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Denon AVR-1913 review: Denon AVR-1913

AV receivers are maddeningly difficult to compare, sometimes because they're so similar. Denon's AVR-1913 ($600 street) sits at the high end of the brand's mainstream line of AV receivers, and in terms of features, there isn't much that separates it from the competition. It has built-in AirPlay, six HDMI inputs, an iOS/Android remote app, and a smattering of streaming audio services, which makes it largely indistinguishable from the Yamaha RX-V673 ($600) and Pioneer VSX-1122-K ($600). The Denon has its good points (sound quality is excellent, as is the included remote), but they don't stand out enough to provide a significant edge over its challengers.

Denon AVR-1913
7.5

Denon AVR-1913

The Good

The <b>Denon AVR-1913</b> has a good set of features, with six HDMI inputs, built-in AirPlay, an iOS/Android app, DLNA compatibility, and built-in streaming audio services like Pandora, Sirius, and Internet radio. The included remote is best-in-class and the user interface is easy to navigate. And like last year's model, the AVR-1913 has excellent sound quality.

The Bad

The Denon AVR-1913 is relatively expensive, especially since it lacks a standout feature to distinguish itself from competitors. It doesn't have built-in Wi-Fi or an affordable Wi-Fi dongle. Denon's step-down AVR-1713 will be a better buy for most people, who don't need 7.1 channels or analog video upconversion.

The Bottom Line

The Denon AVR-1913 has a solid set of features and excellent sound quality, but competing AV receivers offer better value.

The Denon's real competition is Onkyo's TX-NR616, which is shockingly inexpensive at $430 street, and Sony's STR-DN1030 ($500 list, available in mid-July), which is the first receiver in this price range to include both built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. With the exception of AirPlay the Onkyo actually has more features than the Denon AVR-1913 (including eight HDMI inputs) -- and if you want AirPlay just add a $100 Apple TV, which gives you much more functionality for a total price that's still lower than the Denon. And while Sony's STR-DN1030 may only have five HDMI inputs, its built-in wireless connectivity at a lower price than the Denon is a killer combination.

Not to mention that the AVR-1913 is more AV receiver than most people need. If you're set on getting a Denon, check out the step-down AVR-1713 ($450), which is a better value if you don't need the AVR-1913's niche features, like analog video upconversion or 7.1 channels. The Denon AVR-1913 is an all-around solid AV receiver, but buyers should take a long look at other options to make sure they're getting the best receiver for their needs.

Design
Denon's receivers tend to look a bit classier than others and the AVR-1913 is no different. It eschews the glossy finishes of Yamaha's and Pioneer's offerings, while avoiding the more utilitarian look of Onkyo's models. It's big and bulky, though, coming in at 6.4 inches tall, 17.1 inches wide, and 13 inches deep, so make sure you have plenty of space in your AV cabinet. It doesn't quite look as good as last year's subtly curved AVR-1912, and Marantz's slimline receivers are the most stylish receivers around, but the AVR-1913 is still above average in the looks department.

AV receiver remotes are generally terrible. Picture countless tiny buttons, all about the same size, with small lettering that's near impossible to read in dim home theater lighting.

That's what makes the AVR-1913's remote so refreshing. There are relatively few buttons, and they're big and bright -- a good formula for an easy-to-use remote. Denon has thankfully ditched the number pad and array of seldom-used buttons, instead relying on you to make those changes via the user interface. The only misstep (and it's a big one) is the glossy black finish around the buttons. Glossy finishes collect fingerprints very easily, especially with a device that's always in your hand. So the remote is laid out well and unusually easy to use, but it's going to get smudgy quickly.

Denon Remote App user interface

In addition to the included remote, the AVR-1913 can be controlled via the Denon Remote App smartphone app. I used the iOS version on an iPhone 4 and it works pretty well. Obviously you can select inputs and adjust the volume, but it's even more useful for apps like Pandora -- or even accessing a media server on your network -- where it's a little easier to use the phone interface rather than an onscreen menu. The Remote App can even access the music stored on your phone, so there's no need to jump to a separate iPod app to play music via AirPlay.

