I was always under the impression that Denon made somewhat high end products. When looking to buy a new receiver I have heard everything from the new Denon 03 line as amazing or as crap. The main quality that I think Denon receivers have is pure transparency, which means they play the cd through, the receiver as it was meant to be heard. Which is what a receiver is supposed to do, when I hear that certain receivers are thin or have more bass, to me that makes me think they are messing with the original production. I've heard Yamaha, Onkyo, Marantz, HK, and even Arcam, none of them have absolutely blown me away over the Denon 3803; to me they are all very similar. Can someone on this board tell me when Denon got such a bad rap for music playback?
I have an 1801 and an 1803 and can attest to the transparency of the Denons. I had always been the type of person who thought that below clipping, all amps sound alike. But I have a Sherwood 6090R and Adcom straight amp and an older PS Audio Elite Plus and the three sound different mostly in the bass (The Denon does sound like the Adcom though). I prefer transparency to a particular type of "sound". Tube equipment has a "sound". Some Pioneer DACs have a "sound". Some Bose speakers have a "sound". A LOT of high-end gear has a "sound". Though this "sound" can be exciting and can differentiate one product from the crowd it's usually at the expense of accuracy.
I wouldn't consider Denon high-end. They provide accurate audio at resonable prices, the way you would traditionally view NAD or Rotel. The other companies... and this is only my opinion is; HK - very good but overpriced, Onkyo - very good (I would have Onkyo but it is very hard to get two independent Video loops these days for under $400. The Onkyo should be superior to my Denon otherwise, Marantz - very good but cost more than I am willing to pay, Yamaha - I have owned and had bad experiences with Yamaha. Always the same thing - noise in the surround channels. I was shocked to read a recent review in Sound and Vision magazine stating this still existing problem.
The build quality seems good as well (I owned a Denon HXPro, 3-head, dual-capstan cassette deck and it never let me down). Denon's not the best in the world but they strike a good balance for me and I feel they take music reproduction seriously. After all, they did have a major hand in the invention of digital audio recording.