For some home theater enthusiasts, AV receivers have lost their way. What used to be a relatively simple device with a focus on sound quality is now the complicated hub of your home theater, handling audio, video, and sometimes even online streaming services. Among such multifaceted receivers, however, the Denon AVR-1911 is something of a throwback. Its connectivity is modern, but sparse, with four HDMI 1.4 inputs where others offer six. There's also only a single-component video input and two digital audio inputs. The Denon has an onscreen display, but it uses blocky, white text, compared with the more-graphical interfaces offered on the Sony STR-DN1010, Pioneer VSX-1020-K, and Yamaha RX-V667. If all we cared about were specs, we'd be ready to write off the AVR-1911, but it gets arguably the most important aspect right: outstanding sound quality. The Denon AVR-1911 is a full notch above other receivers we've tested this year, making it our go-to choice for audiophiles on a midrange budget. Yes, it costs more than competitors and it lacks tons of inputs and outputs, but the Denon AVR-1911 is the way to go if superior sonics are your priority.
The design on the AVR-1911 hasn't changed much from last year's Denon receivers. The front panel has a matte-black finish, which gives it a more refined look than the shiny gloss of Pioneers and Sonys. The main unique touch is the slight curve on the front panel, which tapers away toward the top. It's certainly a distinctive design, and one that not everybody will like, but we think it's a nice variation on the "big black box" design of many competitors. There are two large knobs on the right and left, for volume and source selection, both of which are displayed on an LCD readout at the center. Buttons on the front are mostly kept to a minimum and we appreciate the handy front-panel USB port.
The AVR-1911's included remote is a huge improvement over the awful remotes that have come with Denon receivers in the past. It gets many things right, from the centrally located directional pad to the large button rocker for volume. There are buttons at the top for selecting sources, but even more useful is the source select button, which lets you choose your source for the onscreen display. We also appreciated that many of the important buttons glow in the-dark, which makes it easier to use in a darkened home theater. (That said, it's not as easy as the Marantz NR1601's backlit remote.) We had our nitpicks, such as four buttons at the top for controlling power options, and it's still going to intimidate home theater novices, but overall we're happy to see a Denon receiver with a usable remote.
Though new AV receivers come packed with fancy features like 3D compatibility and multiple HDMI ports, we're always shocked at how primitive most of their user interfaces are. The AVR-1911 uses a text-based user interface, which looks out of place in a modern home theater. It makes the setup process a little more difficult compared with receivers like the Sony STR-DN1010, which use a more graphics-based approach, although that's not a huge shortcoming since you'll only see the setup menus infrequently. More limiting is the fact that these same menus are used for iPod playback. They get the job done, but there's absolutely no eye candy.
|Channels||7.1||Analog video upconversion||Yes|
|Graphical user interface||Text-based||Automatic speaker calibration||Yes|
The AVR-1911 has most of the key features we expect at this price level, but it is stuck with the aforementioned basic text-based user interface. We do appreciate the two-year warranty, which is one more year than that of the Pioneer VSX-1020-K. Analog video upconversion ensures that you won't need to run additional cables from your receiver to your HDTV for older device that still use analog video connections (we're looking at you, Nintendo Wii.)
|HDMI version||1.4a||3D pass-through||Yes|
|Audio return channel||Yes||Standby pass-through||Yes|
Like most midrange receivers, the AVR-1911 comes with a full suite of new HDMI features. Though nearly every AV receiver this year is HDMI 1.4-compatible and capable of 3D video pass-through, the AVR-1911 also supports audio return channel and standby pass-through. Those last two features are a leg up over the Pioneer, which supports neither.
|Dolby TrueHD||Yes||DTS-HD Master Audio||Yes|
|Dolby ProLogic IIz||Yes|
As is standard, the AVR-1911 includes onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DST-HD Master Audio, plus decoding for Dolby ProLogic IIz. There's also support for Audyssey Dynamic Volume, which limits volume spikes, and Audyssey MultEQ, which is a collection of sound-processing modes based on measurements taken during auto setup.
|HDMI inputs||4||Component video inputs||1|
|Composite video inputs||3||Max connected HD devices||5|
The Denon AVR-1911 has the least amount of video connectivity offered by any of the midrange AV receivers we've tested this year. Its four HDMI inputs are the minimum we expect, with competitors like the Pioneer VSX-1020-K, the Yamaha RX-V667, and the Onkyo HT-RC260 offering six. It's also skimpy with analog video inputs, offering just a single component video input and three composite video inputs. All that adds up to the fact that you can only connect five HD video devices at a time; this is significantly fewer than other midrange receivers, which can handle seven or eight HD devices at once. It's easy to knock the AVR-1911 for its lack of ports, but it's worth remembering that the extra connectivity offered by competitors really only matters if you're going to use it. For many (if not most) home theaters, the Denon's video connectivity will be plenty.
|Optical inputs||1||Coaxial inputs||1|
|Stereo analog audio inputs||6||Multichannel analog inputs||No|
Audio connectivity is also limited. Having just two digital audio inputs seems particularly stingy, with most competitors offering four. Luckily there are plenty of analog audio inputs for any additional devices you have. The AVR-1911 offers little in terms of "bonus" audio connectivity, lacking analog multichannel inputs, a minijack input, or a phono input. A quick glance at the sparse back panel reaffirms what the specs say: the AVR-1911 is strictly minimalist in its connectivity.
