Over the past few years, a new type of component, that blurred the line between "separates," i.e. a separate amplifier and processor, and the average mass-market receiver, has come into the home theater market.
This is the flagship receiver, or a sort of "uber-receiver" that takes some of the better, if not best, processing technology that manufacturers have to offer and combines it with a good multi-channel amplifier section. These units were designed to appeal to the more discerning audio/videophile that wants a one-box solution, and better sound/features/flexibility than are present with more pedestrian receivers. One of the main players in this category has been Denon with their 5000 series, of which the latest and greatest version is the $4,300 AVR-5803.
Unique Features - One look at the 5803 makes you realize that this is a serious piece of home theater equipment. It is a very large black box at 8 1/2 inches in height, almost 20 inches long, and 63 lbs. of mass. It has a no-nonsense utilitarian look about it, with a large front LED display, two large knobs for volume and input selection, a bank of lights below and to the side of the display, and a large flip down door that contains auxiliary controls. Looking at the back of this receiver reveals how dense the feature list is. This is the only component that I have seen that has two 7.1 inputs for outboard decoders such as DVD-Audio and SACD players (complete with bass management capabilities). Besides the normal bank of composite/S-Video/and analog audio inputs, there is also component video switching (fully HDTV compatible at 100 MHz) for three devices. Speaker binding posts are present not only for seven speakers (although I did wish they were a bit more robust), but also for an extra pair of back speakers in case you would like to use dipole rear speakers for movies, and switch to direct-radiating speakers for high-resolution audio. Although there is power for 7 channels, the amplifier section is assignable so the pre-outs can be used for outboard power for the front channels. There is even a phono input, a Dolby Digital RF input for those who still love their laserdisc players, connections for a second zone, and speaker binding posts for a pair of second-zone speakers.
Perhaps the most interesting feature in this rather impressive list is the DenonLink connector, a proprietary digital connection that can be used in conjunction with their DVD-9000 player that can be used to transfer not only PCM, Dolby Digital, and DTS, but also DVD-Audio (and also possibly SACD) signals. More on this topic in the accompanying sidebar.
The 5803 comes with the Akfis RC-8000 LCD touch-screen remote with a rechargeable battery pack and a base with an auxiliary antenna (at this point, I was starting to wonder exactly what the 5803 didn't have). This particular implementation of the LCD remote genre is not as successful or as easy to use as the Pronto, but after spending some time getting used to it, it got the job done.
Installation/Setup/Ease of Use - I hooked the 5803 up in conjunction with the DVD-9000 DVD player to my B&W Nautilus 804/805/HTM2/REL Strata III system via AudioQuest Gibraltar cables, to a Marantz PD5020D plasma via a Tribuatries component cable, and power was connected to the Monster HTPS7000. Those quick-witted among you may have already realized that I have not mentioned any S-Video or composite connections, and this is due to the fact that the 5803 up-converts (flawlessly, I might add) these and outputs them through its component connection (the OSD is available across the component connection, but not with a progressive signal). This makes life much simpler for those with plasmas and projectors. Setup is made especially easy with this feature, and the only thing that I did not like about the Denon's flexibility is that a digital audio input can only be assigned to one source. I usually setup the S-Video and component outputs of my cable box through different video inputs so I can switch between them for NTSC and HD sources, but I could not assign the digital audio to both video sources. Aside from this, the setup was as flexible and easy to use as a separate processor, although I should mention that the instruction manual was neither simple to understand nor easy.
Final Take - I first started with two-channel music played through the DenonLink using the DVD-9000 as the source. The 5803 has AL24 processing, that essentially up-samples 16-bit PCM sources to 24-bit. The sound was clear, transparent, with a slightly forward midrange, smooth highs that were not harsh or bright, and tight, rhythmic bass. The soundstage was good, and imaging was also good, although not quite as large or deep as my reference Krell Processor and Glasse amp. This same sonic signature manifested itself in multi-channel music, like DVD-A, which is no surprise as the 5803 has 16 (yes count 'em, sixteen) Burr-Brown DACs. The feared receiver brightness was never present, and the 5803 managed to generate a very cohesive, musical soundfield.
This receiver continued to sound really good when I moved on to movies. Dolby Digital, DTS, and ProLogic II, and DTS Neo processing are all present and sound excellent (I did not test the 7-channel DD and DTS modes). The Denon has a separate set of two 32-bit Analog Devices SHARC Hammerhead DACs for these modes (what a great name). That same cohesive soundfield along with crisp, intelligible vocals was present when multi-channel audio was present for movies, and the 5803 does an excellent job of steering, with copious amounts of information being directed to the rear channels. Once again, it always sounded smooth, just slightly forward in the midrange, and never called attention to itself in a negative way with harshness, brightness, or tizziness, traits sometimes found in lesser receivers. The THX implementation works wonderfully for taming bright soundtracks, and I must repeat again how much I like Dolby ProLogic II for two-channel movie and TV watching.