Denon AVR-2803 A/V Receiver Reviewed

Denon AVR-2803 A/V Receiver Reviewed

This model offers an eight-channel analog input for SACD/DVD-Audio sources. While listening to music on the AV-2803 was "pleasing," listening to films was superb. Our reviewer noted that "Surround effects sprang to life and the soundstage was extremely engaging"

denon-avr-2803-receiver-review.gifIt's getting to the point where choosing a good A/V receiver is like choosing the least attractive Victoria's Secret model. The task is difficult because there are so many wonderful options and making a disappointing choice is a virtual impossibility. (That, and they all look good in black.)

Seriously, though, as feature sets constantly expand and prices consistently fall, there is tremendous value to be found in the under $1000 A/V receiver market. A shining example of this is Denon's newest beauty, the AVR-2803.

Additional Resources
Read AV receiver reviews from the likes of Denon, Yamaha, Samsung, Sherwood, Sony, Sony ES and many other top brands here.

Read a review of the Onkyo TX-NR708 7,2 channel receiver that can pass 3D HDMI 1.4.

Like most receivers produced today, the 2803 boasts Dolby Digital EX and DTS-ES 6.1 extended-surround decoding. Though the volume of titles offering 6.1 sound is still depressingly small, it's better to be ready for what can only be considered the next inevitable step in home theater evolution. In addition to 6.1, you also get Dolby Pro Logic II and DTS Neo:6 decoding and Denon's popular 7-channel stereo mode. In short, there is no software currently available that the 2803 cannot handle.

Unique Features - For those of you looking at Denon's '03 receiver lineup like a kid fogging up a candy store window, here are some tidbits that might make a decision a little easier. The 2803 offers an 8-channel analog input for SACD/DVD-Audio sources, high-bandwidth component video switching for progressive DVD and HDTV signals and, most notably, seven channels of amplification (90 watts per channel) for true extended-surround playback. Conversely, the 1803 offers a 6-channel analog input, its component video inputs will not accept high-band-width signals and it only provides amplification for six speakers, at 80 watts per channel.

If you have an extra $400 burning a hole in your pocket, the more expensive 3803 adds 20 watts per channel (110 x 7) and better Digital-Analog Converters (DACs). While the 2803 offers 24-bit/96-kHz DACs from Analog Devices, the 3803 does one better, sporting superior 24-bit /192-kHz Burr-Brown DACs. It's up to you, of course, but these shortcomings don't add up to $400 in my book. $400 buys a lot of DVDs (or diapers, as my wife is quick to remind me).

Installation/Setup/Ease of Use - Lifting the 2803 out of its box, I found it surprisingly light. Having recently reviewed the Harman/Kardon AVR325, which weighed in at a hefty 40 lbs, the Denon's 28 lbs seemed downright dainty in comparison. Unlike portable MP3 players, thinner and lighter is not often the goal when it comes to developing a winning receiver. As a rule of thumb, a heftier box generally indicates a more substantial power supply, which typically translates to better overall sound. Thankfully, the Denon's slim figure did not in the least detract from its excellent performance.

As receivers get more complex, an intuitive setup and on-screen display system is imperative. This area represents my biggest gripe with the 2803 (and most Denons in my experience). While the 2803 will do just about everything you can think of, it's not always immediately evident how you need to do it. Like most men, asking for directions does not always come easy; I like to figure things out for myself. I'm a computer guy, too, and I don't think I've ever opened a single "ReadMe file" before using a new program. One piece of advice: before you pop in your favorite DVD and crank up the 2803, read the manual.

Adjusting things like crossover frequency, speaker size and speaker levels are all feasible on the 2803, but it was often aggravating. Frequently, I found myself dropping back to the Main Menu when I simply wanted to go back one screen, or I'd go back one screen when I wanted to highlight or engage a feature. To save others from some of the stress that I encountered, remember, it is possible to adjust speaker levels without using the built-in test tones. You need to use the "Ch. Select" button, which can only be found on the remote control.

