Denon has traditionally been a bit on the expensive side, but this reasonably priced receiver is a bargain, with ridiculously strong performance for the dollars.
The Denon AVR-2312 is a receiver at a sweet price/performance point. It's not so much that it's some kind of raw powerhouse, but that it implements a host of functions in a way that shows how it ought to be done.
Denon has provided seven HDMI inputs, one of them on the front panel, but still retains a couple of S-Video inputs as well. This is necessary because Denon has an iPod dock that plugs into S-Video, so it needs some backwards compatibility. There are no S-Video outputs because it is all converted to HDMI (or to, say, component video if your TV's pretty old).
The HDMI supports 3D and the Audio Return Channel.
Also on the front panel are good old-fashioned A/V inputs (including composite video), and good new-fashioned USB ports. Ethernet is at the back. Denon provides seven sets of loudspeaker binding posts for this receiver. You need to decide which speakers you want wired up at the outset. Any changes will mean physically rewiring.
It was clear that the menus and control systems for the Denon receiver were based on the same model as those for the Marantz, but Denon's were just a little prettier, with graphical enhancements and one more selection point in the Wizard that guides you through the set-up. So in addition to talking you through speaker connections and running the Audyssey MultEQ XT auto-speaker calibration and selecting inputs for your source device connections, this Wizard helps you set its universal remote control to operate your other devices. It offers an alphabet so you can find your device by brand name. But it didn't list Oppo, which is one of our Blu-ray players, although it did have Yamaha, which is another one. It provided a code to key into the Denon receiver's remote control, which mapped some of its keys to provide basic control over the player.
There's nothing special about this, really, except that the receiver actively talks you through the process rather than leaving it to you to look up the codes in the manual — and it works. I will confess that this was the first time I've set up a receiver remote to operate any of my gear for, probably, years.
Audyssey did its usual good thing with correctly calibrating the loudspeakers and equalising the output frequencies to adjust for loudspeaker and room issues. But at the end of the set-up it sounded poor, thanks to the automatic setting to "On" for a sound adjustment called "Dynamic EQ". This is designed to adjust to the sensitivity of the human ear for different frequency changes at different levels. Turn down the volume with this on and the higher and lower frequencies are boosted.
One day I'll mount the argument why this is not a good idea, but for now let me just say that it does not sound good, and should not be applied without specific permission. To switch it off, search through the amplifier's menus for "Audyssey Settings".
While there in the Audio Adjustment part of the settings, find "Restorer" and switch that off as well. This purports to somehow restore to lossless compressed music. It doesn't. It merely manipulates it to make it even less accurate.
All that done, this was a wonderful-sounding receiver. At 105 watts it was near the lowest powered, but really there were only a couple of decibels in it. Except for unusually difficult loudspeakers, this receiver had plenty of power both for stereo and surround sound. The receiver sensibly defaults to stereo sound for two channel sources.
This unit pops up its various menus over the top of whatever underlying video you may have going. In the absence of any video source, it just outputs at 576p. This is a bit softer than the regular menus, but is still presented cleanly and without any jitter in the hard edges.
This overlay worked even on frame-packed 3D content. Using 3D glasses the receiver's menu was hovering in front of the picture.
It doesn't offer upscaling, but it does a very nice job of converting analog video into HDMI. Even interlaced 576 content received high-quality progressive scan conversion for output via HDMI at 576p.
Note: the distributor advises that this receiver does indeed offer upscaling of both analogue and HDMI video signals, using the Analog Devices ADV8002 processor. It's a shame this option is so difficult to locate through the user interface, though.
The new media support was basically the same as that provided by the Marantz, minus the jittery menu displays. Indeed, this appeared to work at 1080i rather than 576p. The unit will display photos from USB and DLNA, but you won't want to look at them because the unit wrecks their aspect ratio, squashing them vertically and stretching them horizontally.
The music is a different matter. Nicely handled from USB or DLNA, FLAC is supported in addition to WAV, MP3 and WMA. You can get around long lists of songs, artists and albums by keying for initial letters. Likewise, you plug an iPod into the USB for similar treatment. But the most fun for iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch music is to use Apple Airplay, which is built in.
As with all the other receivers, vTuner is the portal provided for internet radio. You can personalise your selection via the web using an authorisation code provided by the receiver. Also notionally available is Last.fm (which doesn't work in Australia), Napster (to which you need to sign up) and Flickr (which works, but thanks to the receiver's graphics renderer it gives you distorted images).
But who cares about pictures? Few offer this at all. Denon has traditionally been a bit on the expensive side, but it seems the local distributor has been making aggressive use of the present strong Australian dollar. So this reasonably priced receiver is a bargain, with ridiculously strong performance for the dollars.