Instead of boring anyone with why I bought this receiver, Iíll just say that Iíve had some Ďissuesí with four other HDMI equipped receivers within the past year. This is number five for me and it was not without reservations when I bought it. My last receiver was a Marantz SR/8001, so Iíll be referencing the Marantz from time to time. Even with all the issues Iíve had with the Marantz, it was the best sounding receiver Iíve had out of the other HDMI units, plus three others I had the year before last. (my total number of receivers Iíve owned within the past 30 months is eight).
M80ís for mains
M22ís (two) for the center channel
M3ís for surround backs
QS8ís for surround
EP 600 sub
Dishnet 635 DVR
Some people are infatuated with the weight of a receiver and / or amp, and they feel that one has to go through a right of passage and weigh as much as a small car to be considered worthy. The 3808 isnít a beast, but it does have some heft to it. It weighs about 39 pounds. It doesnít feel like a playschool toy, but itís pretty obvious that Denon cut some corners wherever they could to save costs. Whether that affects sound quality or function isnít something I can speak to. Iíd rather have a receiver that works right with cheap binding posts than one that doesnít work right with gold plated binding posts. All the control knobs work just fine and feel OK to me. I will say that I like the lay out of the inputs and outputs. They are orientated in a logical order. Even the binding posts are arranged in one row at the bottom of the unit, which makes it easier to tie them off to my rack.
One thing this receiver has that I have not seen on many others, is the ability to run two sets of surround speakers. They share the same amp output, but have additional binding posts for 9.1 systems using four surrounds. I wouldnít suggest using 6 or 4 ohm surrounds like this, but 8 ohm should be just fine. The receiver also has the ability to set up an additional zone (and possibly two, but I havenít figured out the limitations of the third). I donít use this, so I can not speak much to this. Also, if you have a 5.1 set up, you can re-assign the surround back channels to the mains for by-amping. And no, Iím not going to get into that debate. Just know you can do it with this receiver. There are four HDMI 1.3 inputs and one, HDMI 1.3 output. If you want / need two HDMI outputs, you need to jump up to the 4808CI. One thing to keep in mind with two outputs, is you will have a hard time finding an audio processor that will output from both at the same time. Itís usually one or the other, so I see little value with having two live HDMI outputs unless they are both live. There are a slew of other inputs/outputs and if you want to know more about them, Iíd suggest you download the ownerís manual.
The 3808CI uses a somewhat dated video processor (Faroudja DCDi), but it doesnít do too badly with up-converting to 1080P. I use an external video processor, so this aspect wasnít much of a consideration to me and I have the DCDi turned off. I did do some comparisons to it and my DVDO VP50pro, and will briefly discuss that later.
There are also some other unique features worth mentioning. The 3808 has inputs for USB drives that will read pictures and / or audio files. I have not tried these, so I donít how well it performs with them. This receiver also has networking capabilities via Ethernet, and this is also how you update its firmware (which worked perfectly for me). If you want, you can stream audio from your PC, but again, I have not messed with this function so canít speak to it. It also has inputs for an XM radio interface, and no, I didnít try that either. I use this receiver for movies and on rare occasion, music.
Probably the most attractive feature this receiver has, and one that I feel sets the stage for others to compete with, is its GUI. The GUI has to be the best implemented user interface and set up feature Iíve ever seen. If you can navigate Windows Explorer, you can navigate the GUI. Itís set up similarly. You have the main functions, which have a tree hierarchy. You just move the up/down/right/left toggle to navigate. I will say that some of the features are cleverly hidden and take some time using to remember where they are, but itís pretty intuitive and not something to be afraid of by any means.
Set up was quite painless and in truth, I didnít even use the manual until after I had completed the basic set up and got everything up and running. I have later read the manual and tweaked a few things, but found the basic set up to get everything set up fairly well. As with most receivers, you just go to the auto set up feature and follow the instructions. Every thing in the GUI you highlight has a brief description telling you what it does (although that can be vague at times).
