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The Denon AVR-1912 is the most complete midrange AV receiver we've seen in 2011 so far. It's one of the only two receivers in its class (the other being the Pioneer VSX-1021-K) with built-in support for Apple's AirPlay, a feature that lets you use any iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad as a wireless music source. While the Pioneer has a nicer interface, the Denon outdoes it with slightly better sound quality, a sixth HDMI input, a two-year warranty, and onboard support for Pandora, Rhapsody, and Napster. The Denon AVR-1912 is our go-to pick if someone asks, "Which AV receiver should I buy?" and that's why we've given it our Editors' Choice Award.
AV receivers are all pretty similar-looking, but if we had to pick a favorite on aesthetics alone, we'd go with the Denon AVR-1912. We prefer its soft, matte finish to the high gloss of the Pioneer VSX-1012-K, and its rounder edges are more appealing than the stark front of the Onkyo TX-NR609. It's a full-sized AV receiver, which means it takes up a lot of shelf space, coming in at 6.38 inches high, 17.13 inches wide, and 15.05 inches deep.
Remote and remote apps
The included remote is similar to the one that came with last year's Denon AVR-1911. Denon does a decent job of distinguishing the sections with different colors and button sizes, and the number pad is tucked out of the way at the very bottom. It's still difficult to use if you're not a home theater geek, but that's the way all AV receiver remotes are. Most buyers would be wise to invest in a quality universe remote to control all their home theater gadgets.
The AVR-1912 can also be controlled via Denon's iOS remote application, which provides basic functions like choosing inputs and adjusting the volume. The standout feature is that you can access your iPhone's music library from inside the app, without needing to switch to the iTunes program. This allows you to turn on your AV receiver and listen to all your music from a single app, instead of having to switch between two.
The AVR-1912 features a basic onscreen display that's essentially one step up from the primitive white blocky text menus we saw last year. While the menus are mostly organized in a logical fashion, navigation is a little confusing because the left-hand menus get replaced when you delve further into the menu. You intuitively expect the cursor box to move to the right when you press to the right, so it can be a little disorienting when the cursor stays put and the menu changes underneath it.
The Denon has a GUI (graphical user interface) for playing streaming music services and local digital music files. When we first hooked up the Denon AVR-1912 to our Samsung PN58B650, we were surprised how bad it looked. The image shook and strobed slightly, and while it was still legible and usable, it wasn't what you want to see when you connect your new cutting-edge $530 receiver. When we connected the AVR-1912 another TV, however, the strobelike effects went away.
The problem is that the AVR-1912 outputs an interlaced standard-definition (480i) signal for its menus, so they're subject to your HDTV's standard-definition processing. It's frustrating that an AV receiver in 2011 can't output a high-def onscreen interface, but it's not a deal breaker for us.
Built-in AirPlay lives up to the hype. Once you get the AVR-1912 on your home network, getting music to stream from an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad is as simple as selecting a song to play, hitting the AirPlay icon, and selecting the AVR-1912. Music played using the iPod app will have cover art and artist information displayed on the connected TV, plus you can adjust the volume of the receiver using your iOS device's built-in volume controls. It's a really satisfying experience to sit on the couch with an iPhone, browsing your music and controlling your AV receiver.
AirPlay isn't limited to music on your iOS device. It works with a ton of third-party apps, so we were streaming music from Pandora and Rhapsody in no time. And if you fire up Apple's Remote app and select an iTunes library from a networked computer, you can stream music from that computer using an iOS device or the computer itself as the remote.
The AVR-1912's AirPlay functionality isn't exactly the same as what you get on an Apple TV, as it doesn't handle video. The lack of video streaming does bring up the strongest argument against the Denon and all networked AV receivers: why not just get a cheaper AV receiver and buy a more fully featured separate Apple TV box? It's definitely worth considering, especially because it's easier to replace a $99 Apple TV with an updated model when new features get added.
|Channels||7.1||Analog video upconversion||Yes|
|Graphical user interface||Yes||Automatic speaker calibration||Yes|
The Denon AVR-1912 has all the key features we expect at this price level, including a two-year warranty, which is a year longer then Pioneer offers for the competing VSX-1021-K.
|AirPlay||Yes||Connect iOS device via USB||Yes|
|iOS remote app||Yes||Proprietary iPod dock||$100|
The Denon lets you connect an Apple iDevice in just about every way possible: wirelessly via AirPlay, using the front-panel USB port, or with Denon's $100 ASD-11R iPod dock. Only the Denon AVR-1912 and Pioneer VSX-1021-K offer AirPlay in this price range.
|HDMI version||1.4||3D pass-through||Yes|
|Audio return channel||Yes||Standby pass-through||Yes|
This year all of the midrange receivers we've tested support the major new HDMI features, including the handy standby pass-through mode, which allows the receiver to pass audio and video signal to a TV even when the receiver is off. No midrange receiver that we've seen so far supports HDMI Ethernet Channel.
|HDMI inputs||6||Component video inputs||1|
|Composite video inputs||4||Max connected HD devices||7|
The highlight here is the AVR-1912's six HDMI inputs, one more than the Pioneer VSX-1021-K has. We'd have preferred it if one of those six HDMI inputs had been in the front panel for quick connections to a camera, camcorder, or laptop; the Onkyo TX-NR609 and Yamaha RX-V671 have front-panel HDMI ports.
