Denon AVR-689 7.1 A/V Receiver



Setup and Calibration

I unpacked the solid 25 pound AVR-689 receiver and took a quick visual inventory of the unit before sliding it into my rack.  This receiver is traditional Denon.  It features a black metal finish, solid construction, a nice blue electroluminescent display, control knobs for both volume and source select, and a few buttons for simple access to the major features and configuration menus.  There is one source input hidden behind a removable tab on the front that features a set of composite video inputs, an S-Video input, and the setup microphone input.  Moving to the rear, I found the usual compliment of speaker terminals and input/output connections.

One thing about an entry-level receiver is that there are fewer inputs on the back, and thus, less clutter.  It was refreshing to see a layout in which the speaker terminals occupied one side (the right), while the audio and video inputs occupied the other (left).  This made for very easy connections without having to worry about crossing speaker and A/V cables.  I was also pleasantly surprised to see three HDMI inputs rather than two as indicated on the A/V Receivers page on Denon’s website (however the actual product page for the receiver does correctly indicate that there are three inputs and one output).   As I have five components that can use HDMI, I had to choose which three made the cut, and the honors went to the Playstation 3, the DirecTV HR21, and the Xbox 360.  I connected the HDMI monitor out, and then connected my Apple Airport Express to the CD input in order to send my music wirelessly to the system.  As for the speakers, the receiver can handle models down to 6 ohms, and does include a protection circuit to cut the power should the system overheat.  I plugged in my speakers using standard banana plugs and was ready to get started.

Once I got everything connected, I fired the receiver up and began configuring my inputs.  You have the ability to assign your HDMI ports to three of four choices: DVD, TV, VCR (if you have a VCR with HDMI out, more power to you!), and Video Aux (which also is the front analog input assignment).  There are then two each of coaxial and optical digital inputs, three component inputs, and five S-Video and composite connections.  All told, five of the nine sources are video-capable in some way, and the remaining four – Sirius, Aux, CD, and CD-R/Tape are audio only.

You can use the remote to run through configuration, but since there is no on-screen display, I chose to use the front panel controls to set everything up.  You press a button to enter the setup menus, and then use a control knob to navigate and select.  By turning the knob, you move through options, and a simple press of the knob makes a selection.  I really liked this control scheme.  The only caveat here is that if you leave one of the inputs assigned to the wrong label for too long, it will automatically bump that label out if it was assigned to a different input.  For example, when I selected HDMI 1 to be assigned to TV, I left it on DVD for too long while scrolling through the choices, and thus, DVD was knocked out of being the HDMI 2 input.  This is mostly a nitpick, but it did throw me for a loop the first time I tried to use the Playstation 3 (which was my DVD input).

I had all of my sources connected, and saw the picture from the satellite feed, but the volume was really low.  I realized it was coming only from the TV.  A quick consultation with the manual, which is fairly comprehensive, drew me to the major bombshell with this unit.

Directly from the manual:
NOTE: The audio signal input to the HDMI input connector cannot be played on the AVR-689.  Input the audio signal to the digital audio input connector or analog audio input connector”

Stunned, I had to re-read that passage a few times to let it sink in.  There are several reasons why this is a deal-breaker.  First of all, one of the promises of HDMI is to cut down on the cable sprawl behind your component rack by sending both audio and video down a single cable.  By eliminating the ability to use the connector for audio input, Denon has removed a huge part of the usefulness of this connector on the AVR-689.  Of course you can pass through digital video to your display, but it doesn’t support audio except to pass that through to your display as well.  For a receiver that supports HDMI 1.3a, and thus things like xvYCC and Deep Color, it is amazing that audio is neglected completely.  This limitation prevents the receiver from being able to receive multi-channel PCM audio, and thus, the wonderful uncompressed audio tracks on Blu-ray discs in pristine digital quality.  There is a set of multi-channel analog inputs, which does allow for players that have the ability to output via these connectors.  Still, the huge number of Sony Playstation 3 owners who use them as Blu-ray players (such as myself) are left out in the cold as there is no way to move those high resolution audio tracks to the AVR-689.  Furthermore, for those with Blu-ray players that do have analog multi-channel outputs, there had better be some bass management features in the player (or your speakers had better be full range all around) because the inputs on the AVR-689 are pass-through only; there is no processing, and thus, no bass management.

To re-iterate, the HDMI inputs pass through the video and audio only. They do not provide any audio decoding in the receiver.