Receivers

Denon AVR-2309CI 7.1 A/V Receiver

ARTICLE INDEX

Introduction

The Denon AVR-2309CI is the entry level product in Denon’s Custom Integration line, which includes receivers specifically designed with custom installers in mind. It offers extras like an RS-232C port for integration with automation and advanced control systems such as Crestron, and a 12 volt trigger to automate things such as a front projection screen lowering when the system is powered on. The 2309CI comes in at $849, and for the price, offers a nice array of features, performance and power for the price.

Specifications

  • Design: 7.1 A/V Receiver
  • Codecs: All Dolby and DTS surround codecs, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Power: 100 Watts RMS x 7 into 8 Ohms
  • THD+N: 0.08%
  • Audyssey MultEQ Processing and Calibration
  • Inputs: 4 HDMI, 3 component, 4 S-Video, 4 Composite Video, 7.1 Multi-channel Analog Inputs, 2 Coaxial Digital, 2 Optical Digital
  • Outputs: Monitor for All Input Types, Pre-out for Subwoofer Only
  • Dimensions: 6.7" H x 17.1" W x 14.9" D
  • Weight: 27.1 Pounds
  • MSRP: $849 US
  • Denon

 

 

 


Design, Setup and Calibration

Unpacking the receiver, I found it to be of solid build quality, as all Denons are; not too heavy nor too light, checking in at just over 27 pounds. I seated it in my rack, and connected everything up. The AVR-2309CI has 4 HDMI input ports, which allowed me to connect my satellite receiver, my PS3, my HD-DVD player (maybe I should start referring to it as my DVD player that happens to play HD-DVDs?), and my Xbox 360.

Unlike the AVR-689 I reviewed previously for this publication, this model does indeed accept audio via HDMI, so no further optical or coaxial digital cables were required. The speaker terminals run centered along the bottom of the back panel. Rounding out my connections were my Apple Airport Express, which plugged into my CD input, a Nintendo Wii, which plugged into one of the three component video inputs, and my newest addition, the SlingCatcher, which also used a set of component inputs.

Next, I powered on the receiver and began assigning and naming my source inputs. The AVR-2309CI employs an on-screen display, but unfortunately it is of the old Denon variety – no colors or fancy graphics here! For each source, I assigned the appropriate HDMI or component video input. I found that it was even possible to use both HDMI and component for a single source so that if you were to have more components than available source selections, you could “double-up” a given source. Here’s my real-world use for this capability.

The AVR-2309CI has 5 source selections that can be assigned video inputs: HDP, Video Aux, TV/Cable, VCR, and DVD. As I mentioned above, I have six total sources that play video. So what am I to do? Simply not use one of those sources? The AVR-2309CI, while limited in sources, can still allow me to utilize all six devices. For the HDP input, I assigned HDMI3, Coaxial 1 (digital audio), and component video input 2. Physically, I had my PS3 connected to HDMI3 and my SlingCatcher connected to component video 2 and coax audio 1. Using the HDP input I now had access to both devices, depending upon which one was powered on.

The HDMI input always takes precedence however, so if both source components are on at the same time, the PS3 would be the source I would see and hear. This turned out to be a surprisingly useful and appreciated feature. When coupled with the use of my Logitech Harmony 880 remote control, I could use either device very simply with the press of a button.

Next, I renamed all of my sources to more closely match what I actually had plugged into them. I have always liked the ability to custom label my inputs, however, I have never enjoyed the actual task of “typing” the labels in. As is the case in nearly every receiver I have tested, I had to patiently scroll through the alphanumeric characters (both upper and lower case) to spell out the label. The obvious benefit, however, is that after the tedium is done, you have a custom touch that really adds to the personalization of your system. It may not be much, but darn it, I like seeing Xbox 360 on the front panel instead of V. AUX!

With all inputs configured and verified to be working properly, I moved on to calibration using the Audyssey MultEQ setup wizard. I placed the calibration microphone in my three main listening positions and ran the test tones. Calibration proceeded very much as it did with the AVR-689. It got just about everything correct, save for the front channels (it picked large), and the crossover settings of the surrounds (it set them at 90Hz), and fronts (it set them at 60Hz).

