Say the phrase "AV receiver" and the experience that comes to mind is crouching behind a narrow TV cabinet with a tangle of cables, trying to wrap bare wire around a banana plug. And that's before you even get to the fun stuff, like assigning and renaming inputs.
That fact AV receivers are so synonymous with "frustration" is the inspiration for Denon's new 2013 line of AV receivers, which are shooting for "new levels of user friendliness." The company announced three new mainstream models, with the higher-end models including ease-of-use-minded features like a guided setup assistant and new "push-in" type speaker jacks.
The rest of the features are surprisingly similar to Denon's 2012 line. Here's how I'd break down the most-important features; the full details are available on Denon's site.
AVR-E200 ($250): 5.1 channels, four HDMI inputs
AVR-E300 ($400) step-ups: five HDMI inputs, networking, AirPlay, Setup Assistant, Audyssey speaker calibration
AVR-E400 ($600) step-ups: 7.1 channels, six HDMI inputs, analog video upconversion, powered second zone
Networking on these receivers is limited to an Ethernet port on the back, and they natively support a handful of streaming services like Pandora, Spotify, and SiriusXM. The networked receivers can also be controlled by Denon's smartphone app, which is available for both iOS and Android. Denon's Setup Assistant is new for this year, offering step-by-step instructions via the onscreen display.
Given the focus on ease-of-use, it's puzzling that none of these receivers has built-in Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Smartphones and tablets are the center of many people's digital music experience and Bluetooth is the easiest way to wirelessly stream audio from the vast majority of mobile devices. Similarly, most people don't have Ethernet in their living room, so the lack of integrated Wi-Fi means they'll need to use a workaround to take advantage of network features, including AirPlay. They're disappointing omissions, especially since last year's included Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and AirPlay.
On the other hand, the out-of-the-box experience for AV receivers is typically pretty dreadful, so I'm looking forward to seeing if Denon can truly make it a less painful ordeal. (Although the The New York Times' experience isn't promising.)
All three of Denon's E-Series receivers will be available later in March.