Price (RRP): $1999
Home theatre receivers tend to fall into three classes. There are those made to a specific budget, primarily by omitting features. There are high-end models with all the bleeding edge features, extreme performance attributes and even more extreme price tags. And there are those in the happy middle ground: they have little or nothing missing that you will ever mourn the absence of, but they are still reasonably priced and all their features work solidly.
The Denon AVR-890 is one of the receivers occupying that middle ground.
It offers 105 watts from each of its seven channels. If you ever stumble into unexpected wealth, you can retain all its virtues and simply upgrade the power by adding external amplifiers, thanks to the 7.1 channel analog outputs.
But that’s unlikely to be necessary with the great majority of installations.
You can redirect two of the built-in amplifiers to drive speakers in a second zone, or to bi-amplify the front speakers, or to drive ‘height’ speakers for the Dolby Pro Logic IIz processing.
There are five HDMI inputs, plus legacy support for all the standards that have been around for years. All the video inputs will be converted by this receiver to HDMI. And to make sure it is done properly, Denon has used the highly regarded Anchor Bay Technology ABT2010 video scaling and processing chip. This otherwise appears in high cost external video processors.
The receiver decodes everything yet invented in the way of digital audio. It doesn’t have a dedicated iPod port, unlike some other brands, but does have a special control socket that operates with Denon’s iPod dock (this uses regular inputs for audio and video).
Setting up this receiver was easy. The slowest part was wiring in the loudspeakers, but most of my other devices used HDMI so all was handled with simply inserted plugs.
And then I ran the Audyssey calibration using the supplied microphone. Aside from setting the levels and speaker distances, this made available a number of room equalisation modes, optimised for either movies or music.
The receiver sounded simply excellent. In a way, the EQ function removes much of the individuality from loudspeakers (which is determined rather by their bumpy frequency responses) and so gives a presentation closer to what the recording engineers sought.
With both music and movies, this receiver delivered superb performance. And powerful performance, driving my loudspeakers to create a huge impact on blockbuster movies. Yet it was nicely tuneful with all manner of music.
Convenient operation was also provided by the three ‘Quick Select’ keys on the remote control (they are also on the front panel). In addition to selecting particular inputs, they also set in place the EQ settings and the surround mode associated with the input. I especially liked the way that the graphical user interface popped up as an overlay to the video. This isn’t merely a cute feature, but a useful one, because it means that your TV doesn’t have to switch video standards every time you need to use the menu.
The video processing was extremely good too. If you have any legacy analog devices, the chances are that you will get better picture quality by having this receiver convert it to HDMI and feeding it to your display in that format, than to run separate analog cables to the TV or whatever.
Denon is on a winner with the AVR-890 home theatre receiver. It has all the essential features and all the useful features, yet it delivers them along with a fine audio performance at a quite reasonable price. Any home theatre owner would be happy with this receiver.