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Denon AVR-2808CI Review

DT Editors' Choice

Denon AVR-2808CI Review

Highs
  • Excellent sound and power; Plenty of inputs/outputs; 1080p upscaling; 3 zones
Lows
  • Complex setup and interface
Our Score: 8.5
...if you're upgrading from a step-up model, this should be on your short list.

Summary

Its predecessor, the AVR-2807 was one of the best midrange receivers of the last couple years. The 2808CI adds digital goodies like HDMI 1.3 and 1080p upscaling, as well as the Audyssey MultiEQ XT auto-calibration system, which tailors the amp’s sound to your room acoustics. It’s a complex amp to set up, and the user guide is so-so, but when you’re finally done you’ll be rewarded with great sound and power across three independent zones. The bottom line: You can’t do better than this for around $900 USD. For a few extra bones, you can step up to the Denon’s 2809CI was recently released and adds adds a few extra inputs, including an HDMI, and Audyssey Dynamic Room EQ.

Design and Features

Like most receivers, the 2808CI is basically a big black box. Two large knobs flank the LED display on front, controlling input source and master volume. Buttons below the left knob provide convenient access to source input, tuning presets, zone select, and video select; below that are power and standby buttons. Under the right knob is a trio of quick-select buttons, which let you instantly switch AV profiles without having to reconfigure all your settings each time. The front panel under the screen opens to reveal a full set of on-board controls, RCA and optical inputs, a headphone jack, and a port for the included Audyssey calibration mic.

On the back are speaker terminals for up to 8 channels (7.1 or 5.1+2), which thankfully support banana plugs as well as traditional connectors. The dizzying array of audio inputs and outputs includes digital coax, optical, and analog RCA. You can also hook up external amplifiers via the 8 preamp outputs. Video I/O includes composite, component, and S-Video, and the receiver’s two HDMI 1.3a inputs and one output support Deep Color. It’s also XM-ready.

Internally, the 2808CI brings Denon’s receiver line up to date, with a Faroudja video processor for 1080p upscaling, as well as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio codecs and THX Ultra2 certification. The amplifier puts out 110W per channel into 8 ohms, which is more than sufficient for most home needs, and it has three independent zones of audio and two zones of video, making it a viable multiroom solution.

Remote Controls

The included remote has a soft touch screen, but nowhere near as slick as something like Logitech’s Harmony One. Rather than a series of menus, you get a single screen with icons that blink to show they’re active. The buttons are labeled with shortened text that could’ve been written by a 13-year-old in an SMS message on a cell phone, but they are very responsive, and the remote has a fairly ergonomic feel.

A sub-remote is included for zones 2 and 3, and it’s actually easier to figure out than the full remote. To use it in a different room, you’ll have to connect an infrared extender, sold separately.


The Front of the 2808CI


The Back of the 2808CI Includes Plenty of Inputs

Setup and Use

Once everything’s plugged in and connected, it’s time to tune the amp to your room via the included Audyssey mic. It helps to have a tripod handy for mounting the mic, but you can get away with balancing it on the back of a chair or couch. (Don’t hold it in your hand, as it will transmit sounds the system will pick up.)

The Audyssey setup detects what speakers are connected and measures the sound from up to seven different locations in your living room to figure out where certain frequencies get a natural boost. It then EQs the amp to compensate for sound quirks in those spots. The sound of the setup process may freak out your pet or spouse, but it’s well worth it.

We used two different sets of speakers with the 2808CI: a pair of B&W 685s (8 ohms) and B&W 610i’s, which are larger and have a lower impedance (4 ohms). Since one of the amp’s zones is assignable, we bi-wired each set of speakers to the first and third zones’ main speaker outputs. We also piggybacked a Cambridge SoundWorks passive subwoofer. For movies, we used the 610i as main speakers and the 685s as surrounds, with a Cambridge SoundWorks center channel.

The 2808CI achieved a good home theater listening level at between -12dB to -28dB, with some variation for recordings with extreme dynamics. And surprisingly, the amp had no trouble driving our 4-ohm speakers, never going into thermal down even when we cranked the speakers at -6dB for a couple hours. (The closer to 0, the higher the volume.) Your neighbors will NOT love this aspect of the amp. Please listen responsibly.

Music and Movies

Music sounded phenomenal through the 2808CI our B&W speakers and Cambridge SoundWorks passive subwoofer. The Audyssey MultiEQ XT did most of the sound tweaking for us — the before and after difference was dramatic. We set up the amp in a small (14 x 17) living room and then moved it to a large double-parlor living room, and although it needed a little bass boost in the larger room, it performed like a champ.

Classic jazz and Western classical music had just a bit of warmth and excellent detail. Piano recordings like Jean-Philippe Collard’s solo performances of Maurice Ravel’s music and Bill Evans’ classic Explorations positively glowed without smoothing anything over. Vocal music from Marvin Gaye, Tony Bennett, and REM had brilliance without being too harsh. The amp’s low end has all the punch and definition you’ll need for hard-hitting bass in hip-hop and reggae.

We tried all the digital sound enhancers, and our favorite for music was Pure Direct, giving us a more natural balance than any of the Dolby, DTS, or Neural options. Dolby Pro Logic II Cinema worked best for movies, providing a slightly warmer sound with plenty of rumble for explosions.

There’s plenty of opportunity for adjusting the sound to your personal tastes, but although you can adjust the treble and bass in via the menus, we’d have liked dedicated knobs. There’s also a Night Mode, which it dampens the sound a bit and reduces the bass so your spouse and kids can sleep through your late-night listening sessions.

Blu-ray movies like X-Men 2 and I Am Legend played on our Sony PlayStation 3 looked absolutely fantastic on our Samsung 40-inch LCD TV. The audio in all the channels was crystal clear, thanks to the receiver’s high-def audio format support, and the receiver’s Faroudja FLi2310 video processor did a perfect job upscaling standard-def DVDs from our Onkyo DVD player to 1080p. Since the 2808CI has two independent zones for video, you can control AV in multiple rooms at once, but there’s only a single HDMI output, so one will have to be analog.

Apple iPod Dock

A few different optional iPod docks are available, including a wired model, a networked model, and a wireless model. Our review unit came with the wired dock, which proved to be fairly well integrated with the system. You can use either of the remotes to browse your iPod and watch videos and slide shows on your TV screen, though the GUI could use a whole bucket of polish. We listened mostly to Apple Lossless files, but the Restorer feature comes in handy for MP3s and AACs, adding a little liveliness and partially mitigating the effects of audio compression.

Conclusion

If you want more digital features, like an Ethernet jack and USB port, you’ll have to step up to the more expensive 3808CI ($1600 USD). But other than that, the Denon AVR-2808CI has more than enough power and features for most home theaters, and handles even power-hungry speakers with aplomb. The multiple zones are useful for hooking up music in an extra room or two, and the independent zone control gives you a lot of freedom.

This isn’t a good candidate for your first AV receiver, given its complexity, but if you’re upgrading from a step-up model, this should be on your short list.

Pros:

• 3 independent zones
• Excellent sound and power
• Extremely versatile input/output
• Room calibration feature works wonders
• 1080p upscaling

Cons:

• Complex setup and interface

DT
Aaron Colter

Denon AVR-2808CI Competitors

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