Product Review (November 2008) - Denon
AVR-5308CI THX-Ultra2 A/V Receiver

By Kevin Nakano


Denon has always provided its customers with state-of-the-art electronics featuring the latest cutting-edge technology. The company has recently released their flagship AVR-5308CI A/V receiver that includes the highly sought after Dolby TrueHD and dts-HD Master Audio decoding. This receiver is fully THX-Ultra2 certified and features seven powerful 150-watt high current amplifiers. The AVR-5308CI is a reference standard for both audio and video quality and features Denon’s legendary D.D.S.C.-HD (Dynamic Discrete Surround Circuit) surround sound decoding powered by a trio of SHARC 32-bit floating point digital signal processors (DSPs) along with high performance Burr-Brown DACs operating in differential mode on all twelve output channels. This receiver is capable of decoding the latest high definition audio formats through the latest HDMI connectors that meet the v1.3a specification. Video sources from a variety of resolutions or formats are upconverted to high definition (up to 1080p) thanks to the Silicon Optics Realta HQV video processor. This unit features the latest digital media connectivity and includes network audio and photo streaming, via Ethernet and built-in Wi-Fi, along with Internet radio stations, built-in HD radio, and XM satellite-ready capability.

Flip-down Panel
Few controls occupy the front of the
AVR-5308CI. However, behind the lower flip-down panel sit many buttons that control the unit along with several interfaces for analog A/V connections, headphones, digital audio, and the calibration microphone. The left buttons are mainly used to control the input and surround modes while the center buttons control the menu and navigation features. The right side buttons select the zones (there are 4), calibration controls, and provides quick access A/V connections for devices such as gaming consoles.

Rearview
The rear panel of the
AVR-5308CI is to die for with more interfaces than most will ever need. The back is so loaded that is looks more like a connector company displaying a product line. There are eleven speaker outputs with several of them used for supporting multiple zones. Each speaker output features gold-plated, wide pitch, high-grade 5-way binding posts. While the need for analog (composite, s-video, and component) video sources has diminished over the years, Denon has provided the ability to use these legacy sources for many of the customers that still have them. Eight composite, eight s-video, and six component video inputs are available. There are also six HDMI inputs, five optical and four coaxial digital inputs, along with two HDMI monitor outputs for support of two displays.

Networking (wired and Wi-Fi) is built into the AVR-5308CI and supports streaming audio from more than 7,000 Internet radio stations. In addition, the unit can decode AAC, WMA, MP3, FLAC, and WAV files. JPEG photos can also be decoded and displayed for convenience. An HD radio tuner is included with support for XM radio. The +12v trigger outputs are completely assignable and have the ability to drive up to 250mA of current.

Inside
The build quality of the
AVR-5308CI can only be appreciated when the cover is removed from the unit. The inside of the receiver is very impressive and fitted with a variety of sophisticated electronics for audio and video processing. The audio design includes one Analog Devices ADSP-21366 and two Analog Devices ADSP-21367 32-bit Floating-Point SHARC Processors. These highly regarded audio processing chips handle the new Dolby TrueHD and dts-HD Master Audio codecs along with THX home cinema processing (Re-EQ™, Timbre Matching™, and Adaptive Decorrelation™). In addition, all the standard dts (Neo:6™ Surround, 96/24, ES Matrix, and EX Discrete) and Dolby Digital formats are supported. The unit can also decode DSD (SACD) streams and HDCD® (High Definition Compatible Digital®) discs. A small internal fan helps to keep some of the electronics cool. Once powered on, the unit runs very warm so adequate ventilation is recommended for reliable long-term operation. Most of the heat is radiated from the large heatsinks used by the seven high-current linear power amplifiers that run along both sides of the unit.

