Since the AVR-5800 is the first receiver capable of playing discrete 6.1-channel audio, I was especially eager to check out its performance with DTS ES-Discrete discs. The catalog is on the short side: a DVD of The Haunting remastered using a 24-bit audio source and music CDs from Don Henley and Studio Voodoo. (Gladiator, the second DTS ES-Discrete DVD slated for release, wasn't out yet when I wrote this.)
The pleasingly restrained surround mix on Henley's The End of Innocence made for interesting listening because the title track is mixed in ES-Discrete while the rest of the album is in ES-Matrix. I wish I could tell you otherwise, but I didn't hear any differences between the opening cut and the similarly textured "The Heart of the Matter" that I can confidently attribute to the different encoding systems. Both sounded seductively clear and open, with unusually distinct, roundly dimensional studio-produced ambience.
It is my firm policy never to watch scary movies - I need my sleep - but since The Haunting is based on a Shirley Jackson novella set in a house I actually used to live in, I had to check it out. (The real Hill House is no goofy Gothic mansion, just an ordinary, white-clapboard New Englander in a small Vermont town. In my day it was an off-campus college dorm.)
The movie is a rather hokey, conventional horror flick, but it has a killer soundtrack, fine ambience presentation, and some mighty impressive deep-bass effects. Just about every frame sounded very defined and unforced played through the AVR-5800, and most of the cavernous interiors provided a rich palette of superbly reproduced ambience effects. For example, early in the film, when Lili Taylor ushers Catherine Zeta-Jones from one room to another, the room ambience changes in a very smooth and believable way.
Of course, there's no shortage of zingy 6.1-channel surround effects in the scary stuff. For instance, in the final ghostfest (Chapter 22), distant thunder rolled and gargoyle voices gibbered from side to side behind me in ways impossible for a "mere" 5.1-channel setup to produce - keen! How much of this whiz-bang aural imagery is specifically owing to the discrete DTS-ES encoding, as opposed to Dolby Surround EX or DTS ES-Matrix, I can't say, but my guess is comparatively little. Nevertheless, ES-Discrete appears to work as advertised, and it sounded great.
Denon showed welcome restraint in adorning the AVR-5800 with "extra" features and surround modes. One that I quite liked is that bass and treble tone control is available either globally, for all channels, or individually for the front, center, surround, and back surround channels.
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