Easy-going AV

Denon's AVR-1912 offers a smooth sound as well as its headline AirPlay functionality. But Danny Phillips doesn’t always like it that way

Apple’s nifty music streaming feature, AirPlay, is slowly finding its way onto more and more home cinema products, and Denon’s AVR-1912 is another one to add to the list. This makes it dead simple to play music from iPods, iPhones and iPads, but with DLNA-certified streaming and USB playback also on board the rest of your devices are in safe hands.Denon hasn’t dubbed this AVR the ‘Everyceiver’ for nothing.

But, of course, home cinema is its bread and butter, and for that purpose it’s a 7.1-channel affair offering a claimed 90W of power per channel. The AVR-1912 attempts to bring you Denon’s celebrated sound quality in a wallet-friendly midrange machine, and at £450 it’s the brand’s most affordable network-enabled receiver to date. But with stiff competition in this sector from Yamaha and Onkyo, it has a real bunfight on its hands.

Denon certainly hasn’t skimped on build quality at this price, with rigid, burly bodywork designed to quell vibration. The look goes for quietly elegant over drop-dead gorgeous, with a clean fascia that curves gently at the top and a large display window dominating the front vista. Much of the front clutter is neatly blended into nooks and crannies, while auxiliary inputs comprise composite, analogue stereo and a USB port that supports direct iPod connection.

Being a lower-midrange amp, you don’t get the usual telephone exchange of sockets on the back. Sure, six HDMI v1.4 inputs and an ARC-compatible output are ample, but other numbers are relatively low – two digital audio inputs, a few video ports and no multichannel analogue inputs or pre-outs.

And with rival products from Onkyo offering 4K upscaling to futureproof themselves against the next generation of hi-def TVs, it’s surprising to discover that the AVR-1912 features no HDMI upscaling at all. It’ll convert video from any input and chuck it out via HDMI as is, but if you want to up-res SD content you’ll have to rely on your source player or TV.

The AVR-1912 does at least offer with a solid array of networking features, but they’re only accessible over Ethernet – there’s no Wi-Fi support. AirPlay is joined by the aforementioned DLNA streaming from networked devices and format support includes MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC HD and WAV audio, plus JPEG photos, all of which can also be played via the USB port. Napster, Flickr and Last.fm subscribers can use the Denon to stream music and photos, too.

The Apple love-in continues with the ability to control the AVR-1912 using an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad using the dedicated app. Great news if your coffee table’s already creaking under the weight of all those zappers. Android device owners are catered for as well.

A head for heights

Naturally, the AVR-1912 decodes Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio as any £450 AVR should, but less expected is the appearance of Dolby Pro Logic IIz. Love it or loathe it, this vertical surround tech can be a fun feature with the right material, although you’ll need to sacrifice the surround backs to get that front height boost – and find two extra speakers, for that matter. Alternatively, the assignable power amp allows you to drive a second zone or bi-wire speakers.

Lurking beneath the surface is a SHARC 32-bit DSP chip serving up the usual array of presets for you to bypass. I’ve never seen the point in adding superfluous echo to my music – if I want to hear what a ‘Rock Arena’ sounds like, I’ll buy some Foo Fighters tickets. But if you like them, you’ll also find Jazz Club, Matrix and Virtual modes for your delectation, as well as Mono and Virtual for movie use.

Much more useful is the inclusion of Audyssey’s automatic calibration mode, MultEQ. It may not hit the nail on the head in every room, but my experience with it has been generally positive. It batters your lugholes with test tones, taking readings from up to eight positions with the supplied mic to ensure the best balance no matter where you sit. But if you don’t like the results, corrections can be made manually in the detailed speaker setup menu.

The installation wheels are further greased by Denon’s Setup Wizard, which holds your hand while setting key options like network and inputs. It’s ostensibly aimed at fresh-faced newcomers but even hardened audiophiles may appreciate a little leg-up here and there.

