Given that you'll probably be routing all of your video sources through the AVR-X3000's generous seven HDMI inputs, it's heartening to discover that the receiver's video processing is up to snuff. In fact, with nearly every test on Spears & Munsil's High Definition Benchmark Blu-ray, it scored nearly as well as my OPPO BDP-93 Blu-ray player's internal processing, and any slight differences were imperceptible with real-world video material. That's with 1080p upscaling, mind you; I'm not yet equipped to evaluated Denon's 4K upsampling capabilities.
These days, a review of a receiver's audio capabilities is as much a review of its room correction system, so it's equally heartening to see Denon upgrading from vanilla Audyssey MultEQ to MultEQ XT across the board in the IN-Command line. As mentioned above, the 7.2-channel AVR-X3000 gives you the choice of using its extra two channels for rear surround, front height or front width, and I explored the latter two options extensively; however, before doing so, I calibrated the receiver manually to get a baseline for judging its capabilities.
Despite being rated at only 105 watts per channel (with two channels driven; no such rating is given with all channels driven, unfortunately), the AVR-X3000 delivers a nicely robust surround experience, with more than enough power to fill my medium-sized secondary listening room without a hint of struggle. With Blue Man Group's raucous Audio DVD-Audio disc (Virgin), the X3000 never broke a sweat, even with all five main channels driven to their breaking point. I also queued up selected scenes from Super Speedway (Image Entertainment) on Blu-ray, cranked the volume, and was impressed by how stable the receiver remained. In the past, I've blown fuses in more powerful standalone five-channel amps with this disc's DVD counterpart, but the Denon cranked out every ounce of pavement shredding without a hitch, with audio performance that's very much in line with the company's signature sound: tonally balanced, very detailed and incredibly robust.
Truthfully, though, my room needs a bit of acoustic help - as do most - especially in the bass department. So I ran Audyssey MultEQ XT a total of four times: with the Polk Audio Blackstone TL3 satellite speakers, flanked by a pair of MartinLogan Motion 4s alternately in front-height and front-width configurations; also, with the GoldenEar SuperSat 3 system, employing the MartinLogan Motion 4s the same way. A GoldenEar ForceField 3 subwoofer provided bass in all four setups. Unfortunately, my room isn't conducive to front-width speakers as a permanent setup, which is a shame, since I preferred the wider soundstage, improved imaging and better integration between the front and rear soundstages provided by those extra channels. But front-heights are a nice second choice, so I did most of my listening with the Motion 4s mounted near the ceiling and the rest of the satellites at ear height. I did have to tweak MultEQ's crossover points a bit, since it tended to settle upon a crossover that was way too high for my fronts and way too low for my rears with both the Polk and GoldenEar systems. Levels and delays were pretty much spot on every time I ran the system.
I tend to gravitate toward the same handful of demo discs, preferring consistency to novelty when it comes to subjective audio evaluations, but the recently released Cloud Atlas Blu-ray (Warner) has secured a spot in my regular rotation as a make-it-or-break-it test for dialogue clarity. The post-apocalyptic "106 Years After the Fall" sequences in particular hinge upon a devolved dialect that's sort of Beverly-Hillbillies-by-way-of-Shakespeare. It truly tiptoes right up to the edge of intelligibility even in my reference home theater system. Add in the reverberation and echo that accompanies Hugo Weaving's diabolical take on Old Georgie in that storyline, and intelligibility is pushed to its breaking point and beyond. So much so that, sans equalization, it's a struggle to catch every third word he says. With both the Polk TL3s and GoldenEar SuperSat 3s, though, MultEQ XT and the AVR-X3000 did an amazing job of taming the cacophony and allowing the dialogue to shine through with crystal clarity. And unlike vanilla MultEQ, the Denon's MultEQ XT did so without over-deadening the sound. My other go-to disc for dialogue clarity is the Extended Edition Blu-ray set of Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (New Line), especially the sequences that take place in the Mines of Moria. Here, I find that basic MultEQ does clean up the dialogue, but it does so at the expense of environmental spaciousness. With MultEQ XT, the AVR-X3000 does way more good than harm to the sequence, sussing out Gandalf's hushed voice without reducing Moria to a flat, dimensionless hole in the ground.
Skip forward a few discs to Battle of the Pelennor Fields sequences in Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, and the AVR-X3000 and MultEQ XT again do an admirable job of taming the sonic fury without reducing its scale or scope. You still get all of the power and impact of the battle, but it's a controlled fury. Voices cut through the battle gorgeously, and the surround soundfield is wholly enveloping. MultEQ XT neatens up the bass and puts a nice spit-shine on the overall sound mix, yet allows it to retain its oomph, its bombast.
