Denon receivers have consistently garnered raves from audiophiles, but they were always a little more expensive than the competition. Well, the times they are a-changin'. This fully loaded $499 Denon AVR-1804 is the most affordable 6.1-channel receiver we've ever tested from the company. The AVR-1804 presents a minor update to Denon's subdued, sleek styling. We found the gold labeling on the black faceplate nearly impossible to read under dim light, but the AVR-1804's large display kept us fully informed about source selection and surround processing in play. Weighing a solid 24 pounds and measuring 17.1 inches wide, 6.7 inches high, and 16.4 inches deep, the Denon AVR-1804 is of average size.
Starting a few years ago, Denon has made incremental improvements in its menu system and the overall user-friendliness of its receivers. The AVR-1804's menu not only offers a host of useful options, but every step of the setup procedure is numbered, so you'll never get lost or miss a crucial stage.
The preprogrammed remote also gets high marks for layout and ease of use. The variety of button shapes, colors, and sizes are a big help, and they're logically organized. And when you want to use the remote to control another component--your DVD player, for instance--you slide the centrally located switch to the appropriate detent. If this remote were backlit, it would be perfect. Custom installation features are the hot ticket now, and the AVR-1804's multisource operation allows you to play two separate sources (CD, DVD, tuner, and so on), at different volume levels, in two rooms. As for power, a discrete 90-watt power amplifier serves each of the receiver's six channels. The 90-watt rating applies to 8-ohm speakers, though Denon also supplies 125-watt-per-channel ratings for 6-ohm speakers.
Surround-processing modes include the usual 5.1- and 6.1-channel suspects: Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 6.1, DTS-ES, and DTS-Neo:6, along with Dolby Pro Logic II. Bass-management flexibility is excellent: you can select among four subwoofer crossover frequencies--80, 100, 120, or 150 hertz--and a separate subwoofer level option for SACD/DVD-A players. That flexibility helps ensure a consistently more seamless blend between your subwoofer and your satellites.
Connectivity options should satisfy all but the most advanced home-theater buyers. Highlights include component-video switching for two HDTV or DVD sources, four digital audio inputs (three optical, one coaxial), and one optical output. You also get a 5.1-channel input for the aforementioned DVD-Audio/Super Audio CD players, along with analog connectors for CD recorders. And Denon earns some extra gold stars for the turntable inputs, the receiver's ability to convert composite to S-Video (and vice versa), and the full set of front-panel A/V inputs.
While this is labeled a 6.1-channel receiver, it can actually accommodate five, six, or seven main speakers. On top of the two rear-surround speakers, you can hook up one (or two) surround-back speakers, which brings the total to seven main speakers. (We know, the receiver's six-channel designation is a little confusing, but trust us, you can do seven.)
If you stick with the standard five-speaker array--front left/center/right, plus two side surround speakers--you can reassign the surround-back speaker outputs to drive a pair of speakers in a second room. However, the second room's speakers' sound will be in mono, not stereo. Don't worry, though: the Denon AVR-1804 does have separate B speaker outputs that enable you to run an additional set of stereo speakers to another room. In other words, with these versatile speaker-connectivity options, you can actually put sound in up to three rooms.
Denon also makes the very similar $399 AVR-1604, which is missing the composite/S-Video conversion and advanced bass-management options of its big brother. Meanwhile, the entry-level AVR-484 is a 5.1-channel A/V receiver that goes for $299. DVDs, ranging from special effects-driven extravaganzas to straight-ahead dramas and comedies, were all well served by the Denon AVR-1804's richly balanced sound. Detail resolution and separation were excellent. Dynamic DVDs, such as Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines never came close to straining the AVR-1804's amplifiers, even when we hooked up our power-hungry Dynaudio Contour speakers. But the most revealing test of the AVR-1804 came when we played a stack of SACDs and DVD-Audio discs with a matching Denon universal player, the DVD-2900. Oh boy, the Sinatra at the Sands DVD-A put us in the best seat in the house at the legendary Las Vegas hotel. The disc made huge demands on the AVR-1804, but the sound was always vividly alive and present. Even as we pushed the volume to nearly realistic levels, the Denon never fumbled a beat.
And finally, we put the AVR-1804's digital converters to good use when we hooked up a Kenwood/Sirius satellite DT-7000S radio tuner. The sound via the digital connection was cleaner and clearer, with significantly improved bass definition compared to the sound from the DT-7000's analog outputs.