Processors

Denon AVP-A1HDCI Surround Sound Processor and POA-A1HDCI Power Amplifier

ARTICLE INDEX

Setup

One of the first things you should do is run the Audyssey Setup which is accessed from the front flip down panel (shown below). Over on the very far right hand side you can see a jack for the "Setup Mic". There is a small microphone that is included with the SSP and you simply plug it into that jack. The Audyssey setup menu will come on the display and step you through the process (Speaker Detection, Measurement, Calculation, Check, Store). If one of your speakers is connected in reverse phase, you will see an error message about that speaker. You have to reconnect the speaker in correct phase and run the start the setup over again. The setup is repeated for six different microphone locations (places where you and your family are likely to be seated), and then Audyssey calculates the best fit EQ that takes into account the six different seating positions. The data are stored, and when you use the SSP, an Audyssey indicator will be illuminated on the front panel readout. It is not lit (not active) when you are using "Direct" modes, such as CD Direct, which I used for the bench tests. You can turn Audyssey off anytime you wish, and this is fun to do so you can hear the difference that it makes (big difference).

The flip down panel also has buttons for various modes, setup options (manual speaker and EQ setup), and for turning on the other four zones. Other than the flip down panel controls, the only other controls are the input selector on the left, and the volume control on the right. Volume is read out from -80 dB to +18 dB. I generally found a volume setting of -20 to -15 dB to give me all the volume I needed.

The rear panel of the A1HDCI is inputs and outputs from one edge of the chassis to the other (see photo below, click on the small photos to see a full size version).

There are 12 output channels, available as XLR or RCA (shown in red, below). I used the XLR outputs exclusively because my reference amplifier (Classé CA-5200) has XLR inputs, and so does the Denon POA-A1HDCI amplifier that is designed to be paired with the Denon SSP. The 12 outputs are Front Left, Center, Front Right, Surround A Left, Surround A Right, Surround B Left, Surround B Right, Surround Back Left, Surround Back Right, Subwoofer 1, Subwoofer 2, Subwoofer 3. The Surround A and B are if you want to have two sets of side surround channels, such as in a very large home theater room. The three subwoofers can be configured for left, right, and LFE. You can reconfigure any of the outputs to be any of the other outputs (if you want to duplicate an output channel).

The A1HDCI is organized around six input sets (marked on the photo below). It is assumed your sources are digital, perhaps even all HDMI output, and the A1HDCI is principally a digital audio processor.

So, looking at the photo, you can see the HDMI inputs highlighted in red. They are DVD, HDP, TV/CBL (this was changed to SAT in the final release version), SAT (changed to VCR in final release version), DVR-1, and DVR-2 (you can change the names to anything you prefer). To the right of these inputs, highlighted in green, are the HDMI output jacks for connection to a projector and TV monitor. Below the HDMI inputs are coaxial and optical digital inputs associated with the HDMI inputs of the same name. You can connect sources to any or all of the inputs, and when you select one particular input from the front panel, there is an option to use any one of the sources you have connected to the HDMI, or coaxial, or optical jack associated with that input. In other words, you can have a lot of sources sharing each of the six main input sets. Each HDMI input will have either a coaxial digital or optical digital input associated with it, but not both.

In the middle and down at the bottom are the analog input sets assocated with each input. They include component video, S-Video, composite video, and stereo analog audio.

For CD, you can use either a set of fully balanced XLR inputs or the usual RCA inputs. You select whether you want XLR or RCA from the on-screen menu setup options.

Denon has a proprietary connection called Denon Link. It is present on the A1HDCI, as shown below. If you have a Denon player with a Denon Link output, you can play SACDs and send native DSD bitstreams to the processor for decoding. The DSD remains in that form all the way from the disc to the processor decoding circuits , instead of being converted to PCM like many other players and processors do.

