Denon's 2001/2002 Product Launch


    Denon has generally been held in high regard by audiophiles (and now videophiles). They have generally delivered products that have been superb performers at their price point. It was with great interest, therefore, that we sent Christine and Anthony K along to the 2001/2002 Denon product launch, held on the 7th August 2001.

Christine's Report | Anthony K's Report

Christine's Report

    Before I even start, let me begin with a disclaimer: I have always been more than partial towards Denon products, starting from my very first CD player - a Denon DCD 1000, which I upgraded to a DCD 1520 several years later because of rave reviews from several magazines (at that time, it was the world's first 20 bit 8 times oversampling player). Today, the nucleus of our home theatre is powered by a Denon AVR-3300 receiver and I've been trying to save enough money to buy an AVC-A1SE for a while now. In short, don't expect this to be an unbiased coverage, although I will do my best to point out the bad as well as the good.

    The event concerned was Denon's 2001/2002 Product Launch, hosted by the local distributor Audio Products Australia Pty Ltd and High Profile Communications. After a short introduction, we were treated to a presentation of the significant features of the new product line-up given by Product Manager Steve Ismay, followed by an audio/visual demonstration of Dolby Pro Logic II and DVD Audio by Akihiko Itoh, an engineer from Denon's Audio Products Group.

    The presentation began with an introduction to yet another surround sound format: Dolby Pro Logic II. "Oh no, not again", I hear some of you cry, "just what the world needs, another format that will make all my existing equipment obsolete!"

    Whilst I certainly sympathize with that sentiment (AV receivers and surround sound decoding seem to be evolving at a rate faster than computers these days), Dolby Pro Logic II does seem to address a very worthwhile gap: how to extract more enjoyment from surround-encoded and straight stereo sources. When you think about it, the bulk of AV material that we watch on a day-to-day basis has a two channel audio source - television, video recorders and even older films on DVDs which tend to have a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround audio track (if they have surround encoding at all) rather than a 5.1 track. And of course most music is in stereo, which means that 3.1 of your 5.1 set of speakers will not be utilized when you listen to music (unless of course you are one of very few people who can tolerate the awful fake surround modes on today's surround processors).

    The Dolby Pro Logic decoder, now standard in even the cheapest and nastiest AV amplifiers, does the job of converting 2 channel surround-encoded material into 4 channels but has a number of serious limitations. The rear surround channels are in mono only and are bandwidth limited to between 100 Hz to 7 kHz - not exactly hi-fi quality. The decoder also has a nasty tendency to 'steer' everything to the centre channel, thus reducing the listening experience in some cases to essentially a monaural one.

    Enter Dolby Pro Logic II. The hype? Dolby Digital 5.1-like performance from your old analogue sound sources! The reality? Hopefully something better than Pro Logic, but don't expect a silk purses from sow's ears. I don't pretend to understand how it's done, but Dolby Pro Logic II promises to address the major deficiencies of Pro Logic by promising stereo full range surround channels and the ability to control how much is directed towards the centre channel. There are movie and music modes to allow you to listen to stereo sources in surround. Note: this is not the same as a fake surround mode, which generally adds lots of artificial reverberation to the signal. Dolby Pro Logic II simply redistributes 2 channels across 5.1 channels without any additional artificially-created signal component.

    Denon's new line-up of AV receivers (consisting of the AVR-1602, AVR-1802, AVR-2802 and AVR-3802) all feature Dolby Pro Logic II decoding (though for once Denon is not the first manufacturer to release a product supporting a new sound format - they were pipped at the post by Onkyo several months ago). Notable enhancements in the product features and specifications across the entire range include wide bandwidth amplification (frequency response 10 Hz-100 kHz) to support high resolution digital formats such as DVD Audio and SACD, digital optical output for the entire range (to support digital recorders such as Mini Disc and CD-R), and front panel AV inputs (surprisingly only for the lower end AVR-1X02 models). The AVR-2802 has significant feature enhancements from the previous model (AVR-2801) - it is a lot closer in features to its bigger sister (the AVR-3802) with support for DTS-ES 6.1 (Discrete and Matrix), DTS NEO:6 (the DTS competitor to Pro Logic II), and adjustable subwoofer cross-over settings. The AVR-3802 seems to have a nice new remote control with an LCD display and seems to offer a lot of value for its price: $2699 . I think the AVR-3802 will be out by September and the AVR-2802 by October, but the lower end models should be available immediately.

    Denon did not announce any new high end models, despite rumours on the Internet about a possible successor to the current flagship model AVC-A1SE. Instead, we were told to expect a firmware upgrade to the AVC-A1SE to support Dolby Pro Logic II and two additional new audio formats (one of which is rumoured to be DTS 96 kHz 24 bits) by March 2002 (this is somewhat later than the original September date promised earlier this year). Steve acknowledged that there has been some "stability" issues with the firmware update and Denon doesn't want to release an update unless it has been fully debugged. Steve also hinted that a successor to the AVC-10SE - possibly to be called the AVC-11SR - is under development and is likely to have similar specifications to the AVR-4802 model recently released in the United States (but minus the radio tuner). In addition, Denon is "studying" the possibility of releasing a pre and power amplifier combo - apparently 10% of AVC-A10SE owners use it as a preamplifier only.

