DENON AVR-4520CI RECEIVER REVIEW
Denon has always been a dominate force in the AVR world. They have a huge fanbase. My first Denon was the 5803A. It reminded me of the Death Star in Star Wars. Many that follow my site (thank you by the way) know that I have had a long term affair going on with Onkyo. A few months back I spent some quality time with the Denon 4311. It has a great reputation and I discovered it definitely deserved it. I then jumped back in with a big Onkyo Comparison. However, I had always planned to check out Denon's new 4520 when it arrived. After the 4311 I was expecting something even bigger and better from Denon. The AVR-4520 by FAR exceeded my expectations! It is the most intuitive Receiver to date I have had in my set up. Its vast amount of features make it also the best performer I have had. I will compare it to the Onkyo TX-NR5010 (later on) but for now let me jump right in with what makes it a starter in my theater...
I am really impressed with the Amp Assign feature. No more being told how you have to run your 11 speaker set up. Yes, I am talking to you Onkyo! I was able to run my Fronts, Center and Wides using my Parasound A51 while letting the Denon 4520 do the rest. For the purpose of this Review I mainly used the 4520 without an AMP. I just want to point out the importance of being able to set it anyway you like. This is optimal. I also really like the Dialog Enhancer option. I have an amazing Center channel which is the BG RADIA CC-220 which can be read about here (as well as their FS-420s) but when watching sports (like Football) the play by play sometimes gets a little lost. Just setting this to Low makes a nice difference. The room is still enveloped with crowd noise, the QB is still heard barking out signals, the PA announcer can still lightly be heard in the background and you can also hear the TV announcers. At one point I heard Tony Romo clearly say, "Number 53 is Mike, 53 is Mike" which meant #53, the middle linebacker was going to blitz! Which he promptly did and sacked him! We felt like we were on the sideline! For movies it will help with whispers or light talkers or for folks who are a little hard of hearing. I am not using it for anything else but sports though. However I am experimenting with the Cinema EQ option. This has an interesting effect on movies. This may be better for DirecTV shows and movies instead of Blu ray however. Another cool feature for those times when Bass needs better containment is LFC (Low Frequency Containment). Testing proved that it worked quite well. This made my Wife happy for when the day comes when we have a baby sleeping upstairs this feature will come in handy. Another feature upgrade over its older brother the 4311 is 32/192 DAC's, and all processing at 32-bit. Many will argue you can't hear a difference but there is a reason the Receivers with it perform better. Another cool feature is the Ethernet Hub. Makes life much easier when wanting to connect multiple units to the internet. I first saw this on the Sony 5700ES and I am happy to see Denon following suit. Of course I have to mention one of the most important performance feature and that is Audyssey MultEQXT32 with SubEQ. The 4311 had the most thorough implementation and the 4520 continues it. Setting up the 4520 was really simple. Their new state of the art GUI looks nice. It is easy to read and can be seen no matter what signal is coming in. Airplay! My Wife loves to use her iPhone/iPad mini to listen to music and she is a big fan of it! There are many more but my favorite is DTS Neo:X. I have become a huge fan for movies and TV shows. This is the main reason I did not keep the 4311 and went back to Onkyo. The 4520 is the real deal with Neo:X. That alone is worth the upgrade! Jumping right in with DirecTV I was delighted that I could do Audyssey DSX 11 channels with football. I picked D.D. EX plus Height and Wide and the I was right at the game. For shows and movies I have been using Neo: X. Another important feature is how well the AVR scales. Especially for those who have abandoned stand alone video processors. I will say that I have been using the new Oppo 103 (Reviewed here) which has a HDMI input on the back to further "enhance" the image. The Denon 4520 uses an ADV8003 chip from Analog Devices which does a terrific job. The image is very clean and scaling looks firs rate. I also really am liking the preset pic modes it has. Standard, Movie, and Vivid mainly. For some reason I am favoring various modes with football. The Vivid has a blue tint while the Movie mode has a warm look. Standard is brighter and neutral. Depending on the broadcast, staduim and time of day each one may "enhance" the game to look its best. Experiment some with your display. The 4K upscale though not bad still is a little inferior to the Oppo's and the Onkyo/Integra line. And much further away then the built in 4K scaler on the Sony 1000ES projector which is to be expected. At least