The 2309CI can increment speaker distances down to the tenth of the foot, and except for the subwoofer distance, which I did have to adjust, the other speaker distances were quite accurate.

Once the auto-calibration has been completed, you have the option of using one of the MultEQ room equalization settings, which are bypass L/R, Audyssey, and flat. The bypass L/R (or what often is referred to as the front curve) optimizes the room correction for all speakers except the front left and right. The Audyssey selection uses the data from the auto-calibration to generate equalization to optimize the sound for the room itself. The flat setting tries to create a totally flat response based on the same data.

I tested several of my favorite movie passages, such as the lobby scene from The Matrix, the opera scene from The Fifth Element, and the first Reaver scene from Serenity, and as has been the case in the past, I preferred the Audyssey setting. My main listening room in my current home is not an ideal theater space, so this feature is highly useful.


Surround Sound Options

The Denon AVR-2309CI is at the forefront of current AVR technology. It includes decoders for just about every major surround codec available. If you have the good fortune of owning one of the latest Blu-Ray players that can output DTS-HD Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD in their bitstream format over HDMI, then you will see said codec indicators light up on the front panel when using them. There has been considerable debate among home theater enthusiasts as to whether this is even necessary to have in an A/V receiver.

Decoding can be (and is mostly still) done in the player and each channel output as uncompressed PCM, which, when transported via HDMI to a capable receiver, should theoretically be sonically identical to the method mentioned above. Since these codecs are really nothing more than lossless compression techniques (think of the .zip format in the PC world), the “decoders” are really just decompressing the signal. This should mitigate any potential differences in the quality of the decoders, which also supports the argument that it shouldn’t matter where the decompression is done (receiver or player). Still, for traditionalists who cling to the idea that the receiver should handle this responsibility, the 2309CI fits the bill.

Of course, along with the lossless codecs, this receiver can handle all of the other Dolby and DTS lossy surround formats, including the newest such as Dolby Digital Plus and DTS-HD. The surround mode you choose is persistent for each source, which is quite useful if you prefer, say, DTS Neo:6 Music for your CD player, but Dolby Pro-Logic II Cinema for 2-channel audio from your cable box. However, what is somewhat frustrating is that the detailed options for each surround format are universal. For example, if I use Dolby Pro-Logic II Music for both my CD source and XM Radio, but I prefer to have different parameters such as panorama on for one but off for the other, I have to manually change this each time I switch the inputs.

These surround parameters persist for the surround mode rather than the source, which may be frustrating for some potential buyers. Also included is the Neural surround mode. This is a relatively new entry into the surround market. The XM-HD surround channels use Neural technology to encode their signal in surround sound. The manual for the 2309CI suggests this as the intended use for this surround mode, but it works just as well with any 2-channel source. The receiver I own includes Neural’s THX 5.1 format (which I often prefer to standard Dolby Pro-Logic II), so I was actually eager to give this mode a test run. I used a couple of older DVDs that included stereo tracks, such as Sneakers and the Usual Suspects. For the most part, I preferred the Dolby Pro-Logic II mode to the Neural mode. Neural seemed to place too much audio in the rear channels for my taste. Still, it is nice to see an alternative included in this unit.

The 2309CI also includes an array of DSP and direct modes. On the DSP side you have rock arena, jazz club, mono movie (for those classic movie lovers to still get clean monaural audio), video game, matrix, and virtual modes. On the direct side, you have 5/7 channel stereo, standard stereo, direct, and pure audio. The latter’s intent is to bypass all audio processing circuitry to give you the cleanest and supposedly highest quality possible audio out of the receiver. It is a bit strange that it will also shut down the front panel display, but will continue to output video over the HDMI connection to the monitor in this mode.

