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Denon AVR-1909 review: Denon AVR-1909

Denon AVR-1909

Matthew Moskovciak Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater
Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.
Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Matthew Moskovciak
Steve Guttenberg
8 min read

Setting up an AV receiver isn't for the faint of heart. Stripping speaker wire, multitudes of cables, inputs and outputs, confusing configuration--even the most grizzled AV nerd is likely to make at least one mistake during a setup. And even after you get it set up, it can be a headache to operate unless you buy a fancy universal remote that makes you forget it's even there.


Denon AVR-1909

The Good

Three HDMI inputs; onboard Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding; Sirius and XM-ready; upconverts analog signals to 1080p over HDMI output; automatic speaker calibration; decent video quality on upconverted video signals.

The Bad

Terrible remote; difficult setup; competition offers more HDMI inputs for less money; no graphical user interface.

The Bottom Line

The Denon AVR-1909 sounds great and is fully featured, but isn't the easiest receiver to set up and use.

The Denon AVR-1909 looks like a great receiver from the spec sheet, matching up almost line for line with the Onkyo TX-SR606. We were even happier when it was in our home theater rack, as it bested the Onkyo in both sound and upconversion video quality. However, our biggest gripe was that--even for AV receiver standards--we found the AVR-1909 difficult to set up and even more difficult to use with the included remote. Some of that difficulty was due to the confusing menu system, some to the manual, and even more to the wonky remote. If you're a home theater veteran who craves the Denon sound, you'll get what you pay for on the AVR-1909, but neophytes should steer clear and enthusiasts should at least plan to buy a third-party universal remote.

The design of the AVR-1909 follows the new curved look first seen on last year's Denon AV receivers. We've seen some tacky "wavy" designs from electronics before, but the AVR-1909 manages to add in some subtle curves that deliver on a stylish design that stands out from the average component. In the center of the receiver is the LCD display, which was readable from a seating distance of about 7 feet. The LCD display is flanked by two large knobs: to the right is the volume knob and to the left is the source-selection knob. Under the LCD display are a few additional front panel buttons, but not so many that it will intimidate home audio novices. Overall, it's a great mix of style and substance.

The same can't be said for the included remote, though. AV receiver remotes are usually cumbersome in general because they need to include so much functionality, but the main clicker for the AVR-1909 is pretty awful even with the lower standards. It looks like no other AV receiver remotes we've used, with large buttons for play and stop, which have strange prominence for a receiver. There's a directional pad toward the bottom with four buttons surrounding it, but each button has two labels. We kept looking for a shift button to use the second button label, but that's not how it works--the secondary functions are only if you're controlling another device. The more AV receiver-centric buttons are actually located on the back of the remote, under a flip-down panel. We'd highly recommend ditching the included clicker for a quality universal remote. There's also a second, smaller remote included, which is less confusing but is too limited to be your main clicker.

We also had a tough time with the setup process in general, as both the manual and user interface were difficult to use. Denon's manuals have always been particularly hard to get through, and as AV receivers become even more complex, the confusion only gets multiplied. The user interface is limited to just white text on the black background and the methods of assigning inputs and making other adjustments just isn't straightforward, even if you're pretty tech savvy. If "easy to set up" is a primary concern, you should steer clear of the AVR-1909.

The AVR-1909 is a 7.1-channel AV receiver, and Denon rates its output at 90 watts per channel. Like essentially every other receiver available, it offers a full selection of standard Dolby and DTS surround processing modes.

The AVR-1909 also includes onboard decoding for the two, new high-resolution soundtrack formats, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. While this was a major step-up feature last year, it's more common in 2008 and less essential now that many Blu-ray players (including the PS3) also have onboard decoding for both formats. That being said, having onboard decoding is a nice way to future-proof your receiver in case other devices come out that output the soundtracks in bitstream (undecoded PCM) format.

There are also two audio processing features from Audyssey--Dynamic Volume and Dynamic EQ--on the AVR-1909. Dynamic Volume is an automatic volume leveling system, designed to adjust the volume on the fly so that commercials don't sound too loud or dialogue isn't too soft. Dynamic EQ is similar, but instead tries to compensate for the perceived loss of bass response at lower volume levels. We'll discuss how these features worked in the real world in the performance section.

The AVR-1909's connectivity is highlighted by its three HDMI inputs, which can handle both high-resolution audio and HD video signals up to 1080p. Three HDMI inputs may be enough for most home theaters, but it's worth noting that the cheaper Onkyo TX-SR606 and Sony STR-DG920 both offer four HDMI inputs. However, it is relatively easy to add more connectivity with an HDMI switcher.

Unlike some other receivers in this price range, analog video is still fully supported on the Denon AVR-1909. It includes three component video inputs, along with four AV inputs with S-Video (and one additional AV input on front that lacks S-Video). The Onkyo TX-SR606 only has two component video inputs, while the Sony STR-DG920 drops S-Video inputs completely. Devices that use analog video connections are becoming rarer, so how important these connections are depends on how much legacy equipment your home theater has.