Hefty Power Supply
At the core of the AVR-5308CI receiver is seven high-current linear power amplifiers that meet the strict requirements set forth by the folks at THX. More than half of the volume is taken up by the power supplies, which includes the transformers, rectifiers, and filter capacitors. Separate power forms are provided for audio, video and the power amplifier stages for maximize performance while minimizing any noise that might bleed onto other circuits. The THX Ultra2™ badging requires a robust amplifier design and accounts for a large portion of the weight (63 pounds) found in this unit. The AVR-5308CI has a huge toroidal power transformer along with a pair of 33,000 µF (71-volt) filter capacitors that occupy a large volume of the real estate. These power rails provide the high voltage and current needed for the discrete power amplifiers. Even though the AVR-5308CI is rated to drive a minimum of 6 ohm speakers, it can easily handle lower impedances such as our M&K S-150THX and SS-250 surrounds. We confirmed this with the engineers at Denon before we ran our suite of low-impedance M&K speakers. The THX Ultra2™ specification requires that the amplifier be able to drive all channels with speaker impedances as low as 3.2 ohms continuously. Many less capable receivers have design limitations that cannot handle the high current needed by some speakers due to cost and size constraints. This is certainly not the case with the AVR-5308CI, where the robust power supply feeds the hefty power amplifiers with large heatsinks mounted on both sides of the receiver. The left side of the AVR-5308CI has three amplifiers on one large heatsink while the right side has four amplifiers mounted on another large heatsink.

Several lower voltage linear power supplies are also located nearby where large capacitors (47,000 µF, 16V) are used for filtering other circuits in the unit. The layout of the boards separates the functions to minimized interference from one another and the use of linear power supplies greatly reduces EMI noise in the chassis.

Video Processing
The
AVR-5308CI includes the highly acclaimed Silicon Optix Realta sxT2 HQV video processor designed for multi-cadence detection with accurate I/P conversion. The unit handles both analog video and HDMI scaling for all inputs up to 1080p. The unit will pass-thru 1080p/24fps content to preserve the original film frame rate, eliminating judder caused by 2:3 conversion. Deep Color (36-bits) and xvYCC color space is supported for the ultimate picture quality. The AVR-5308CI uses a high speed (216MHz) 12-bit video encoder and decoder with NSV. For audio purists, Denon also provides a switch to disable the video circuits to minimize the noise floor when listening to music only.

This video processor is what set the AVR-5308CI apart from other A/V receivers simply because it is capable of outstanding performance. Denon was wise to include a total of six HDMI inputs with dual monitor outputs. This alone raises the value of this unit where similar standalone video processors cost thousands of dollars and do no audio decoding. While the cost of the AVR-5308CI is significantly high, the features and capabilities contained in this unit are extraordinary. It should be noted that all video inputs get converted to the HDMI output, but not necessarily the other direction. That is, don't expect the HDMI video source to show up on the composite video or s-video output.

Dual Remotes
The
AVR-5308CI comes with a Main Remote and a Sub Remote. If anything about this receiver bothered me it was the remotes. It became clear to me that Denon assumed that the users would be using a high-end remote to control this unit. With the exception of the illuminated touchscreen on the Main Remote, no key backlighting is provided, but rather a glow-in-the-dark feature that only worked if bright light was exposed to the keys just before going into the dark. As a result, this made the remote somewhat difficult to use in a dark environment. The touchscreen has an adjustable brightness (5 levels) and adjustable duration (5 to 25 seconds) setting. The touchscreen was akward to use in the begining, but in time became somewhat easier to operate. Regardless, no time spent with either of these remotes would make me happy and we quickly integrated much of the functionality into our favorite RTI T3-V controller. This gave us the flexibility we needed to implement a variety of macros and other common commands used to control the receiver.

The Main Remote has the ability to control many other components with a large database included in the manual. In addition, this remote can also learn IR commands from other remotes using the built-in IR receiver, should the database not contain the remote codes needed. The Sub Remote offers more of the basic features found on the Main Remote and is actually easier to use. However, no backlighting or glow-in-the-dark keys are available on this model.

Firmware Upgrade
The
AVR-5308CI has the ability to update the firmware over the Internet. Our latest update was released on October 3, 2008 and took 129 minutes to download and install even with a fast broadband connection. The update adds Audyssey Dynamic Volume and Sirius Radio Ready capabilities along with other improvements including updated iPod compatibility, 1080p/24f scaling and more. There are several components within the AVR-5308CI that need firmware updates including the FPGA and DSPs. The upgrade experience was easy using the GUI and it was as simple as having the unit check the server for a new version.

Installation
Our main speaker system consists of three M&K S-150THX speakers across all front channels with a pair of M&K SS-250 surrounds. Each of these speakers are rated with a 4 ohms nominal impedance. They also require a significant amount of power due to their fairly low efficiency. Our bass was handled by a pair of M&K MX-350THX subwoofers. Thankfully, the AVR-5308CI supports up to three subwoofers in various configurations and allows the LFE channel to be mixed with the bass from the main channels. This gives the user a lot of flexibility in their setup especially when dealing with more than a single subwoofer.

