To evaluate the AVR-4311CI, we connected an LG BD-370 Blu-Ray player, an Xbox 360, Pioneer turntable with Ortofon OM5E cartridge, an iPhone 3G, a Kingston flash drive loaded with various quality music files and an Ethernet cable for network and internet access. For speakers, we used systems from Aperion Audio and Boston Acoustics.
Since the Denon 4311CI is so capable and feature rich, setting it up is an unavoidably complex proposition. To Denon’s credit, much has been done to present the overwhelming and sometimes intimidating settings menu in an intelligible and navigable manner. The 4311CI uses a scrolling icon-based menu that gives you a preview of what’s available in each sub menu before you actually enter it. There’s no trail of breadcrumbs to keep you oriented within the menu so users may want to keep the user manual nearby to keep from getting lost or sidetracked.
Thankfully, our review sample was upgraded with the Apple AirPlay feature prior to being shipped to us. Still, we checked up on the upgrade process and it was simple enough. A quick trip to the Denon website revealed complete instructions on the process, which requires the receiver to be connected to the internet. Armed with some key pieces of info from the receiver, the user purchases the upgrade at Denon’s website, then ques the receiver to upgrade its self.
We chose to bi-amplify our front left and right speakers and add in rear surrounds for a 7.2 speaker arrangement. Over the course of our audition we ran Audyssey’s set-up routine seven different times using two specific measurement locations. We ran it twice on each speaker system and then once again to test the differences in results when we allowed Audyssey four measurement positions instead of just two. In every case, the result we got from Audyssey varied. The measurements for speaker level remained fairly constant, but the distance settings and EQ settings were all over the map. Sometimes the results were pretty good, other times not so much. The bass response, however, was consistently improved. During the audition we toggled Audyssey on and off along with both the dynamic EQ and dynamic volume settings and generally preferred the sound we got with all of the above turned off.
After some lengthy setup sessions, we finally got to test the functionality and sound of the 4311CI. We first dug in to the unit’s Net/USB section, which allowed us to play back content from internet radio, iPhone, USB flash drive, Pandora and everything on our networked PC. We really enjoyed the interface. Having all of the networked music options listed under one menu made navigating our choices easy and fun. We appreciated seeing the bitrate information for the files we were playing back and noted along the way that the 4311CI was able to handle even the highest bitrate files from our computer – a feat we haven’t seen pulled off by any other network receiver yet. The USB iPod interface was one of the best we’ve seen, though we still longed for something as simple as shuffle and repeat control.
AirPlay was a lot of fun to play with. iTunes recognized the Denon immediately and began playing back tracks just seconds later. Though our iPhone 3G doesn’t appear to support AirPlay, we were able to control iTunes with our phone and make playlist changes on the fly. If you aren’t familiar with AirPlay yet, then you need to know that all of the control lay with your computer or iDevice (iPhone, iPad or iPod touch)-you can even control the receiver’s volume remotely. What you can’t do is control your music selection from the receiver. With AirPlay, communication is a one way street.
The sound quality from the network content was uniformly good and consistent with the quality of the music file. With Pandora, everything comes across at 128k and sounded like your average iTunes file. Higher quality files sounded significantly better with the highest quality files rivaling CD quality. Low bitrate internet radio stations still sounded poor, but we found that some of the stations were broadcasting an AAC format that sounded really good. We didn’t find Denon’s “restorer” feature to be all that useful. It processes low bitrate files and aims to improve their fidelity. As has been our experience with similar processors from other manufacturers, it acted like a loudness button with three different tiers of intensity, each one progressively louder than the one before and with hotter highs and slightly boosted bass.
After days of setting up, measurements, tests and general poking about with the AVR-4311CI, we finally got to some meat and potatoes listening. We pulled out our arsenal of two-channel and multi-channel listening material including some vinyl, SACD and DVD-Audio as well as a handful of blockbuster movies on both Blu-Ray and DVD with surround tracks known to challenge the most powerful of receivers. For all the bells and whistles, this Denon receiver still needs to shine at audio reproduction.
The AVR-4311CI sounded great. Those who have enjoyed the Denon sound in the past will be thrilled with the articulate, nimble sound of this receiver. During our 2-channel listening, we appreciated the unmistakably clean Denon sound with its warm, slightly laid back midrange and sparkling top end. Bass was very well asserted and under tight control which helped to round out a very classy sound with just enough detail to keep you going back to all of your favorite recordings for another listen.
Multi-channel music was equally impressive. There was no discernible bleed between channels, but the soundstage they painted was well integrated. Instruments had distinct locations within the room and in places where there were no speakers, thus supporting the sonic hologram that the recording’s mix aims to create. Once again, the 4311CI’s ample headroom helped deliver poignant and highly dynamic musical moments at hearty volumes without showing signs of strain.
Movie soundtracks were a treat. The 4311CI’s hearty power supply went to work to keep all channels driven with authority. At one point, we had full size, floor-standing speakers in every speaker position and the 4311CI handled the load impressively well. Highly explosive scenes being pushed through 5 power-hungry speakers with the volume cranked up will make any receiver wince, but the 4311CI hung in there and drove the system well without breaking a sweat. We certainly had more power than our medium sized room could handle so we feel very confident recommending the 4311CI for large rooms and/or open floor plans.
The Denon AVR-4311CI crams in tons of features and functionality, yet still manages to save enough room for a beefy power supply, high quality DACs and muscular amplifiers. The result is a feature rich, network capable receiver with enough guts to power big systems in big rooms. While it doesn’t achieve the sonic majesty you are likely to experience with a separate pre-amp and multi-channel amplifier, it gets pretty close. Plus, you aren’t likely to find this many bells and whistles in any pre-amp short of $2k. Just be ready to invest some serious time (and patience) into the setup process if you want to forego hiring a professional installer.
All things considered, the 4311CI does a decent job of earning its asking price. It sort of creates its own category because such a rich feature set doesn’t really exist at this price point. For those who want a future proof receiver with room to meet expanding needs, we encourage you to give the 4311CI a close look.
- Great Sound
- USB, Ethernet and iPhone friendly
- 9.2, multi-zone and bi-amp capable
- Supports Apple AirPlay
- Complicated Setup
- Some menus hard to understand