DENON DCD-2500NE SU­PER AU­DIO CD PLAYER

SU­PER AU­DIO CD PLAYER

Australian HIFI - - CONTENTS -

Denon’s lat­est ver­sion of its Ad­vanced AL32 Pro­cess­ing Plus cir­cuitry el­e­vates CD—and SACD—sound to new heights!

Re­view­ers are sup­posed to re­veal their bi­ases and af­fil­i­a­tions right up front. So I should re­veal why I have al­ways ad­mired Denon as a com­pany de­spite the fact that I have only ever owned two Denon prod­ucts (a DL-103 phono car­tridge and a step-up trans­former for it) and have ab­so­lutely no af­fil­i­a­tions with the com­pany or its dis­trib­u­tors.

One rea­son for my ad­mi­ra­tion is that it’s very qui­etly one of the old­est au­dio com­pa­nies in the world, hav­ing been es­tab­lished in 1910 to man­u­fac­ture shel­lac records and the gramophones to play them. It was so suc­cess­ful at this that US record gi­ant Columbia took a stake in the com­pany in 1927. Denon then pro­duced the first LPs to go on sale in Ja­pan and man­u­fac­tured a range of pro­fes­sional turnta­bles and phono car­tridges for use in record­ing stu­dios and ra­dio sta­tions—along with open reel and cas­sette tapes—be­fore build­ing its first range of con­sumer au­dio prod­ucts in 1971.

An­other rea­son for my ad­mi­ra­tion is that the com­pany has al­ways built high-quality au­dio prod­ucts, hav­ing never been tempted to go ‘down-mar­ket’ and com­pro­mise quality. That said, I re­ally don’t know for a fact whether Denon was ever tempted to go down-mar­ket, but it’s cer­tainly never suc­cumbed, de­spite be­ing sub­jected over the years to sev­eral merg­ers, most re­cently with Marantz, when both brands were owned by D+M Hold­ings. (It­self pur­chased ear­lier this year by Sound United, par­ent com­pany to Polk Au­dio and De­fin­i­tive Tech­nol­ogy.)

Fi­nally, I find it highly sig­nif­i­cant that Denon has al­ways man­u­fac­tured its prod­ucts in Ja­pan, and I was cer­tainly most pleased to find that this DCD-2500NE is no ex­cep­tion.

THE EQUIP­MENT

I have to say that my fond­ness for Denon’s prod­ucts and my ad­mi­ra­tion for their build quality doesn’t ex­tend to their ap­pear­ance, which I’d have to say is, at best, ‘util­i­tar­ian’. The com­pany has al­ways cared more about what’s go­ing on in­side its prod­ucts, rather than what’s hap­pen­ing out­side. You’d very prob­a­bly de­duce this your­self if you try to pick the DCD-2500NE up. You will dis­cover that it’s un­ex­pect­edly heavy, tip­ping the scales at a shade un­der 14 ki­los.

One rea­son for this weight is that rather than use one trans­former with two wind­ings to sep­a­rate the dig­i­tal and ana­logue sec­tions of the player, as most man­u­fac­tur­ers would do (though some would just use a sin­gle trans­former), Denon goes the whole hog and uses two completely sep­a­rate trans­form­ers to power two completely sep­a­rate power sup­ply sec­tions. No way is the dig­i­tal get­ting mixed up with the ana­logue in this player!

But I sup­pose you might not find the weight so un­ex­pected if you also fac­tor in the DCD-2500’s size: it mea­sures 434 by 138 by 335mm (HWD)… which makes it one of the largest CD play­ers I have ever re­viewed… though it’s re­ally an SACD player, not just a ‘CD’ player.

I am not cer­tain how many com­pa­nies are still man­u­fac­tur­ing SACD play­ers, but my guess is that Denon must be one of the very

last to be do­ing so. Whether this pol­icy will con­tinue un­der Sound United’s new own­er­ship re­mains to be seen.

In ad­di­tion to play­ing back SACDs and CDs, the DCD-2500 will also play back FLAC, WAV, AIFF, ALAC, AAC and MP3 files that have been recorded onto writable CDs. It will also play back DSD files (2.8 MHz or 5.6 MHz) that have been burned to DVD-R/RW. This last should re­ally come as no sur­prise: SACD was the first DSD for­mat to come to mar­ket.

