If we had a bone to pick with Denon's hugely popular A/V receiver lineup, it would be the lack of upper-midrange models. So the $1,999 Denon AVR-4306's mission was clear: fill the price and performance gap that existed between the highly acclaimed AVR-3806 ($1,299) and the decidedly high-end AVR-4806 ($3,500) receivers. Visually, the 4306 is a near clone of the 3806, but the connectivity quotient bumps the number of HDMI inputs from two to three, adds upscaling to 480p/720p/1080i, supports connectivity to USB MP3 players and iPods, and tosses in an Ethernet port for streaming digital audio from your PC or from the Internet. Simply put, the Denon AVR-4306 packs in just about every audio and video feature you could possibly want--we actually awarded it a 10 in Features--and it sounds even better than the 3806. It easily wins our Editors' Choice award, but if it's a bit too rich for your blood, you may want to hold on until we examine Denon's forthcoming , which offers many--but not nearly all--of the 4306's key features at a more wallet-friendly $1,099 price. If, on the other hand, the AVR-4306 falls within your price range, we couldn't make a stronger recommendation.
Editor's note: Denon Electronics will not honor the warranty on Denon components purchased from unauthorized dealers or if the original factory serial number has been removed, defaced, or replaced. If in doubt about a particular online or brick-and-mortar retailer, call Denon at 973/396-0810. The Denon AVR-4306's understated design keeps most of the lesser-used controls tucked under a flip-down panel. The receiver is available in black or silver finishes; it measures 17.1 by 6.75 by 16.9 inches (WHD) and weighs almost 41 pounds. The amplifiers run hot to the touch, so we'd advise against placing the AVR-4306 inside tight confines--allow at least an inch of clearance on all sides and two inches in the rear.
Ergonomics on both the remote and the receiver aren't as straightforward as we would have liked. There were times during the course of this review, for example, when we couldn't get any sound out of the receiver; then we realized that we'd inadvertently switched from Zone One to Zone Three. We blame the remote's now-you-see-them-now-you-don't disappearing touch-screen controls. Yes, we did eventually get the sound back to where we wanted it, but one accidental brush with the touch screen, and we were back trying to get sound again. Worse yet, we couldn't figure out how to restore the sound with any of the controls on the AVR-4306's front panel.
Denon's advanced Audyssey MultEQxt Room EQ autosetup system promises to not only improve the sound for the centrally seated listeners but also for large groups of listeners. It mostly succeeds on those fronts, but unlike most other brands' autosetup systems that involve just plugging in a setup microphone and a brief encounter negotiating menu prompts, Denon's system requires a lot more user participation. You'll have to move the supplied measurement microphone to six positions in your room and continue to respond to onscreen prompts over the course of the 20-minute routine. We appreciate the ambitious goals of the system, but the whole point of autosetup is to make it easier for neophytes rather than more difficult. Perhaps in next year's models, Denon will offer the user the choice of a simplified autosetup along with this more sophisticated version. On the upside, the extra work was worth it: the equalization firmed up our speakers as well as the subwoofer's bass; dialogue was more articulate; and the sense of spatial depth of the soundstage was increased. The Audyssey MultEQxt Room EQ autosetup system's calibration accuracy was spot-on. The Denon AVR-4306 produces as much as 130 watts for each of its seven channels and offers a full selection of Dolby, DTS, and proprietary surround-processing modes, but that's just the tip of its massive features iceberg.
In the AVR-4306, Denon has set a new record for connectivity options on a receiver. With a grand total of seven A/V inputs--including the three assignable HDMI and another three component inputs--we can't imagine too many home-theater installations that would run out of jacks. The receiver's analog-to-HDMI video conversion works its magic on composite, S-Video, and component-video sources such as your VCR or DVD player, sending them through the HDMI output. But the 4306 one-ups every receiver we've seen to date by letting you upscale the output to your choice of resolutions: 480p, 720p or 1080i. That offers the advantage of picking the resolution that works best for your HDTV. The single HDMI output is complemented by two component outs, as well as plenty of composite and S-Video recorder loops.
Digital audio connections are likewise bountiful. There are seven inputs--five optical (including one on the front panel) and two coaxial--plus two optical outputs. High-resolution-audio fans can choose to use either the 7.1-channel analog inputs--good for SACD, DVD-Audio, and even upcoming Blu-ray and HD-DVD players--or the Denon Link single cable connection, an all-digital Ethernet-style link that works with compatible Denon SACD/DVD-Audio players. Audio enthusiasts will also appreciate HDCD processing for getting better sound out of CDs that are so encoded. If you get the urge to upgrade, the receiver's 7.1-channel preamplifier outputs can be hooked up to a burly power amplifier.
If we ended the Denon AVR-4306's feature list there, it would be quite a well-apportioned model indeed--but the litany goes on. The receiver is XM ready, so it can tune in any XM Satellite Radio stations once you attach a Connect and Play antenna (such as the ) and sign up for an XM subscription. The 4306 also includes a front-panel USB port for connecting to and playing back audio from most flash-based MP3 players.
