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Home Theater Product Review
 

Denon DHT-684 Theater Home Theater in a Box

December, 2003

Rick Schmidt 

 

Click on the Photo Above to See a Larger Version.

Specifications:

 

  • Denon AVR-1604 Receiver

  • Denon DVD-900 DVD Player

  • 75 watts x 7 @ 8ohms, .08% THD

  • 32 Bit DSP

  • 24bit/96kHz D/A Converter

  • DTS-ES, DD-EX, NEO:6, PL-II

  • 8 Analog Inputs

  • 4 Digital Inputs

  • 4 Composite Video Inputs

  • 3 S-Video Inputs

  • 2 Component Inputs

 

MSRP $849 

Denon America

http://www.usa.denon.com  

Introduction

As part of our HTIB roundup Denon sent their DHT-684DVD system. Everything needed to set up a 6.1 channel home theater is provided, five satellite speakers, subwoofer, DVD player, receiver, and wires to hook them up, even an RCA interconnect for connecting the subwoofer to the receiver.

You will need cables to connect the DVD player to both your TV and the receiver. I recommend an optical (TosLink) connection for the audio connection and component video cables to connect the DVD’s video out. Also you will need some help carrying this thing. Mine came via UPS. On the day it arrived, I saw the truck go by my house twice, stopping elsewhere on the block. The second time I ran after it and asked the driver if she had anything for my address. “Oh yeah, there’s a big box in the back, it's so big I forgot it was back there.” This made no sense, but when I saw her struggling with carrying this thing I understood perfectly. I did offer to help by the way, I presume it was UPS policy that prevented her from accepting my offer. 

System Components

The DHT-684DVD consists of the DVD-900 DVD player and AVR-1604/684 receiver, five SC-U64S satellite speakers, a matching center channel (SC-U64C), and a DSW-80 subwoofer. 

The DVD-900 and AVR-1604/684 receiver are available as individual components. In fact, their finishes are not an exact match, though both are attractive and well built. The DVD-900 features a brushed black metal finish on its front plate, while the AVR-1604 is smooth gloss black. You won’t notice this while your eyes are on the TV, but it’s a shame the receiver doesn’t have the same finish as the DVD player because it's gorgeous. The speakers (SC-U64) and subwoofer (DSW-80) are available only as part of a home theater system from Denon. The five satellite speakers are two-way with a 4" midrange driver and ¾”dome tweeter. The 8" subwoofer driver fires downward, and a large front firing port is mounted high on the subwoofer cabinet. Vibration isolating cone spikes are included for the subwoofer. You may want to think about where you are going to place the satellite speakers and whether you’ll need some shelves or brackets. The center channel speaker is attractively designed, and a slick mounting bracket is included.

Two remote controls are included, one for DVD the other for the receiver, although the receiver’s remote can be used for both. Both remotes are large and laid out well. The most frequently used buttons on the receiver’s remote are pleasantly large and lightly back lit. 

Receiver

The controls on the receiver are wonderful. The knobs are large and heavy with discrete, click stop action, not the dreaded mush you feel with many receivers. Even the speaker binding posts have a smooth, solid feel. They are not five-way binding posts, but similar. Spade lug connection would not be possible with these, because rather than a knob on a simple post with a through hole, the knobs are enclosed in a slotted sleeve (picture the Rook or Castle chess piece), so bare wire is passed through the slots before tightening down the knobs. They are a bit too close together though. You’ll have to plan the layout of your speaker wire connections in order to leave room for your fingers. 

Most of the weight in the large package I mentioned above comes from the receiver. Rated at 75 Watts per channel and 6 channels requires some heat sinks and a large transformer. All these items are visible through the top of the receiver. The Denon literature brags about the transformer, but its specifications are not given. It is not a toroidal design which are usually preferred because they are inherently less noisy. Denon compensates for this by taking pains to isolate and insulate the transformer. 5.1 audio inputs are available if you acquire a source component that warrants the analog connection. The digital inputs are done right, there is no unpleasant glitch in the output when starting up after being muted. 

