A grand well spent

Richard Stevenson revels in the sheer power and shower of features that make Denon’s latest receiver offering value for money

I must have been snoozing last year as I missed Denon’s AVR-3311 completely. That well specified £1,200 receiver forms the base on which the AVR-3312 is built, updated and refined. And it’s damn fine news for potential buyers that this year’s contender comes in £200 cheaper. Where the money has been saved is a mystery. The new kid gives little away to the old guard, boasting all its power and features, and adding more networking and HDMIs, AirPlay as standard and a new set-up wizard.

Built on a 7x125W chassis with discrete components throughout, the AVR-3312 offers processing for every movie sound format you care to think of. It backs this with seven v1.4 HDMI inputs, including one on the front fascia, and dual HDMI outputs for multiroom or multiple displays. Dolby ProLogic IIz and Audyssey DSX processing enable you to assign the amp channels to height or width duties, and there are dual sub outputs for those who like their LFE doubly firm and fruity. Power and processing are all but unchanged from last year’s model – Denon has instead concentrated on improved usability.

On the fascia you now get four assignable quick select buttons for frequently used sources and four customisable presets. The single supplied remote control has a rather US-centric feel with graphic icons replacing text legends on many buttons. Like all AVRs these days, the supplied remote is a step backwards from previous incarnations that featured luxuries such as EL backlit displays. The reason is simple; the AVR-3312 can be controlled by Denon’s slick remote control App, currently available for Apple devices with an Android version imminent.

Set-up whizz

The user GUI retains much of the mechanics of previous Denon systems, but has been significantly revamped to make it both prettier and more useable. It’s slick, colourful and can be overlaid on content in the background. A wizard now leads you step by step through every aspect of the setup with consummate ease. Even a complete newbie to AVRs could set up the AVR-3312 in minutes, as each stage is mapped out in detail with directions as specific as diagrams indicating where precisely to put the set-up mic during installation. It’s so easy your elderly mum could do it, although no elderly mums were available at time of review to test that theory.

Denon was one of the first brands to get into bed with Apple’s AirPlay. It was a £40 extra on the AVR-3311 and is now standard, which again makes the AVR-3312 look even better value. This streamed music from an iTunes library easily the first time I set it up, complete with album artwork, but things got a little more flakey with AirPlay as time went on. Despite repeatedly turning bits of kit on and off, AirPlay from an iTunes server would not override net radio on the network input, but would if streamed direct from my iPhone. I can’t work out whether this is a Denon issue or my network, but I do think the AVR-3312 lacks a single source select button that says simply ‘AirPlay’.

Walk in the park

I found most of the AVR-3312’s other network features a breeze, including accessing DLNA-equipped libraries, net radio and the new web browser set-up interface. This is simple and comprehensive and I can see this being useful for installers to remotely reset and re-tune features that their customers have messed up. Can’t think of any personal use for it, though, short of remotely turning on the radio for the dogs while I am out.

Add to this the AVR-3312’s direct access to Flickr, LastFM and Napster accounts and you have a very comprehensive media hub in your living room. Given my recent power consumption issues (see Point of View on page 114) Denon’s 0.1W standby power is also a very welcome addition.

After a basic run of the Audyssey MultEQ XT system, the AVR-3312 came firing into the room with all guns blazing and a Denon badge tattooed across its metaphorical chest. The sound is big, bold and robust with a soundstage that offers crushing presence and gizzard-wrenching attack. It actually reminds me of the Denon AVR’s of a few years back, which were all bristling muscle and brawn with a subliminal threat to eat small children. The AVR-3312 is a monster-sounding receiver with a huge weight and a top-end edge that really drives high-frequency effects. The flip side is that it is a little dirtier in its presentation. It’s a little more edgy and occasionally oppressive compared to some of the more delicate and detailed sounding receivers out there.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides thunders into the room with a weight and substance that lesser amps can only dream of. With the Audyssey engaged, the movie rips along at a pace, with big sweeping pans and bold effects that go some way to masking the film’s complete lack of cogent plot.

Life aquatic

Running in full-phat, 7-channel mode, you quickly start to feel that your sofa is all at sea, with a festival of watery effects panning in all directions. As Jack Sparrow clinks the chalices together at the fountain of youth (for no reason that’s easy to explain) the impact has amazing dynamic power, so that a drawn-out ring sent every piece of glassware in the house a-rattling. As water sweeps into the chamber, the sound swells into a crescendo of action, complete with the fine detail of birds flapping and tweeting as they escape from the scene. The ensuing fight scene by the chalice is an adrenaline-fuelled surge of swift, dynamic and powerful sound. The scene is fully knitted together sonically, putting you firmly in the middle of the scene. Yet there certainly isn’t the airiness or spaciousness to the sound that models such as Pioneer’s VSX-2012 offer, and mid-combat dialogue can struggle to achieve clarity above the thunderous effects.

The deep bass pulse as Sam Clafin runs back to save the mermaid Syrena has the sub working hard and endangering the structural integrity of the building. But moments later, against the effects and fight scene, the dialogue is again lost in the mix. Adding 1dB or 2dB to the centre level helps, but the boisterous balance of the AVR-3312 doesn’t offer the very best in dialogue articulation.

The moody Let The Right One In (original Swedish version) is a vampire flick that redefines the genre with subtlety and ambience. The Denon’s heavy balance results in thoroughly intense drama. Every effect is nailed home, from doors opening to the sound of wind in trees. The Denon will have you sitting on the edge of your seat by really playing to this movie’s huge dynamic range. From silence punctuated by foot falls to the sudden impact of Eli leaping down onto a victim, it will have you jumping out of your skin. Take away the rowdy orchestral and effects-led backdrop of the Pirates movie, and you get dialogue that’s expressive and solid.

Power and the glory

The AVR-3312 has bags of the power, passion and charisma that have underpinned the brand’s AVR sound almost since AV receivers were invented. Add to this a stellar selection of features and class-leading connectivity and you have a formidable contender at the price. While there are more neutral and spacious AVRs out there, few present movies with quite the weight and adrenaline gusto of this Denon.


HCC VERDICT

Denon AVR-3312
Price:
£1,000 Approx

Highs: Huge sound; AirPlay as standard; packed with features; easy to use
Lows: Not as spacious sounding as some; fierce competition

Performance: 4/5
Design: 4/5
Features: 5/5
Overall: 4/5


Specifications

Dolby True HD: yes and DD Plus, DPL IIz
DTS HD Master Audio: yes and DTS 96/24
Multichannel input: no
Multichannel output: yes 7 x 125W
Multiroom: yes 2 zones (one audio only)
AV inputs: yes 5 x composite, 2 x S-video, 2 x optical and 2 x coaxial digital audio
HDMI: yes 7-in 2-out, v1.4
Video upscaling: yes to 1080p
Component video: yes, 2-in, 1-out
Dimensions: 435(w) x 382 (d) x 167(h) mm
Weight:  11.8kg
Features: Ethernet; FM/AM radio; vTuner; AirPlay integration; Denon Remote App for iDevice and Android; preset buttons; setup wizard; new GUI interface, Last.fm, Napster and Flickr access; direct iPod via USB; Audyssey dynamic EQ; AL24 processing, Audyssey DSX; Audyssey MultEQ XT RoomEQ; low power standby of 0.1W; WMA, AAC, MP3, FLAC HD and WAV support on USB