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Given the number of features pumped into AV receivers these days, it becomes harder and harder to differentiate a good receiver from the rest. As feature sets grow larger, so do the prices -- with Marantz in particular increasing the price of one receiver by AU$1000 from one generation to another.
The reason for most of this? HDMI.
We're still in early days for HDMI adoption, as the HDMI specification is still evolving, and as a result some older products refuse to work with devices with newer connector versions. Considering all the potential pitfalls, where do you turn if you have no need for this latest "standard" and you want value-for-money? Why, Denon would seem to have the answer.
The Denon AVR-1707 is a no-nonsense 7.1 channel receiver which aims to get the basics right -- sound and video -- instead of adding stuff like HDMI upscaling and on-screen displays (OSDs).
Like most Denon products, the AVR-1707 imparts a degree of solidity to proceedings through the strength of its build. Brands like Harman Kardon and Marantz may look flashier, but the Denon is dependably utilitarian in appearance.
One area that could have used more attention is the remote -- it's pretty horrible. It uses a series of slider switches, instead of dedicated buttons, to operate your equipment, and some of the labels are confusing.
Plugging components into the unit is a breeze due to the finely-spaced back panel. Unlike its stablemate Marantz receivers, plugging speakers into the AVR-1707 is easy as the layout is horizontal and not vertical -- meaning there's more room around the socket if you're plugging in bare wires.
The receiver is rated at 75W per channel, and like many recent competitors it includes an automatic set up with a microphone. All of the necessary decoding types are there including Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Pro Logic IIx, and most of the DTS modes you could think of -- minus the Blu-ray compatible DTS-HD of course. For that, you would need HDMI ports.
Though the AVR-1707 lacks HDMI it still has upscaling to component, which means you only need one set of cables snaking to the back of your TV.
The Denon also includes an iPod dock port in which to connect the optional ASD1R iPod Control Dock which will let you browse photos and movies via your TV, as well as listen to MP3s of course. Though we listed an OSD as a frivolous extra, it really isn't -- especially when you consider the complexity of most home theatre setups. The lack of an OSD on the AVR-1707 sticks out here, but we were able to perform most functions -- after reading the manual, that is.
Set-up is straightforward -- plug in the microphone and the calibration utility starts. The lack of OSD makes it a little trickier -- but at least this process is intuitive and quick.
One of the features we liked about the AVR-1707 is its ability to change video inputs independently of the audio. This means you can listen to a CD while waiting for your favourite show to come on, for example.
According to the marketing material the AVR-1707 provides "peak performance even into demanding speaker conditions". Despite the awkward English phrasing, the receiver wasn't able to cope with a set of B&W DM602.5 at full volume. Most speakers are designed to operate at about 8 ohms, but the DM602.5's can operate as low as 3 ohms, and thus they pose a significant hurdle to most receivers under AU$1000. As a result, the sound that emerged was hollow at high volume -- lacking in bass and substance. We didn't try bi-amping using the surround rear channels -- but this is an option -- and could help alleviate some of the high-current demands of difficult speakers.
If you don't want perpetual party volumes, however, the news is a lot rosier -- this is an excellent amplifier. Some amps give an overly midrange-heavy performance that sounds great with dialogue but makes music sound like it's playing in a tunnel. But not the Denon. Mid-range and bass frequencies were taut and punchy, while the treble was expressive and full of detail.