I will admit it up front: I am a Denon fan. I have owned several Denon A/V Receivers in the 3800 line, and have always been very pleased with their performance.
I have also owned Denon DVD and CD players, which have been excellent products. You may think this makes me unsuitably biased towards the product to give it a fair review. However, I feel that I may actually have a bias the other way, since I have high expectations of a piece of equipment bearing the Denon name.
The AVR-1905, which from a price
perspective ranks towards the lower end of Denon's line of receivers, faced a
tough challenge from this critic, but did quite well in the end.
Like its more expensive brethren, the 1905 allows you to run one or two rear surround speakers, or use those two channels for a second zone. It decodes all the major Dolby formats, including Dolby EX, Pro-Logic II, Pro-Logic IIx (cinema, music, and game modes), as well as the DTS formats, including ES discrete and Matrix, Neo:6 (music and cinema), and 96/24 5.1.
Standard DSP surround modes include Rock Arena, Jazz Club, and Video Game. Then there is 5ch/7ch stereo, which outputs the same stereo information to each set of L/R speakers and an in-phase mix to the center channel; Virtual, which creates a simulated surround field from only the front left and right speakers; Matrix which is much like the original Pro-Logic; and finally the Mono Movie mode, which gives a “greater sense of expansion”1 for mono soundtracks. I rarely use these modes, preferring to let the Dolby or DTS decoders do their magic.
The rear panel is nicely laid out, and easy to navigate. For audio inputs, there are seven standard RCA audio inputs, one coaxial digital input, two optical digital inputs, and a seven-channel discrete input (for SACD or DVD-Audio).
For audio outputs there is a seven-channel discrete output if you wish to use a dedicated amplifier for some or all channels, a CDR/tape output for recording a source, an optical digital output, and an RCA stereo output for a second zone.
Video inputs include five composite/S-Video inputs and three component video inputs that support 100 MHz bandwidth for HDTV signals. Video outputs include a component, S-Video, and composite video output for your display, as well as a VCR output for recording to tape. The receiver also up-converts all composite and S-Video sources to component video, which allows you to make a single connection to your display device.
Rounding out the rear panel are the speaker terminals, which accept banana plugs as well as bare wire, standard antenna ports, an aux out port that allows you to use an infrared re-transmitter to control a device such as an integrated amplifier in your second zone, and two switched power outlets. The power cord is not detachable.
I connected the receiver to my front projector using component video cables. I should also note that I use a Balanced Power Technologies power conditioner which definitely helps lower the noise floor for any amplifier. My speaker arrangement consists of Boston Acoustics VR-M60s for the fronts, a VR-MC center, VR-MXs for the surrounds, and a pair of TX-575s for the rear surrounds. An SVS 20-39PC+ subwoofer rounds out the setup.
As a budget receiver, the 1905 does not include an auto-setup mechanism, so it was time to go old school and pull out the trusty Radio Shack SPL meter and tape measure!
The first menu on the 1905 set-up screen lets you configure the speaker size. Since none of my speakers are rated at full range, I set my front, center, surround, and rear surround speakers to Small. The next page allows you to configure speaker distance compensation settings for each individual channel in increments of feet.
Moving on, I set the LFE to Subwoofer Only mode (you can also output the LFE signal to the mains if you wish), and the crossover to 80 Hz. The latter can be set at 40 Hz, 60 Hz, 80 Hz, 120 Hz, 150 Hz, 200 Hz, or 250 Hz. This is a nice feature that never would have been included on a budget receiver a few years ago.
Next, I arrived at the test tone screen, got out the SPL meter, and set my channel levels. Each channel can be individually set in 1 dB increments. I then assigned my digital audio and component video inputs. Finally I set the power amp assignment to the surround back channels instead of zone 2, and the set-up procedure was complete.
Audio quality was fantastic as well. I set the receiver to Dolby Digital + Dolby Pro Logic IIx, which adds depth and immersion to any 5.1 channel digital source, but especially for movies with lots of surround information such as this one. Bullets clanged and whizzed all around me in wonderful detail, while the delightful nylon-stringed guitar played underneath.
The 1905 did equally well with DVDs. The pod race from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is an excellent demo track, as it has lots of different types of engine sounds, explosions, and even silence at key moments that help heighten the suspense of the race (if you don't believe that there is actually silence, go back and wait for the part where Anakin gets pushed over to the service ramp!) The contrast between the heavy clunk clunk of Sebulba's podracer and the light zippy engines of Anakin's had me at the edge of my seat.
The Home Theater-enhanced sound mixes of the Disney DVDs are also excellent for testing the full surround experience. The opening of The Lion King is a buffet for the ears, coupling powerful music with the pounding of elephants' feet as the animal population treks to the ceremony for the birth of Simba. Again, the 1905 performed admirably.
