Receivers

Denon AVR-4308CI 7.1 Receiver

ARTICLE INDEX

 

Remember when I had mentioned a workaround for having to do text entry with the remote control?  Apart from actually setting up the network configuration, you can make all the entries with your keyboard right from this web interface.  As I mentioned, however, I wish I had known this before setting everything up.

One further benefit from having web-enabled configuration, is the ability to back up and restore various configurations as files.  This is a great idea, and one that is sure to be greeted with enthusiasm from custom installers.  By having a one-click ability to back up a saved configuration, a custom installer can store all of their customers' configurations in case of events like a replacement unit is needed or someone messes with their settings.  Also, those enthusiasts that like to tinker with various configurations and settings can quickly back up their receivers before attempting different things.  Restoring the configuration is just as easy.

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Who says radio is dead?

Denon has taken the concept of radio and updated it for the current crop of technologies under the category. They didn't just throw in a “tuner” source for old time's sake.  In addition to the standard AM/FM tuner, there is also an XM tuner port, a built-in HD Radio tuner, an Internet Radio tuner that includes the vTuner service from vtuner.com, and a streaming media tuner that pulls in media from your Windows-based PC.  While there are supposedly several HD Radio stations in my area, for whatever reason, I could not get them to come in on the receiver.  This could have been due to lack of signal strength, or the fact that all I had available was the stock antenna that comes with the receiver.  So, while I can't report on actual HD Radio, I can tell you that the overall tuner interface is pretty good.  Again, it is much more quickly controlled with a web interface, but the on-screen GUI is not bad either.  You can store up to 56 broadcast stations on all the OTA tuner sources, making for quick access to all of your favorites.

The network-based tuners are again where Denon is breaking new ground for a receiver.  The 4308CI makes use of Microsoft's Windows Media Connect technology.  This is a free add-on in Windows XP, and built in to Windows Vista (via Windows Media Player 11).  Basically, on the Windows machine, you indicate the folders you want to share, and the devices that you want to be able to access those shares.  The nice thing about this is there is no 3rd party software to install.  Once configured, you will be able to see all of your MP3 and WMA encoded digital music right in the Denon GUI.  You can make use of your pre-built playlists, or simply browse your library as it is organized on your PC.

Not only can you access your networked music content, but the 4308CI will also display your photos.  I will admit, there are far better photo viewers out there, but it is nice to have the capability in a single interface.  Playing your networked music is much better, although it still is no replacement for something like a Sonos.  Again, the value here is having the functionality already built into your receiver, thereby eliminating the need for yet another source.  The fact that you can control the playlist from the web interface makes this a very usable solution.

Now, I know some of you are wondering how Denon could leave the Mac users out in the cold here, but this is simply not the case. Like many other receiver manufacturers, Denon is well aware of the number of iPod owners out there, and thus included iPod integration with the use of an external dock.  Yes, this isn't a networked solution, but think about how easy it is to pop your iPod into the dock and have instant access to all your music without the need for configuring networking.  And, like the aforementioned Windows sharing, you can also display your photos stored on the iPod.

The one additional benefit for iPod users?  If you have a 5th or newer generation iPod, you can also show your videos!  Rounding out the digital media offerings for the 4308CI, there is also the ability to play music or view photos off of a standard USB storage device.

The Internet radio tuner is also very compelling.  There is a preconfigured list of stations, but again, using the web interface makes it easy to customize the list to your own tastes.  Also included is the ability to access internet radio stations via the vTuner website.  This site is basically a directory service for Internet broadcasting.  This is a nice feature, but you can create your own directory just as well.  One thing I found especially useful was that Denon included the ability to stream podcasts.  For those of you still living in 2003 (hey..I guess that's not that long ago!), podcasts are basically pre-recorded Internet radio shows that can be anything from a music show, to a political talk show, to old time radio dramas.  There are literally tens of thousands of different podcasts out there on just about any subject you could want.  You just input the podcast's “feed”, which is basically a special URL, and the list of available shows is populated.  Many podcasts keep their entire archive of episodes up in their feed, so you can always go back and listen to episodes you missed or wish to hear again.

A Note About the Remote

This being a custom installation unit, most people who are interested in the 4308 will likely be using either an advanced control system or universal remote control.  However, for those who don't, the 4308CI comes with two remotes.  The main remote control implements both an electro-luminescent touch display and hard buttons.  Like the remotes included in some of the previous models, the fluorescent blue buttons change, based on the device being controlled.  For some devices, such as the receiver itself, you can cycle through several pages of buttons to get to the various functions.  For non-Denon gear, you can teach the remote the basic commands from the component's native remote.

Denon has improved the feel of the remote, as I found the previous version to be too heavily weighted towards the front.  This remote control's bulk is towards the back, which, along with the curved bottom, makes it much more comfortable in the hand.  The hard buttons are laid out alright, but are not back lit.  That may or may not be a concern, as most people could probably learn the remote well enough to know where they are by the feel of the keys.  Also included with the receiver is a secondary “sub remote”.  This can be used for basic operation in the main zone, or as a separate controller for a secondary zone.

Conclusions

Personally, there are two major things I associate with a receiver bearing the Denon brand name: feature-richness and quality performance.  The AVR-4308CI exemplifies both of these characteristics to a tee.  As you can tell from the body of this review, the 4308CI is not wanting for any feature.  Basically if it is out there, this unit has it.  From the network functions, to the audio codecs, to the video processing, you won't be left wishing there were something else this receiver could do (at least not until some super new 10 channel super surround audio codec is released!).  As for performance, this is what I would expect in something from Denon, that is to say this receiver sounded nothing short of magnificent.  No matter what movie, album, or format I tested, the 4308CI was simply outstanding.  The amplifiers, capable of an advertised 140 watts per channel, never got tired, even as I played source material at reference levels.  I think our own Brian Florian said it best that nowadays we are after the “True Sound”, meaning the receiver's reproduction of the source material is so true to the original that it doesn't call attention to itself as “bright”, “warm”, or any other adjective.  The Denon fits that bill.  It takes anything you throw at it and lets your speakers shine.

The bottom line here, as you have probably already guessed, is that the AVR-4308CI what I had hoped it would be over a year ago.  At an MSRP of $2,499, this is definitely on the higher end of the receiver spectrum.  However, when you consider what it brings to the table and how much separate components that do all of these things would cost, it may actually be a bargain.  Kudos to Denon for putting out a product that is an excellent achievement in the audio/video receiver category.