User interface

Denon user interface

The AVR-1913's graphical user interface may only be a short step up from the text-based interfaces of yore, but it's very easy to navigate. Menu choices are simple and there are even some basic graphics when it's helpful, like choosing your speaker configuration.

Denon user interface

Denon user interface

If you jump into the "network" section, you'll be able to browse the AVR-1913's limited streaming-audio options. Here the interface looks a little more archaic, especially compared with those of other home theater devices like the Apple TV or Xbox 360. The user interface looks similar if you're using AirPlay and thankfully cover art is now supported for third-party apps, so you'll see album art from, say, Rhapsody.

Features

Click to enlarge.

Six HDMI inputs: The AVR-1913 has six HDMI inputs, including one front-panel input, which should be enough to cover most home theaters. If you want the most HDMI connectivity for your buck, however, go with Onkyo: the TX-NR616 ($430) and TX-NR515 ($400) both offer eight HDMI inputs. The rest of the Denon's audiovisual connectivity is on the skimpy side, particularly with just two digital audio inputs, but I wouldn't worry about that too much since nearly all modern home theater components support HDMI. (Check out CNET's 2012 AV receiver spreadsheet for a more detailed comparison of AV receivers' connectivity.)

Built-in networking: The AVR-1913's Ethernet port allows for all kinds of networking functionality, including firmware updates, AirPlay, smartphone control, and media streaming via DLNA, Internet radio, Pandora, Sirius/XM, and Flickr. I still don't think networking is an absolutely essential AV receiver feature (largely because AV receivers shouldn't be media streamers), but it's a nice bonus. The AVR-1913's set of streaming-audio apps is somewhat limited compared to competitors', so if you won't be using a separate media streamer or iOS device (with AirPlay), you'll get more options, like Spotify, from Onkyo's network receivers.

Note that Denon does not offer a Wi-Fi dongle like Onkyo, Pioneer, and Yamaha do, although there are plenty of Wi-Fi alternatives to get the AVR-1913 on your home network if you don't have Ethernet in your living room.

Built-in AirPlay: If you own an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, the Denon AVR-1913's built-in AirPlay is a nice bonus, although it's not essential since you can always add AirPlay later with a $100 Apple TV. If you're not sure whether you should pick a receiver with built-in AirPlay, check out our rundown of the advantages and disadvantages of built-in AirPlay versus buying a separate Apple TV box.

Two-year warranty: Denon's two-year warranty is standard, although it's better than the one-year warranty offered on Pioneer's competing receivers. And if you're really looking for peace of mind, Marantz's NR1403 and NR1603 feature three-year warranties.

3D pass-through, audio return channel, standby pass-through: Denon supports all three of these HDMI features (each of which is explained in more detail here), but while they're all useful, you can largely ignore them when making a buying decision, since almost every newer receiver supports them.

iPhone/iPad-friendly USB port: The USB port on the front panel supports iPhones, iPods, and iPads, so you can connect those devices directly using a standard cable and navigate your music collection onscreen. We also had success using the USB port with a standard USB drive filled with music.

Powered second-zone audio: The Denon AVR-1913 has basic multiroom functionality, with the option to assign the surround back channels as a second zone. If you're really interested in multiroom functionality, Onkyo's TX-NR616 is the most featured in this price range, with powered second-zone audio, unpowered second-zone audio and unpowered third-zone audio.

Other features: The AVR-1913 can upconvert analog video signals to 1080p over its HDMI output, but that feature isn't nearly as important as it used to be, since analog video devices are pretty rare. There's also support for Dolby Pro Logic IIz processing, allowing for "height" channels, but we don't think the minimal sonic benefits are worth the extra effort. The AVR-1913 doesn't have any THX certification, but that's not worth factoring into a buying decision, since the Denon sounds great anyway.