The remote control was my only other problem with the 2803. I found the remote to be too long, it wasn't backlit, and I didn't care for the placement or design of the five-key cursor control. Though it can learn commands and does offer one-button access to surround modes like Dolby Pro Logic II, I just can't recommend this remote as your primary control device. There are many third-party universal remotes out there. My suggestion is to purchase a more intuitively designed learning model, and teach it the direct-access commands that Denon has offered with this machine.

Read more on Page 2.

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That's enough negativity. I don't want you to think I didn't like this receiver, because I most certainly did. Listening to a few tracks from the City of Angels soundtrack (an HDCD), I spent most of my time with "Angel" by Sarah McLachlan. Highs and midrange information sounded accurate and detailed (if a tad sharp), but the lower midrange and bass end lost a bit of that detail and the subwoofer seemed more active than it should have been, considering my crossover settings (80Hz). Overall, music sounded pleasing on the 2803, but I would hesitate before calling it a musical receiver.

Movies played through the 2803 are an entirely different story. In preparation for X2, I watched a few of my favorite scenes from X-Men "1.5"(don't get me started on that marketing head-scratcher). Surround effects sprang to life and the soundstage was extremely engaging. Panning from front to rear was excellent, especially during the X-Jet's low-altitude approach to the Statue of Liberty. Dialogue always sounded clear and properly positioned. This receiver really makes its case during DVD playback.

Final Take - The problems I had with the 2803 were purely ergonomic in nature. Once you get this Denon calibrated to your liking (and you get a new remote), the 2803 provides one hell of a good time. Its decoding capabilities are sure to keep you current for the foreseeable future and, with seven channels of smooth, clean power, 6.1 extended surround can be yours today, at a very reasonable price.

If you do any brand research before buying a receiver, chances are good you'll discover that Denon is near the top of the heap. Also at the top, you'll find names like Harman/Kardon, Rotel and Yamaha keeping close company with Denon. As you begin to listen to the different brands, you'll find that each name has a certain quality of sound associated with its products. I recently reviewed the Rotel RSX-1055 and the Harman/Kardon AVR325, both of which are eager competitors to Denon's 2803. In retrospect, the Rotel was the most neutral (and most expensive) of the bunch. On the warm side was the HK; sure to please individuals who put equal stock in their CD collection as they do their DVD collection. Finally, like most Denon receivers, the 2803 fell on the bright side of neutral.

Having a bright-leaning sound is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, happiness with a receiver depends entirely upon your listening tastes. The 2803's brightness lent itself extremely well to movie soundtracks where the extra punch really added to the action. Although quieter, musical tests yielded a sound less detailed than I would have liked, it still sounded pretty damned good. If you're looking for a music box that will only play the occasional movie, maybe this Denon isn't right for you. However, if you think music is fine, but your first and foremost requirement is gripping home theater sound, then get thee to a Denon dealer!

Oh, and if anyone knows if Victoria's Secret is in fact looking for writers, it would be great if you could drop me a line. Thanks.

Denon AVR-2803 A/V Receiver
7 x 90 watts at 8 ohms
Dolby Digital EX and Pro Logic II decoding
DTS-ES Discrete 6.1 and Neo:6 decoding
8-channel analog input
7 composite / 7 S-Video inputs
2 high-bandwidth component video inputs
4 optical / 2 coaxial digital audio inputs
11 analog audio inputs
Variable low-pass crossover
Dimensions:17-3/32'W x 6-47/64"H x 16-3/8"D
Weight: 28 lbs. 11 oz.
Warranty: 2 years

MSRP: $899

Additional Resources

• Read AV receiver reviews from the likes of Denon, Yamaha, Samsung, Sherwood, Sony, Sony ES and many other top brands here.

• Read a review of the Onkyo TX-NR708 7,2 channel receiver that can pass 3D HDMI 1.4.

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