Our digital video sources came from a Sony PLAYSTATION 3, Toshiba HD-A1, OPPO DV981HD, and a Dish Network ViP722 DVR. We also connected analog component video from our outdated, but fully functional Kenwood Entre media server that allows us to select from any one of 800 standard DVDs in two 400-disc changers at a press of a button. Finally, video from the AVR-5308CI was sent over a 25-meter Accell UltraRun 1.3 HDMI cable to our Mitsubishi HC5500 projector.

Speaker Calibration
There has been a recent trend with many of the newer receivers to use a built-in audio calibration technology to adjust the delay and level in each of the channels. The AVR-5308CI uses the Audyssey MultEQ XT and Audyssey Dynamic EQ™ system that worked very well even with multiple seating positions. The calibration process is simple with the user placing the microphone at the ear position where the listeners are seated. The unit sends out a series of pulses that are used to determine the distance and level from each speaker. The receiver can then compensate for distances and adjust the delays and levels accordingly.

The microphone included with the receiver has a 24-foot cable giving the user ample distance from the receiver. The unit automatically recognizes when the microphone is plugged into the front panel jack. The menu appears on the screen and the user starts the calibration process. Once the data has been collected, the system must process and save it. This takes a few minutes to complete and status is provided on the screen.

Performance
Both audio and video performance on the AVR-5308CI is excellent and will likely satisfy the critical home theater enthusiast. We are hard pressed to part with our separate processor and multi-channel amplifier, but after spending a couple of months with the AVR-5308CI we are ready to ditch the older system. We say this primarily because this receiver does everything well and completely integrates powerful features into a single unit. Normally this would not be a big deal, but when the video and audio are carried on a single HDMI cable it becomes very convenient to have the video switching, I/P conversion, scaling, audio decoding, and amplification all in a single package. If using the internal power amplifiers causes grief for the purest, an external power amplifier can be connected to the line level pre-outputs. However, we found no advantage in doing this with the robust power amplifier design in the AVR-5308CI.

Blu-ray
Audiophiles and videophiles both had their say with the latest Blu-ray disc format and the superior quality is demonstrated when combined with the proper hardware. Both
Dolby TrueHD and dts-HD Master Audio are part of this new format and the Denon AVR-5308CI delivers this with the authority one would expect from a high-end receiver. The Blu-ray material we watched on our system was simply spectacular with all the content (audio and video) carried on a single HDMI cable. Audio bandwidth alone exceeds the average bandwidth that standard DVD uses for both audio and video content. We watched scenes from Kingdom of Heaven presented in a 2.35:1 format on a BD-50 dual-layer disc. This disc included DTS HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround,
so naturally we took advantage of this during the course of the review. The AVR-5308CI reproduced the finest details during quiet scenes with plenty of well controlled power while driving our M&K speakers. We did not expect this level of performance from a receiver, especially with the heavy loads our M&K speakers place on amplifiers. We never thought a receiver could handle these speakers, yet the AVR-5308CI did so without any issues.

The heavier loads placed on the AVR-5308CI generated more heat, so it was important to make sure proper ventilation is provided around the unit. In cases where this is not possible, the user may consider installing a fan-based cooling system from Active Thermal Management which has proved to be an effective way of keeping components from overheating. We placed the Cool-it II on top of our receiver and it was very effective in preventing heat buildup inside of the unit.

Music
Music did equally well with this receiver even though many audiophiles may consider the M&K S-150THX speakers not optimal for music. We feel they do quite well in this area especially with more contemporary music. Taking advantage of SACD playback we put on one of our favorites SACDs The Raven (SACD205) from Rebecca Pigeon. Although this recording is limited to two channels, it is still one of the better recordings we have heard with this format. Another wonderful recording that sounded great on this system is another SACD from Sara K. entitled tell me i'm not dreamin' (Catalog No. JD133).

