This Denon duo delivers sterling Blu-ray playback and a polished sound
There is something right about using a BD player and AVR that have been designed together as an holistic partnership. One can expect not only matching cosmetics but a synergistic duo, like Bonnie and Clyde or Sooty and Sweep. And not only should their performance exceed the sum of the parts, they won’t look like a car-crash into a Richer Sounds shop-front on your kit rack, either.
Enter Denon’s AVR-3313 and DBT-3313UD, sporting a fetching line in premium silver – a more sedate black finish is also available. And this is no regular AVR and Blu-ray player combi. Not only are both festooned with Denon’s bespoke technologies and high-performance components, the DBT-3313UD is actually a dedicated universal disc transport rather than a standard BD deck. It has no analogue or digital audio outputs – just HDMI, Denon Link HD and stereo audio for multizone. In fact, Denon now eschews fully-equipped decoding players and only offers transports. This makes a lot of sense as anyone buying a £900 Blu-ray player is likely to have the decoding hardware in their AVR or processor anyway.
While the AVR and transport talk video over a traditional HDMI connection, the audio can be routed via the latest incarnation of Denon Link HD. Using the supplied phono-to-phono cable, digital audio is sent from disc to the decoding processors in the AVR near jitter-free, promising even better sound than that achievable over HDMI. Surprisingly, Denon Link HD is not backwards-compatible with any of the previous generations of Denon Link which used CAT5 cable. Although the new version promised to engage automatically when the cable is connected, thus negating the deep-menu shenanigans of previous links, that just didn’t happen – as you will read later.
Supporting 3D Blu-ray, DVD, CD, SACD and DVD-A discs, the DBT-3313UD oozes style and a no-compromise build. From the solid fascia and ultra-sleek SVH loading mechanism to the chunky gold-plated connectors on the rear, it is a class act. There are two HDMI outputs; one labelled 'audio', the other as 'video'. Both terminals output simultaneously, but Pure Direct mode splits the sound and vision over the two.
Connected to your network, the DBT-3313UD offers direct access to Netflix and YouTube, and its DLNA function can stream music files up to FLAC at 192kHz/24-bit.
The AVR-3313 has a more traditional array of connections, albeit not the terminal excess of some of Denon’s previous £1,000 AVRs. Most interesting are the three HDMI outputs, including one for Zone 2, although only two of these can be driven simultaneously. The new Denon Link HD socket takes top-line billing along with four optical inputs. On the obviously missing list are any digital optical outputs or multichannel analogue inputs. Given the matching BD transport’s eschewing of analogue outputs that would seem okay, but could be limiting in the future if some other multichannel format emerges that the AVR can’t handle. Still, the architecture is fully firmware upgradeable over its Ethernet connection and there are plenty of toys to be going along with. These include 4K scaling, should you be wealthy enough to own a 4K display of some sort (and don't trust its own 4K chippery...), three-zone output, a whopping claimed 165W-per-channel output (to seven channels) and a new GUI with wizard-style setup assistant. It’s fully networked, of course, DLNA-certified and continues to offer AirPlay audio streaming for Apple fans. And it now has Spotify, too, just to annoy Onkyo.
Both units come with Denon’s latest remote control, which has gone a little retro and old-school; ‘black with buttons’ and no backlight. This, we assume, is because Denon expects users to leverage the funky Denon Remote App on their iOS or Android device.
Power up the receiver and you're guided through basic connections and setup with an assumed AV knowledge-level that your mum couldn’t get confused by. Thankfully these can be skipped through very quickly until you get to the Audyssey MultEQ XT setup. This incarnation now forces you to measure at least three seating positions in the room, extending the setup time to about 10 minutes.
