The rear panel also has two sets of side (not back) surround speaker outputs. After connecting different pairs of surround speakers to each set of outputs, you can use the setup menu to designate which pair will be the default for each surround mode. Why? Because Lucasfilm's THX Ultra program specifies dipole, side-located surround speakers for optimum film-sound playback, while DTS recommends listening to its multichannel music recordings with direct-radiating surround speakers identical to your front pair and located in line with them at the rear of the room.
I connected the AVR-5800 to my usual home theater system. Since Denon advises using identical pairs of dipole speakers for the side and (centered) back surrounds, I supplemented my usual dipole surrounds, which are mounted high on the side walls, with a nearly identical pair from the same maker. I didn't have a second pair of the Platinum Solos that I use as my left/right front speakers, so I deployed a pair of similar-sounding NHT SuperOnes as the direct-radiating left/right rear surrounds.
The Denon receiver's channel-balance and setup onscreen menus are among the clearest and easiest to use I've encountered. The nifty Aktis touchscreen remote control helped, too (more on that below). While the setup and bass-management functions all worked correctly, I was slightly disappointed that the receiver has only the THX-standard 80-Hz subwoofer crossover-frequency setting.
And so we come, finally, to the AVR-5800's front panel, which is attractively simple - just two knobs, three buttons, and a businesslike blue display. Everything else is hidden behind a hinge-down door. Denon's usual gold-on-black lettering scores poor for readability, but you'll be using the remote to operate everything anyway.
HIGH POINTS Outstanding 6.1-channel sound.
Impressive multichannel power output.
DTS Neo:6 mode to derive 6.1-channel sound from stereo sources.
"Deep," powerful full-system remote control.
This receiver is fairly awash in interesting technical details. It uses 24-bit/192-kHz digital-to-analog (D/A) converters for all channels, even the LFE (low-frequency-effects) output - yikes! There are dual Analog Devices SHARC 32-bit floating-point digital signal processing (DSP) chips for all the important audio processing and decoding. These are leading-edge, extremely high-dynamic-range devices.
How does all this sophistication work where the silicon meets the road? Well, the AVR-5800's FM reception from moderately weak and distant stations was no better than that of most decent receivers. Its AM reception was a step above average, however, and the FM quality from strong/local signals was fine. Otherwise, I was unable to find any important mode or function where its performance wasn't excellent.
Power output was more than ample even for my very low-sensitivity front L/R speakers. The DTS CD of Every Breath You Take, a collection of hits by the Police - my current ear-bleeder test - played as loud as I could stand it with no hint of distress from the receiver or speakers. Not once did I sense any shortage of dynamic headroom.
Conventional 5.1-channel Dolby Digital and DTS decoding was outstanding, as was the digital-domain Pro Logic decoding. At no point did I hear anything to tip me off that I wasn't listening to my usual separate processor/preamp and five-channel power amp - high praise indeed. All of the officially encoded 6.1-channel Dolby Surround EX DVDs that I played (there aren't many yet) sounded great.
Denon's additional DSP ambience modes include the usual Classic Concert, Jazz Club, Rock Arena, and so on. Most of these rely too much on front-channel reverberation, but you can adjust the room size and the effect level to create a reasonably pleasing result with most types of music.
The one ambience mode I did like was DTS's new Neo:6, which has separate Cinema and Music settings. Cinema "steers" center-type material to the (front) center speaker and ambience information to the surround speakers. The Music setting provides center fill and ambience, but without extracting center or surround signals from the original stereo channels - those are delivered intact to the L/R front speakers.
Neo:6 Music worked very well indeed on a wide variety of stereo recordings, adding stable breadth and depth to the soundstage without any synthetic reverb. Neo:6 Cinema worked well on stereo (not surround-encoded) video material such as broadcast TV programming, though I often found myself lowering the rear speakers by a couple of decibels.
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