The home theater world has been turned on its head in the last year or two. The battle between Blu-ray and HD DVD is now finally over, but the dust is far from settled. The new connector we need to use for either high definition disc, HDMI, has already undergone three major version changes in its brief and very acrimonious lifespan. Makers of AV preamps, especially on the high end, have been scurrying (mostly unsuccessfully) to get to market with current products, trying to provide easy access to the chipsets, connectors, firmware and software to make everything work as the consumer expects, while at the same time keeping Hollywood studios happy with copy protection on sources like Blu-ray players. It’s a difficult challenge and the only players to market right this minute are the big boys, specifically Denon and Integra.
Denon was the second manufacturer to ship a truly current HDMI 1.3-capable AV preamp. The Denon AVP-A1HDCI sports an impressive six HDMI 1.3a inputs, as well as processing for of all the newest and legacy audio codecs. The feature sets here are enough to leave even the hardest-core home theater maniac very happy. This AV preamp has it all, from 12 freely assignable balanced and single-ended outputs to wi-fi music streaming capability to AM/FM and HD radio tuners to being XM-ready, as well as sporting the Silicon Optix Realta chipset for exceptional 1080p video scaling and transcoding of all formats to HDMI. You get all the stereo analog inputs you could ever need, even a MM phono input, as well as a pair of balanced inputs. Control features are all here, too, from IR ins and outs to DC triggers and dual RS-232C controllers.
Denon implemented their new graphic user interface (GUI) to make set-up as straightforward as possible, but beware, you (yes, you – the guy who doesn’t ever read manuals) might need to read the manual first, in order to make this preamp get up and dance. Each input can be set up with more options than you could imagine. Should you wish to do so, you can select the Audyssey room correction for any source, and you can store two different correction profiles for different environments or listening positions. Each input can be totally customized and labeled to suit your tastes. An optional two-way RF remote allows you to see what is displayed on the face of the AVP on the remote. In addition to the main remote, a second remote for zone 2 is included. You’ll have to work out how you want to control the other two additional zones yourself. Yes, this unit will do four zones and, depending on how you set up the outputs, can even run two independent 5.1 home theaters at once.
Click to Page 2 for The High Points, The Low Points and The Conclusion.
• The feature sets are nothing short
of impressive. If you want to get the most out of Blu-ray and its HD
audio-video capabilities right now, it’s either this Denon, the Integra
or a $35,000 Mark Levinson N° 502 AV preamp and the Levinson doesn’t
have HDMI 1.3, even at its price tag, despite sounding really, really
• It’s hard to find any AV preamp that has this many
inputs and outputs. The varying ways you can configure this preamp to
make your system do whatever you dreamed up seems almost unlimited.
Let’s put it this way – we’d be pretty impressed if you found the limit
of what this preamp could do in terms of configuration possibilities in
today’s theater (don’t tell me you ran out of inputs because of your
Beta deck, an S-VHS machine and a laserdisc player).
• The Denon
AVP-A1HDCI is truly HDMI 1.3a compliant with Silicon Optix Realta video
scaling, which not only can help make older video sources like your
1080i satellite or cable DVR look better, but some day in the future, it
can support Deep Color, which is supposed to be something to behold. At
this stage, it’s not reality, but these vaporware formats seem to be
what send people over the edge and into a buying decision. I would
prefer people use and listen to the unit first, as opposed to just
making a buying decision based on a laundry list of features.
• The new Denon GUI is much easier to navigate than previous versions, making for a far more meaningful user experience.
• The unit is gigantic by AV preamp
standards, with Denon using their largest receiver case. Make sure you
have room in your rack before you bring one of these bad boys home.
Without question, set-up can be complicated. This is no Mac Mini. This
is a serious piece of equipment and, for the DIY consumer, it comes with
a larger learning curve than if you wanted to program a reference-level
Meridian 861 AV preamp. Some might also consider the flexibility and
complexity to be an absolute advantage. It just depends on which side of
the fence you’re on.
• An RF remote should have been included for the price.
If you are on the cutting edge of
technology in your home theater and are in dire need of every current
(and many future) AV technologies, then the Denon AVP-A1HDCI is likely
the AV preamp for you to buy today. It’s quite simply the most flexible
piece of AV gear made today and likely will be for some time to come.
The six-input HDMI switching will keep even the biggest source maniac
happy and the video scaling chipset is topnotch. Balanced and
single-ended inputs and outputs allow for use in the finest home
theaters, while all those new audio codecs will give you sound you’ve
only dreamed of before. This is a huge step forward for the AV preamp as
a category. Denon should be congratulated.