Last April, Denon began to drum up some publicity for its latest series of receivers, which it calls the IN-Command Series. There are three models in the new series: The AVR-2212CI, AVR-2312CI and the AVR-3312CI. The idea behind the IN-Command marketing effort is that users will have more control over their media than ever. Based on specifications alone, it appears that Denon could deliver on that promise, but at what cost? Will there be trade-offs?
As it turns out, both cost and trade-offs are at play here. It turns out that, for all the new stuff that’s been tossed in, the AVR-3312CI is missing a few features that came with the AVR-3311CI and even the two-year-old AVR-3310CI. Will these missing items make a big difference?
The price on this model relative to its predecessors is lower, though not as low as it seems Denon was prepared to make it. The price for the 3312CI has shifted since we first heard about it. Initial reports (including one at Denon’s own blog) indicated the suggested retail price would come in at under $1,000. But, as we see today, Denon has upped that figure to $1099. Still pretty low, but was the original price an indication of product quality, or thrifty engineering?
We’ve taken a long-distance test drive with the AVR-3312CI and will answer those questions and more in the following review.
Out of the box
The AVR-3312CI comes packaged with a detachable power cord, one remote control, a pair of AA batteries, AM and FM antennae, Audyssey set-up microphone, a quick set-up guide on paper, and a full manual in interactive PDF format on CD.
The receiver measures 6-37/64 by 17-1/8 by 15-3/64 inches (H x W x D), and weighs 26 pounds, making it 2 pounds lighter than the previous model.
Features and design
The front of the 3312 has seen a few cosmetic changes. Gone is the flip-down panel on the lower front of the receiver. In its place are four “quick select” buttons, which provide one-touch access to four popular sources. Next to that are three programmable preset buttons for Internet radio stations.
Just below the smoked-glass display window are a few utility buttons, most of which we don’t think will get used all that often, save perhaps the dimmer button. We noted that the full cursor and enter button are now gone from the front face. Navigation of the receiver’s menu must now be done solely by remote control.
The 3312CI is described as a 7.2-channel receiver. It can support front-height speakers and front-width speakers, too, which means it can put out surround sound to 11 speakers. Two subwoofer outputs are provided for convenience: Who wants to jumble up the rear panel with Y-adapters, anyway?
The 3312CI uses discrete amplifiers to deliver 125 watts to seven channels at 8 ohms with .05 THD. That’s a pretty impressive rating, but we don’t see any mention of whether that figure was achieved with all channels driven simultaneously or not. We also can’t tell by way of specs whether or not the receiver is 4-ohm stable. Something in our gut tells us it may safe at lower volumes, but trying to get to reference level with a room full of 4-ohm speakers might earn you some distortion — possibly worse.
You may have noticed, as we did, that there is no mention of the power ratings for the front-height and front-width speakers. We wouldn’t expect a big number, maybe 25 watts per channel considering the low workload for those speakers. Still, we expect some sort of power rating, and were surprised that we could find none.
If you want send power to speakers in another room via Zone 2 or Zone 3, you’ll have to give up your back surround speakers. Only the Surround Back amplifier section is assignable. Preouts for both Zone 2 and 3 are available, though.
We mentioned earlier that there were both additions and subtractions for this model relative to the previous AVR-3311CI model. On top of the aforementioned cosmetic changes this model adds in AirPlay without requiring a $50 upgrade fee. It supports FLAC for audiophile-quality digital music streaming and can play just about any other music file available on your network, for that matter. A seventh HDMI input is also new for this model.
As for subtractions: There’s no more Zone 2 or 3 remote. Functionality for additional zones is now incorporated into this model’s single remote control. There’s also a conspicuous absence of a satellite radio port, meaning Sirius isn’t getting any love from this model. We also noticed there is no longer any optical digital audio output, which probably won’t be a big deal to many, but gamers using high-end gaming headsets may miss it. We did.
The interior of the Denon has seen some changes since last year as well. Perhaps most notable is that Denon has dropped Anchor Bay video processing in favor of chips from Analog Devices. AKM semiconductor DACs are still in use for audio, though.
