You may have noticed that digital entertainment delivery has enjoyed a massive upsurge in recent years. High-bandwidth internet connections combined with on-demand services from Netflix, CinemaNow, Rhapsody and YouTube have revolutionized the way people spend leisure time at home. The only problem is, as we add components to our entertainment systems to access all this great digital content, we further complicate an already unruly collection of video game consoles, DVD players and cable boxes. What we need is a brilliantly designed entertainment hub to help direct traffic and keep things in order, which is exactly what Denon aims to offer with the AVR-3310CICI/AVR-990 receiver. Jam-packed with multiple types of every input available; support for the latest high-definition audio formats from Dolby and dts labs; HD, satellite and Internet radio tuners; and a remarkably easy setup and calibration routine, the AVR-3310CICI is one of the most comprehensively featured receivers in its price class. Oh, and it just so happens to sound fantastic, too.
Out of the Box
The Denon AVR-3310CICI is a handsome receiver. Two large dials flank the left and right face of the unit to control volume and input selection. A few smaller buttons grace the front panel, but most of the higher functioning buttons are tucked away under a flip-down panel, giving the front façade a very clean, stealthy look. The rear panel is another story altogether. There are so many input and output jacks back there that, upon first glance, it looks as intimidating as the cockpit of a Boeing 747. Upon closer inspection, though, you’ll notice that Denon has laid things out very logically, a handy aid for those who don’t set up A/V equipment on a routine basis.
Aside from the very hefty AVR-3310CICI, the box contained an Audyssey calibration microphone, two remotes, two packs of batteries and two antennae.
The Denon AVR-3310CI is one of the more feature-rich receivers you are likely to audition. Its Anchor Bay video upscaling chips allow you to plug in any video source and have it sent out to your TV via one HDMI cable and with the best possible picture quality. Those with multiple game systems, a satellite receiver, DVR, DVD player, Blu-Ray player and VCR will find that managing all of their sources is easier than ever.
When connected to the Internet through a network though, music lovers also have the option of streaming music from a networked PC, USB flash drive, local FM and HD radio or from one of over 7500 Internet radio stations. The 3310 also offers a compatible interface for Rhapsody, Napster and Sirius/XM subscribers.
For those interested in serving multiple rooms, the system further supports up to three zones of output with video supported for the second zone. To make operation easy, Denon provides a very comprehensive second zone remote capable of managing almost all of the receiver’s functions. This is a big improvement on the scaled down, cheap zone 2 remotes of the past.
Happily, the unit’s audio processors are state-of-the-art. In addition to Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital + and dts HD Master audio decoding, the AVR-3310CI supports Dolby Pro Logic IIz decoding which extracts non-directional sound information and plays it through a set of “height” speakers. (More on these sound formats and what they mean for you in the performance section…) Denon even includes a “restorer” processor that improves the sound of compressed music playback.
Indeed, the AVR-3310CI is so incredibly feature-rich, it would take far more space than this review allows to highlight them all. So is there anything the receiver actually leaves out? Surprisingly, the answer is yes, including a few notable omissions. For instance, we noted that Denon did not opt for THX certification on this model, so it does lack some THX post-processing features that many have come to expect from a product at this level. Also, the “height” speakers afforded by Dolby Pro-Logic IIz come at the cost of your surround back channels. In short, you can either enjoy the height channels, or you can enjoy all 7.1 channels available on Blu-Ray, but not both. These are relatively minor complaints, but some of Denon’s competition does offer these options in their comparable models, so it is worth noting.
To evaluate the AVR-3310CI we connected an LG BD-370 Blu-Ray player, an Xbox 360, a Nintendo Wii, a VIP722 dish network receiver, a network cable for Internet access, and the provided HD radio antennae for sources. For speakers, we used Aperion Audio’s 633-T towers, 634-VAC center channel, 534-SS dipole surrounds, 532 bookshelf speakers and a Bravus 12” subwoofer.