In the past, when I owned a Denon AVR-3805 and engaged pure direct mode, it would shut down the video portion of the receiver completely. The regular direct mode is intended to output the signal without any audio processing, but keeps the front panel display active. Stereo mode is what I prefer when listening to 2-channel music, as it keeps the original stereo channels intact, but still allows me to apply the crossover settings to get the bass to my subwoofer.


Remote Controls

The main remote control included with the AVR-2309CI is identical to that of the one included with the AVR-689 I reviewed a few weeks back, so this section may sound familiar to some of you.

The remote has a unique, but somewhat puzzling design. It has the main features on the front, including source selection, volume, and tuning controls. It also has the ability to control source components with the standard transport controls. In addition, you can manipulate the Audyssey settings and speaker levels. But where are the surround mode options? Flipping the remote over, there is a large door that swings open to the side, revealing more source selection controls, as well as the surround controls. I found it odd that Denon would choose to put these controls on the back of the remote hidden behind a door while the speaker level and Audyssey settings remain easily accessible on the front. You are much more likely to make adjustments to the surround parameters during normal every day use than to mess with your calibration settings.

Still, there are things to like about the remote as well. The volume buttons are large, and the volume up is convex, while the volume down button is concave, making it easy to distinguish one from the other in the dark. Similarly, the other buttons are different enough that it would be rather easy to learn your way around the remote by touch. The overall size and weight are comfortable, but I just wasn’t thrilled with having to open a door on the bottom of the remote to access some of the basic functions.

One thing I noticed while reviewing the 2309CI is the very useful Video Select button on the remote. Denon receivers have long been able to play the audio from one source while playing the video from another, however, historically there was no button included on the remote control to do this. You had to get up off the couch and do it the old fashioned way – using the front panel controls. Still, the feature was not much more useful with the remote control button in my environment because it does not work with HDMI sources. So much for that. Also included with the 2309CI is a secondary remote control for zone 2 control.

Many home theater enthusiasts use universal remotes or perhaps even more elaborate control systems. Personally, I have a Logitech Harmony 880. For those unfamiliar with the Harmony line, it uses a web based system for selecting the source components to program the remote. This makes it very easy to quickly add a new component and integrate its control into all of your pre-built activities (basically, in the Harmony world, an activity is a macro that will turn on the appropriate components and select the proper inputs with the touch of one button).

I did just that when I started testing the AVR-2309CI, for which Logitech’s website already had the remote codes. It took no more than 20 minutes to get the remote working the way I like with this receiver, and all the functions I needed were easily mapped to the soft buttons.

 


 

Audio Performance

Denon has brought quite a bit to the table in terms of audio with this receiver. Rated at 100 watts per channel, the 2309CI had plenty of power at reference level during my testing (although I would not normally keep it that loud!). The noise floor was considerably lower than it had been with the AVR-689, which brought out more detail in all of the classical music I threw at it. The richness of the DTS surround track found on the Fellowship of the Ring was handled perfectly by the 2309CI. While in the Midgewater Marshes, the insects buzzing behind my ears sounded very real. Any scene which featured the eerie voices in Frodo’s head was a treat for the ears.

I also did quite a bit of listening to the excellent Pandora streaming service, using a great application called Airfoil to capture the audio on my computer and send it to the Airport Express. I realize that this is not necessarily the highest fidelity source to test with, but the challenge of making digital music sound good is one which any receiver worthy of consideration ought to succeed at. The 2309CI definitely did. The receiver additionally has a “restorer” function which is supposed to increase the quality of lossy digital music, such as MP3s. Personally I did not find much difference when engaging these modes, although I have to admit I encode my digital music at no less than 192KHz with the highest quality settings when I do so. The bottom line here is that the AVR-2309CI performed spectacularly when it came to audio of any kind.

Two new features of the Audyssey MultEQ system are Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume. The former is intended to prevent the “deterioration” of sound as the volume gets lower. Typically, a lot of detail can be lost when playing music or movies at low levels. The Dynamic EQ feature is supposed to work with the Audyssey EQ settings to maintain this detail and quality of sound even at low levels. The Dynamic Volume feature builds on this by addressing the issue of large variations in volume, such as between different passages of a movie, or between a TV show and a commercial. The idea is very similar to a traditional “nighttime” listening mode that compresses the dynamic range. For those of you who read my AVR-689 review, you will remember that I was somewhat unimpressed with these features. I can say that after using them on this receiver, I have been sold!