the 4520 does offer 4K pass-through. It worked fine with the Sony S790 and Oppo 103 doing 4K upscale. This is a nice future proof feature to have though I fully expect 4K Blu ray players to have Dual HDMI outputs. I did run into a snag when sending the 4520 into the Oppo 103. The HDMI handshake green screen will occur from time to time. I spoke with Oppo and they had a simple explanation. Quickly put they said, "It is not an ideal configuration to send the HDMI output of an AVR to the player. This is because AVRs are usually designed to drive only one down-stream HDMI device, and can handle only one HDCP key. If you connect the AVR output to the player and then further to a display, there are two down-stream devices for the AVR. HDMI handshake will become problematic." There is good news here though because I have found a workaround. I am fan of the Darblet (here) and I have found if I send the 4520's output into the Darblet first then send the Darblet's into the Oppo 103 all is well. I have tried to trip it up and so far have not been able to. Another possible workaround is to use a HDMI Detective Plus from Gefen. I know "they" say you are supposed to put the Darblet last in your chain before the display but I have noticed zero difference in the image having it in this configuration. Combined with the 4520's touch and the 103's "enhancements" I am getting the best image today from DirecTV. And with the excellent sound to match again I have to say ear candy has met eye candy!
So any minor changes from the 4311? Yes, a couple. You don't have immediate access to speaker levels by hitting the Channel button on the remote. I do miss that but hey it is less chance to easily screw up the sound. Also the blue DSX light is gone. Now this is not that big of a deal because when watching sports I can see Audyssey DSX in large letters on the display. Speaking of the Remote (a couple sentences back) I like it. It is very sensitive though and lights up over a sneeze! You can hit Info and check out what is happening or hit Option to change your Pic Mode. You also hold down the Sound Mode buttons and the options appear on screen for you. Just scroll up or down and select one. Easy. You also have a direct button to InstaPrevue (which gives you a Preview as to what is on in your other inputs) and of course Set Up.
So this is the big one. Both are amazing state of the art AVRs and anyone would be happy owning either or. The Denon is stronger with Amp Assign, Dialog Enhancer, Ethernet Hub, Airplay and a better overall Audyssey XT32 calibration whereas the Onkyo is still slightly better at scaling (though with my equipment I am able to make that a non factor). The 4K upscaling is stronger in the Onkyo/Integra line using the Marvell Qdeo chip. Of course that is another "no biggie" since 99% of the people don't own 4K displays yet. The scaling to 1080p in the Denon is improved and looks better than the 4311. The ADV8003 chip performs very well and the Pic Modes make me like it as much or better than the Onkyo 5010's. The 5010 does have a large Toroidal Transformer but the 4520 (like the 4311) has a cool pre-amp mode. The 4520 is at 150 w per channel and the 5010 is at 145. Seriously you can't go wrong with either Receiver. I am a fan of both. They do have their own sound though. I guess that would be up to taste as to which some prefer. With doing less then 11 speakers the choice is even harder. Both do The Expendables 2 DTS Neo:X soundtrack brilliantly. With both having 192 kHz/32-Bit Audio DACs and the capability of 11 channels (though easier to set up on the 4520) both will fill any size room with true cinema like sound.
So channel surfing on DirecTV I was very impressed with the amount of detail I was able to pick up. For example when checking out Bruce Almighty (my favorite scene when he first discovers his powers) I could hear the pitter-patter of his shoes on the pavement as the song The Power (by Snap) starts playing. I have never heard this before. At least not so distinctive. The intro to Dexter sounded disturbingly good as he drags the razor on his face. Same for when he is crunching on his food. My Wife hates utensils scratching on a plate and she cringes! The dialog from shows like The Big Bang Theory was outstanding. My german shepard has barked before thinking someone was in the room but this time he actually charged up to the screen! I also demoed Friday the 13th (newer one) when they are getting in their SUV. As each door is shut you can hear it perfectly around the room coinciding with each speaker. Also when it begain to rain towards the end the Heights and Wides were very active. Especially the Heights and all the rain which made you feel like it was coming down on top of you. Walking Dead was eerie as the walkers (zombies) would come rustling out of the bushes. Again dialog was clear and distinct whether it was a woman or man or zombie communicating. For watching TV I have not found a weak spot...
