The Good High-end 7.1-channel A/V receiver; 120 watts per channel; High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) switching; XM Ready satellite-radio support; three-zone multiroom capability; large-screen remote reduces button clutter.
The Bad Analog inputs are limited to 480i output via HDMI, which many HDTVs can't handle; the confusing autosetup procedure will make you want to take the easier path and use the manual setup.
The Bottom Line The successor to Denon's best-selling receiver gets even better for 2006, but the AVR-3806's HDMI implementation falls a bit short.
The AVR-3806 is the successor to Denon's best-selling receiver of all time, the HDMI switching, XM Ready satellite-radio support, and an advanced autosetup program. Some of these features debuted on Denon's $6,000 and $3,500 AVR-4806 flagship receivers, so it's especially nice to find them in the AVR-3806 for the much more down-to-earth price of $1,300. However, two newly announced Denon models cast long shadows over their sibling: the AVR-4306 ($2,000, available now) and the AVR-2807 ($1,100, available March 2006). Both of them--including the cheaper AVR-2807--include improved HDMI functionality and iPod connectivity options not available on the 3806.
Editors' note: Denon Electronics will not honor the warranty on Denon components that have been purchased from unauthorized dealers or have had their original factory serial number removed, defaced, or replaced. If in doubt about a particular online or brick-and-mortar retailer, call Denon at 973/396-0810. The handsome yet functional design of the Denon AVR-3806 discreetly places most of its rarely used controls under a flip-down panel. The everyday knobs and buttons are handily arranged on the main panels, and the display imparts useful information about surround-processing modes and source selection. The AVR-3806 is available in black or a gunmetal-colored silver-gray finish. The 38.5-pound component is 16.75 inches deep. The large receiver throws off a lot of heat, so we'd advise against placing it in a tightly confined cabinet.
The Denon AVR-3806's advanced Audyssey MultEQxt Room EQ autosetup system promises to improve the sound for both centrally seated listeners and large groups. It works, but this autosetup system requires significant involvement on your part--expect to read and reread seven full pages of the AVR-3806 owner's manual. You will also have to move the supplied measurement microphone to six positions in your room and respond to onscreen prompts. Plan on investing 30 to 45 minutes in the routine, which we think is a bit much. The whole point of autosetup is to make it easier for neophytes, not more difficult. On the upside, we found the accuracy of the setup spot-on. We're hoping next time Denon will streamline the process and develop more intuitive onscreen menus.
The remote is an improvement over the one that came with last year's model, the AVR-3805. That one had two "membrane" touch panels with virtual, rather than hard buttons; we were always getting lost in its dizzying array of menus. The 3806's remote puts all the essential controls on hard buttons that you can always find, and it relegates features such as surround and DVD-player controls to the membrane panel. The Denon AVR-3806 is one of the most feature-packed receivers we've seen. It delivers 120 watts to each of its 7 channels and offers a full selection of Dolby and DTS surround schemes. We counted seven A/V, three component, and two HDMI inputs. The receiver will pass composite, S-Video, and component-video sources, such as your VCR or DVD player, through the HDMI output, but it won't improve the source's resolution. In other words, it won't upconvert your VCR's 480i resolution to an HDTV-friendly 720p or 1080i signal or even a DVD-worthy 480p. In theory, you might still need only one HDMI cable to connect your receiver to your TV. In practice, however, many HDTVs and HD monitors can't accept a 480i signal via their HDMI input, so some users will still need a two-connection solution (HDMI plus component, S-Video, or composite). Moreover, the onscreen display is also limited to 480i over HDMI. If you don't have HDMI, rest easy; the receiver can upconvert and downconvert analog video sources over the composite, S-Video, and component jacks.
On the digital side, you get seven inputs--five optical and two coaxial digital--and two optical outputs. You also get a 7.1-channel analog SACD/DVD-Audio input and a third-generation Denon Link single-cable (digital) connection for use with compatible Denon SACD/DVD-Audio players. If you get the urge to upgrade, you can hook up the 7.1-channel preamplifier outputs to a burly power amplifier. The Denon AVR-3806 also has an XM Satellite Radio terminal for use with a (XM subscription required). Other features include a spare set of stereo inputs and a phono (turntable) input for audiophiles. Most receivers won't let you select individual groups of surround speakers, but with the AVR-3806, you can choose the side or rear surround speakers or all four at once. We like that because we prefer to hear only the side surround speakers when we play movies and only the rear surrounds when we play SACDs and DVD-Audio discs.
The Denon AVR-3806's exceptional multiroom flexibility lets you listen to up to three sources--for example, XM Radio, a CD, and your turntable--in up to three different rooms simultaneously. Denon doesn't supply extra remotes for multiroom operation, but the rear panel offers every possible connection for whole-house systems, including an RS-232 port and 12-volt triggers.
As mentioned previously, the step-up Denon AVR-4306 supplements the already impressive feature set of the AVR-3806 with some great bells and whistles: HDMI switching with full upconversion (converting analog video to your choice of high-def resolutions--much friendlier for picky displays), iPod connectivity (similar to Denon's cool S-301), and an Ethernet port for streaming digital music from your PC or the Internet. Even more compelling is the AVR-2807: chosen as CNET's best home audio product of CES 2006, the 2807 offers nearly all of the 3806's features, plus the ability to output analog video sources (and the onscreen display) at 480p progressive-scan via HDMI and--with a special Denon iPod dock arriving in the spring of 2006--enhanced control of iPods. Other AVR-3806 competitors include the ($800 list) or the ($1,200), both of which offer comparable or even slightly better feature sets. The Denon AVR-3806 had better fidelity than we normally associate with A/V receivers, sounding more like a high-end surround processor paired with a heavyweight power amplifier. The naval battle scenes coursing through the Master and Commander DVD had remarkable power. Sure, we've heard the DVD's mayhem over a million systems, but the AVR-3806 had a special way of reproducing the frightening sound of cannon blasts and the sheer impact of the cannonballs smashing into the ships.
The sound of the Denon AVR-3806's XM Satellite Radio was excellent--by which we mean it was closer to CD quality and less MP3-like than on standard XM receivers.
Cream's new concert DVD, Royal Albert Hall 2005, was massively rendered, with Jack Bruce's thundering bass lines rippling through our home theater. Eric Clapton's guitar flash isn't quite as fiery as it was 35 years ago, but it's deeper and heavier than ever. Ginger Baker's muscular drumming was likewise resplendent in its ferocity--we felt each whack on the floor toms. We put the AVR-3806's unerring control and power to the test as we replayed our favorite sections over and over.
We couldn't resist going back and spinning CDs of the original Cream albums, and the energy levels of the youthful Creamsters have it all over the 2005 recordings. Clapton's guitar burns ever so brightly, and the Denon AVR-3806 managed to make the old recordings on CD sound better than we remembered them. If you love music, you'll need a receiver as good as the AVR-3806 to fully appreciate Cream at its best. Audiophiles will find the Denon AVR-3806 indispensable, but HDMI-craving videophiles will want the additional flexibility of the AVR-2807 or one of its aforementioned competitors.