Skip back a few chapters to the Ride of the Rohirrim and you'll find the scene that, in my opinion, best represents the advantages of MultEQ XT over MultEQ. With basic MultEQ, I've always found myself having to choose between the visceral gravity of that scene and anything resembling coherence. With MultEQ XT set to its Flat curve, though, I felt that the AVR-X3000 delivered a near perfect mix: Théoden's speech isn't lost in the clacking and clattering, the thundering hooves of the horses give the scene a solid bedrock and, best of all, the utter dimensionality of the sequence - the voices and horns literally receding into the distance, the whish of air and whoosh of flying arrows - isn't killed completely in the EQing process. I also love the way the AVR-X300's Dynamic EQ allows the scene to retain its spaciousness and proper balance at virtually any volume.
What I loved most about MultEQ XT via the AVR-X3000 is that, unlike plain old MultEQ, I felt like it allowed both of my preferred satellite speaker systems to retain their own unique sonic characteristics - the room-penetrating sparkle and brilliant dispersion of the GoldenEars, the excellent subwoofer integration and Big Speaker Sound of the Polks - especially with movies.
Unfortunately, while Audyssey MultEQ XT delivered solid performance with stereo music - and in fact the AVR-X3000's stereo performance with music as a whole was admirable for an AV receiver - it wasn't quite as satisfying with surround sound music. Fleetwood Mac's Rumours on DVD-Audio (Warner Bros. Records) is a good representation of why. This disc isn't the pinnacle of fidelity or anything, but I'm intimately familiar with every one of its nuances. With MultEQ XT set to Flat or to Audyssey's more subdued Target curve, I felt that it robbed too much of the energetic frontal assault from tracks like "Don't Stop," narrowing the front soundstage (although employing front width channels via Audyssey DSX went a long way toward compensating for that). With XT completely off, though, I felt like I lost the strong, solid bedrock of well-integrated bass that the system delivers. The remedy for that would be to allow me to automatically EQ the bass and leave mid and high frequencies alone, as I'm used to doing with the Anthem Room Correction in the Anthem MRX 700 receiver that normally lives in this room.
This, of course, shouldn't be read as a knock against Denon, but it's central to the real-world performance of the AVR-X3000, so it has to be noted. If movies make up the bulk of your listening experience in your home theater, this probably won't be a problem. If, like me, you spend as much time listening to surround sound music as you do movies, a step up to the AVR-X4000, with its superior-still MultEQ XT32 (with 32 times the filter resolution of XT for satellites and four times the filter resolution for the subwoofer) and Sub EQ HT room correction (which allows for the independent measurement and equalization of two subwoofers), may be in order.
Comparison and Competition
At $999 MSRP, the AVR-X3000 is positioned at a pretty crowded crossroad in the AV receiver market, just under the $1,000 price point that functions as Kryptonite for many consumers. That puts it on pretty even footing with Yamaha's AVENTAGE RX-A830 7.2-channel receiver, which benefits in my opinion from Yamaha's YPAO R.S.C. (Reflected Sound Control) Sound Optimization with Multi-point Measurement auto-EQ. I know I may be in the minority on this, but I feel that multi-point YPAO isn't as detrimental to high-frequency performance as Audyssey MultEQ and, although it sucks by comparison when it comes to level adjustment and crossover settings, YPAO ultimately sounds better with a bit of tweaking, especially with music. The RX-A830 lacks many of the Denon's streaming audio features, though, as well as the front-width channel capabilities that I've grown to love so much with the AVR-X3000, but it does include 7.2-channel preamp outputs.
At $899, Onkyo's TX-NR727 7.2-channel receiver is another likely contender, and it adds THX Select2 Plus certification. However, it relies on standard Audyssey MultEQ room correction, which I feel is unacceptable at this price point. The Onkyo does include many of the same streaming audio services as the Denon, but lacks its RS-232 and IR control inputs.
The Denon AVR-X3000 IN-Command 7.2 AV Receiver is a rare beast in the receiver market these days, one that actually stands out from the pack. With its deft mix of consumer-friendly features and custom-friendly tweaks, its advanced control-system support and its gorgeously laid-out back panel, the AVR-X3000 was a snap to set up and a strong performer with virtually every film I threw at it. I love the intuitiveness of its gorgeous UI, but I also love the fact that you can dig deeper and find tweakier settings, like changing the volume display from the default 0 to 99 to a more logical -79.5 dB to 18.0 dB (with volume limits, if you so choose ... and I did).
If I were spending my own coin, I have to admit, I would probably save up the extra $300 and opt for the AVR-X4000 instead, if only for its superior room correction capabilities and extra 20 watts of power per channel. But if $1,000 is your absolute ceiling, the AVR-X3000 isn't in any significant way a compromise, whether this is your first AV receiver or your fifteenth.