The remote control, aside from flying a solo mission, has been redesigned. The layout feels intuitive, and the remote’s been simplified, which is good in some ways and not so great in others. For instance, we really missed the buttons that allowed us to toggle Audyssey MultEQ XT, Audyssey Dynamic Volume and Denon’s Restorer on and off as we wish. Cycling through surround modes is made a little easier, though. Dedicated movie, music, game and direct buttons allowed us to cycle through all of the related surround modes under each subsection. Unfortunately, the remote is not backlit, which we have a tough time understanding at this price level. Glow-in-the-dark keys just don’t cut it, and that’s all this remote offers.
If an illuminated remote is what you need, Denon now offers an iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad remote app that allows for local network control with any of those three devices. We tested the iPhone app and will report on it in our performance section.
To evaluate the AVR-3312CI, we connected an LG BD-370 Blu-ray player, an Xbox 360, Pioneer turntable with Ortofon OM5E cartridge, an iPhone 4 and an Ethernet cable for Internet media access. For speakers, we used systems from Aperion Audio and Paradigm.
After performing a manual setup and calibration, we ran Audyssey’s MultEQ XT and did some initial listening to decide which, if any, of the settings we wanted to keep and which we wanted to disable. We ended up deciding to defeat most of the settings in favor of our manual calibration. Audyssey had our 5.25-inch back surround speakers set up with a 40Hz crossover point and our much, much larger 6.5-inch surround speakers set up with a 60hz crossover point. Even with some room reinforcement, we know our back surrounds have no business trying to cover bass down to 40Hz, so we made the necessary adjustments. We also defeated Audyssey’s EQ and Dynamic EQ settings because we felt our system sound was more even and balanced without it.
We’ve been disappointed by degraded audio quality in model revisions in the past. The changes made between the Marantz SR6004 and SR6005, for instance, resulted in audible changes that we didn’t care for. While both receivers sounded very good, the SR6004 clearly sounded better. So, it was with some skepticism that we fired up the 3312CI.
Our first impression of the 3312CI was that it sounded every bit as good as the AVR-3310CI, Denon’s comparable model from two years ago. Fortunately, the addition of several new features in combination with a price drop did not result in a notable degradation of sound quality. If anything, the 3312CI seemed a little quieter, with less background noise and bit more transparency.
We pulled out our CD copy of Donald Fagen’s Morph The Cat and dug in a little deeper. We were very pleased with the top end of the 3312CI’s sound. Percussive guitar picking came across with a pop and snap that can often get lost underneath some of this recording’s cymbals and percussion. The 3312CI rendered it all very clearly and in distinct layers.
Midrange frequencies were equally fun to listen to. A lot of the warble and wetness associated with some of the guitar’s chorus and flange effects will sound dimensionless with low-quality receivers, but the 3312CI yielded all the detail we were looking for. There was even a slight warmth to the upper midrange region that came as a pleasant surprise, considering our notes on some of the previous models of Denon receivers we tested indicated they were a little brighter in that area. This effect resulted in brass instruments with plenty of etchy texture that didn’t sound artificially processed.
Bass response, without the use of a subwoofer, was a little leaner than we’d like to hear. The 3312CI doesn’t have the more forward, bass centric sound that we’ve heard with the likes of Onkyo receivers over the years, but it isn’t anemic, either. Were we to listen to two-channel SACD without the use of a sub, we’d probably want a little more in the low bass region, but this rig is probably going to be involved with a subwoofer, possibly even two, and they filled out the bottom of all of our other music tracks for us just fine.
As we pulled out some heavy-duty movie demo clips, we listened carefully for any signs of strain from the seven-speaker system that we had connected — especially our 6Ohm surrounds, which tend to tax receivers without plenty of muscle under the hood. The Denon handled it all very well. Not only was audible distortion minimized, but the seamless surround sound-stage that we enjoyed so much with the AVR-3310CI was there, too. This receiver also did a good job of driving our large center channel, which will produce plenty of bass if well supported. Despite having missed some bass in two-channel music listening, we got all of the bass we were looking for and even a little more punch than we’re used to from our center channel.