Even better, there are identical dedicated iPod ports on the front and rear for connecting to dock-style iPods--that is, any non-first-generation iPod except for the Shuffle. The rear port is nice if you want to leave your iPod semipermanently connected without an ugly front-panel cable. To connect an iPod to the AVR-4306, you'll need to pick up Denon's proprietary AK-P100 cable, which retails for $60. You can navigate a connected iPod via the AVR-4306's onscreen display using the receiver's remote, and the system can recharge attached iPods, even when the receiver is powered down.
For still more digital-music goodness, the AVR-4306 sports an Ethernet port that can connect to your home network. The receiver can stream Internet radio and MP3/WMA files from a networked PC (or DLNA-compliant network storage device), including subscription and downloaded Plays For Sure content from many online music stores (albeit not Apple's iTunes Store). The network port also lets you control the 4306 from any standard Web browser on your home network--just type in the IP address and you get a text-based menu that duplicates most of the control and setup options without the need to install any pesky software. Even with all of the latest and greatest digital-connectivity features onboard, though, Denon didn't neglect the analog faithful and furnished a set of phono (turntable) inputs and a set of stereo inputs.
The Denon AVR-4306's exceptional multiroom flexibility lets you listen to as many as three sources--for instance, XM Radio, a CD, and your turntable--in as many as three different rooms, and the rear panel sports every possible connection required for whole-house systems including a RS-232 port and 12 volt triggers. And the browser-based control mentioned above lets different users in different rooms (zones) change audio sources from a networked PC or handheld without the need for a remote.
We strained to find any key features missing from the 4306. There's no built-in HD Radio reception--but that's essentially irrelevant to most buyers in this price range. Also, the receiver lacks the ability to decode the new Dolby Digital Plus/TruHD and DTS-HD soundtracks found on forthcoming HD-DVD and Blu-ray discs. But let's put that into perspective: no receiver currently on the market can handle those formats, and it's unclear what the advantage would be if they did. Dolby, DTS, and the hardware manufacturers are telling us that HD-DVD and Blu-ray players handle the soundtrack decoding internally and pass the discrete audio streams onto the receiver via HDMI or the 5.1 analog inputs--obviating, it would seem, the need for next-gen internal surround decoding. So while the Denon AVR-4306 isn't completely perfect from a feature perspective, it's as close as anything we've seen--which is why we're awarding it a 10 in the Features category. In terms of sound quality, the Denon AVR-4306 stepped up to the plate and knocked one out of the park with the Hustle & Flow DVD. This street-smart film starring Terrence Howard as a pimp who dreams of becoming a rap star burns with rare emotional desperation. We switched the Audyssey MultEQxt Room EQ on and off and were amazed by how much it improved the sound. The soundtrack's beats were rock-solid, deeper, and tighter, and the optimized surround mix was more coherent, which certainly validated Denon's time-consuming setup routine for us.
The Greenhornes' retro rock CD, Sewed Soles, had a nice kick over the AVR-4306. Power wasn't an issue, and the sheer clarity of the sound and the raw physicality of the music were above what we expect from even the better receivers.
The AVR-4306's sense of see-through transparency came to the fore when we played a DVD-Audio disc of Medeski, Martin, and Wood's funk masterpiece, Uninvisible. This surround recording spread the keyboards between the left-rear and left-front speakers, and the drums between the right-front and right-rear speakers, while the bass was anchored in the center speaker. The trio's bottom-heavy grooves had the sort of massive attack and pants-flapping bass power that we associate with higher-end components, and the three-dimensional depth of soundstage was spectacular. Previous generations of Denon receivers sounded warmer and softer than the AVR-4306, but this new model is the most transparent-sounding Denon yet.
Turning from audio to video, we tested the Denon's HDMI switching and upconversion capabilities and came away with very few complaints. First off, the receiver successfully passed a 1080p signal from our Sencore VP403 signal generator to a Dell W5001C plasma, proving that the 4806 should be no impediment to future 1080p HDMI sources such as PlayStation 3. We also tested its ability to upconvert standard analog 480i signals to various resolutions at the HDMI output. According to test patterns from the HQV test disc, the Denon delivered all of the resolution of DVD at all three resolutions: 480p, 720p, and 1080i. Video processing was good; the receiver passed the jaggies and flag tests from HQV, keeping the difficult diagonal lines as smooth as we've seen from any upconverting DVD player. It did falter a bit on the 2:3 pull-down test, taking about two seconds to lock into film mode at 480p and 720p resolutions, whereas the lock was almost immediate at 1080i. Star Trek: Insurrection was smooth on all resolutions, although again, 1080i seemed a bit smoother than the other resolutions.
We looked at these images on the Dell and on a LCD, but your results may vary on other displays. If you don't feel like testing the various upconversion settings on your own, we recommend you set the Denon to upconvert analog 480i resolutions to the setting that most closely matches the native resolution of your display. It's worth noting that the resolution of HDMI sources can't be manipulated--they simply pass through as they are, though you can usually change the resolution at the source if you wish. Also, the HDMI output doesn't pass audio--no big deal, since the whole purpose of the receiver is to provide excellent audio to your connected surround speakers instead those tinny speakers that are built in to your HDTV.