If you’re on the hunt for a surround-sound amp and have around £450 to spend, then you’re in luck. This continues to be one of the most highly competitive areas of the home cinema market, where manufacturers pull out all the stops for your hard-earned cash.
We’ve already seen what the likes of Onkyo has to offer in the shape of its scintillating TX-NR609, but now it’s time for one of its closest rivals, Denon, to take centre stage.
The AVR-1912 is the first of Denon’s 2011 range to make it into our test rooms. It’s a seven-channel amp, with 90W of discrete amplification per channel.
Top-notch buildAesthetically, there’s no major nipping or tucking for this year’s model. The neat and simple design might look a little dated compared with other marques, but it’s effective and in keeping with the rest of Denon’s home-cinema separates.
Build quality is top-notch – the amp has been made carefully to reduce the possible effects of unwanted vibrations and external noise.
More after the break
The AVR-1912 is no slouch when it comes to features, either. You’ll find six HDMI inputs round the back, while 3D passthrough and full support for high-definition audio formats are now par for the course at this level.
But, while last year’s equivalent model included video upconversion and upscaling, Denon has decided to sacrifice the latter.
This means that the amp will take video from sources that don’t have a HDMI output and convert them so they can be output over HDMI, but it can’t upscale a lower-resolution image to the likes of 720p or 1080p. You’ll need to let your display device or source handle this.
On the front of the unit are four Quick Select buttons, which can be used to store settings for four different sources.
There’s also a button that gives you direct access to the amp’s vTuner internet radio function, and three presets so you can store your favourite stations for ultra-quick access. Simply press and hold one of the preset buttons while you’re on a station to store it in the amp’s memory.
AirPlay enabledOnline functionality is popular in the AV amp world right now, and the AVR-1912 has been suitably equipped with support for music streaming services such as Last.fm and Napster. You can even access photos stored on the online photo album service Flickr.
The Denon’s front-mounted USB input lets you hook up an iPod or iPhone directly and operate it through the amp’s remote control. Alternatively, get the amp hooked up to a network and you can take advantage of Apple AirPlay.
When the AirPlay logo comes up on your Apple device, select the AVR-1912 and the Denon automatically switches to this mode. There’s a slight drop in sound quality compared with a wired connection, but we’ve found this with AirPlay-enabled devices from other manufacturers, too.
You could argue that a small drop in quality is a small price to pay for the convenience, though – especially when you can also use AirPlay to stream music from Spotify if you’re a subscriber and have the app on your Apple device.
Easy set-upTo help get you up and running, the AVR-1912 features a new Setup Wizard. This feature is especially useful for rookies, as it guides you through all the various aspects of setup – including speaker calibration, connecting to a network and hooking up all your external kit to the right inputs.
Audyssey’s MultEQ XT speaker calibration system allows for readings in up to eight different listening positions, useful for if you’re listening in a strangely shaped room or one with highly reflective surfaces.
If your room is a regular shape and has its fare share of soft furnishings, then it could pay to experiment with turning Audyssey on and off.
The accompanying remote has a rather boring design, but at least the main buttons glow in the dark and you’re not left floundering when it comes to fumbling around in a darkened room.
Could be more immersiveSpin a Blu-ray disc and your attention is immediately drawn to the amp’s midrange – but not in a bad way. There’s an impressive sense of openness and spaciousness, especially around dialogue. During Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1, voices sound clear, expressive and dramatic.
Bass rumblings have plenty of weight and solidity, while high frequencies sound detailed and well behaved.
In absolute terms, though, the Denon doesn’t quite immerse the listener in the action as much as we’d like at this money. Effects steering is accurate, but it doesn’t quite fill the space and submerge you in the action the way some at this price can.
The Denon can’t quite match the dynamics of the very best, either: subtle shifts in scale aren’t as viscerally delivered, and with both movies and music a slight edge of immediacy and emotional power is sacrificed.
Don’t get us wrong: stereo music is handled perfectly well – and is benefited by that commendably open and realistic midrange – but some rivals such as the aforementioned Onkyo TX-NR609 and Yamaha RX-V671 produce a tad more detail, and present it with a more potent punch.
The AVR-1912 isn’t a bad amp by any means, and since we reviewed it in this test the price has dropped by £50 to £449 – that's an even better reason to put it on your audition shortlist, especially if Apple AirPlay appeals.
In isolation, it proves itself to be very capable, but it’s sharing shelf space with some seriously good rivals.