- Review Price: £259.95
When it comes to home cinema sound Denon is one of the best in the business, having built its reputation on a string of revered reference receivers. But despite its enviable high-end status, the company has never neglected the bottom end of the market, complementing its high-end gear with entry-level models that usually go down a storm with buyers on more modest budgets.
Denon’s latest entry-level receiver is the AVR-1509 (reviewed here exclusively), which forms part of a four-strong range with the more expensive AVR-2809, AVR-2309 and AVR-1909. These three other models all feature decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio, but the affordably-priced AVR-1509 only decodes Dolby Digital and DTS, making it better suited to systems based on a DVD player rather than a Blu-ray deck.
On the design front, Denon certainly hasn’t cut any corners to reach a tempting price point. It’s a big, monster of a machine, available in black or Premium Silver, and our silver sample looks very classy. No less than three knobs adorn the front (source select, volume and a menu control dial, and they’re accompanied by all the buttons you need to control your system up-close. A decent-sized display dominates the fascia, with large illuminated digits that show the audio format being received, input source and the volume.
The AVR-1509’s entry-level price doesn’t mean that it skimps on connections, but you are more limited in what you can do with them. The inclusion of two HDMI v1.3 inputs on the rear is an obvious highlight, allowing you to switch between two HD video sources, which is a godsend if your TV only sports one HDMI input. However, the unit only passes the video signal and sound through to your TV and won’t decode Dolby Digital or DTS bitstreams carried over an HDMI connection. It also doesn’t feature 1080p upscaling of SD video sources, so if you need either of these features then you’ll need to step-up to the AVR-1909, 2309 or 2809.
The rest of the connections are generous. The unit acts as a switcher for two component video sources, and provides three S-video and composite inputs. For analogue audio sources, there are six stereo audio inputs, a set of 5.1-channel analogue inputs and a subwoofer pre-out, while the digital input selection comprises two coaxial and two optical ports. There’s also a port for a Denon iPod dock.
Setting up the receiver is a piece of cake. You don’t need to worry about setting channel levels, listening distances, speaker size or crossover frequency thanks to the inclusion of Audyssey MultEQ, which sets all of these parameters automatically using a microphone and series of test sounds. With six different stages to sit through, it’s a tedious, drawn out process, but it does garner impressive results.
Manual adjustments, are made using the front display panel as there’s no onscreen display, but once you’ve got used to the abbreviations and slightly awkward structure it’s fairly straightforward to assign inputs or tweak the levels if you’re not happy with MultEQ’s results. There’s a vast array of sound parameters and DSP modes to play with (too many to list here), which gives you extremely detailed control over how your system sounds.
What also boosts the AVR-1509’s user-friendliness is Denon’s canny decision to split the remote into two sections – on the front are all the key controls, such as volume and source selection, but flip it over and a flap on the back conceals an assortment of lesser used buttons, though the Video Select key found here should have been placed on the front. The remote can be used to control other components, such as DVD/Blu-ray players, recorders and TV receivers.
There are many more features on board, including Audyssey Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume – the former works in tandem with MultEQ to maintain consistent sound quality when you lower the volume, while the latter adjusts the sound to account for sudden changes in volume (such as TV adverts). You’ll also find Dolby Pro Logic II and DTS Neo:6 processing; support for DTS 96/24; a very useful 5-channel Stereo mode; Deep Colour and x.v.YCC support via HDMI; FM/AM radio tuners and a Restorer function designed to boost the quality of compressed audio playback.
The AVR-1509 backs up this generous feature list with sound quality that’s as good as anything you’re likely to hear at this price point. Right off the bat, the Denon delivers a precise and punchy soundstage that’s packed with detail, even with ‘SD’ audio sources like Dolby Digital and DTS. Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners on DVD is an absolute riot through this unit, making its DTS track sound electrifying – effects dart round the room like a swarm of possessed flies, dialogue is forthright and true to life while low-frequency effects are pumped out with verve and an impressive amount of control.
With 110W per channel, there’s a pretty formidable amount of grunt behind it too, making this a fine choice if you like it nice ‘n’ loud – particularly with the fine work carried out by Dynamic EQ, which keeps things nicely balanced at high volumes. Some might find that the Denon’s output is a little too polite, lacking the snap or aggression to mix it with the likes of Onkyo and Yamaha, but to these ears the Denon gets it just right.
The good work continues with music playback. DVD-Audio discs sound sharp and lively, while stereo CDs have enough directness and character to please even the fussiest listener. We let it rip with Coldplay’s Viva La Vida CD and the bouncy title track is a real treat, handling its driving kick drum and soaring strings with admirable agility.
Blu-ray owners can give it a miss, but anyone looking for an affordable AV receiver to pair with an upscaling DVD deck and modest speaker system would be well advised to give the AVR-1509 an audition. It boasts a generous selection of connections and features for the money, plus Audyssey MultEQ makes it a breeze to install, but the most compelling reason to check it out is the superb performance, which demonstrates why buying an entry-level product doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to compromise on sound quality.
Score in detail