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I'd like to start out by saying that this receiver replaced my old HTIB unit. The differences were evident from the second I opened the box (even the cardboard was higher quality.) I was looking...
Good power and sound quality, advanced room correction technology, cool operating temperature, lots on inputs for audio and video switching
Rather old GUI, complicated user manual, not the easiest setup
I'd like to start out by saying that this receiver replaced my old HTIB unit. The differences were evident from the second I opened the box (even the cardboard was higher quality.) I was looking for something with more power, support for the new (at the time) Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio codecs, and would run cool in an entertainment center with limited ventilation. The Denon delivered all this and so much more. It was a real eye (and ear) opener.
115w x 7 at 0.05% THD
Dolby® TrueHD, DTS-HD™ Master Audio, Dolby® Digital Plus, DTS-HD™ High Resolution Audio, Dolby® Digital EX, DTS-ES™, Pro Logic® IIx, and DTS Neo:6 decoding
Audyssey MultEQ® XT eight-point auto setup and room calibration system
Audyssey Dynamic EQ™ for fuller sound at lower listening levels
Audyssey Dynamic Volume mode to keep listening levels steady
Multi zone/room capability
Pure Direct mode switches off all processing
192kHz/24-bit digital-to-analog converters for all channels
4 HDMI in/1 HDMI out
3 component video in/1 component video out
3 optical and 3 digital coax audio in/1 optical audio out
7 audio/video inputs with composite and s-video
7.1-channel analog audio preamp input
7.1-channel analog audio preamp output
analog-to-HDMI video upconversion (up to 1080p) with Faroudja DCDi™ video processing and scaling
HDMI version 1.3a with support for Deep Color, x.v.Color, auto lip-sync, 7.1 uncompressed 24/96 audio, DVD-Audio, SACD, and HDMI-CEC
RS-232C port for automated control systems
Back surround speaker channels re-assignable for bi-amping front left and right speakers
My living room set up consists of the Denon, 4 Infinity Primus 150 bookshelf speakers, Infinity Primus C25 center channel and a Klipsch 12" powered sub. Can't remember the model number offhand. All speakers are connected with Monoprice 14AWG CL2 speaker wire and a Monster Cables sub cable. Sources are primarily a Sony BDP-S370 Blu Ray player, PS3, Sony NSZ-GS7 Google TV box and Cisco DVR provided by my cable company. I'm using HDMI to connect the BD player and PS3 and optical for the DVR and Google TV box. I've also got an older model Sony (big surprise) DVD/SACD player that's used mostly for listening to SACDs and the rare multi disc DVD movie. DVDs are played back over an optical connection while SACDs use the analog 6 channel direct connection. The task of switching inputs and making sure everything operates together correctly is performed by a Harmony 880 remote.
The first thing I noticed about the receiver before even powering it on is how nice and simple the front looks. From the door covering a myriad of small buttons and front inputs to the rounded edges at the top and bottom to the large volume and source knobs it really is a nice piece of audio equipment to look at. Even the fonts are pleasing to the eye. When running the display is bright enough to be visible but not so bright that its a distraction. I thought it was a nice touch to add a graphical representation of the channels present on the source material and the currently running channels. You can see if that movie playing on cable is being broadcast in 2 ch stereo or DD 5.1 at a glance. There's also a blue light that comes on when listening to HD audio (Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD).
After you're done admiring the handsome front and drooling over the plethora of inputs in the rear and move on to actually setting this beast up things change. The manual, while full of wonderful useful information, is terrible. I think you need a separate BS degree just to make sense of it. Unless you know what you're looking for and looking at, its not going to make a bit of sense. The charts and diagrams are wonderful, but maybe a tad too technical for those just getting into the world of A/V. The on screen GUI and the menus on the 2 line display of the receiver don't make it any easier. The GUI is very blocky and text heavy. Its like programming a VCR. Thankfully, once everything's set and the inputs are assigned there's very little reason to go back into them. There are a lot of settings in there in nested menus, but they make for a very flexible receiver that can be customized to fit just about any need. There's even a phono input with a ground for some good old vinyl appreciation.