Gaming has really evolved with the latest generation of consoles. The Xbox can output full HD resolution and digital audio, while the GameCube can output progressive scan SD video and Pro-Logic IIx encoded audio. When added to a home theater setup, the result is a much more immersive gaming experience. Dolby Labs introduced a game mode with their latest incarnation of Pro-Logic (IIx), in which “special effects signals are routed to the surround channels for fuller, dramatic impact.”2
Sports games, e.g., ESPN NBA 2K5, benefit from the ambient sounds you would hear at a live event, such as the crowd or even food vendors. Action games such as Grand Theft Auto play almost like a movie and have soundtracks and sound effects to boot.
Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike for the GameCube even has a setup option that flies a TIE fighter in a circle around you. This is a perfect demonstration of how Pro-Logic IIx can truly create a 7.1 channel experience from a two-channel source, especially if it was encoded to do so. The 1905's decoder was excellent not only with this demo, but also as I buzzed Imperial Cruisers looking to destroy their detachments of fighters!
Next, I moved to the music portion of my audition. I started out testing just the amplifiers by playing a few SACDs via the external seven-channel set of pre-ins. Tommy is one of those albums that are great for auditioning stereo equipment because it has both a multi-channel and stereo track. The classic rock opera has been carefully remastered and remixed by Pete Townshend himself for the SACD release.
From the opening Overture when the organ enters and the drums are peaking, to the speedy rhythmic strumming of the Pinball Wizard, there is a wonderful spacious power that emits from the band that the 1905's amplifiers put across clearly and cleanly.
One of my favorite things about the high resolution formats of DVD-A and SACD is the pure depth and clarity of the soundstage for recordings such as Jazz, Blues, and Classical. Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, and the Dave Brubek Quartet's Time Out are two such recordings. In each case, you can close your eyes while listening and feel like you have been transported to the soundstage for their recording session. Again, the Denon did not disappoint. Each note of the piano or crash of a cymbal was rendered perfectly even up to very high volumes.
I turned to some standard CDs and MP3s, and can attest that standard PCM stereo decoding (through a coaxial digital cable connection) was also excellent on this receiver. Sure, I missed the Pure Direct mode and AL24 processing found on Denon's higher-end models, but the 1905 still sounded wonderful.
The bottom line in terms of audio quality is that I was
very pleased with what I heard from the 1905. It produces very little noise,
and very accurate sound. In addition, distortion was virtually non-existent,
even at the loudest comfortable listening levels. In other words, this
receiver has plenty of power to fill a relatively large listening space while
still maintaining high quality sound. Of course, you should use high
efficiency speakers with this receiver.
Even though I did not find the remote entirely to my liking, I have to admit that it does have some pluses. While I stated that the layout was not optimal, I do give Denon credit for using differently shaped buttons for different functions. I like that you can manipulate the surround modes and the parameters of those modes directly with hard buttons. This is quicker than having to wade through on-screen menus.
Unlike some of the previous Denon offerings, this one has the video select button on the remote. Personally, I find the video select feature, which allows you to watch one thing while listening to another, quite useful, and it is obviously more useful if you can do this remotely. Finally, kudos for making the volume buttons big and ergonomically placed.
Understanding that the 1905 falls at the high end of the budget class, I still found the number of inputs limiting. Having three component video inputs is adequate, but having only one coaxial and three Toslink optical digital audio inputs is not. Nowadays, it is common to have a DVD player, a satellite or cable box, a video game console (or two), and a DVR, all with a need for digital audio connections, and in many cases, component video connections as well. The 1905 would not be able to accommodate all of them. Moreover, it would have been nice if the component video inputs were assignable. That being said, it was refreshing to see Denon include a set of standard front A/V inputs, along with one of the Toslink optical digital connectors. They make it convenient to plug in a video game console or video camera without having to get behind the receiver.
Another nice “feature” (and I put that in quotes because this ought to be standard), is that you can actually un-mute the receiver by turning it off and back on. I have had many receivers in the past that only let you mute (or un-mute) the sound from the remote.
definitely give this product my recommendation, with the caveat that you
should make sure it has the capacity you need input-wise. Overall,
this is another fine offering from Denon. $499 gets you all the major decoding
options, a modicum of amplifier power, and an excellent feature set, all while
maintaining a high level of performance. If 500 bucks is your budgeted price range
for a home theater receiver, definitely check this product out. Note that the
Denon AVR-1906 has just come out (replaces the 1905), so you can probably find the 1905 at a significant
2 - According to this link: http://www.dolby.com/consumer/technology/prologic_IIx.html at Dolby's website