Let's begin with the basics — 2-channel music listening. The AVR-991 proved amply powerful for serious stereo listening, even via the lower sensitivity of my long-term two- way monitors, which were configured full-range without subwoofer support.
Steely Dan's Gaucho, recently released in 96/24 highrez FLAC by HDtracks, is a watershed rock production, and I had to hear if the 96/24 version sounded significantly better than the last CD issue. (The answer is yes, though I can't say how much credit goes to bit rate/depth or other remastering.) The opening bars of "Time Out of Mind" played solid, clean, and extremely punchy (the new version clearly has more headroom), with the trademark horn stabs and Mark Knopfler's guitar sounding balanced and smooth even at stupid in-room volumes.
Multichannel music's per-channel power demands are, typically, less severe individually (since the acoustical work is divided more ways), so I wasn't surprised to see the Denon show equally well here. A Reference Recordings release of Rachmaninoff's orchestral Études-Tableaux (from another HDtracks 96/24 FLAC download) is a sparkling production that reproduces brilliantly in Dolby PLII Music mode. And while the big Snell speakers I use for center and surround channels are also comparatively low in sensitivity, here again the Denon quickly proved up to the task and more, delivering great, hall-rolling tutti accents and delicate, overarching strings, all with impressively natural stage depth and ambience.
Of course, film sound is arguably Job 1 for any A/V receiver. For my marquee trial, I loaded up How to Train Your Dragon — my first Redbox rental, ever! I'd heard good things about its Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack, and figured anything with lots of flying around would be cool for testing the DSX (and PLIIz) height option. (Even though I am heartily sick of bug-eyed, underdog urchins — especially ones who sound like Galleria brats when everyone around them talks like Willie the Groundskeeper despite supposedly being Danish.) As anticipated, the Denon presented Dragon's big action sequences with full, powerfully spatial impact. DSX gave all the zooming an added dimension, but to my ears its big payoff came in scenes like the opening seconds of Chapter 5. With DSX (or PLIIz) height engaged, the upgrade in believability to the quiet, echoing ambience of the scene's cavernous hall, though subtle, was profound; I could really "hear the height" of the ceiling.
I tasked the AVR-991's video scaler/processor with our usual rotation of test discs and uncovered no overt jaggies, noise artifacts, or color or resolution shortfalls. No surprise there since a recent blog post on Denon's Web site identifies the receiver's silicon as being from Anchor Bay, a reliable source of video-processing goodness.
The AVR-991 also includes streaming-audio/Internet- radio abilities (including starter accounts for Pandora, Rhapsody, and Napster), and these worked in a pleasingly smooth manner. Sound quality is of course limited by the bit rate of the stream, but the Denon also played computer-audio files, including my modest but growing collection of 96 kHz/24-bit (and 88.2/24) lossless files at full resolution without a hiccup.
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