In preparation for my trip to the theater to see Quantum of Solace, I pulled up Casino Royale on my HD-DVR one evening. I have two young children in my house, and not a lot of space separates my viewing area from their bedrooms, so I don’t get to watch movies at the levels I prefer very often. Hoping to have a better experience with the Audyssey features this time around, I engaged both and the result was amazing! Unlike my previous experience with Dynamic Volume, the sound was lively and rich. I did not feel like the bass was too loud, nor did I feel that everything sounded dull (as I alluded to in the previous review). I was able to watch the film with all of its wonderful action sequences at a low volume level but with all of the intricate detail and enough bass to make me forget I was using a “night time” mode. That, I suppose, is the real key…that these features are working best when you don’t even realize they are working.

 


 

Video Capabilities and Performance

Video processing capabilities and performance have become a major selling point for mid-level and above audio/video receivers. In the last couple of years, we have seen the feature set shift from simple video conversion (taking one format and converting it to another such as S-Video to component video), to advanced analog to digital conversion, video scaling, and deinterlacing.

The 2309CI includes these advanced features in the form of a Faroudja DCDi FLI2310 Video Processing and Scaling chip, which is capable of outputting video up to 1080p. The receiver can take any analog format and convert it to HDMI, while also giving you the option to scale it to 1080p for output to a monitor that supports it. Alternatively, it can also output 1080i, 720p, or 480p, however, this receiver is not capable of outputting a 720p source as 1080i or vice versa.

What is really nice is that you can set the option to perform these tasks on a per-source basis. For instance, one could set the DVD source to convert the video from component to HDMI, but leave the resolution untouched by turning off the i/p scaler. Then, for the TV source, one might choose to both convert the video to HDMI and scale it to 1080p. This granularity is certainly welcome. If you have a component that you know has excellent video processing, such as the Denon DVD-3930CI, and you want to avoid having the receiver touch the video at all, you can turn that functionality off completely for that input, but leave it on for, say, the cable DVR that has poor upscaling performance.

Sounds pretty awesome, no? So here’s the kicker…the scaling functionality is only available for analog video sources (so the above example of the DVD-3930CI may be moot if you are outputting via HDMI). At first I thought the feature was totally broken, as I would set one of my sources to scale from 480i to 1080p through the receiver, but my HDTV informed me that the incoming signal was the same as what was coming in to the receiver. I tried this with several of my sources, and it was the same each time.

Then I got to the SlingCatcher, which happened to be the first component video source I tried. Surprisingly, I found that the scaling worked at that point. I set the device to output 480p, and sure enough, when I set the i/p scaler on and to output at 1080p, my television showed that it was indeed coming in at that resolution. I confirmed this with Denon as well. The AVR-3808CI is the first model in the lineup that does video scaling for HDMI sources. I re-read the online specifications page as well as the receiver’s manual, and while there is one vague allusion to this fact in the i/p scaler page in the manual, it is never plainly spelled out anywhere that there is no ability to scale HDMI-sourced material.

Doing some further testing, I also found that when inputting 480i over component, if I had the source set to convert but not to scale, it lacked color and looked pixilated. As soon as I changed the source to output 480p instead of 480i with the same settings on the receiver, the problem went away. I am not sure if this was a bug in the software, a hardware problem, something in my HDTV, or what, but I point it out since it is what I observed.

So, after finding that I would need to test the scaling and deinterlacing performance with an analog source, I reconnected my HD-DVD player using component video cables and an optical audio cable instead of HDMI. I first wanted to test the performance of standard DVD, so I set the HD-DVD player to output video at 480i, and the receiver to convert and scale it to 1080p. The results were quite good. I tested using some scenes from the extended version of The Fellowship of the Ring. I will admit, after watching mostly HD sources these days, even the best DVDs don’t look as good as they used to. In reality, they look the same, but my point of view has changed significantly. In any case, for SD video, this DVD is one of the top notch presentations.