Speaking of subwoofers I am excited to have been checking out BG's new SW-210. It packs quite the wallop! Proprietary Force Canceling Design eliminates vibrations while packing a sonic punch. I have had many Subwoofers in my theater and I can say without a doubt the SW-210 hands down is the best to date. Using this with my other BG Radia speakers my room is getting the best cinema sound I have heard. Of course it helps to have an excellent Receiver/pre-pro like the Denon 4520 and AMP like the Parasound A51. The SW-210 Subwoofer has made the bass in my room pulse pounding. I also don't mind having it out in the open with its shiny piano black gloss look. This high end subwoofer looks as good as it sounds! If you are in the market for one make sure the SW-210 is on your very short list... Trust me!
Blu ray soundtracks yielded even better results. The movie Battleship which has excellent sound was reference material on the 4520. Same for The Amazing Spiderman! I also was able to get The Expendables 2 which has a DTS Neo:X 11 channel soundtrack. Wow was that fun! Definite top shelf sound. Let's hope more titles come like this in the NEAR future. My subwoofers got quite the workout! Using DTS Neo: X for all movies is where it is at. That is my sweet spot! Disney's Brave has nice ear candy to match the jaw dropping visuals (especially in 3D). Blu ray movies whether in 3D or 2D combined with the best sound to date I have heard in my home make the movie experience that much better.
Equipment used for some or all of this Review in the "lab" are:
SONY VPL-VW1000ES 4K PROJECTOR
DENON AVR-4520CI RECEIVER
OPPO BDP-103 Universal 3D Network 4K (upscaling) Blu ray,
OnkyoTX-NR 5010 Receiver/ pre-pro, DARBLET, DirecTV HR24 500, Xbox 360, PS3, Monster Power HTS 5100, Sony BDP S790 4K (upscaling) Blu ray, Panasonic BDT 500 3D Blu ray player, MonsterVision 3D glasses, Sony 3D glasses, Parasound HALO A51 AMP, Antec Component Coolers, Vutec SilverStar 120.5" screen with a Carada Masquerade Masking System. Speakers (11.6) BG RADIA CENTER CC-220 & FS-420s (Left and Right), Pinnacle Speakers- Heights BD500 OWs, Surrounds Super K555s and the KLCR for surround back. Subwoofers- BG Woofer SW-210, Pinnacle Dig 600 & CS88 Corner Sub plus four MTX Lolita Low Profiles. 11.7 Sound! Remotes: Harmony 1100. Monster M1000 Ultimate HDMI cables top to bottom. And two Monster 35 foot HDX Hyperspeed HDMI cables.
Final thoughts... I have to admit I was planning to Review the 4520 then go back to either an Onkyo 5010 or 3010. I did not expect to keep the Denon as my starter. That's the coolest thing about this hobby. You just never know with electronics. I have used the line too many times about success breeding followers but after turning on the "Flagship" Denon AVR- 4520 it makes perfect sense. The Denon Fan Club has just added another one. Me!
DTS Neo:X 11 Channel Sound
Maybe it is time to
add a Denon sign?
I'd like to once again say thanks to my lovely Wife for her support in my "Habit" of electronics. It's been a great first year of Marriage and look forward to many more... And I look forward to many more fun movie nights with friends and family. 3D! 3D!!!
Briefly... Music whether internet based or a concert Blu ray performed with plenty of pizazz. And since I get en email with every Receiver Review let me just say video games also were rendered nicely. Especially the "action" games!!!
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