At first, I had all my components routed into my VP50pro, and then used one HDMI cable to connect the Pro to the 3808. I use banana connectors for my speakers, and found the 3808ís speaker posts snug enough, although the aluminum lining was disappointing. Iíd have thought Denon could have at least sprung for copper. Oh well, they workÖ.
The 3808 uses the latest Audysey room correction EQ software and it is also Audysey Pro ready if you like to pay someone for this service. You can position the supplied mic up to eight different locations. My room is pretty small, but I ended up using seven positions anyway (figured it couldnít hurt). You place the mic at the main Ďreferenceí spot in your room first and take the initial set up readings there. The receiver checks for phase, connections and distances. You then move the mic as many times as you want (up to eight total) and it takes readings again for each location. One thing I found irritating is how long this process took. I didnít time all this, but I know it took me no less than 30 minutes to complete the audio set up. Iíd suggest that you make sure the kids arenít running around making noise and you do it when no one will interrupt you. If during the set up there is extra ambient noise and you need to re-do a position, you get to start from the beginning again (yes, it happened to me). After the set is complete, you can verify the settings and either accept them for memory storage or start over. When completed, I was amazed at how close everything was. The distances were perfect and the channel adjustments were also perfect. This was a first for meÖ The X-over settings were also perfect. In the past, Audysey did some very odd things to my set up and I would end up changing settings, but not this time. Iíve left everything as is.
For reference, it set up my speakers as follows:
Mains Ė Large
Center Ė small / 40
Surround Ė small / 90
Surround back Ė small / 60
LFE Ė LFE (LFE goes to mains, and sub)
After set up was complete, I used my radio shack digital meter and an Avia HD set up disk and checked the channels. I did not feel the need to change anything. Bass and channels were closer than Iíve ever been able to manually set them in the past.
If you wish, you can tweak anything you want, including the Audysey EQ settings. All you do is go into the manual set up, select copy EQ curve and tweak it however you wish and save it as a manual setting (you can do this differently for each input or surround format). I have not felt the need to do this, but I did play with it any way. Itís painless. You can also select several different EQ curves including; Flat, Audysey, Audysey Ė L/R, or L/R. You can select different X-over setting for each speaker set in increments of 20 up to 80, and then itís increments of 10 on up. Iíd like to see more options, but can live with these.
After you set up the audio parameters, you then have a gazillion other options available for each surround mode (limited to each surround modeís capability). For example, you can set up any input differently from any other input. You can set up one input for DTS, another for DDPLIIx and another for Neural surround with each having unique channel levels, X-overís, lip sync delay and different video settings. There is also some unique center channel options like what Denon calls ďCinema EqualizerĒ which lowers the front channel high frequencies some (similar to THX). There is also a ĎDecompressionĒ setting for compressed audio which does a fine job at reproducing compressed audio like MP3. I found that SD satellite audio is greatly improved by using this feature. There are three different levels for this too.
One thing I have learned with all these functions is that some are not available depending on the surround format. Some formats do not support them, so you just have to play with each to see what you can do with them. DD+ and DD-True HD allow you tweak the heck out them, while DTS is somewhat limited. Iím still figuring this out, so canít really comment much more on that.
There are simply too many things this receiver can do to detail each one (plus Iím still trying to figure them all out). Considering that, Iím not going to go over all of themÖ.
As I said earlier, I use an external Video Processor, so I have the DCDi bypassed. But out of curiosity, I did some A/B testing to see how well the DCDi works. The VP50pro is arguably one of the best VPís on the market, so itís not really a fair comparison, but I have to admit that the DCDi does an admirable job with SD sources. I think anyone other than die hard videophiles would be satisfied with this receiver. The VP50pro definitely outputs a better looking picture, but when I compared the 3808 to the Oppo 981, the differences in video quality are very hard for me to see. So if youíve seen what the Oppo 981 can do with SD and find that good enough, the 3808 should be good enough for you too.
