Denon AVR 4520 - Stairway To AV Heaven (Part 1)

5/30/2013 11:29:55 AM

Denon’s AVR-4520 is the brand’s best AV receiver yet, delivering detailed and dynamic multichannel audio and a raft of superb features. It’s made us go a bit wobbly

Somewhat dispensing with the preamble, Denon’s AVR-4520 takes the AV receiver market by the scruff of the fascia and gives it a good shake. This flagship model does cost a significant chunk of money but it is one of the most flexible, well-featured and cleverly thought-out AVRs ever made. Add to this a stunning sound quality that strikes the perfect balance between detail and dynamics, and you have a product that will absolutely delight movie and music fans. We love it.

Remote of Denon AVR-4520

Denon AVR - 4520

The only problem with the AVR-4520 is what peach of a feature to explain first. Personally speaking, it is its ability to output genuine 11-channel surround sound via DTS Neo:X processing. Having used everything from an old Yamaha Z11 to ‘paired’ AVRs to run Neo:X 11.1 previously, finally being able to achieve this with little fuss is a revelation. Other nine-channel AVRs, like Pioneer’s SC-LX86, have disappointed by not outputting 11.1 audio even with the addition of a stereo power amp. The Denon can – its nine channels of amplification handling 7.1 plus height and its phono line-level outputs feeding a stereo amp for the width channels.

As the editor frequently reminds me, not everyone wants a double-figure speaker count. (He frequently injects the words ‘nutter’ into these tirades, too). Yet the Denon has other tricks up its capacitors for 5.1 or 7.1 stalwarts. You can assign the powered output channels to other zones and, along with the third HDMI output, create a very serious system in another room as well. This powered AV zone can be controlled over network via the Denon Remote App, getting around the need for IR magic eyes to drive it.

Connectivity includes seven 3D/UHD-capable HDMI inputs. There’s an on-board 4K scaling engine should a UHD panel or projector be on your shopping list in the future.

The new GUI will overlay all sources, including native or upscaled 4K video, and keeping track of what’s going on across the HDMI inputs is no longer an issue with Denon’s InstaPrevue feature. Click the dedicated button on the remote and a row of small picture-in-picture panels pop up as an overlay along the bottom of the screen. These show live content from the other HDMI inputs, allowing you to simply scroll through and click to select the source you fancy watching next. I thought this was a bit gimmicky at first, but after a week I realized I was swapping between inputs using this feature exclusively.

Connectivity includes seven 3D/UHD-capable HDMI inputs.

Connectivity includes seven 3D/UHD-capable HDMI inputs.

Network savvy

Just as useful are Denon’s new networking features. Not only is there a four-port Ethernet switch on the rear panel, saving you the hassle and cost of a network switch behind the AV rack, the AVR-4520 can wake out of standby via network command from, for example, an Airplay device. Simply pick a song on your iPhone/iPad/PC with iTunes, pick the Denon AVR from the output list and press play. The Denon wakes up, automatically selects the Airplay input and boogies on down to your tune within seconds. Needless to say, its networking abilities extend to DLNA 1.5, decoding of audio sources up to 192kHz/24-bit FLAC, gapless playback, photo streaming, Last FM and Fickr from the network home screen.

For computer music audiophiles, Denon’s AVR range now supports Apple Lossless direct streaming, making for a significant sonic upgrade over previous versions that converted the music to Airplay 48 kHz first. And, thanks to an update that went live during the review, the AVR-4520 also now comes complete with Spotify access, allowing you log into premium service including the high-quality 320kbps streaming.

If you have a new Denon BD player, such as the DBP-3313UD, you can also use Denon’s latest version of its jitter-reducing DenonLink HD connection. Unlike previous incarnations, which are not compatible, the new link carries a clock sync signal, rather than the audio signal, and the audio connection remains in the HDMI cable.

Denon AVR 4520CI Denon’s free control App for ipad

Denon AVR 4520CI Denon’s free control App for ipad

So do all these new features and complexity make the AVR-4520 a nightmare to set up and use? Not at all. It comes with a new, very clean-looking GUI and from the first time you power it up everything is handled by a dedicated ‘wizard’. This breaks setup down to absolute basics (but can be skipped through for advanced users) and culminates in running Denon’s implementation of Audyssey MultEQ XT32 with Low Frequency Correction.

Build quality is substantial, including some of the best speaker terminals available on any receive, and the new display and ultra-smooth fascia make this Denon’s best-looking AVR to date. And just to ice the cake, Denon has engineered in some future-proofing by massively over-specifying the main processor, which now features no less than three 32-bit SHARC DSP devices.

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