Even the most die-hard home theater buffs will admit that setting up an AV receiver can be a chore, and that goes double for those who don't know what they're doing. Denon's AVR-E400 ($600 street) is at the top of the company's midrange AV receiver line, for which the company has focused on ease of use in 2013. There are worthwhile improvements: an onscreen setup guide, a simpler remote, and push-in speaker connectors that are more convenient with bare speaker wire.
But in other ways, the AVR-E400 misses the mark. It's hard to truly herald the AVR-E400 as simple when it lacks convenient wireless technology like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, both of which are available on the cheaper Onkyo TX-NR626 ($500 street). Like most AV receivers, it's also a massive, unwieldy box, which is harder to justify when Marantz's sleek NR1403 ($400 street) also includes six HDMI inputs in a handsome design that's nearly half the size. And if you're sold on Denon's new "easy setup" features, the AVR-E300 ($400) is likely the better value; it has all the features most buyers need, and Denon's usability improvements, for much less.
The Denon AVR-E400 is a solid receiver when taken on its own, but most buyers will be better served by the alternatives.
Design: Big, bulky box with a great remote
Like nearly every other mainstream AV receiver, the Denon AVR-E400 is a huge metal box. It looks a little more pedestrian than some older Denon models, which had subtly curved front panels, but its relatively uncluttered front panel is more tasteful than most. While I'd say the aesthetics of the AVR-E400 are better than those of the brutish Onkyo TX-NR626, it's really splitting hairs between what would both ultimately be unsightly additions to your living room. If you want something that looks nicer, look at Marantz's NR1403 or a compact integrated amplifier.
Denon uses the same redesigned remote from last year and it's the best clicker we've seen included with an AV receiver. Instead of an indecipherable mass of buttons, the remote is logically laid out: source buttons at the top, big volume buttons, a directional pad, and not much else. That last part is the most important; the remote doesn't try to control other TVs or offer one-button access to every setting, which makes it much simpler to use. I'm not sure any AV receiver remote will be easy enough for guests to pick up and use right away -- you'll need to spring for a universal remote for that -- but the AVR-E400's is a darn good effort.
Denon also makes it possible to control the receiver via a smartphone app (available for iOS and Android) if it's connected to your home network. The app is useful particularly if you're using network functions; it's a lot easier to navigate and search on your phone rather than use an onscreen keyboard and the AVR-E400's sluggish interface.
Features: Plenty of ports, but no wireless
Considering its price, the Denon AVR-E400 feels light on features.
It's well-appointed with six HDMI inputs, but you can get the same number of ports from the Onkyo TX-NR525 ($400 street) or Marantz NR1403. It lacks an MHL-compatible HDMI input, which is a neat feature on a few new receivers that enables them to work with the Roku Streaming Stick, among other devices. It doesn't have many other inputs, which is fine by us since the vast majority of devices use HDMI these days.
The most glaring omissions are the lack of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, both of which are included on the Onkyo TX-NR626. Bluetooth is the easiest way to stream music from nearly any smartphone or tablet, so it feels like a major oversight when so many people's digital music collection revolves around mobile devices. Instead, you'll need to pony up for a separate Bluetooth adapter.
The lack of Wi-Fi is more understandable, but it still means you need to have Ethernet in your living room (or use a work-around) to take advantage of the AVR-E400's networking features, such as AirPlay, DLNA, smartphone control, firmware updates, and streaming services such as Spotify, Pandora, SiriusXM, Flickr, and Internet radio. We toyed around with the AVR-E400's streaming features a bit, and while they'll suffice for basic use, anyone who does a lot of streaming will want a dedicated device, mostly for faster navigation.
The rest of the step-ups are less important. The AVR-E400 is a 7.1-channel receiver, but most buyers won't need the extra functionality that makes possible: surround back channels, powered second-zone audio, and Dolby Pro Logic IIz "height" channels. It also has analog video upconversion, but you won't need it if all your devices use HDMI. Built-in AirPlay is nice (and the AVR-E400 can play AirPlay in a second zone), but in many ways it's better to get AirPlay via the Apple TV.
If you're looking for more detailed feature comparisons, check out our giant AV receiver spreadsheet, which will compare the Denon AVR-E400 with other 2013 models as we review them.