I just hate this topic, but suppose I should jot down my opinion anyway because someone is sure to ask. I hate it because everyone has their own idea of what sounds good to them, and without doing a true blind listening test, I donít think anyone can objectively compare or even pass judgment on how well any piece of electronic does. Keeping that in mind; in direct stereo, pure direct and 7 channel stereo, I find the Denon to sound very good. In fact, just as well as any other receiver Iíve had in this system. The only noteworthy difference I can pick up on between this receiver and my two channel rig with Rotel separates is with what I call, Ďwhite noiseí. This is when the volume control is maxed out without any source playing and you can hear a hiss. I hear nothing with my two channel rig. The Marantz SR/8001 was also silent. The 3808 however has a very slight and almost non-detectable hiss. Itís very slight, but I can hear it. If this is good or bad, I have no idea. Use your own judgment.
I popped in a couple disks that I like to use when doing these very un-scientific listening tests (Pink Floyd, DSOTM SACD, Alison Kraus and Green Day). All I can say is they all sound excellent and I most definitely did not feel wanting for more.
Where I will comment and express my opinion is in regards to how well a surround receiver does with surround playback. Some have done horribly with this while others do OK and then there are others that just sound great. Only the Marantz, and now this Denon have sounded great to me. I suppose Audysey has something to do with this. If I had to choose between the Marantz and this Denon, my pick is the Denon. The bass is just right and not too over powering or lacking. Sometimes I would feel as if there was too much LFE or not enough when using the Marantz, but I donít get this feeling with the Denon. With the Marantz, I had to use the EP600ís trim control, but I donít with the Denon. Plus, thereís very little that a person can not do with the EQ curves to tweak this receiver at will, if needed. The Marantz is somewhat limited in this regard.
Remote and discrete commands:
I use a programmable remote, so I havenít taken the time to mess with the 3808ís remote(s) much, but from the little I have, I think it sucks. Where I am impressed is with all the discrete commands that are available for this receiver. There are so many, that my MX 850 does not have enough panels for all the commands (and it has a bunch). For example; there are discrete commands for adjusting every channel up or down, commands for selecting every surround format, tone controls, EQ controls and so forth. For custom installers, Iím guessing this receiver will be pretty fun for them to set up and I am going to buy a new programmable remote just so I can populate it with all these commands. Way coolÖ.
4 ohm load:
Seeing how Iíve got 4 ohm R, L and center channels, plus 6 ohm surrounds, I need a receiver with some Ďoomphí. The Denon is rated at 130 WPC, and I donít doubt that it has every bit of that. I tend to watch movies at reference levels, and Iíve shut down a few receivers before. So far, Iíve not had any problems driving my system with this receiver nor have I felt the need to add external amplification. When playing around with multi channel stereo, my SPL meter was bouncing above 100 dbís at a Ė 10 db on the volume control (it goes to a +18). I didnít pin the volume or feel the need to do so. It does not get hot to the touch either.
HD audio formats and M-channel PCM:
As with all these new HDMI receivers and using HD/BR players, there always seams to be some limitation to what they will do. Iím almost hesitant to say this, but so far, I have not found any limitations with this receiver. It will accept Multi-channel PCM from my PS3 and A35, including 6.1 and 7.1 discrete sources. It will apply PLIIx to 5.1 sources. You can also adjust the channels at will with these formats and save them to any input. The 3808 will also accept DD +, DD-TruHD, DTS-HD:HR and DTS-HD:Master bitstream formats. If you have a 5.1 source of any of these formats, it will apply either DTS-Neo6 or PLIIx. If you have a 7.1 source of any of these formats it recognizes the formats as discrete and will even light up a little box telling you it is discrete.
I could go on and on, but this is already too long of a report, so if you have any additional questions, just ask and Iíll find the answer.
Pictures to follow.