The presence of onscreen menus makes operation a cakewalk, although the GUI feels like a cut ‘n’ shut job. In some areas, like the media playback menus, the look is fresh and modern, with jazzed-up fonts and cute graphics; in others, namely the setup menu, it’s like going back to the ‘90s. This inconsistent design is a tad clumsy, but in truth it poses no problems as the structure is logical and the options are clear.

The remote keeps its nose clean, too. It’s packed from top to toe with buttons, but the positioning of core controls like the multidirectional menu keys, input selection and volume make it intuitive to operate. The Quick Select keys are useful, while its brushed black finish is a neat touch.

Networking niggles

I won’t pretend it was a bed of roses getting the AVR-1912 to work on my network. After several attempts it simply wouldn’t recognise my Windows 7 laptop. A call to Denon HQ… nothing. Extensive fiddling around in Windows… nothing. Then bang, magically it appeared. Great, but it’s hardly the plug-and-play simplicity the DLNA promises.

AirPlay has never looked so appealing – here, Apple’s system works beautifully. Internet radio is clear and stable, and after trying out some WAV and FLAC files from USB I was awestruck by the clarity.

As for movies, the AVR-1912 is the sort of smooth operator Sade warned you about. With a Blu-ray disc the sound is crisp and composed, projecting its clean, snappy effects into a spacious soundstage.

I fed it Inception on Blu-ray and the movie highlighted the Denon’s ability to shift from quiet, palpable dread to full-on action mode in the blink of an eye. The opening scenes show the AVR-1912 at its breathless best, lending closely-controlled bass weight to the water pouring through the walls and impressive snap to falling rubble and timber.

Effects are steered with delightful fluidity, midrange frequencies are robustly and confidently delivered and high-frequency presentation is simply beautiful, resulting in an open, airy sound with no straining at high volumes. Dialogue reproduction is masterful, demonstrating a fine understanding for the nuances of the human voice.

But there’s something about the AVR-1912’s performance that doesn’t get the adrenalin flowing like some of its competitors. The sound is perhaps too polished, too restrained, lacking the extra drive and potency needed to get the pictures on the wall shaking. It’s certainly a sound you enjoy, but I’m looking for one you can’t live without.

Not for everyone

I’ve come to expect so much from Denon over the years that it’s disappointing not to be blown away by the AVR-1912. Sure the smooth, mature sound is a real feat of audio engineering, and if you crave finesse over firepower then it might be the receiver for you.

However, if it’s pure unbridled excitement you’re after, then give the Yamaha RX-V671, Pioneer VSX-2021 or Onkyo TX-NR609 a whirl – and if you do you’re likely to get more features, connections and a smoother networking experience into the bargain.


HCC VERDICT

Denon AVR-1912
Price:
£450 Approx

Highs: Crisp, polished performance; built-in AirPlay; build quality
Lows: Lacks the gusto of midrange rivals; no video scaling; mixed GUI; skimps on connections
Performance: 3/5
Design: 4/5
Features: 4/5
Overall: 3/5


Specifications

Dolby TrueHD: yes and DD PLIIz
DTS-HD Master Audio: yes
THX: no
Multichannel audio: yes 7 x 90W
Multichannel input: no
Multiroom: yes Zone 2
Connections: 6 x HDMI v1.4 inputs; 1 x HDMI v1.4 output; 1 x component input; 3 x composite inputs; 1 x optical digital audio input; 1 x coaxial digital audio input; 6 x analogue stereo audio inputs; 1 x Ethernet; 1 x USB Video upscaling: no A surprising omission
Dimensions: 435(w) x 167(h) x 382(d)mm
Weight: 10.2kg
Features: Apple AirPlay support; Napster, Last.fm & Flickr access; DLNA media streaming; internet radio; assignable power amp, bi-amping; Dolby Pro Logic IIz; SHARC 32-bit floating point-DSP (seven modes); Cinema Equaliser; Audyssey MultEQ XT; Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume; 192kHz/24-bit DAC; Pure Direct mode; Setup Wizard; onscreen GUI; Denon Remote App; Compressed Audio Restorer; direct iPod connection via USB; MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC-HD, WAV and JPEG playback