Receivers

Denon AVR-689 7.1 A/V Receiver

ARTICLE INDEX

 

There is also a fairly substantial video limitation, but which is much more understandable given the price of the receiver.  You cannot convert analog signals to digital, and vice versa.  This means that you have to run both an HDMI and component (or other analog format) if you use both digital and analog video signals.  Thankfully, if you run a single set of component cables, you can upconvert any legacy video connection formats, such as S-Video or composite so that they will run over the component connection.

So, after coming to grips with the reality that I would have to dig out some old coaxial and optical digital audio cables and an extra set of component video cables from my closet, I was ready for some calibration.  The AVR-689 has seven amplified channels, two of which can be assigned to one of three choices: a) the main zone as surround rears, b) a second zone as stereo speakers, and c) as a second amplifier to bi-amp your front speakers.  This is some excellent flexibility for a receiver in this category.  In my case, I currently only have a 5.1 setup, so I did not make use of those channels at all.

The Audyssey MultEQ automatic calibration system is another example of the trickle-down effect of which I mentioned earlier that previously advanced features have made their way to entry level equipment.  The AVR-689 includes the microphone, which, as I recall, was a separate purchase when Denon shipped their first receivers that included an auto calibration feature.  The manual recommends that you run the test tones at six listening positions.  As I don’t even have that many in my room, I only ran it three times across the three main seats on the couch.  The system nailed most of the settings.  I really only had to modify the subwoofer level and distance, as all other channels and the system crossover came up correctly.

For those who prefer to use their trusty SPL meters and test tones, you can of course set distance and levels manually; however this will prevent you from being able to use the Audyssey equalization and room correction features.  Crossover settings can be global or per channel, another nice feature.  In addition, these settings are saved in static memory on a per-source basis, meaning that when you return to a source, the last used settings remain.

If you do choose to use the Audyssey automatic setup program, you will then be able to choose from three different types of room equalization/correction.  These include the flat response setting, the Audyssey setting, and a mode in which optimization is performed against all speakers except the front left and right speakers.  Since my room is not acoustically optimized, I chose to use the Audyssey setting to let the system perform its calculated correction and equalization.  I was pleased with the results, as I will expand upon later.

The Audyssey system incorporates a couple of new features as well that I had not seen before.  First, a setting called Dynamic EQ, which works with the MultEQ system to improve sound quality during lower volume listening.  Typically, as you lower the volume of your system, a lot of detail and nuance becomes inaudible.  This system looks to address that issue.  The second feature, which also works in concert with Dynamic EQ is Dynamic Volume.  This would be quite a useful feature for those that watch a lot of television-sourced material.  For example, I like several shows on NBC.  It seems that the program material is always significantly quieter than the commercials.  With this feature, that difference in sound levels is mitigated to a large degree.

This would be even more useful if you do a lot of channel surfing.  Many times different channels have vastly different volume levels, so flipping through them no longer requires you to have a trigger finger on the volume switch.  I say “would be” because in practice, I found that I preferred Dynamic Volume and Dynamic EQ off.  The Dynamic EQ function worked pretty well when I tested listening at low levels.  It definitely did help to keep the audio rich and dynamic when I couldn’t drive my system full bore.  The Dynamic Volume feature was a different story.  I felt that this really crushed the audio.  The bass always seemed too loud, and the rest of the channels lacked dynamics at all, rendering the audio . . . well . . . boring.

Next, I waded through the various surround options I had available.  The AVR-689 decodes all the major non-high resolution variations of Dolby and DTS, including those featuring the discrete and matrix rear surround channels (Dolby Digital EX and DTS-ES).   All of the tunable settings are there for Dolby Pro-Logic II/IIx and DTS Neo:6 as well.  I have always preferred the former and didn’t see any reason to change with this unit.  Of course, the once astounding, now gimmicky DSP modes are present as well, such as Rock Arena, Jazz Club, and 5/7 Channel Stereo.  Perhaps useful to some is the Mono Movie mode, which enhances the viewing experience for monaural classic films.  I do use Stereo mode when I listen to my iTunes collection via my Airport Express or when I pop in a CD.  A majority of the time, I prefer listening to stereo music without the enhancement of surround sound.  With my regular receiver, I have to engage Stereo mode instead of Direct mode if I want the subwoofer active.  This was not the case with the AVR-689, as the subwoofer played in both Stereo and Direct modes.  The reason I preferred Stereo mode to Direct mode, however, was that I was able to maintain the Audyssey equalization settings, which are defeated in Direct mode.