I took the plung and bought the 3808ci at my local Magnolia (Palo Alto, CA). I decided to go with them paying full price and tax because I wanted the convenience of getting their help and potentially returning it without hassle in 30 days.
So here are some first impressions:
- Not to heinously expensive.
- It looks good.
- It matches my Denon 3930ci DVD player.
- I'll have a full HDMI setup.
- The worst remote control I have ever used.
- A web interface so bad that only the hideous remote control could make look good.
- An insanely obtuse manual which fails to explain most terms.
- A horrible default speaker equalization curve for "STEREO".
- Several significant bugs that will absolutely require firmware upgrades.
I replaced a Yamaha VX-1400 which I never liked. I bought the Yamaha for $600 about three years ago when my old simple 1991 Rotel 50W integrated stereo AMP started having static in the left channel when the volume was changed. Overall the convenience of having a remote control and the ability to change the volume with the remote control were great but it never came even close to sounding as good as the old Rotel. I was very disappointed.
The Denon 3808ci had a low bar to exceed (the Yamaha) but a big legacy to live up to (the Rotel). Out of the box the Denon sounded a little better than the Yamaha but nothing spectacular. In fact, the music sounded "squashed" in the frequency domain. Disappointing. After playing around with sound processing modes for a bit (most of which I think are totally silly) I found that "Jazz Club" made the music sound a bit better but still not terrific. Finally I tried "Pure Direct" (with no clear idea what it was supposed to do) and things changed dramatically for the better. It almost sounded as good as I remember my old Rotel sounding. I learned later on that "Pure Direct" basically gets the AMP processing completely out of the audio/video path and "Direct" gets it completely out of the audio path. The "Direct" mode also sounded significantly better than the "Stereo" path. I'm guessing that the default speaker equalization curves for "Stereo" heavily rolls off the high end in order not to over drive poor speakers. Yeck is the only word to describe the sound.
I'm hoping that with some tuning I can get the Denon to sound as good as my old Rotel. I have yet to do the whole Audyssey speaker/room setup so that may improve the moderately week base and the congestion I hear on a few difficult passages. Of course the latter may be due to my speakers getting older (now 16 year old Vandersteen 2Ci's). We'll have to see.
On the remote: if I worked at Denon I'd be ashamed to admit that my company had anything to do with that incredible disaster. I had hoped to use it as a moderate universal for the system (especially considering that I already had a Denon DVD) but that is not going to be possible. (My Yamaha actually had a halfway descent remote that I was able to use to manage several different pieces.) So I bought a Harmony 880 and am hoping to get that working well. I'll also second what I've read several other people say: the "Alternate zone" second remote is actually much better (although it's difficult to conceive of anything actually worse than the primary remote).
The web interface is clumsy and tends to hang up. I'm hoping that several iterations of firmware updates will stabilize and improve on its functionality. But, it is cool to be able to change the volume, etc. via my laptop ... :-) Let's keep our fingers crossed for those firmware updates.
I'll write more when I've done the Audyssey setup and have done more critical listening.