Unlike some other Net-enabled A/V receivers, the new Denon (via its manual) directs you to a Web page where you can enter URLs to add your own streams to its memory; these immediately join the list that comes up onscreen when you select Internet radio. The 4308CI's Net-audio talents further include playback of MP3/MP4, WMA, WAV, and FLAC files from a networked PC (but not a Mac, alas!), as long as the computer uses Windows Media 11 as its library/server (but not iTunes, alack!). It also will play tracks from a connected USB drive (with album art from supported files) - which would be outstanding if it offered some library control. Unfortunately, all you can do is play an entire volume or folder automatically (in sequence or shuffled) or manually, one track at a time. Too bad, because as cheap as external USB memory and drives are, you could otherwise have a serious, high-quality lossless music server for very low dollars.
Denon equips the 4308CI with a DSP mode it labels "Restorer," said to "generate the signals eliminated upon [data] compression, restoring the sound to conditions near those of the original." Hmmm. How does it know? The Restorer can be set to three different levels, and it did indeed have audible results. On compromised files (like low-bit-rate MP3s, most Internet audio streams, and many XM channels), I actually preferred it, which I confess was a surprise.
Next up: HD Radio. The Denon has that, and it worked fine on the two FM stations so equipped in my area, adding average MP3-quality to analog AM/FM, not to mention multicast streams where available.
XM: The 4308CI has that, too (with an optional, third-party MiniTuner and, of course, a subscription). And it, too, worked fine and sounded as usual. Denon's onscreen display shows XM's meager text data all at once, which is nice, and - yay! - you can set the page to stay put for as long as you remain listening.
iPod: Like many other receivers today, the Denon accepts an iPod docking station - in this case, its ASD-1R (around $100), which integrates onscreen metadata display and remote-control operations.
Multizone: The 4308CI's multiroom/zone abilities cover as many as three additional rooms/zones, two of which may be powered with the receiver's unused amplifier channels. The receiver has extra, switched speaker-terminal sets, which means you can set up one or two powered stereo remote rooms but still enjoy 5.1- or 7.1-channel home theater in the main room (without changing wires and setups), as the receiver reroutes the needed channels back to multichannel duties as necessary. (You can also use the extra terminals for main-speaker biamplifying or biwiring setups.)
Web control: Say what? Yes, the 4308CI's Wi-Fi (or wired) networking can be used to command it from any Web browser - PC, Mac, PDA, smartphone, whatever - on your local network (or outside it, if you know what you're doing). The control page comes up when you load the receiver's local IP address (there's even a PDA-sized subpage). It can command all functions and zones, so the possibilities are obvious for customizing a multiroom setup, particularly for someone with a little HTML-programming knowledge.
With its buff, colorful GUI, you might think the 4308CI would be a lock for ease-of-use. And as far as the display itself goes, you'd be correct: The menus and navigation are fast, generally well organized, and largely intuitive. There are quirks, however.
For one, the GUI won't come up in any mode if the volume is muted. Wha?! Here's another quirk: One of my favorite 4308CI features was its Channel Balance display, which comes up with a single key-press and gives you a nice, single-screen, graphical-slider display to temporarily adjust relative channel levels; excellent! But it doesn't work on either XM or Internet-audio sources, even though surround playback is available for both. (What's more, because there's no escape command, you have to wait for the display to time out - another oops.) On the other hand, Denon has included Quick Select, a nifty feature that lets you store and instantly recall your three most-used combinations of source, surround mode, EQ setting, and channel-levels/volume. Amazingly useful.
But the real Achilles' heel? The 4308CI's supplied remotes, plural. Yes, it comes with two. The first of them - Denon's eight-component, membrane-switch RC-1068 - may be handsome and reasonably powerful, but it's an ergonomic disaster. It's very difficult to read and impossible to use by touch, and it necessitates tricky sequences to access multiple sources "stacked" on a single "page" - such as the XM and FM tuners, which share the same set of keys. And these are only the RC-1068's worst offenses. Handier but more limited is the RC-1070 button remote, which is dedicated to the receiver only and is zone-selectable for use from remote rooms. (Denon's $299 RC-7000CI two-way RF system controller is probably a much better solution - but note that its RF transceiver costs another $199.)
Either way, if you buy the Denon AVR-4308CI, you'll probably want an alternative system-controller, be it from Denon or a third party. But with that hurdle cleared, you'll enjoy a truly outstanding A/V receiver whose serious performance and plethora of genuinely thoughtful value-added features overwhelmingly outweigh its occasional shortcomings.
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