A lot of video connectivity is important, but every receiver is ultimately limited by how many input labels is has. In other words, just because the AVR-1909 has six total high-definition inputs (three HDMI, three component video inputs) doesn't necessarily mean you can use six high-definition components simultaneously. The AVR-1909 has five labels (DVD, HDP, TV/CBL, VCR, V.Aux) to which HDMI and component video sources can be assigned, which means you're limited to five simultaneous video sources at a time. These are also the only inputs available for standard-definition video devices, so those with many components in their rack may feel constrained. There are also two audio-only labels: CD and CD-R/Tape.

The functionality of the standard-definition video inputs is enhanced by the AVR-1909's HDMI upconversion. What this means is that analog video signals from the component, S-Video, and composite video inputs can be converted to be output over the HDMI output, so you only need to make one HDMI connection from your receiver to your HDTV. Additionally, the AVR-1909 is capable of scaling these signals from their original 480i format up to 1080p.

For audio, the HDMI inputs can deliver 7.1 channels of high-resolution audio. Other digital audio connectivity is available by two optical digital audio inputs and two coaxial digital audio inputs, but note that they are, as always, limited to standard Dolby Digital/DTS audio resolution. Analog audio is supported by a set of 7.1 analog inputs, plus two stereo analog audio inputs. Vinyl enthusiasts will bemoan the lack of a phono input, but you can still add a turntable with a separate preamp. For late-night listening, there's also a headphone jack on the front panel.

The rest of the connectivity is rounded out by both Sirius and XM jacks, and since both companies have merged, we'd suggest using an XM Mini-tuner plus a home dock to get reception. The AVR-1909 also has solid multiroom functionality, allowing you to send either powered or line level audio signals to another room. There's no built-in digital or network audio features, but those who are interested in that will be better served with a dedicated media streamer anyway.

Audio performance
As we mentioned before, the AVR-1909 features Audyssey's new technologies, Audyssey Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume. Both promise to improve sound quality for late-night, low-volume listening, but we didn't enjoy the effect while watching the naval battle scenes from Master and Commander on Blu-ray. The AVR-1909 allows you to switch between having them both on, both off, or just with Dynamic EQ on.

Together, Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume produced an overly bassy, dynamically compressed sound, which robbed the soundtrack of any visceral excitement. Switching off Dynamic Volume restored some life to the sound, but the Dynamic EQ effect was still murky, with an overabundance of bass. If the goal is to allow for late-night enjoyment of movies without disturbing others (sleeping family members), the increased bass might be problematic. The bottom line is turning off Dynamic EQ and Volume just plain sounded better to us, even at low volume levels.

That said, we were happy with the improvement Audyssey MultEQ rendered with our Aperion Intimus 4T Hybrid SD speaker system. The Audyssey MultEQ added sparkle and detail to the sound of Jazz Hat, an excellent piano jazz CD. Bass definition and power were also both slightly enhanced by MultEQ. Our previous experiences with MultEQ have shown it can provide significant improvement when used with inexpensive speakers.

All in all, we felt the AVR-1909 sounded terrific with every Blu-ray, DVD, and CD we played. The sound was clear, with a good sense of power and low distortion. Well-recorded and mixed movies exhibited seamless front-to-rear imaging, and with Dynamic EQ and volume turned off, impressive dynamic range capabilities.

Video performance
The AVR-1909 is capable of upconverting analog signals to 1080p over its HDMI output, and we put it through our video testing suite. We starting off our testing using the 480i S-Video output of the Panasonic DMR-EZ48VK connected to the Denon AVR-1909, which output to the Vizio VOJ370F. We popped in Silicon Optix's HQV test suite and had a look.

The AVR-1909 did a good job at first, resolving every line of the test pattern with very little image instability. It struggled a bit on the next two video-based test patterns, showing more jaggies than we'd like on a rotating white line and three shifting white lines. It also struggled on the 2:3 pull-down test, as we could see significant moire in the grandstands in the background. On the upside, it did handle test patterns with scrolling CNN-like text perfectly.

Test pattern performance wasn't so good, but we changed over to program material to see how it actually handles movies. This went better, as our first disc, Seabiscuit, was relatively moire-free, despite being a relatively difficult disc to display properly. Next up was Star Trek: Insurrection, and this also looked relatively good, with its 2:3 pull-down rendering the curved edges of the boat hulls and bridge railings smoothly. So while AVR-1909 struggled on some test patterns, it performed admirably on actual program material.

Analog upconversion is still a useful feature for those with analog video components, but it's worth acknowledging that analog video-only devices are becoming rare, with the (big) exception of the Nintendo Wii. If you're just planning on using the Denon AVR-1909 for HDMI signals, disregard the previous tests, as HDMI-based digital video looked great no matter what resolution it was in. To be clear, the AVR-1909 simply passes the digital signal through to your HDTV, so you won't run into the minor aforementioned video quality issues.


Denon AVR-1909

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 8Performance 8