I found the included main remote to be just as confusing as the manual. The top half is a "touch screen" with the bottom half containing a directional key array, a number pad, volume and channel rockers and a few other buttons. I use the term touch screen very loosely here. In reality, its a soft screen over a grid of buttons. The screen will display different things depending on the current task. The default gives options for various surround modes and some other settings but the buttons can change if you're using the optional satellite radio tuner or iPod dock. My biggest complaint with it is that the top screen doesn't stay lit nearly long enough. The keypad buttons pull double duty as direct selections for the various inputs. There's also an included Zone 2 remote, but mine's still in the bag it came in. It's primarily for multi zone use. Mine is set up for 1 zone only so I can't really comment too much on the functionality there. Maybe I'll come back and amend the review after I get off my butt and run the speaker wires to the back porch.
This next part of the review is where it starts to get very subjective. As mentioned before, this was purchased to replace a HTIB receiver. I got the HTIB set up years back and was reasonably happy with it. It would be good for bedroom surround sound, but not much more. Over time I upgraded the speakers, fronts and center first, rears a few years later. I was never really impressed with them. The Infinity's just didn't seem to be that much of an upgrade over the tiny little HTIB satellites. I was seriously mistaken! Movies sound more lifelike, I can heard nuances in music that were lost before, and I can finally drive them to an appropriate volume to fill the room with distortion free sound. There's a huge difference between Denon's quoted 115w and the HTIB's quoted 100w per channel. After running the Audyssey set up the speakers just disappear into the background. The difference truly was night and day.
As mentioned before the Denon includes Audyssey MultEQ XT auto room correction, Audyssey Dynamic EQ and Audyssey Dynamic Volume modes. There are also several simulated modes for things like a jazz club, stadium, concert hall, cement bathroom cubicle, etc. I find them mostly gimmicky, adding far too much echo and generally distracting. The 5CH / 7CH stereo mode is nice for listening to music while moving around the house. As the name suggests it simply outputs stereo sound from all speakers. No delay, no fake surround, just stereo sound through your front, rear, and center speakers with the sub. For serious music listening there's the Pure Direct mode. This mode switches off all processing to faithfully reproduce source material as closely as possible. All processing and displays are turned off in this mode. Dolby ProLogic IIx is also supported in Cinema and Music modes. Implementation is excellent. Virtual surround is present without being overpowering. I found the HTIB receiver tended to exaggerate the surround channels a bit when listening to 2 channel movies in ProLogic II mode. This is particularly nice when watching Netflix movies that don't include the 5.1 audio track.
As much as I love the look of the Denon, practicality and livability dictate that it be tucked into a compartment in the entertainment center. Its a pretty standard Broyhill affair. Big TV hutch with large towers on either side and a bridge on top. Lots of thick, solid wood and very small holes for running cables. Very much like this one. The Denon sits right in the center behind the glass door. The mass of cables block the majority of the ventilation available from the back. Not ideal for AV equipment, but doesn't seem to be too much of an issue. I have a temperature probe sticking through the grate on the top of the receiver. Even after watching a modern action movie like The Dark Knight, Star Trek, and even the extended versions of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy operating temperature never goes above 115F. If I leave the door open that temperature drops down to closer to 100F. This was an important consideration as an equivalent models from a comparable manufacturer are known to run into the 140F range sitting out in the open.
In conclusion, the Denon AVR-2809ci more than satisfies all of my home theater audio needs. From excellent and faithful reproduction of any audio source you can throw at it, to an amp powerful enough to comfortably drive my modest 5.1 speakers set up, it really does cover all the bases and looks pretty darn good to boot. I give it 4 1/2 stars out of 5. I only dinged it half a star for the difficult to understand manual and less than stellar remote. Both of which I'm sure most of you will never remove from the plastic. I purchased the receiver brand new in the sealed box from an authorized B&M store for a little over $900. The 2010 models were just starting to hit the shelves, but nothing in the ci line had come out yet so they were discounted but not very deeply. Even at that price I still feel I got a good deal given all the power and functionality this receiver has to offer.