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Denon AVR-3805 (black) review: Denon AVR-3805 (black)

Denon AVR-3805 (black)

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
4 min read
Denon's AVR-3805 receiver is a knockout. Its sound quality almost compares with high-end separate preamp/processor and amplifier combinations, and its array of features and back-panel connections is enough to choke a horse. Priced at $1,199 list, it might stretch your savings account, but for serious audiophiles, the AVR-3805 represents an incredible value. More budget-conscious buyers who don't need some of the AVR-3805's obscure high-end features can opt for Denon's less dizzyingly equipped step-down model, the AVR-2805.

Editors' note: Denon Electronics will not honor the warranty on components purchased from unauthorized dealers or if the original factory serial number has been removed, defaced, or replaced. If in doubt about a particular online or brick-and-mortar retailer, call Denon at 973/396-0810.


Denon AVR-3805 (black)

The Good

A 7.1-channel receiver; high-end style and feel; graphic-display remote; all-digital hookup for compatible Denon SACD/DVD-A players; turntable input; versatile surround speaker switching.

The Bad

The included superslick universal remote may be too advanced for its own good.

The Bottom Line

Audiophiles craving the very best sound and cutting-edge features will find everything they need in Denon's AVR-3805.
Denon has jazzed up its conservative style, and we must say, the AVR-3805 oozes class. It weighs a hefty 37.5 pounds and measures 17.1 inches wide, 6.5 inches tall, and 16.75 inches deep. The receiver is available in black or a lovely dark silver finish.

Denon's Auto Setup feature eases setup hassles by confirming speaker phase, assessing the sizes of all of your speakers, measuring speaker-to-listener distances, and balancing speaker levels. The catch: you need to buy Denon's optional mic (or use your own compatible mic--click here for PDF) to take advantage of the Auto Setup feature. The first time we ran Auto Setup, it wasn't as accurate as the automatic leveling found on Pioneer's much less expensive VSX-D914-K. We reran the test a few times before the AVR-3805 got it right. OK, it may not be perfect, but it's much better than not doing any setup at all.

The AVR-3805's large remote deserves special mention. Other than its four buttons and centrally located cursor controls, the touch-screen remote features two large blue membranes that light up whenever you pick up the remote. Press Amp, and the remote displays receiver-related controls; press DVD, and the remote displays a full set of DVD controls such as Play, Pause, Menu, and a complete numeric key set--everything you need to operate a DVD player. (The design is similar to the contextual soft keys found on One For All's line of Kameleon universal remotes.) The remote looks really cool, but we think some buyers, especially those who prefer to navigate by touch, might prefer a standard remote with buttons.

The Denon AVR-3805 offers seven 120-watt channels and a boatload of surround processing modes, including Dolby EX and Pro Logic IIx, DTS ES, and 96/24. It also includes HDCD processing that enhances the sound of special HDCD-encoded CDs.

Extensive equalization options can help ensure your speakers sound as good as they can in your room. We're skeptical about the real-world usefulness of auto EQ (equalization) systems because they so rarely improve sound quality, but the AVR-3805's EQ did just that. The equalized sound not only produced more detail and smoother bass response, the speakers' imaging focus was sharper with the EQ turned on.

Otherwise, connectivity is on a par with separate preamplifier/processors selling for three times the price of the AVR-3805. The Denon Link offers a single-wire, all-digital hookup path for a few compatible higher-end Denon SACD/DVD-A players. That's nice, but most of us still have to run six analog cables between our SACD/DVD-A players and the receiver's 7.1 channel inputs. The receiver can upconvert your S-Video and composite inputs (from VCRs or older cable boxes, for instance) to component-video output. Other back-panel highlights include component-video switching for three sources, a turntable input, second and third zone multiroom capability, six digital audio inputs and two outputs, and an RS-232C port for use with AMX or Crestron home automation systems.

The AVR-3805 is the first receiver we've tested that offers a choice of switching between the two sets of surround speakers (the side back channels and the rear back channels) when in 5.1 mode. It's yet another customization option that audiophiles with refined tastes will appreciate (see the Performance page for more details).

And finally, we were happy to see that Denon included a group delay of up to 200 milliseconds so that you can reestablish lip sync with video displays that lag behind audio signals.

The surround-sound capabilities of this receiver are truly awe inspiring, but we started our auditions in stereo. Roseanne Cash's 10 Song Demo CD sounded pristine, with Ms. Cash's vocals and acoustic guitar holding center stage between our Dynaudio Contour speakers. The Denon AVR-3805's lush sound mimics high-end separate components.

To test the AVR-3805's surround stamina, we played Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon SACD. We felt the album's opening heartbeats before we heard them. On "Time," the clocks' ticks 'n' tocks, and various chimes and gongs filled every corner of our home theater--even the screaming lunatic's rantings were clarified by the AVR-3805's revelatory sonics.

Switching between the A side surround speakers to the B rear surrounds demonstrated the wisdom of Denon's versatility. Fact is, most of our multichannel music discs sounded better with the rear surround speakers turned on; DVD movies were better with the side surrounds in play. Of course, for those few DVDs encoded with 6.1/7.1-channel Dolby EX or DTS ES soundtracks, you can run both side and rear surround speakers. Assuming you have a room large enough to set up side and rear surround speakers, the AVR-3805 is uniquely capable of delivering the best from movies and multichannel music.

Our DVD pick, Wonderland, turned out to be an awful druggy movie about a Hollywood murder spree involving legendary porn star John Holmes. But the soundtrack was loaded with room-shaking, low-frequency effects and the drug-induced surround effects spun around our home theater. The film's physical brutality was conveyed with convincing power by the AVR-3805.


Denon AVR-3805 (black)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8