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It's what's inside that counts
The AVR-2802 is a 6-by-90-watt-per-channel A/V receiver. Denon loaded on a host of advanced features such as Dolby Digital and DTS 6.1-channel (ES-Matrix and Discrete) decoding and Dolby Pro Logic II and DTS Neo:6 to create superb surround sound from stereo sources. We also noted A/B speaker switching, HDTV/component-video switching, and multisource/multizone operation.
Connectivity choices are quite good: there's a nice selection of composite and S-Video jacks, a turntable input, four digital-audio inputs and one output, a set of jacks for a DVD-Audio or a SACD player, and finally, 7.1 preamp outputs that'll come in handy if you ever want hook up a monster power amp.
When it comes to looks, there's not much to crow about--the AVR-2802 is a generic, black receiver with a minimally cluttered faceplate. The blue LED isn't terribly informative. Setup details such as assigning our DVD to a digital input taxed our patience, though the remote was slightly better than average; its flip-down cover mercifully hides lesser-used buttons.
Warm toned and luscious, the 2802 brought out the best in John Williams's ravishing score for A.I. Artificial Intelligence, which features an ethereal choir, lush strings, and lots of tinkly percussion. Too bad the film is such a bore! All of the unsettling surround effects sprinkled throughout the Bram Stoker's Dracula DVD were holographically immersive. We ran the front speakers in the Large setting, and the 2802 never ran out of juice as it summoned up the Training Day DVD's pulsing bass lines. Speaking of bass, the 2802's bass management directs low frequencies to the sub, even with stereo sources and when using the Large setting on the front speakers. Most receivers shortchange the sub under those conditions.
We cranked up Elvis, boogied with Muddy Waters, and grooved to Dizzy Gillespie, and the 2802's sound was never less than a joy. Dolby's Pro Logic II expertly spread these old stereo recordings over our Dynaudio Contour 5.1 speaker array. The simulated surround effects were consistently natural.
2802 vs. its big brother
We compared the 2802 with its bigger sibling, the AVR-3802. But it was no contest--the pricier receiver sounds both more refined and gutsier. Even on our stereo listening tests, the 2802 was dimensionally flatter and tonally brighter than the 3802. In addition, when we used it while watching DVDs, the 3802's sweeter demeanor was easier on the ears over the course of a two-hour film. We loved the 2802's sound, but discriminating listeners should take the plunge and go for the 3802.
The AVR-2802 lists for $799, and it's a solid performer in its price class. If it weren't for the setup hassles, we'd bump the rating up another point to a strong 8. If the Denon's price tag is out of reach, check out Pioneer's sweet-sounding VSX-D850S.
Editor's note: Denon Electronics won't honor the warranty on products purchased from unauthorized dealers or online retailers or if the original factory serial number has been removed, defaced, or replaced in any way. You can find an authorized reseller here.