Denon's sterling reputation among home-theater cognoscenti is based on the superlative sound and build quality of its products, so we had high expectations for the company's popular midrange receiver, the AVR-3802. Did it live up to our hopes? In a word, yes--the 3802 is easily in the top rank of receivers that we've heard. However, we're less thrilled with its user interface. In fact, if it weren't for that shortcoming, we would have awarded this otherwise impressive receiver an Editors' Choice. Denon's sterling reputation among home-theater cognoscenti is based on the superlative sound and build quality of its products, so we had high expectations for the company's popular midrange receiver, the AVR-3802. Did it live up to our hopes? In a word, yes--the 3802 is easily in the top rank of receivers that we've heard. However, we're less thrilled with its user interface. In fact, if it weren't for that shortcoming, we would have awarded this otherwise impressive receiver an Editors' Choice.
Beauty on the inside
On the outside, the 3802 is nothing special. We found its styling uninspired and bland--it's a basic black component. Ah, but when we popped the cover and looked inside the 3802, we noticed a massive power transformer right behind the faceplate. This receiver's innards are jam-packed with circuit boards and quality parts that wouldn't be out of place in a high-end component.
There's plenty of connectivity options here, too--everything from HDTV component-video switching to a phono input for vinyl lovers. It's too bad that Denon didn't squeeze in a set of front-panel-mounted audio/video connectors for gamers or video camera owners.
As noted, however, this isn't the most user-friendly receiver. Setup chores and menu navigation may confuse even fairly experienced home-theater fans, and the remote's ergonomics are only so-so. Also, the owner's manual will be of just marginal help in sorting out the various features and surround capabilities of the 3802. That said, day-to-day operation is straightforward.
While many so-called 6.1- or 7.1-channel receivers come equipped just with 5 amplifier channels, the 3802 boasts 7 110-watt channels. Dolby Digital 6.1 and DTS-ES Discrete/Matrix surround processing are handled by Analog Devices' highly regarded SHARC 32-bit processing chip and Denon's proprietary DDSC-D (Dynamic Discrete Surround Decoder-Digital) circuitry. Dolby Pro Logic II and DTS Neo:6 are also onboard to synthesize surround effects from CDs; FM broadcasts; older, stereo DVDs; and videotapes.
The Dual Surround Speaker mode is unusually flexible. You can hook up A and B pairs of surround speakers: one pair affixed on the sides of your room for movies and another rear-mounted pair for music surround formats such as Super Audio CD or DVD-Audio (DVD-A). And when you're playing DTS ES or Dolby 6.1 content, you can play all four surround speakers simultaneously in addition to the left-, center-, and right-front speakers--that's where the seven amp channels come into use. Oh, and the 3802 can also be configured to run a set of stereo speakers in another room.
Ready for anything
On the Best of Sessions at West 54th DVD, the 3802 tracked even the most subtle nuances on Richard Thompson's track, "I Feel So Good." The mix engineers' handiwork was obvious--whether we were watching a close-up or a wide view--and the reverb and acoustic space always matched the picture. On Keb' Mo's track, the drums had the sort of immediacy, impact, and presence that we associate with separate component systems. Mr. Mo's rich voice was extremely present and natural, and the surround effects were expansive yet well integrated with the front soundstage. We next auditioned a few DVD-A discs using a Marantz DV12 S1 player, and the results were stellar. The sound on Al Green's Greatest Hits DVD was even more vividly rendered; on "Call Me," the horns all but dripped soul.
The Men in Black DVD gave the 3802 plenty of opportunity to show off. Bass was rock solid and powerful--the Denon's 110 watts per channel felt distinctly more substantial than other receivers with similar power ratings. During the tunnel sequence where Tommy Lee Jones's and Will Smith's cruiser-cum-rocket-car blasts off, the Denon's prodigious output slammed us back into our BarcaLoungers with a vengeance.
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.