There are several dts encoded CDs that have very impressive 5.1 audio for testing out the audio capabilities of your system. We started with Steely Dan - Gaucho, playing the first two tracks (Babylon Sisters and Hey Nineteen) with outstanding dynamics and a wide soundstage. Even at high volume levels the AVR-5308CI held its own and reproduced these high quality recordings with full authority. Another favorite of ours is Boyz II Men - II, track 13 (Yesterday) where the band sings acapella style with each vocalist singing from each of the channels. This is really impressive and demonstrates the fidelity achieved with high quality multi-channel recordings played back through high-end electronics.

Conclusion
While many receivers now offer both audio and video processing for home theater systems, few do it as well as AVR-5308CI. This receiver has exceptional performance in all areas with little compromise. The Denon AVR-5308CI is by far the most advanced A/V receiver we have seen to date. The performance and build quality make this unit a natural choice for the discerning audiophile and videophile. Separate components are available for those with unlimited funds, but the vast majority of critical users will be quite pleased with the performance built into the AVR-5308CI. Specifically, the 6 HDMI inputs and dual HDMI outputs give the user a lot of flexibility. In addition, independent control of each input on the HQV Realta video processing is a bonus. The THX-Ultra2 certification provides superb sound.

As a reviewer, it is always important to spend a lot of time with a product that has this level of complexity. There are so many different features and modes offered on the AVR-5308CI that it takes a substantial amount of time not only to understand how to use the unit, but to also get to a point that the GUI becomes more intuitive. That is certainly the case with this A/V receiver and once we mastered the user interface, the AVR-5308CI became a very powerful component in many regards. While the cost of this unit is substantial, the features are well above mainstream A/V components on the market and certainly justify the price. For us, we use most of them on a daily basis making it difficult to go back to anything less. We are now looking at replacing our existing A/V controller and power amplifier with this unit.

- Kevin Nakano


Recent Press release

DENON® ANNOUNCES MAJOR HARDWARE AND FIRMWARE UPGRADE
FOR AVR-5308CI RECEIVER AND AVP-A1HDCI PREAMPLIFIER

-- Upgrade Will Add Leading-Edge Feature Capabilities, Including 3D Pass-Through, Audyssey MultEQ XT32, Audyssey DSX and Dolby PLIIz --

Mahwah, NJ, February 18, 2011 — Denon Electronics, a premier manufacturer of high-quality home entertainment components celebrating 100 years of innovation and technology leadership, will offer owners of its flagship AVR-5308CI A/V Receiver and AVP-A1HDCI A/V Home Theater/MultiMedia Preamplifier the opportunity to receive a major hardware and firmware upgrade that will provide full 3D pass-through capability, as well as Audyssey MultEQ XT32, Audyssey DSX and Dolby PLIIz.  This is the 4th significant upgrade that Denon has offered to owners of its high-end products, underscoring the company’s commitment to provide its customers with the very latest, most up-to-date features and capabilities. The upgrade is scheduled for October; for more details on the upgrade, Denon owners may visit the company’s website (usa.denon.com/upgrades) and sign up to receive informational email updates.

“We are very excited to bring these leading-edge features to owners of our flagship AVR-5308CI A/V receiver and AVP-A1HDCI Preamplifier,” noted Jeff Talmadge, Director, Product Development & Systems Integration, Denon Electronics.  “Early adopters who purchased these components nearly 4 years ago bought them with the confidence that they would experience the very best home entertainment for years to come. This upgrade opportunity is yet another example of how Denon is committed to ensuring that our customers are ‘future ready’ and remain at the leading edge of all the latest performance-enhancing technologies.”

What the Firmware Upgrade Provides:
In addition to full 3D pass-through capability, which will allow AVR-5308CI A/V and AVP-A1HDCI owners to enjoy the growing roster of 3D movies now becoming available, the firmware upgrade includes Dolby Pro Logic IIz decoding for enhanced audio experience of front height channels. For an even more dramatic surround sound experience, Denon owners will be able to take advantage of Audyssey DSX with left and right height and width channels – a new set of algorithms that pushes the envelope in audio performance by synthesizing audio signals for new surround channels based on human perception and acoustical research. The result is a much more realistic and “present” soundscape, with more audio “depth,” ideal for both movies and music, with height and width channels that are integral to maximum performance of next-generation high-definition surround-sound systems.

The firmware upgrade also features Audyssey’s advanced MultEQ XT32 room acoustic correction system features a microphone (included) to automatically measure the speaker configuration and provide acoustic tailoring for the best surround sound experience, and provides quick and easy setup.  MultEQ XT32 is 32 times more accurate than the base MultEQ XT system it replaces with this upgrade.






