps and thumps and was done, not without error though but I’m told this one is rather common and not to be overly concerned with. The Denon reported that my main (L,R) channels were out of phase. After some head scratching and verification I found that not to be the case. Apparently this is caused by standing waves in the room and or some other unexplained oddity, sounded fine though so no real cause for concern.
Moving on to Blu-ray via the PS3. I went right back to the most recent title I’d viewed, ‘Beauty and the Beast’. The sound was good but it was clear (no pun intended) that I would need to do some tweaking to get things just right. Just for reference, I popped in ‘The Watchmen’ to help narrow down what was wrong. The opening fight scene was certainly crisp enough, and I was getting bass but it felt a little flat and one dimensional. Back to the Audyssey setup for one more round of tweaking.
Audyssey Room Calibration: One note worth mentioning, the Audyssey calculation process isn’t a short one, it take approximately 5 minutes (estimating) for one pass and they recommend recording six locations. So this time I got slightly different measurements and then restarted Watchmen. Better this go round, the bass was tighter and things appeared to be in their proper space. Ok back to Beast, even the fireworks in the opening Disney logo sequence had a better “pop” to them, so far so good. I skipped forward to ‘Be our Guest’, again better, the bass was tight and articulated. Another thing that was better this go round was the center channel dialog, it was definitely more seamless across the front channels than my aging Marantz.
One thing giving me a bit of concern was the Audyssey Dynamic EQ, I wanted to listen to ‘The Last Waltz’ on Blu-ray to try and gauge what, if any, negative aspects it was applying to the sound. Skipping forward to ‘Dry your Eyes’ by Neil Diamond and turning off the dynamic EQ, I could immediately see there was quite a bit a bass being applied to the signal. I restarted the track from the beginning with it off, as suspected there was detail below all that bass compensation that was being obscured, that said I did prefer it on for movies. Just keep this is mind if you want to experiment around to get the best sound.
Continue Reading Denon AVR-3310CI Receiver Review (Part 2)