We first set up the AVR-3310CI manually and noted our settings. Then, we ran the Audyssey MultEq setup routine and sat silently while it worked its magic. In the past, we’ve been less than impressed with Audyssey’s work in adjusting EQ for the speakers. In this case, though, we found that the settings it made were actually quite good. While some may prefer the more neutral sound of a manually calibrated system, others may choose the more lively and immersive sound that the MultEq provides. Fortunately, MultEq and Dynamic EQ can be easily defeated thus making comparisons easy.
The AVR-3310CI’s sound quality is fantastic. From Blu-ray soundtracks to FM radio broadcasts, it maintains Denon’s signature sound throughout. We started out with some music streamed from our PC. We chose low-bitrate tracks initially to test out the Denon’s “restorer” function. We were pleased to find that the unit did smooth out some of the raspy highs and added some dimension by boosting the bass a bit. Such improvements further carried over nicely to the Internet radio broadcasts we tuned in to. While audio was still obviously compressed, it was considerably more enjoyable to listen to. Less compressed tracks came across clearly and without any audible noise. All in all, we found the network music feature to be extremely easy to use once configured.
The AVR-3310CI continued to perform exceptionally well for our gaming tests to boot. In-game surround effects were smoothly transitioned from one speaker to the next. Even at high volumes, we detected no audible distortion from any of the channels either – no doubt thanks to independent amplification for each channel. We also noted that the 480p video output of the Wii was considerably improved by the Anchor Bay video upscaling chips.
Two-channel music testing was a treat. CD after CD, we enjoyed a warm, open midrange, detailed texture in the high frequencies, impressive transient response and rich, accurate bass. With Audyssey MultEQ employed, some felt that certain music selections suffered from a mid-bass bump and slightly shrill highs, but this is likely a matter of taste. With and without Audyssey, the AVR-3310CI sounded impressive.
We normally wouldn’t test a receiver with TV programming, but the AVR-3310CI’s Dynamic Volume feature gave us good reason to. Similar to Dolby Volume, Audyssey’s Dynamic Volume controls violent level swings. Anyone who’s had their doors blown off by a painfully loud infomercial knows that not all TV programs are created equally loud – and certainly not the commercials. Dynamic Volume, in theory, rescues us from that. We found that in practice, it does a great job. We were concerned that there might be some loss of sound quality, but none was noted. Instead, we were simply able to leave the volume control out of the equation when changing channels.
The real fun of the evaluation came with Blu-ray material. For multi-channel audio we used the dts-HD master demo disc. For movies, we used the recently released Transformers 2: Rise of the Machines available with dts-HD master audio as well.
Here is where the AVR-3310CI really shone. Both Dolby TrueHD and dts-HD master are “full resolution” audio formats that are currently available only on Blu-ray disc. Even though the sound is technically compressed, the decoding algorithm is capable of putting removed information back as it is being processed. The resulting sound is, bit for bit, identical to the studio master tapes. If you’re wondering whether or not these new audio formats are a significant improvement on the Dolby and dts standard, let us assuage those concerns. They offer a considerable improvement in fidelity.
In fact, we found that we had to pull ourselves out of the vortex of entertainment that the AVR-3310CI was providing – the surround tracks from Transformers 2 were so immersive, we forgot to take notes for a while. Each channel was well supported and never thinned out, as we’ve experienced with some lesser powered receivers. During Omar Hakim’s “Listen Up!” track on the dts-HD master sampler, we noted that the soundfield was one of the most seamless that we’ve heard too. There was a smooth transition from instrument to instrument as the sound travelled around the room. Omar Hakim’s drum solo in the middle of the cut is extremely dynamic and the VR-3310 handled those dynamics with finesse. Again, we enjoyed a distortion-free, thoroughly engrossing audio experience.
Denon’s reputation for high standards in both innovation and build quality are proved well-earned with the likes of the AVR-3310CICI. The receiver’s alluring combination of refined, powerful sound and user-friendly media management make it a favorite among mid-priced models released this year. Bearing this in mind, we highly recommend the system for your short-list of receivers to consider.
- Powerful, balanced sound
- Easy setup and Configuration
- Internet, HD and satellite radio capable
- 3-zone capable
- Feature rich-multi zone remote
- Portions of user interface confusing
- Missing some features when compared with competition at this price point