OPPO BDP-103 Blu-ray Player




Review System #1

Projector: Mitsubishi HC5500 1080p LCD Projector
Screen: Stewart Filmscreen 100" FireHawk Screen on a Luxus Deluxe ScreenWall
Video Processor/Scaler: Anchor Bay Technologies DVDO iScan HD+ A/V Processor
Bass Management: Miller & Kreisel BMC Mini 5.1 Bass Management Controller
Front Speakers: Miller & Kreisel S-150THX (L+R) and S-150AC (Center) Speakers
Rear Speakers: Miller & Kreisel SS-250 Tripole® Surround Speakers
Subwoofer: Two Miller & Kreisel MX-350THX MkII THX-Ultra Push-pull Subwoofers
Room Treatments: Echo Buster panels and Bass Buster towers
Set-top Box: Dish Network ViP622 HDTV Satellite and Terrestrial Receiver with HDMI
Blu-ray DVD Player: Sony PlayStation3 with HDMI 1.3
HD-DVD Player: Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD Player with HDMI
DVD/CD/SACD Player: Sony DVP-NS900V DVD/CD/SACD Player
DVD Audio/Video Player: Kenwood Sovereign DV-5900M 400-Disc DVD Changer
DVD Player: OPPO Digital OPDV971H DVD Player with DVI Output
D-VHS VCR: JVC HM-DH30000U D-VHS High-Definition D-Theater VCR
Media Server: Kenwood Sovereign MRH1 Entre
Remote Control: Remote Technologies Inc. T4 Controller
HDMI Video Switcher: Octava 4 Port HDMI/Toslink Audio Switcher
DVI Cable: AudioQuest DV-1 20m DVI-D Cable
HDMI Cables: VizionWare Hi-Wirez 20-meter, Accell 45-meter UltraRun HDMI Cable
A/V Cables: Ultralink Platinum and Advanced Performance Series Cables


Review System #2

Projector: Mitsubishi HC5500 1080p LCD Projector
Screen: Stewart Filmscreen 100" FireHawk Screen on a Luxus Deluxe ScreenWall
Video Processor/Scaler: Anchor Bay Technologies DVDO iScan HD+ A/V Processor
Front Speakers: Snell Acoustics J7 Monitors
Center Speaker: Snell Acoustics LCR7 Speakers
Rear Speakers: Snell Acoustics SR7 Speakers
Subwoofer: Snell Acoustics Basis 300 Subwoofer
Room Treatments: Echo Buster panels and Bass Buster towers
Set-top Box: Dish Network ViP622 HDTV Satellite and Terrestrial Receiver with HDMI
Blu-ray DVD Player: Sony PlayStation3 with HDMI 1.3
HD-DVD Player: Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD Player with HDMI
DVD/CD/SACD Player: Sony DVP-NS900V DVD/CD/SACD Player
DVD Audio/Video Player: Kenwood Sovereign DV-5900M 400-Disc DVD Changer
DVD Player: OPPO Digital OPDV971H DVD Player with DVI Output
D-VHS VCR: JVC HM-DH30000U D-VHS High-Definition D-Theater VCR
Media Server: Kenwood Sovereign MRH1 Entre
Remote Control: Remote Technologies Inc. T4 Controller
HDMI Video Switcher: Octava 4 Port HDMI/Toslink Audio Switcher
DVI Cable: AudioQuest DV-1 20m DVI-D Cable
HDMI Cables: VizionWare Hi-Wirez 20-meter, Accell 45-meter UltraRun HDMI Cable
A/V Cables: Ultralink Platinum and Advanced Performance Series Cables


Review - At a Glance


Denon - AVR-5308CI THX-Ultra 2 Certified A/V Receiver


Source: Manufacture supplied
Model Number: ACR-5308CI
MSRP: $5,500
Weight: 62.7 pounds
Dimensions (W x H x D): 17.1" x 8.5" x 19.25" inches

Owner's Manual - English (16.4MB) (6/3/2008)

Company Information
Denon Electronics (USA), LLC
100 Corporate Drive
Mahwah, N.J. 07430-2041
Phone: 201-762-6500
Fax: 201-762-6670
Source: Manufacture loan

Website: http://www.usa.denon.com


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