Denon’s new GUIs are quite different from each other. The AVR is more traditional, with each menu layer displayed on the whole screen. Click a function in this menu and the screen changes completely to the options of that function. It is clear, but easy to get lost. Conversely, the DBT uses a three-column grid so you can see three layers of the menu at once. Less confusing, but it leaves little room for function descriptions. You get a number of truncated feature names such as ‘Dynamic Range C….’ and, my favourite, ‘Parental Con…’
My usual setup routine involves waiting for the Audyssey EQ to finish, before going into the menus and switching off all the extraneous features than may affect performance, including disabling all HDMI CEC controls. This, it transpired, stops Denon Link HD from functioning. You must have HDMI control switched on, in both machines, to enable the completely separate Denon Link HD cable to work. Go figure. While I am filing stuff in the niggle drawer, I could not get the AVR remote control to operate the BD player. This may be rectified in firmware before you read this, but worth checking.
With setup done I was quickly revelling in the Denon duo’s pace and sheer passion for delivering high-octane thrills. The performance of this £2,000 ensemble is inspired.
Audio over Denon Link HD is absolutely superb, dropping the noise floor well into the basement and giving the sound spectacular dynamic range. The Audyssey EQ system does its job well (although there is no facility to switch it on or off from the remote without diving into the menus), but even without the EQ the sound is fast and frisky with exceptional top-end detailing and tightly controlled bass. The AVR-33xx models were always some of Denon’s more refined and poised-sounding receivers and this pairing takes that refinement to the next level.
A wet Sunday afternoon demanded something belly-achingly funny and Hot Fuzz on DVD came quickly to hand. The receiver’s upscaling proved top-drawer stuff, making the SD resolution look pleasingly close to a fully-fledged BD 1080p release; sharp, detailed and with smooth motion processing.
As Simon Pegg rides into town on the horse, the Denon duo builds the scene with admirable atmosphere and great attention to little sonic details. Then, as the bullets start to fly, the AVR goes up a gear in pace yet continues to extract every bit of sonic information from the disc. The bullets hitting plant pots are portrayed as discrete events; the shot, the impact, the exploding pot and all the bits of earthenware hitting the cobbled streets.
Back in 2000 I reviewed the AVR-3300 with the hot film of the day, Gladiator, describing the sound as a revelation in natural dialogue and movie dynamics. I could use exactly the same sentence here, albeit stepped up several notches into today’s HD and high-resolution world. This new pairing makes Gladiator on Blu-ray sound fresh and alive, with sparkling special effects and realistically metallic-sounding sword clashes. The grunts, groans and blood are more vivid and defined than ever and the way these machines eke out microscopic sonic details is second to none. If anything I found myself wanting just a little more guts and gusto, a smidgeon more bass excess and maybe the occasional outrageous LFE to throw me off the sofa. The sonic presentation is polished to a royal standard and rich with detail but, some nights, I just want a bit of rough.
This detailed and articulate presentation is absolutely perfect for SACD playback, doubly-so given the typical SACD fare of classical and diddly-diddly music. Yet the Denon excels with remastered rock classics, too. Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here shines like, well, a crazy diamond, coming across with tangible high-fidelity pedigree. As they might say over on one of our sister hi-fi magazines, the top-end has admirable extension and articulation without succumbing to fatiguing sibilance of brightness. The balance is a bit on the cool side of neutral at the bottom-end but, in a completely non-hi-fi way, I found giving the subwoofer a couple of extra dB on the level setting made the system rock.
I would suggest this is Denon’s most refined AVR/player duo to date and that certainly shows through in the HD picture performance, too. The smooth yet fairly slow disc-loading mechanism closes to reveal a picture of outstanding clarity, sharpness and detail. Difficult full-picture diagonal pans are handled easily, equal in performance to any player sporting the current crop of Qdeo processors. The DBT-3313UD may lack a few features compared to the competition, but it's a high-end performer – and don't forget about Denon Link HD...
Price: £1,100/£900 approx
Highs: Lush build quality; crisp and refined multichannel performance; superb Denon Link HD sound; great Blu-ray performance
Lows: No analogue inputs on AVR; BD player lacks some of the features of similarly-priced rivals; GUIs not best-of-breed
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