The AVR-1912 only has one component video input, while its competitors have two, but we don't consider that a major loss since analog video sources are becoming increasingly rare. One component video is just enough to cover our Nintendo Wii.
|Optical inputs||1||Coaxial inputs||1|
|Stereo analog audio inputs||6||Multichannel analog inputs||No|
Most receivers at this price level offer four digital audio inputs, so it's definitely surprising to see the AVR-1912 offer only two. Still, we can't think of that many modern devices that require you to use a digital audio output--and the AVR-1912 has plenty of analog audio inputs--so unless you have a lot of devices with digital audio outputs, we wouldn't weight this much in your buying decision.
The Denon AVR-1912 has a solid selection of built-in streaming music services. While you can use all of these services via AirPlay, the fact that they are built in means you can use them even if you don't have an iOS device on hand.
Also note that the Denon AVR-1912 is DLNA-compliant, so you'll be able to stream music from compatible networked devices running a DLNA server. If you have an Android phone, you can use a DLNA app like Skifta to enable AirPlay-like functionality.
|Dolby TrueHD||Yes||DTS-HD Master Audio||Yes|
|Dolby Pro Logic IIz||Yes||THX Neural Surround||No|
Like virtually every receiver these days, the Denon AVR-1912 supports all the standard high-resolution audio codecs from Dolby and DTS. The AVR-1912 also adds Dolby Pro Logic IIz processing. In our experience, the sonic benefits of Pro Logic IIz are negligible and the extra setup required isn't worth the hassle.
There are also three sound processing modes from Audyssey: Dynamic Volume, Dynamic EQ, and MultEQ. They're worth having, but note that many competing receivers have similar processing modes that work just as well or better than Audyssey's.
|USB port||Yes||Bluetooth dongle||No|
The biggest surprise here is that Denon doesn't offer built-in satellite radio support. That would be less surprising if the AVR-1912 offered Sirius as a streaming media service via its networking features (as does the Onkyo TX-NR609), but Sirius isn't supported there either. We've moved on from satellite radio to streaming services like Pandora and Rhapsody, but satellite radio fans will want to buy an external home tuner to use with the AVR-1912.
|Line-level second-zone outputs||No||Powered second-zone outputs||Yes|
The Denon AVR-1912 supports second-zone audio via both powered outputs, so you don't need an additional amplifier in the second zone. Do note that audio from the HDMI and digital audio inputs can't be used in a second zone, which is pretty limiting.
The AVR-1912's Setup Wizard is a step-by-step program that takes you through Language Selection, Speaker Connection, Speaker Calibration, Source Setup, and so on. The onscreen instructions and prompts should be a great help to first-time home theater receiver owners. The Audyssey MultEQ feature determines the speaker sizes and speaker-to-listener distances, sets the volume levels of all of the speakers and the sub, calculates the subwoofer-to-speakers crossover points, and adds speaker correction equalization.
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. After the sixth measurement was completed the AVR-1912 took just a minute or so to calculate the final results and store the Audyssey settings. The entire calibration routine took around 10 minutes. If you'd rather not deal with six mic positions, you can do fewer, and achieve possibly less accurate results.
The AVR-1912's calibration measurements were accurate, and we made no changes to the setup.
To get acquainted with the AVR-1912's sound we played Led Zeppelin's "How the West Was Won" DVD-Audio two-disc set. The high-resolution 5.1 concert recording sounded spacious, and the power of the band's full-throttle rhythm section knocked us out on "Dazed And Confused." The quieter acoustic tunes like "Going to California" displayed a more nuanced touch and the AVR-1912 fully communicated the subtle details of guitarist Jimmy Page's exquisite performance.
We were even more impressed by our viewing of the DVD of "Black Swan," and the AVR-1912 put us inside the scenes where ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman) practices with the other dancers in a rehearsal studio. We heard the dancers' breaths, their feet moving across the floor, and the sound of the piano filling that large studio. The actual locations of our speakers disappeared as we were transported to the rehearsal space. The sound was remarkably realistic. Later in the film the sound of the orchestra was beautifully rendered. The Pioneer VSX-1021-K receiver was just as revealing of the film's quieter details, but the orchestra wasn't as rich and full-sounding as it was over the AVR-1912.
Full-scale dynamics from the battle scenes in the "Master and Commander" Blu-ray didn't faze the AVR-1912 one bit. Cannonballs crashing through a wooden ship's decks are a rather extreme test of any receiver's power capabilities, and the AVR-1912 did a great job. Our Aperion Audio Bravus 8D subwoofer's deep bass seemed deeper and more powerful than we've heard it sound with other receivers.
We also used those battle scenes to evaluate Audyssey's Dynamic Volume feature, which effectively reduces the magnitude of a movie's soft-to-loud volume changes for late-night listening. Dynamic Volume worked well enough, but we didn't like what Audyssey's Dynamic EQ did to the sound. It added a lot of bass, which thickened and muddied the sound of "Master and Commander." Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume are automatically turned on when you run the autosetup; you can access the Audyssey processing modes via the remote.
We finished up by listening to CDs in stereo, and found a lot to like about the AVR-1912's sound. With classical music the receiver struck just the right balance between clarity and warmth. The stereo soundstage had a nice sense of depth.
The AVR-1912 delivered the first-class sound we expect, and almost always hear, from Denon receivers.
The Denon AVR-1912 gets our Editors' Choice Award in the midrange AV receiver category, with its built-in AirPlay, outstanding sound quality, and six HDMI inputs.