The usual collection of room modes – Jazz club, Stadium, etc – are included. I didn’t mess with them. Setup was easy and straightforward. The manual required only minimal deciphering to get me up and running, and you should plan for about ten minutes of setup after all the wires are connected. 

Speakers

The build quality of the speakers is also good. You won’t feel like you bought some little cheapie’s with these. Nor will it sound that way. The eight inch subwoofer won’t shake the room, however. That may or may not be a good thing to you. It does integrate well with the other speakers though.

Listening to the terrific Led Zeppelin DVD there were no noticeable gaps in the low end, but the very lowest frequencies were missing. This is a fact of life with an eight inch woofer. A phase control is included on the subwoofer, this lends a great deal of flexibility in placement. The midrange was very listenable but a little soft. The extra reverb sounds from Mr. Paige’s guitar were hard to pick up, and there was not a lot of space between the guitars and vocals. That’s what happens in this price range.

Switching over to the Bjork DVD, the sparse arrangements were presented with more aplomb. The overall presentation was very reminiscent of a live performance. Turning it up as loud as I could stand (loud) did not cause any part of the presentation to break down. Just as with the picture produced by the DVD-900, the Denon set seemed to soften the edges a little. This can be very welcome with certain material and may increase your listening time substantially, as it ends up being non-fatiguing. 

Auditioning CDs was a revelation. For some reason the sound on CD was superb in surround or in stereo, better than DVD sound. I don’t attribute this to the speakers though, probably something to do with that 24/96 DAC in the receiver. With CDs, the Denon set produced a convincing soundstage and as with the visuals, there were no harsh edges, which meant it was easy to listen to for long periods. 

DVD

When I bought the first components of my home theater a couple of years ago, the DVD shootout section of this website saved me hundreds of dollars. It told me to look for certain logos that would indicate the presence of the best DVD decoding chipsets and to not be swayed by price. More expensive did not equate to a better picture. Armed with the knowledge I had gained with the Secrets articles, I insisted that the salesperson show me both a Panasonic RP-56 and the Denon DV-800 on the same RPTV. Having done my homework I was not surprised to see a much sharper picture from the much less expensive Panasonic. The salesperson was quite surprised. I went with the Panasonic but not just for that picture, the Panasonic had the preferred Faroudja chip set which (I knew from this website) did a better job in a variety of situations.

At the time I didn’t know whether it was due to the chipset differences, but that the Denon presented a softer image was clear. Now it's two years later and Denon has switched to a Faroudja chipset for all their DVD players. The softer image remains however. We can conclude therefore, that this is not due to the chipset but is a conscious choice by Denon on how they think DVDs should look. This is shaping up to be quite similar to the audiophile debate between warm tube sound and detailed solid state sound. Neither sounds like the band is there in your living room, so it often boils down to preference and what your source material is.

There is more to this story though, as two years ago there was not a clear distinction between the color presentation of the two players I auditioned. Both of those players used 10 bit DACs. We are on to the next generation now and 12 bit DACs can be had for a reasonable price. The 12 bit DAC in the DVD-900 produced a noticeably more nuanced palate than my reference Panasonic.

When auditioning audio components I often have the experience of “Oh, I never heard that bit before!”. With audio it’s not always clear what the artist and mixing engineer intended for you to hear. This was the first time in auditioning a video component that I had the experience of “Oh, I never saw that before”. The subtle colors and soft edges from the Denon made most DVDs more enjoyable, with a film-like experience and depth of field that I was not accustomed to. Faces and hair were more realistic and intriguing. There was a tradeoff for this though, solid fields of color, especially dark colors had a fuzzy or snowy appearance. I had to look right at them to see this, and as these areas are usually not the area of focus in a scene, you may not notice this. I have a 65”RPTV which by its nature expands the flaws in the picture, but on a smaller set this effect would be less noticeable. 

Conclusions

What you want in a complete bundled system is evenly matched components of consistent quality. This Denon Home Theater in a Box certainly meets that goal. The build quality on all of the components is excellent and they all play well together. The film like images and gently rounded sounds make it easy to forget about the electronics and get into the music or the movie.


-Rick Schmidt -

 

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