    Features that I would like to see that are still missing include: support for MPEG (Musicam) audio decoding, Dolby Headphone, support for HDCD decoding, and the ability to remember the master volume setting on a per input-source basis (so that I don't have to keep adjusting the volume level as I switch between input sources).

    Also new in the product range is an "all-in-one" combination DVD player and AV receiver: the ADV-700. For those who like their stereo systems to be compact and stylish, Denon is planning to release the 201SA mini-component series dressed in brushed aluminium and featuring reflective half-mirrored status displays. I thought these were not too bad-looking, but still somewhat conservative and boring compared to Nakamichi Soundspace or even Pioneer Eye-Fi.

    Denon also released details of two new DVD players: a budget model DVD-800 at $699 to complement the AVR-1601 and a "budget" DVD-Audio player by late September/October: the DVD-1600 at $1199. Interesting features in the DVD-800 include a buffer memory to reduce/eliminate the dreaded layer change pause, a subwoofer output terminal, virtual surround and support for CD-R and CD-RW. The last two features are new for Denon but have been standard in Toshiba and Pioneer models for some time now. Upon questioning by yours truly, Steve admitted that a new high-end player combining the features of the DVD-Audio capabilities of the DVD-3300 plus the progressive scan capabilities of the DVD-2800 is "under study" which seems to be a code word for "we may be working on it but we're not ready to talk about it yet." Don't expect it before second quarter 2002.

    Still missing on Denon DVD players is support for component video output, which is amusing since component video switching is available on all higher end Denon amplifiers and receivers from the AVR-3802 upwards. Apparently Australia is not important enough to warrant a separate production run so we get models that are specced for the European market, where SCART dominates. The 5 disc model DVM-4800 is currently only available in the US and there are no intentions to release it in Europe (and hence Australia). Sigh!

    I asked a question about Super Audio CD. Denon has looked that the possibility of releasing a universal player that can play both DVD Audio and SACD, but because the decoding circuitry is too different, combining both into a single player either results in one format being down-converted to the other (a compromise in audio quality Denon was not prepared to make) or having parallel circuitry to support both formats (currently non-economical). However, Steve seems to think a universal player is more a "when" rather than an "if."

    Finally, the Managing Director of Audio Products Australia offered a few comments on the impending change of ownership for Denon. Nippon Columbia (the current owners) are apparently transferring ownership of Denon to a US-based funds management holding company in October. Denon will become a US company! At this stage, no changes in the structure and operations of the company are envisaged, but who knows what will happen? Personally, I hope the new owners will see fit to grow the company rather than strip it, as it would be a shame for Denon to lose its tradition of quality and innovation.

    Mr. Itoh then proceeded to give us a demonstration of the new product range. The first part of the demonstration was of Dolby Pro Logic II. The equipment used included a Metz VHS video recorder, a Denon DVD-2800 and a Denon AVR-3802 driving a set of Mirage speakers (HDTF, OMC2 and a 12" subwoofer). We were treated to a Dolby Pro Logic II rendition (in music mode) of Eric Clapton, and then a selection from the Eagles Hell Freezes Over concert (but on VHS instead of DVD to emphasize the ability of Dolby Pro Logic II to work on analogue sources). The video was displayed with an NEC front projector, but using the composite video connection. After that, we got to hear Dolby Pro Logic II in movie mode decoding a scene from Star Wars VI: The Return of the Jedi. Finally, we got a demo of a scene from Gladiator in DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete.

    During the demonstration, Mr. Itoh kept switching between Stereo and Dolby Pro Logic II. I think a better comparison would have been between the old Pro Logic and Pro Logic II, but unfortunately the new receivers no longer supported Pro Logic as an audio format. To be honest, I didn't notice any real differences in the music tracks between Stereo and Pro Logic II but maybe that was the point of the demonstration: that Pro Logic II does not collapse the soundstage unlike Pro Logic. I thought the Pro Logic II decoder seemed to be aggressively directing copious amounts of effects to the rear surround channels in the segment from Return of the Jedi and I'm not sure how much of the directional steering of effects was appropriate. We seem to have jumped from Pro Logic under-utilising the rear surround channels to potential over-utilisation.

    The second part of the demonstration was DVD Audio, as played by the DVD-3300 into an AVC-A1SE (in Ext. In mode) connected to Mirage OM7 speakers. First, the opening bars of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in 192 kHz 24 bits stereo, followed by some sort of electronic jazz by a Japanese musician called Kamiyami in 96 kHz 24 bits 5.1. I wasn't very impressed by what I heard. The Piano Concerto sounded too "beefy" and bass-heavy - kind of like an audiophile's (and I use the term in a derogatory sense here) perception of how an orchestra should sound like rather than the real McCoy. The jazz piece was nice, but didn't exactly grab me as being significantly better than CD quality. Obviously the room was not ideal in terms of listening conditions, but still I would have expected better quality sound than this.

