Denon’s AVR-4311 is the first serious AV receiver to feature Apple’s AirPlay media streaming technology. The latter was part of Apple’s iOS 4.2 launch last November and is essentially a new version of AirTunes for Apple’s AirPort Express wireless network system. The difference this time is that AirPlay has a much wider remit, with the capability of wireless media streaming to and from any current iOS4.2 device or to any AirPlay-enabled third party electronics. If that sounds a little familiar, this is just what DLNA promised and has thus far only half-heartedly delivered.
With Airplay you can, in theory, be listening to your iPod walking down the street, enter your home and stream the music to Airplay-enabled speakers. You can stream broadcast content recorded on your PC/Mac to a TV with Airplay compatibility, or instantly display photos taken on your iPhone to any enabled display device. Media is delivered across the network with metadata including artist, album/movie and track titles, along with cover artwork. AirPlay offers the ability to easily share your content between devices over a wired or wireless network, promising to free media from the bounds of being stuck on any one device. This is great news for fans of music, movies and general wow-factor gadgetry, and the content industry are in favour of it because it shares a single file across several devices, rather than creating multiple copies on each.
Well that is the theory. If you have an iOS 4.2 device such as an iPhone4, a Mac computer and a second-generation AppleTV, it will all work swimmingly and you can even stream to multiple devices simultaneously. In conjunction with iTunes and the Apple Remote App, the AirPlay system is a work of sublime genius. However if your living room does not look like an Apple store, AirPlay is somewhat limited. Right now you can only stream music to third-party AirPlay devices such as the AVR-4311, but not images, iTunes TV programmes, YouTube content or movies.
There does not seem to be a valid technical reason for this, particularly as it was apparently enabled in the beta version of iOS 4.2. Certainly devices like the AVR-4311 have more than enough number crunching power to handle streamed video – particularly AppleTV’s 720p files. Cynics might suggest that the decision to remove AirPlay video from third-party device drivers at launch was simply Apple wanting to ensure early adopters of the concept buy Apple’s own hardware. Whatever the reason, it’s likely to be early 2012 before AirPlay video comes to non-Apple branded products.
Integral to the AirPlay concept is the Apple Remote App for iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad. This affords complete control over the iTunes library on your PC or Mac, complete with a GUI grafted from the iTouch music player. You can slide through albums by artwork, choose tracks, set-up playlists and even control the output volume. Enable AirPlay and the music is streamed to whichever AirPlay device you select on the App interface. Alternatively you can stream the content stored on your iWhatever over wi-fi to any AirPlay device.
Audyssey multiple subwoofer calibration was keeping my two Velodyne DD18’s not only in check, but also locked up and on a leash, while the MultiEQ-XT32, with its 32x better processing than the old MultEQ-XT, had smoothed the 4311 to the point of becoming delightfully delicate and finely poised.
In fact, the AVR-4311 was starting to sound a little too far up its own transistors, begging for a bit of Sunday afternoon Vivaldi and maybe an intellectual drama on Blu-ray in the evening with a glass of port.
With the opening battle sequence of Star Trek on Blu-ray (a first-rate demo scene that I know off by heart) it was all getting too polite for me. Time for a fiddle. Switching off Audyssey, Dynamic Volume, Dynamic EQ and Dolby Volume instantly put fire into the 4311’s belly, but the sound then became congested with room-based reflections, standing waves and all the peaks and troughs that an EQ system generally smooths out.
The solution I found was to copy the measured Audyssey curves across to the 4311’s comprehensive manual EQ adjustment mode and tune the sound by ear. I wanted to rediscover the marque’s thunder while maintaining this model’s fabulous clarity and precision.
I wasn’t sure this was possible as, inexplicably, you can’t manually equalize the sub channels. In fact, it didn’t take too long at all. Based on my room measurements, all it needed was rolling off a little top-end gain, negating some mid-band cuts caused by the single mic position and reducing some of the upper bass filters until the sound was tight, punchy and ready to rumble.
Even in vanilla 5.1 mode, as the USS Kelvin thunders towards Nero’s Romulan mining vessel, the effort with the manual EQ is immediately justified. The sound is packed with scale and thunder but the resolution of the finest nuances still manages to take your breath away. As Kirk is born amidst the chaos, the Denon builds the tension with stunning realism, crafting each sound effect as if the whole movie hangs off it.The scene is delivered as a thoroughly moving, emotionally charged, bottom lip wobbler.
Putting the AVR-4311 into 11.2-channel mode, the ‘front main’ output feeding a stereo power amp, and four more speakers drafted in for height and width, the result is nothing short of a revelation. The extra channel processing sounds as seamless as if it was mastered into the original pressing, adding another order of magnitude to the sheer scale of the presentation. Sound effects gain substantial body and a greater air of realism. Dialogue is better focused mid screen rather than below it, and panning effects swoop from way out West to the Far East and back again.
The downside is that manually tweaking the Audyssey-measured EQ curves across all 11 channels is a labour of love and toil. Thankfully, you will only have to do it once to enjoy the rich fruits of this spectacular AV receiver. Get down to your dealer today and demand a demo – and take your credit card...
Price: £2,000 Approx
Highs: Polished sound; fabulous networking features including Airplay; nine powerful channels of amplification
Lows: Manual EQ required to elicit the very best sound; lacking those last two amplification channels for 11.2
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