The 2309CI did an admirable job in the scaling and deinterlacing department. Throughout the testing, I saw no artifacts, or pixilation. Colors were relatively deep and accurate. The large, sweeping shot of Gandalf flying through the snow covered mountains on his way to Rivendell, for example, looked wonderful, and played without apparent judder or distracting noise, as did the majestic pan over Rivendell itself. I would be pretty happy using this receiver to do my video scaling if I had my DVD player and HD-DVR connected via component cables.

 


 

Other Features

There are several other features that may be of interest to potential buyers. First off, the 2309CI includes a phono input with ground, an input that has been disappearing on lower end receivers. Next, as with nearly Denon’s entire AVR lineup, you can connect an iPod dock connector for use with Denon’s array of iPod docks. The benefit to such a setup is not only the ability to listen to all of your music from your iPod, but also the ability to control the iPod directly through the Denon receiver.

The 2309CI also includes both Sirius and XM compatibility. Despite the fact that they are now one company, their tuning equipment remains separate at this time, so it provides functionality for both. Of course, an external tuner and antenna is required.

Another useful feature is the multichannel analog inputs. Whether using an old HD-DVD player, Blu-Ray player, or some other external component, it is I nice to have the ability to make use of their audio decoding if you so choose. The only drawback to using the multichannel input is that you cannot apply any of the 2309CI’s processing to the source. The multichannel input is a direct pass through to the amplifier, and does not get processed at all. This means no bass management, and no surround mode selection. What you send to the receiver is what it sends out.

The AVR-2309CI also includes zone 2 functionality. If you drive only 5.1 speakers in your main room, you can assign the remaining two amplifiers to zone 2, and run a set of stereo speakers at that zone. As I mentioned earlier, you can control zone 2 with the included secondary remote control. The value of this feature is tempered, however, by the fact that it only allows analog stereo to be sent to the zone 2 output. Anything coming in via optical, coaxial, or HDMI audio is not available to the second zone. If you don’t use zone 2, and still only drive 5.1 speakers, you can alternatively use the remaining two amplifier channels to bi-amp your front left and right speakers.

 


 

On the Bench

All distortion measurements were made within an 80 kHz bandwidth. Two channels were driven for all tests.

At 20 volts into 8 ohms (50 watts), IMD was 0.008%

Measured frequency response was 10 Hz - 50 kHz, - 1 dB at 5 volts and 20 volts into either 8 ohms or 4 ohms.

THD+N vs. Frequency was about the same at 5 volts and 20 volts into 8 ohms or 4 ohms, except for slightly higher distortion above 1 kHz for the 20 volts into 4 ohm measurement.

At 8 ohms, distortion decreased with power output until 130 watts, then rapidly rose to clipping (1% THD+N) at 150 watts. At 4 ohms, power output was 170 watts before the rapid rise to clipping at 200 watts (these tests were with two channels being driven).

 


 

Conclusions

The AVR-2309CI comes in at an MSRP of $849. This puts it squarely in the midrange tier of the receiver market. There are definitely a plethora of features to like on this model that, given the price point, make this a very attractive option. The audio performance is top notch, as I have now come to expect from a Denon product. The list of supported surround codecs is comprehensive, and should provide everything needed to enjoy the latest Blu-Ray discs. The Audyssey implementation is excellent, and the latest features included really are great value adds.

The video scaling is limited in its implementation, and will only help someone who is primarily using component video connections for their sources. If you have moved to mostly HDMI as I have, the receiver’s video functionality is basically as an HDMI switcher/repeater. Still, the performance of said scaling when using component connections is quite good, and if you have an outboard video processor, then this is a non-issue. Overall, Denon has a fine product in the AVR-2309CI. If this receiver looks to be in your price range, definitely give it a listen. You just might take one home with you on the spot.