The A1HDCI has four zones. Zone 1 is the principal one with the 12 output channels. Zone 2 (marked in red) has component video, S-Video, composite video, stereo coaxial analog, and Toslink optical outputs. Zone 3 (marked in green) has composite video and stereo coaxial analog outputs. Zone 4 just has Toslink optical output for audio. So, basically, you could have audio/video in three zones and audio in a fourth zone, all playing at the same time in different rooms of your home.

For my setup, I connected a Denon DVD-2500BTCI Blu-ray player to the DVD input, a Denon DVD-2930CI DVD player with Denon Link to the HDP input, a DirecTV satellite box to the SAT input, a Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD player to the VCR input, and my media server to the DVR-1 input. All of these are HDMI connections. My media server has a DVI output, which I connected to the DVR-1 HDMI input with an adaptor cable for the video, and a Toslink optical cable to the DVR-1 optical input jack just underneath the DVR-1 HDMI jack. When I selected that input, the SSP recognized that video was coming in via HDMI and audio via Toslink. This is one of the things that most impressed me about the SSP. The thing just worked, without any hassles trying to decipher input configurations. The photo below shows the media server connections.

I also have an old JVC VCR that I use to play some instructional video tapes. I connected this to the DVR-2 jacks, but used the composite video and analog audio jacks instead of the HDMI jack. This is shown in the photo below.

So, all my sources are digital, connected via HDMI (and Denon Link), except for the JVC VCR which is analog.

I decided not to change the names of the inputs as displayed on the front panel (because they would then not match the names of the jacks on the rear panel), but simply taped a printout of the connections to the top of my equipment rack which lists each input and what is connected to it.

I used the SSP for several months with a Classé CDP-502 five-channel power amplifier and a two-channel amp for the sides, but recently got the Denon POA-AH1DCI ten-channel power amplifier and connected that to the SSP. Here is a photo of the rear panel. (Click on the photo to see a large version.)

The amplifier is modular, with all ten channels arranged with their inputs and outputs across the rear panel. At the top of each module are RCA and XLR input jacks, and at the bottom of the modules, you have to use a slider switch to select which type of input you want to use. The Denon SSP has XLR outputs, so I used the XLR inputs on the amplifier (Nordost cables). Also at the bottom you can see switches to select whether the amplifier module operates individually or bridged with the adjacent module. If you select bridge or bi-amp, the input to the right module of the pair serves as input to two modules. For bi-amp, you connect the outputs of one module to the tweeter and the other module to the woofer (don't forget to remove any speaker jumpers that connect the tweeter and woofer on the back of the speaker). For bridging, you use the + speaker terminal from each module to connect to the speaker binding posts. The front of the amplifier has three meters that you can set to read the output of any of the channels. They read in dB, -60 to +6, with 0 dB being full output.

You can see two control links at the bottom of the panel, and there is a cable supplied that lets you connect the SSP to the amplifier so that the SSP will turn on the amplifier when you power on the SSP.

So, you may wonder why there are ten amplifier modules. Here is how it works. If you have a 5.1 system, you bridge each pair, giving you five bridged amplifier channels, 300 watts into 8 ohms each. If you have a 7.1 system, you bridge three pairs to drive the front left, center, and front right, and there are four single module amplifiers left to power the side left, side right, rear left, and rear right. If you have a 9.1 system, you bridge one pair for the center channel (that is where most of the movie sound track energy goes), leaving eight individual amplifier modules for the rest of the system (front left, front right, side A left, side A right, side B left, side B right, rear left, and rear right. So, basically, you are not going to waste any amplifier channel with the POA-A1HDCI. It has the most flexibility of any power amplifier I have ever tested.

There are two remote controls. One has setup features on it, and the other one, which is somewhat smaller, has the day-to-day user features on it. The larger remote is backlit.

The volume control for all channels is available on the smaller remote by pressing the "Enter" button. All channels can be scrolled through and adjusted up or down. I consider this very important because I like to change the center or rear channel volume from time to time depending on the music or movie. Or as another example, if I move one chair over to the side, I need to readjust the front left/right channel relative volume. Such ease of individual channel volume control has been missing from remotes for a long, long time.