It's amazing how the simplest of ideas often have profound lasting effects. Eratosthenes, after all, used only the differences in the angles of shadows cast by the noontime solstice sun to calculate the circumference of the earth, some 200 years BCE. Mind you, I don't mean to put Denon in quite the same pantheon as that great Greek geometer and geographer, but somewhere within that organization is a product designer or engineer who at least deserves to be mentioned in the same paragraph for another simple, incredibly impactful observation and innovation. Thanks to one simple twist, the new Denon AVR-X3000 IN-Command receiver is one of the most easy-to-connect receivers to ever hit the market.
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Well, perhaps "two simple twists" would be more accurate. The first twist? Rotating each pair of binding posts to orient them horizontally, so that each left/right pair is side-by-side instead of stacked. It's a twist that we first saw with Denon's E-Series receivers earlier this year, although those models relied on push-type speaker connections instead of binding posts. The second twist? Rotating each of those four-way binding posts so that the speaker wire enters directly from the top, instead of a diagonal angle. It sounds like such a simple thing, and it is! Even if you only ever hook up the AVR-X3000 once, though, it makes an excellent first impression.
That first impression is reinforced by the AVR-X3000's snappy, intuitive user interface and a step-by-step "Setup Assistant" wizard that holds your hand through the entire connection and configuration process, with images and textual descriptions of everything from speaker connection to network setup and beyond. Speaking of the network, you'll need to bring your own wired Ethernet connection to the table or buy a third-party wireless LAN adapter; Denon doesn't include integrated WiFi, nor does it offer its own wireless converter. To get the most out of the AVR-X3000, you certainly want to provide network access in one form or another, since the receiver features rich DLNA capabilities and Windows 8/RT compatibility, as well as streaming audio services from SiriusXM, Spotify and Pandora - all of which are accessible via the receiver's minimalist but well-laid-out remote and Denon's Remote App for iOS and Android devices. The receiver also sports AirPlay connectivity, and enough power is supplied in standby mode to keep the network connection on at all times, which means you can actually use AirPlay to turn the receiver on instantly - a nice contrast with similarly-priced models from other manufacturers.
Lest you think the Denon AVR-X3000 is all neophyte-friendly setup and consumer-friendly features, the receiver actually boasts a number of enhancements aimed directly at the custom installer or hardcore DIY enthusiast. In fact, the entire IN-Command line - from the $499 AVR-X1000 up to the $999 X3000 - features Audyssey's step-up MultEQ XT room correction system, as well as support for Audyssey Pro if you want to get an installer involved and eke every last ounce of audio goodness out of the receiver. (The flagship $1299 AVR-X4000 steps things up even more with MultEQ XT32 and Audyssey Sub EQ HT dual-sub EQ.) The X3000 also features a second-zone HDMI output, IR in/out control ports, a DC trigger out, and even an RS-232C port for advanced control systems. Better still, the X3000 is IP-controllable and features Simple Device Discovery Protocol (SDDP) driver support for Control4 systems, which allows for near-instantaneous identification and integration. As soon as I had the receiver configured for my network, it appeared in the "Discovered" tab of Control4's Composer Pro software, and with a simple double-click I had it fully integrated into my control system, with direct access to all of its streaming audio features.
The AVR-X3000 sports a total of seven pairs of the aforementioned horizontally arrayed binding posts, with five for the standard left, right, center and surround channels and two that can be configured as rear surrounds, a powered second audio zone or your choice of front-height or front-width channels by way of Audyssey DSX. Despite the fact that all of my speaker cables are terminated with banana plugs, the horizontal orientation and generous spacing of the binding posts made swapping speakers to test the different surround sound configurations and swapping between speakers entirely - a quick and simple task. In all, I connected two completely different satellite systems (Polk Audio Blackstone TL3s and GoldenEar SuperSat 3s, with a pair of MartinLogan Motion 4s serving as effects channels for both systems) to get a sense of how the Denon handles different types of driver loads. Unfortunately, the receiver doesn't provide preamp outs aside from two subwoofer outputs (which the system measures, EQs and drives as one subwoofer), so you don't have the option of adding your own amps to simultaneously get rear surrounds and front height or width output, nor can you employ the X3000 as a preamp.
On the video side, the X3000 doesn't include corresponding outputs for its three composite and two component video inputs. Rather, video output is handled entirely via HDMI, with full support for analog-to-digital video conversion, as well as upscaling to as high as 4K/Ultra HD (3,840 x 2,160). The six rear-panel HDMI inputs also support InstaPrevue, which allows you to tap a button in the center of the remote and see what's happening on other connected video devices, then quickly swap sources if you see something enticing. In my secondary home theater system, sources are limited to an OPPO BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray disc player, a Dish Network Joey Whole-Home DVR Client and an Xbox 360 - all connected via HDMI - and my advanced control system reduces the need for InstaPrevue, but I was still rather impressed by the feature.
The remote is about as basic as basic gets, a stark contrast to the bottom-heavy, button-laden bricks that used to come with Denon receivers. Despite the remote's sparseness, I didn't find it to be lacking at all. Operation is quick and easy, and although I didn't rely on the packed-in remote very frequently, I found it easy to navigate by touch alone after only a couple of days.
Read about the performance of the Denon AVR-X3000 on Page 2.