    All-in-all, if you are shopping for a new AV receiver, I would encourage you to check out the new Denon product range. They seem to offer really good value for money. If you are looking for a DVD player, then Pioneer and Toshiba have better low end models that support component video output.

    I'm still hoping Denon will upgrade their flagship lines: a DVD 3300/2800 combination with component video output driving the equivalent of the AVC-A1SE as a pre/pro combination with Dolby Pro Logic II would be my current idea of a "dream" system. Let's hope someone from Denon is reading this.

© Christine Tham (read my biography)
8 August 2001

Christine's Report | Anthony K's Report

Anthony K's Report

    On Tuesday 7th of August I and fellow reviewer Christine Tham had the opportunity to attend the Denon 2001/2002 product launch. During this presentation we were given details of their upcoming range of receivers, DVD players and a new integrated product. All new receivers in their product line will now include Dolby Pro Logic II, 24bit / 96 kHz DACs and 10 Hz - 100kHz wide range audio inputs for DVD Audio or SACD. While these products have been announced, they will actually begin shipping between now and October.

    After detailing the new products, the audience was given a demonstration of Dolby Pro Logic II decoding from a variety of sources, a demonstration of DTS-ES and a demonstration of 2 and 5.1 channel DVD audio material. I personally found these demonstrations to be uninspiring but due to the compromises made to deal with the layout of the room and the audience this could not be considered a fair evaluation.

    I have listed below the products and their recommended retail prices. If you wish to find more detailed product specifications or images please consult the US Denon web site.

    The new receiver range will include the following products:

AVR-1602 ($799)
5 x 70W, DD, DTS, ProLogic 2, 5.1 wide-range input, 7 x analogue inputs, 1 x Coaxial digital input, 1 x Optical digital input, 4 x composite inputs, 1 x Optical digital output, 24/96 D/A converters, black case.

AVR-1802 ($1299)
5 x 80W, DD, DTS, Pro-Logic 2, 5.1 wide-range input, 9 x analogue inputs, 1 x Coaxial digital input, 3 x Optical digital input, 5 x composite inputs, 4 x S-Video inputs, 1 x Optical digital output, 24/96 D/A converters, Black or Gold case.

AVR-2802 ($2099)
6 x 90W, DD, DTS-ES Discrete, DTS NEO:6, Pro-Logic 2, 5.1 wide-range input, 9 x analogue inputs, 1 x Coaxial digital input, 3 x Optical digital input, 2 x component inputs, 5 x composite inputs, 5 x S-Video inputs, 1 x Optical digital output, 24/96 D/A converters, adjustable subwoofer cross-over, Black or Gold case.

AVR-3802 ($2699)
7 x 105W, DD, DTS-ES Discrete, DTS NEO:6, Pro-Logic 2, 7.1 wide range input, 9 x analogue inputs, 1 x Coaxial digital input, 3 x Optical digital input, 2 x component inputs, 5 x composite inputs, 5 x S-Video inputs, 1 x Optical digital output, 24/96 D/A converters, adjustable subwoofer cross-over, Black or Gold case.

    The new DVD players will include the following models:

DVD-800 ($699)
DVD Video player, 27 Mhz 10 bit video D/A, 24/96 Audio D/A, 3 Mb Memory buffer for seamless layer changes, MP3 playback, Black case

DVD-1600 ($1199)
DVD Audio/Video player, 54 Mhz 10 bit video D/A, 24/192 Audio D/A, RGB via SCART, Black or Gold case

    A new 'lifestyle' product will also be introduced:

ADV-700 ($1999)
5 x 35W, DD, DTS, ProLogic 2, MP3, 4 x analogue inputs, 2 x Optical digital input, 3 x composite inputs, 3 x S-Video inputs, 1 x Optical digital output, RGB out via SCART, 24/96 D/A converters, double speed DVD drive and 4 Mb Memory buffer for seamless layer changes, Black case

    In addition to these products, an upgrade for the AVC-A1SE will include additional home automation controller support and a decoding upgrade including Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS 96 and another unspecified format. This upgrade is expected to be available in Australia around March next year after extensive testing is performed from the start of the year in the US.

    Another product mentioned for release around the second quarter of next year will be the AVC-11SR. This product will be roughly equivalent to the AVR-4802 but will not include a tuner. Estimated pricing for this product is approximately $5500, but this may change slightly depending on currency fluctuations.

    I would like to thank High Profile Communications and Denon for the opportunity to attend this presentation. If you are looking to purchase a new receiver in the near future, the upcoming Denon range is definitely worth considering.

© Anthony Kable (read my bio)
8th August 2001

Christine's Report | Anthony K's Report