To summarize our sonic evaluation of the 3312CI, we can say that it sounded very much like its predecessors, which is to say it sounded great, certainly one of the stronger offerings in its price class.
Interface, AirPlay, remote and other features
That said, our chief interest wasn’t with this model’s sonic performance — we just wanted to ensure that it hadn’t taken a dive in the revision — rather, we were more interested in the receiver’s usability. With so much functionality built in, today’s receivers can be really tough to use and sometimes the rush to offer something new means some features will be buggy.
To dig into this aspect of the receiver’s performance, we spent a lot of time navigating its menu, playing back various Internet media sources, playing around with AirPlay, and streaming some high-quality music files.
We found there were a few improvements made to the receiver’s network media interface that made a big difference in how easily we were able to locate and playback music tracks. Previously, the interface has been sluggish, limited and just plain frustrating. The addition of some search functions, however, made getting at any one of our 3,000 plus tunes much easier. That isn’t to say the interface is perfect yet; far from it. It is a considerable improvement, though, and progress is a good thing.
We had a chance to experience airplay with the AVR-4311CI and enjoyed it a lot at the time. For those not familiar, AirPlay-equipped devices such as powered speakers and receivers can accept an audio stream from an iPhone (no 3G or 3Gs, sorry) iPad, iPod Touch and iTunes and play back the music wirelessly. The sound quality is so good that it eclipses the need for all but the most high-end audiophile iPod docks. Our only AirPlay experience complaint with the 4311CI was that track control was limited to the device that was sending the music stream. That’s not a big deal for people with a portable device, but for those whose only connection to Apple is iTunes on a PC, where the PC could be in another room or another floor, we consider it an inconvenience. We are glad to see that, with the 3312CI, that issue has been remedied and tracks can be advanced remotely using the 3312CI’s remote control.
FLAC files sounded excellent and we really appreciated being able to listen to them without connecting a laptop with a lousy audio card. In fact, the FLAC files we had sounded a lot better than their CD counterparts. If more receivers offered this capability, then perhaps high-definition digital music would take off a little faster.
The Phono input sounded pretty good for a built-in phono pre-amp. We spent more than just a few minutes playing back some of our favorite cuts from our best, audiophile-approved records and enjoyed the experience a lot.
Room for improvement
Despite an overall good experience, there were some things that bothered us about the 3312CI. First, the remote control’s off-axis performance was terrible for us. We spent more than our fair share of time standing up, twisting in awkward positions to get the remote in just such a spot and, even when we did manage to point it almost dead on, had trouble getting the Denon to respond.
The iPhone app, while a great idea and more comprehensive than we expected, was a little slow. We’re not talking about the lag time between command and response… we expected that delay. Rather, the app was a little sluggish and inconsistent for us. We’d sometimes press a button several times over before the app responded and sent the command off to the receiver. It also froze on us a few times. It’s a great idea, though, and we hope future revisions to the app will prove to operate just a little more smoothly.
Finally, the setup menu, while graphically pleasant to look at, was a bit confusing at times. We had a similar experience with previous editions. Part of the problem is that there’s no breadcrumb to let you know how deep into the menu you are, so it is easy to get lost. On a receiver this complex, the menu needs to be a little easier to navigate, otherwise a custom installer is going to be a must.
The Denon AVR-3312CI maintains the great sound of its predecessors and adds in some fun features all at a lower price than prior years. While we enjoyed the addition of AirPlay, a phono input, an iPhone remote app and the ability to stream high-quality digital music files, the loss of a separate zone remote, optical digital audio output, and Sirius satellite radio support didn’t seem like necessary trade-offs. With a $1099 starting price, the sweet-sounding AVR-3312 is definitely a solid value and upholds Denon’s standard of offering top-quality gear with the latest cool features.
- Great sound
- USB, Ethernet and Airplay enabled
- Fun iPhone, iPad remote app
- Supports FLAC streaming
- Complicated setup
- Menu difficult to navigate
- Remote not backlit, missing some functions
- No satellite radio
- Sluggish app interface