What did sur­prise me was why, since the DCD-2500NE has all the in­ter­nal pro­cess­ing on-board re­quired to de­code these for­mats, Denon didn’t see fit to in­clude ei­ther an SPDIF or a USB in­put. Given that such in­puts have be­come al­most de rigueur on nearly all au­dio com­po­nents these days, it seems like a glar­ing over­sight. By while the de­sign­ers were be­ing blinded by that glare, it ob­vi­ously also blinded them to the fact that most play­ers of the DCD-2500’s cal­i­bre are fit­ted with bal­anced XLR out­puts as well as un­bal­anced out­puts. The lack of bal­anced out­puts ac­tu­ally doesn’t bother me that much, be­cause tech­ni­cally there’s no real ad­van­tage in a con­sumer prod­uct hav­ing a bal­anced out­put (though I’d ar­gue the ex­act op­po­site when it comes to pro­fes­sional au­dio com­po­nents), but many po­ten­tial buy­ers of the DCD-2500NE would ex­pect to see them—ir­re­spec­tive of their use­ful­ness—and there was cer­tainly plenty of room on the rear panel to in­clude a set.

Ap­pear­ances to the con­trary, the DCD2500NE is not a slot loader, it just has a very, very slim disc tray… so slim it seems al­most frag­ile when it’s in its open po­si­tion. It’s a lovely tray though, one that uses what Denon calls an SVH (Sup­press Vi­bra­tion Hy­brid) mech­a­nism, where the cen­tre of grav­ity of the drive mech­a­nism is much lower than in or­di­nary disc drives, which min­imises vi­bra­tion dur­ing disc ro­ta­tion. This means the laser pickup gets a much cleaner sig­nal, so the laser servo’s op­er­a­tion is min­imised.

I per­son­ally would never buy a player of any sort that I could not op­er­ate from the front panel, and could not there­fore rec­om­mend one that didn’t to read­ers, so I am happy to be able to re­port that you won’t need to find the re­mote be­fore you use the Denon DCD-2500NE: all the con­trols you need are right there on the front panel. How­ever I would keep the re­mote out on a cof­fee ta­ble or man­tle-piece to im­press your friends, be­cause it’s beauty, sim­ply reek­ing of quality. Even if you don’t want to im­press your friends with the re­mote, you’ll need to keep it handy to ac­cess the DCD-2500NE’s ad­vanced trans­port func­tions—pro­gram play, re­peat and ran­dom play.

AD­VANCED AL32 PRO­CESS­ING PLUS

Denon has been work­ing on what it now calls ‘Ad­vanced AL32 Pro­cess­ing Plus’ cir­cuitry since ‘way back in 1972 when it ran into quan­ti­za­tion noise is­sues when build­ing its first PCM recorder. To solve these, it de­vel­oped an al­go­rithm it called an adap­tive line pat­tern har­mo­nized al­go­rithm (AL­PHA) to re­duce it, which it claimed ‘ re­pro­duces 16-bit data with 24-bit quality’. In the in­ter­ven­ing years, Denon has taken ad­van­tage of tech­no­log­i­cal im­prove­ments to tweak this tech­nol­ogy mul­ti­ple times to be even more ef­fec­tive and now says it can ‘ re­pro­duce 16-bit data with 32-bit quality.’ But rather more im­por­tantly, it has op­ti­mised the fil­ter al­go­rithm so it can de­tect whether an in­com­ing mu­sic sig­nal is con­tigu­ous or tran­sient and dy­nam­i­cally adapt the de­cod­ing al­go­rithm as ap­pro­pri­ate. A part of the pro­cess­ing in­volves up-scal­ing the orig­i­nal 16-bit/44.1kHz sig­nals to 32-bit/705.6kHz data.

IN USE AND PERFORMANCE

The DCD-2500NE cer­tainly seems to have been op­ti­mised for use with SACDs, at least so far as the trans­port is con­cerned, be­cause I was able to go from load­ing to play­ing an SACD within fif­teen sec­onds, whereas go­ing from load to play on an or­di­nary CD took al­most thirty-three sec­onds. Eject times were fairly sim­i­lar: six sec­onds for a CD and five sec­onds for an SACD.

As I have said in many pre­vi­ous re­views of SACD play­ers, one of the rea­sons for buy­ing an SACD player is that they seem to be able to ex­tract higher lev­els of performance from or­di­nary CDs, and in the case of the DCD2500NE, thanks to its AL32 pro­cess­ing plus cir­cuitry, that was even more the case here. I was par­tic­u­larly pleased that I was able to ex­pe­ri­ence the Denon’s sound with a fab­u­lous al­bum that I only just dis­cov­ered, de­spite it hav­ing been out for more than two years. The al­bum is ‘Songs from the Arc of Life’, on which cel­list Yo-Yo Ma and pi­anist Kathryn Stott play pieces they had fre­quently per­formed to­gether but not recorded to­gether… pieces they say map out a mu­si­cal jour­ney through child­hood, ado­les­cence, young adult­hood, mid­dle age and old age… hence the al­bum’s ti­tle.