|iPod connectivity||via USB||Satellite radio||No|
|USB port||1||IR input/output||Yes|
The big additional feature for the Denon is its capability to connect an iPod via the USB port, although we'd point out that its lackluster user interface puts it a step behind the iPod feature of the Pioneer VSX-1020-K's. We'd also highlight that the AVR-1911 is the only AV receiver at this price range that offers built-in HD Radio. Honestly, here at CNET we've mostly moved on from terrestrial radio to online streaming services like Pandora and Rhapsody, but if you still like your radio over the air, the built-in HD Radion on the AVR-1911 means that you wouldn't need to invest in an outboard receiver.
|Line level 2nd zone outputs||Yes||Powered 2nd zone outputs||Yes|
Like most midrange receivers, the AVR-1911 has second-zone functionality, using either line-level RCA audio outputs or powered, speaker-level outputs. It's a step up over the Sony STR-DN1010, which doesn't have traditional second-zone functionality. (The STR-DN1010 does support a second zone using Sony's proprietary S-Air products.)
Denon receivers have featured Audyssey's MultEQ automatic speaker calibration for many years, so we felt right at home as soon as we brought up the AVR-1911's first setup screen on our display. Audyssey MultEQ determines the speaker sizes, speaker-to-listener distances, sets the volume levels of all of the speakers and the sub, and calculates the subwoofer-to-speaker crossover point.
Plugging the mic into the receiver automatically brings up the Audyssey MultEQ autosetup onscreen display. The "Start" onscreen button begins the setup. The receiver will then send a series of tones through all the speakers and the subwoofer, which takes a minute or so to complete. But the Audyssey system works best when you repeat the routine six times, moving the calibration mic to six different locations in the main listening area (for our test, on and directly in front of the couch in the CNET listening room).
After the sixth measurement was completed the AVR-1911 took a few more minutes to calculate the final results and store the Audyssey settings. If you'd rather not deal with six mic positions, you can do fewer, and achieve possibly less-accurate results. Or buy Pioneer's VSX-1020 or Yamaha RX-V667 receiver, which use just a single mic position for their setup calibration.
Audyssey works best when the "sizes" of all the speakers in a home theater system with a subwoofer are set to "Small," which is what the AVR-1911 did. The setup accurately measured the distances to all the speakers, but not the subwoofer (Audyssey acknowledges the sub measurement may be off, but advises against correcting the subwoofer distance in the manual setup). We noted that the AVR-1911's measurements were duplicated by the Marantz NR1601 receiver's Audyssey setup that we were testing on the same day.
Audyssey also applied equalization to the speakers and subwoofer. We haven't always been happy with how Audyssey's equalization changed the sound of our Aperion Intimus 4T Hybrid SD reference speaker system, but this time we thought Audyssey's EQ definitely improved the sound. We used the EQ for all of our listening tests.
The AVR-1911 is an extremely well-balanced sounding receiver. It was powerful, but also quite detailed, and front-to-rear surround imaging was truly excellent.
The "Benjamin Britten Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" SACD's 5.1 surround mix confirmed all of the above observations. This is an extremely dynamic recording, and when the basses and big bass drums cut loose, the AVR-1911's control was extraordinary. The drums are really loud, and though they have sounded muddy or bloated over some receivers, the AVR-1911's "grip" on the bass was the best we've heard to date. Each drum whack was clear and remarkably solid. We also noted that the high-frequency sounds of the percussion instruments were beautifully rendered, without a hint of exaggerated detail or glare. Concert hall ambiance and the sense of being in a large space with a full orchestra were superb.
To see how the AVR-1911 handled rock music, we played a Blu-ray of Porcupine Tree's "Anesthetize" in DTS-HD. We turned up the volume really loud and never felt that the AVR-1911 was coming anywhere close to running out of power. The live sound, especially the drums, was surprisingly realistic. Few rock concert Blu-rays are as well recorded, and the AVR-1911 let us hear how good "Anesthetize" really is.
At this point we compared the AVR-1911 with two receivers: a Marantz NR1601 and a Pioneer VSX-1020-K receiver. The Pioneer was the brightest, and in some ways it sounded the most detailed, and we felt its front-to rear imaging was the clearest. But the NR1601 and AVR-1911 both sounded more powerful, so the grenade explosions and gunfire in "Black Hawk Down" had greater impact.
Dialogue sounded more naturally balanced over the AVR-1911; we don't mean to imply that the VSX-1020-K's leaner sound was worse, just different. Denon's AVR-1911 receiver fit midway between the Pioneer and Marantz; the Denon was fuller than the Pioneer, and it sounded leaner than the Marantz receiver. But we also felt, literally, that the Denon's bass control and power was the best of the three receivers. Not only that, the AVR-1911's treble purity and "air" on "Golderg Variations Acoustica," a jazz interpretation of Bach's Goldberg Variations, was well above average for a midprice receiver. This Blu-ray's Dolby TrueHD sound is a great test for speakers and electronics, and the AVR-1911 decoded the drummer's cymbals and percussion instruments with remarkable finesse.
A side benefit of the AVR-1911's high-frequency resolution was that it had the best soundstage depth of the three receivers. That is, on a great recording, like "Goldberg Variations Acoustica," the soundstage of the front left, center, and right channels seemed to simultaneously project farther forward and behind the plane of the three speakers. That spacious quality was also heard on our favorite movies, like "Master and Commander."
CDs sounded no less wonderful, in stereo or Dolby Pro Logic II surround. The AVR-1911 is the best sounding midprice receiver we've heard so far in 2010.