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Denon AVR-5803 First Impressions

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The Denon AVR-5803 pushes the envelope in digital technology with its implementation of a pair of Analog Devices top DSP's (32bit Dual Hammerhead SHARC's) and sixteen of Burr Browns top audio DAC's (PCM 1738-E) fully capable of decoding DVD-A and SACD if tasked. It amazes me that so much horsepower is found in this receiver, which is uncommon in much costlier so called "high end" separates. In fact, during my evaluation of the AVR-5803 masterpiece I did a little research and found no separate pre/pro at the same price and significantly more money than the AVR-5803 which implemented quad dual differential DAC's in pure direct mode, and dual differential DAC's in multi channel modes for all channels. Most of the pre/pros and other receivers on the market simply revert to one single ended DAC per channel. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it is certainly not as likely to push the envelope of fidelity for the serious audiophile. With my former experience as an Analog Engineer pioneering some of the most advanced DSL modems on the market, I speak from experience regarding the merits of differential architecture for DAC implementation. Every credible Electrical Engineer knows that state of the art D/A performance can only be achieved differentially with complimentary circuit topology from input to output. In fact, if it weren't for differential DAC implementation, high speed DSL wouldn't work so well, at least on any subscriber loops over a few thousand feet. Denon goes one step further and gangs up the rear channel DAC's for two channel "Pure Direct Mode" for a true quad dual differential implementation. This is unheard of in most high end products, including those doubling the price of the AVR-5803. I was, after some intense searching, able to find another processor with dual differential DAC implementation on all channels - one from Mark Levinson - retailing for $1000's more than the Denon, and it wasn't using the top of the line Burr Brown units. There are advantages in dual differential implementation, one of which includes noise reduction resulting from a voltage gain drop of 6dB. There's further advantage in implementing quad dual differential DAC's as it potentially reduces distortion while increasing linearity.

It could be argued that the benefits of this digital architecture may not fully be realized since the entire circuit path from line level inputs to speaker level outputs are not complimentary. However, a good argument killer would be that the AVR-5803 as well as all of Denon's receivers that implement the dual differential DAC architecture, have some of the industries best Signal to Noise (SNR) ratio measurements and linearity figures as illustrated in many audio publications, and more importantly buttressed by our critical listening evaluations.

The merits of Denon's implementation of the dual 32bit Hammerhead SHARC processors was evident by its almost endless configurability. Some of this is owed to the fact that Denon, unlike many other audio hardware vendors, write their own code. Many costlier separates utilizing less capable DSP's, and prepackaged firmware, don't hold a candle to the processing power and configurability of the AVR-5803 (more on this later). It is also important to note that when the AVR-5803 was introduced almost two years ago, it was the first home theater product to offer component video high bandwidth switching (100MHz), component video up conversion, as well as On Screen Display (OSD) via the component video monitor outputs, thus simplifying the connection to a high resolution HDTV while serving as a state of the art video switcher. Until this year's most recently announced product offerings, very few other receivers and more costly preamp/processors offered this.

Before power was ever applied, or even connected to Reference System 1, the Denon AVR-5803 bestowed a very positive impression on me and I remember thinking to myself " if the audio performance is as good as expected, I am in for a real treat ". It was nice to see that Denon had replaced the cheap plastic cover door (previously found on the AVR-5600) with a solid metal one. This, along with a host of other mechanical refinements, in my opinion, produced a product that had a higher-end appearance complimenting its state of the art performance.

 

 

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