Setup and calibration
The AVR-1913's owner's manual does a better-than-average job spelling out the details of using the Audyssey MultEQ auto setup system. For example, it reminds you to turn up the subwoofer control halfway (to the 12 o'clock position), bypass the sub's internal crossover or use its "direct" input, and turn off the sub's standby power control. For best results Denon recommends placing the supplied microphone on a camera tripod while running the calibration tones. If you don't have a tripod, you can rest the mic on the vertical backrest of your couch or any other location near the height of a seated listener's ears.

The Audyssey program sends a short series of tones through all the speakers one at a time and the subwoofer for about a minute. You can stop after the first series of tones, but the system works best when you repeat the routine six times, moving the calibration mic to six different locations in or near the main listening area. Doing so took around 12 minutes, and we verified the results were accurate. Automatic speaker calibration systems like Audyssey aren't an essential feature if you're comfortable performing a manual setup on your AV receiver, but they're well worth it for everyone else.

Sound quality
Sound quality evaluations for AV receivers (and other amplifiers) are controversial. Some say all AV receivers sound the same, others disagree, and we're not likely to settle that argument anytime soon. CNET's sound quality evaluations are strictly subjective, with resident golden-ear Steve Guttenberg comparing similarly priced models in an identical listening environment using the same speakers.

The AVR-1913 sounds great and very similar to the model it replaces in Denon's line from last year, the AVR-1912, which we had on hand for these evaluations. Both receivers sound clear and balanced, with powerful dynamics required for today's effects-heavy action films.

Steven Wilson's "Grace For Drowning" music-only Blu-ray sounded amazing. Wilson is a master of high-resolution music surround mixing, and the AVR-1913 effortlessly produced a seamless, wraparound sonic experience. On "Raider Prelude," the choir's voices seemed to reach up and come from above us. The percussion and bells on "No Part of Me" had a purity of sound you never hear from CDs. The AVR-1913's deep bass had tremendous impact and definition.

To test the AVR-1913's power reserves we fired up the "Quantum of Solace" Blu-ray, and the sound of the car chase, with James Bond (Daniel Craig) thrashing the hell out of his Aston Martin sports car, was thrilling. The metal-against-metal crashes and heavy gunfire exchanges were played in all their glory, even when we turned the volume higher than usual. Jack White's "Another Way to Die" Bond theme song did nothing to change our opinion of the AVR-1913's capabilities. A quick switchover to the Pioneer's VSX-1022-K was a letdown, because the sound was a pale imitation of what we heard over the AVR-1913. The VSX-1022-K sounded slightly dull, with flabbier bass and restricted dynamic punch.

With the volume turned down to a more sedate late-night level, we listened with the Audyssey Volume and Dynamic EQ processors turned on. Yes, they maintained a more consistent volume level, so the soundtrack's loud parts were automatically compressed, but we felt the processors muddied the sound somewhat. For late-night sessions we prefer the sound with the Audyssey Volume and Dynamic EQ processors turned off.

CDs played in stereo were so sharply focused we more than once checked to see if we had accidentally switched over to 5.1 surround, because it sounded like Bob Dylan's vocals were coming from the center speaker. No, it really was just stereo, but the image focus was so good we were fooled.

What about Denon's other AV receivers?
The AVR-1913 is at the top of Denon's "main" line of AV receivers and is definitely pricey at $580. We broke down the main differences between each Denon model when they were initially announced, and the AVR-1713 will likely be the best value in Denon's line for most. The step-up features of the AVR-1913 (7.1 channels, analog video upconversion, powered second-zone audio, Pro Logic IIz processing) aren't worth it for the vast majority of buyers, especially with the $130 price premium. The AVR-1613 is also attractive, but it's just $50 to get an extra HDMI input on the AVR-1713, which is worth it.

Conclusion
The Denon AVR-1913 is a great-sounding AV receiver with a good feature set, but it doesn't do much to distinguish itself at this price point. Value-based buyers can likely do better with the Onkyo TX-NR616, Sony STR-DN1030, or Denon's less expensive (although less feature-packed) AVR-1713.

Denon AVR-1913
7.5

Denon AVR-1913

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8