We're also impressed by how striking and realistic the colours look, as demonstrated by the pure blue skies on display as the Fellowship makes its way across the snow-capped mountains. On the flip side, the system's deep black level and wide contrast range makes the subsequent Mines of Moria sequence look magnificent - objects are consistently visible and there isn't a jot of MPEG-2 block noise to spoil the view.
The presence of only two speakers means the movie's big action sequences don't get the pulse racing in the same way as a full 5.1-channel setup, and anyone hoping for a convincing six-channel effect will be sorely disappointed. The Dolby Virtual Speaker mode doesn't make a great deal of difference, failing to make us believe that there were extra speakers in the room. Thank goodness then, that the quality of regular stereo sound is so masterful. Loud action scenes blast from the speakers with controlled force and intensity, while the subwoofer's bass output is so deep and chunky you'd swear there was a cave troll in the room. This is 2.1-channel sound at its most sophisticated.
This also translates into magnificent audio playback. The sprightly reproduction of sonic detail and far-reaching frequency range of those solid speakers makes CDs really sparkle. And a quick run-through of the supported multimedia formats from USB, disc and over a network reveals that they all play without a glitch, and on the whole they look and sound as good as they do on a decent standalone player. The only downside is the lack of DVD-A or SACD support, which is surprising given Denon's usual commitment to these hi-res formats - they can sound terrific in stereo and probably would have done on this system.
As 2.1-channel systems go, the S-302 is expensive and its virtual surround performance is underwhelming, but if you wanted surround sound you'd buy a 5.1 system, right? The S-302 is aimed at those who don't have room for six speakers but want the best possible three-channel performance as well as a wide-ranging feature list and refined build quality - and on that score, the S-302 is a Smart choice.