What features are you looking for in an AV receiver? Is it a list of the latest digital audio formats, is it a high level of connectivity, or is it just something that will integrate well with your iPhone?
Well, with the Denon AVR-3311 you get all of this. Not only does this receiver feature access to internet radio and DLNA streaming, but thanks to a recent update it also becomes one of the first home theatre components to support Apple's AirPlay.
The company's receivers are a little more curvaceous these days, but they are still recognisably Denon. While Denon's sister company Marantz is going for a minimalist fascia with receivers such as the Marantz SR7005, the Denons' are going for the more-is-more approach with one of the largest displays on the market. Buttons are still kept to a minimum, though, with just two knobs for input selection and volume on the front. Underneath these two are a small selection of switches for Zone source and Yamaha-like "scenes" which act as shortcuts for your three most-used inputs. Underneath the front flap hides the rest of the functionality, including a USB input (for iPod and other MP3 devices) and HDMI port, plus a menu button and D-pad for when the remote isn't at hand.
The receiver comes with two remotes, with the second being for a second zone, but the main remote perplexes us a little. It provides a full selection of buttons for each of the inputs, but also needlessly includes the three shortcuts. While it's not backlit, the remote does glow in the dark.
As the AVR-3311 costs almost twice that of the excellent-sounding AVR-1911 what are you actually paying for? The first thing you notice when you turn it on is that the 3311 offers a full-colour user interface (UI) where the 1911 is a simple white text on black background affair.
But that's not all, the Denon AVR-3311 is part of a new range that now supports 3D pass-through so you can watch 3D movies on your screen via the receiver, yet we'd argue that a recently added feature will actually prove more popular.
Tap the iPhone's AirPlay icon and the Denon appears as an option. (Credit: CBS Interactive)
Apple AirPlay is a service that was added to iOS devices (iPod Touch/iPhone/iPad) in November 2010 and enables streaming from the handheld to your sound system. The first compatible system to be announced was naturally the Apple TV, and now Denon's joined the fold with four devices: the AVR-A100, AVR-3311 and AVR-4311 receivers and the DN7 multimedia system. AirPlay lets you tap an icon on your playback screen and stream the playing audio content directly to your receiver.
Connectivity is the name of the game here, and in addition to the AirPlay feature the Denon's Ethernet port also enables access to internet radio, Flickr and streaming via AirPlay's competitor, DLNA. While the system gives you the option of accessing US-based services Rhapsody and Napster, these won't work. Even though Last.FM is ostensibly available in Australia this feature doesn't appear to work either.
Other features include compatibility with the handy-though-limited Denon remote app, Audyssey set-up and 1080p upscaling.
Inputs include six HDMI ports which will decode all of the latest formats including Dolby TrueHD and output Dolby Pro Logic IIz streams, four components and two S-Video jacks. The receiver also includes a 7.1-channel analog output (though not an input) for connection to a power amp.
With so many features it's difficult to know where to start with the Denon AVR-3311, but the one thing that an A/V receiver should do is provide high-quality audiovisuals right? To this end, we connected a set of Pioneer 8 series speakers, calibrated with the included Audyssey microphone and set to work.
Given the number of musical applications the Denon offers we began our investigations there. We connected a Panasonic BDT300 Blu-ray player and let the receiver decode a CD copy of Nick Cave and the Bad Seed's "Red Right Hand". The resulting on-sound was well integrated and very detailed, though not quite up to the best-sounding receivers on the market. The song's bass line can pose a problem for some systems, but in this case it wasn't too boomy. On the best set-ups this song expands beyond the confines of the speakers, but it didn't happen in this case, with the stereo imaging even proving a little lopsided.
Next we hooked up an iPhone via the front port and listened to a selection of lossless music, but found the results disappointing. With Battles' "Atlas", the system lost the plot altogether with muddy bass, especially at volume. Turn the volume up and things get worse, with the speakers outputting quite a nasty bleat near +0.0. At this point treble started to get spiky and the sound began to break up. By contrast, Pioneer's SCLX82 was able to hold the sound together better on the song's bassy "whoomps".
Adding to our disappointment with the unit's iPod integration, the Denon doesn't offer an on-screen display (OSD) for iPod playback, just a three-line display on receiver. This is enough for simple navigation we suppose, but a little too hard to see across the room.
Taking things a step further we signed the receiver up for Apple's AirPlay — it's not available straight out of the box. Though it's an initially arduous process — fill out a form with an upgrade ID and then send it to Denon with AU$60 — once it's available on your unit, the service installs rather quickly. We were able to stream most music through the amp, including FLAC via the Media Connect app.
While this isn't the first AV receiver we'd seek out if we were interested in music, multi-channel is where this receiver really hits its straps. Even the Sony Pictures sting at the start of the Spider-Man 3 Blu-ray sounded confident and stirring. Plunging further into the disc, we were greeted with an exhilarating performance with the rooftop chase scene. Surround sound steering was balanced, though the sound was as edgy as the scene demands.
Lastly, we tested the receiver's ability to pass video, and found that unlike some cheaper receiver's it didn't intrude upon the signal at all. We even appreciated that you can turn the upscaler off per input, and the unit was able to pass a 3D signal seamlessly.
If you're looking for a mid-range receiver that offers excellent surround sound performance and AirPlay integration then the Denon is one of the only models worth considering at the moment. However, if music is your main concern there are better alternatives out there.