If ever the phrase 'don't judge a book by its cover' was going to be epitomised by a piece of AV gear, this is the one to do it. Denon's new receiver may not look special (it looks nice, in Denon's usual classy style, but not out of the ordinary), yet it has one of the most astonishing spec sheets we've seen.
First of all, the basics see this unit pack in 7 x 130W of amplification and all the expected sound formats, including Dolby Digital 5.1, Surround EX, Pro-Logic IIx, DTS-ES Matrix/Discrete 6.1 and DTS Neo:6. It also handles DVD-Audio and S ACD playback and has an AM/FM RDS tuner.
There is HDMI switching at full 1080p resolution and the Denon can even convert other inputs to HDMI (video upscaling is available up to 1080i), so you only need one cable snaking into your TV.
The AVR-4306 also has an Ethernet port, making it networkable, and it can connect to the internet without the need for a PC, bringing thousands of internet radio stations into your home.
You can use the deck as a dock for an iPod and there are USB sockets for other media devices. iPod playback stretches to full-motion video and onscreen displays, all routed to your home cinema monitor.
Back to the basics again, you can set this receiver up to drive multiple zones (three of them, with video support for two), or apply the sixth and seventh channels to biwire your front speakers.
Setup isn't helped by a bulky manual (there's a lot to pack in) but it is helped by the Audyssey MultEQ XT auto calibration system.
In pure home cinema terms this is a powerful performer. DVD movies are delivered with grace and strength.
There's enough muscle on tap to please all but the most serious of installers, and the Denon deserves to be partnered with a pretty serious speaker system as well. The soundstage that's created on Dolby Digital soundtracks is immersive and convincing, with enough detail to clearly pick out subtle effects and voices that might be swamped on lesser receivers.
Video performance (strange to be talking about that on a receiver) is very impressive. Upscaling works well, adding extra richness to standard definition fare, although it is obviously no match for pure hi-def. One of the main strengths of this receiver is that it is actually quite easy to use.
You'll soon be trawling through internet radio stations or casually hooking up your iPod for a truly impressive experience.
This receiver may not be all things to all people, but it is just about as close to that as we've seen, and that makes what might have been considered a hefty price tag seem reasonable. Denon's AVR-4306 is a signpost to a brave new world in home entertainment and we hope others will follow the route.