A sane person might wonder why anyone would ever need a receiver more advanced than Denon’s AVR-3808CI. The thing is, the designers packed the receiver to the hilt with features to the point where it can be a handful to set up, and just to drive home the point, the “CI” in the receiver’s name stands for Custom Integration. Hmm, we think it stands for “Custom Installer,” because even tech-savvy buyers who know their way around a sound-pressure level meter will still need to hire an installer to unlock two of the receiver’s more intriguing features: Audyssey’s MultEQ Pro and Dynamic EQ. We did get through most of the standard Audyssey MultEQ XT setup on our own just fine and were impressed by the improvements it rendered.
Audyssey’s MultEQ Pro is a Windows XP software application that connects between the AVR-3808CI and the installer’s laptop. MultEQ Pro can then process measurements taken from up to 32 different mic positions to produce the most accurate speaker and room correction curves possible. That, and the installer’s professional calibrated microphone guarantee superior results compared to the inexpensive mic that is supplied with the AVR-3808CI. The installer can let you audition multiple room curves before downloading a final selection to the receiver.
For those who don’t wish to use MultEQ Pro, the receiver also supports the similar but less capable MultEQ XT system, which is geared for user installation. MultiEQ XT can process measurements taken from up to eight locations, using the mic supplied with the receiver.
Audyssey’s Dynamic EQ is a twenty-first century update of the “loudness compensation” circuit that you can find on most stereo receivers (loudness boosts bass and treble frequencies for quiet listening sessions). Dynamic EQ is a vastly more evolved solution and produces consistent tonal balance and an immersive surround experience regardless of volume level. And as the name implies, it’s a dynamic system. It evaluates program content and your chosen volume setting in real time, so even Blu-ray discs with lots of soft-to-loud passages are heard at a near consistent volume. Better still, Dynamic EQ works its magic on the complete, 5.1, 6.1, or 7.1 channel speaker/subwoofer array. You’ll never miss the sound mixed to the surround channels during hushed late night listening sessions.
Note: The AVR-3808CI was, along with two more expensive models from Denon, one of the first three A/V receivers to support MultEQ Pro and Dynamic EQ. Nobody has more experience with the Audyssey systems than Denon.
The AVR-3808CI supports the latest Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio codecs, which are beginning to appear as common soundsound-track options for new Blu-ray releases.
The receiver’s connectivity options run the gamut, from the four HDMI inputs to an iPod dock, USB port, Ethernet network port, to Denon LINK III for use with compatibly equipped Denon SACD and DVD-Audio players.
The AVR-3808CI comes with two remotes. The sexy high-tech looking one with a backlit touch screen offers direct access to the receiver’s vast feature set, but it was too prone to inadvertently dropping us into mysterious sub-menus. That’s why we relied on the standard, just-the-basics remote for most of our time with the AVR- 3808CI.
Navigating the AVR-3808CI’s GUI menus was a less-than-intuitive procedure, and the owner’s manual wasn’t much help. For example, the HDMI i/p Scaler’s set-up menu offers three options, “A to H,” “A to H & H to H,” and “Off,” but doesn’t offer guidance as to what those terms mean. At one point, we wound up selecting the wrong option and completely losing the picture. Part of the problem could be attributed to HDMI compatibility issues between the AVR-3808CI and the DVI input on my Panasonic TH-50PH9UK display (if you have a DVI display, proceed with caution). Or play it safe and hire an installer and let them sort out all the setup details.
The four HDMI v1.3a ports offer Deep Color, xvYCC and SACD support. The receiver provides a Faroudja DCDi scaler/video processor and can scale both analog and HDMI video signals for 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p output.
The Dave Matthews’s Live at Radio City Blu-ray was a real treat in Dolby TrueHD. With just Matthews and Tim Reynolds on acoustic guitars, the disc yielded truly high-definition sonics. It was really startling, the guitars and Matthew’s vocal were perfectly believable. Reynolds’ slide work on “Crush” was thrilling as every subtle dynamic inflection was revealed. A/V receivers rarely display that sort of refinement.