The al­bum starts with Ave Maria (Bach/ Gounod), prob­a­bly one of the first pieces any child learns on the pi­ano, and you can hear the su­pe­ri­or­ity of the sound im­me­di­ately, de­spite the lim­ited range of the mu­sic be­ing played. The lower string sound of the Stein­way pi­ano is so rich and sonorous there’s no way you could mis­take it for a Fazi­oli, and you can hear Yo Yo Ma’s fault­less tech­nique as he stops the strings, al­ways ad­ding ex­actly the right amount of vi­brato to match the note’s du­ra­tion. I was be­mused to find I still think of him as a ‘young’ mu­si­cian, when he’s now ac­tu­ally 61 years old. The sec­ond track is the fa­mous Brahms lul­laby ( Wiegen­lied, Op. 49, No. 4) here ar­ranged for cello and pi­ano (you know the one… ‘ my baby is sleep­ing’). Ob­vi­ously both mu­si­cians’ tal­ents are se­verely un­der-utilised when play­ing this work—to say the least!—but at least it’s kept short, and we get to ad­mire the sweet­ness of Ma’s cello’s up­per regis­ter.

The third track, Songs My Mother Taught Me, de­spite its brevity, af­fords am­ple op­por­tu­nity for Ma to demon­strate his sen­si­tive play­ing, with the cello just singing the melody as if it were a per­son, rather than an in­stru­ment. Sub­lime! My favourite on this disc was un­doubt­edly Delius’ Ro­mance for Cello and Pi­ano, a beau­ti­ful work and here beau­ti­fully played and beau­ti­fully recorded. The sus­tain of the lower strings on the cello is glo­ri­ous and the al­most-syn­co­pa­tion be­tween the pi­ano and the cello is heart-aching. The sus­pense the two bring to the mu­sic is ma­te­rial for a Mas­ter­class.

My sec­ond favourite on this disc is a work that I had never heard be­fore, Il Bell’An­to­nio,

Part of the AL32 pro­cess­ing in­volves up-scal­ing the orig­i­nal 16-bit 44.1kHz sig­nals up to 32-bit/705.6kHz data

Tema III, by Giovanni Sal­lima, which I loved not only for the mu­sic, which is ghostly and ethe­real, but for the sound, par­tic­u­larly that of the pi­ano, where Stott keeps her toe on the sus­tain pedal for ex­tended pe­ri­ods, al­low­ing all the notes to mix in the air to cre­ate a glo­ri­ous melange of sound. Also, lis­ten to where Ma plays in uni­son with him­self, start­ing at around 5.04: I could barely be­lieve it was one per­son play­ing a sin­gle cello. But when I say these were my favourites, it was hard to put these above Mes­si­aen’s Louange à L’eter­nité de Jé­sus (from Quar­tet for the End of Time), or Grieg’s The Wounded Heart, Op. 34, No. 1 (from Ele­gaic Melodies), and I laughed out loud when I heard the close-out track was Schu­bert’s Ave Maria, (D 839, Op 52, No 6)… very fit­ting and very funny!

If this al­bum in­spires you to pur­chase Mes­si­aen’s Quar­tet for the End of Time (or, more ac­cu­rately, Qu­atuor Pour La Fin Du Temps), most au­thor­i­ties rec­om­mend the Tashi quar­tet on RCA, and I’d agree, but if you can’t find it, try the Deutche Gram­mophon ver­sion with Gil Sha­ham, Jian Wang, Myung Whun Chung and Paul Meyer.

My next CD was a world away from Mes­si­aen, yet not. Spoon’s lat­est al­bum, ‘Hot Thoughts’, is the best they’ve ever done, which is what I think I’ve said of ev­ery sin­gle one of the eight al­bums that pre­ceded it. The band, led by Britt Daniel, is con­stantly in­vent­ing and re-in­vent­ing it­self and has a ta­lent for lay­er­ing sounds and melodies over each other whilst still re­tain­ing a for­ward-mov­ing co­he­sive mu­si­cal thought-bub­ble. This time around Spoon’s added an ex­tra layer of funk and paid homage to hip-hop and dance mu­sic styles, whilst also avoid­ing these styles forc­ing it into any strict tem­pos. Stand-outs for me were the ti­tle track, Do I Have To Talk You Into It, and Shot­gun, but they were hard to pick over Whis­per… and Can I Sit Next To You. The Denon DCD-2500NE de­liv­ered this al­bum with a clar­ity that made me feel I was sit­ting in the con­trol room at the stu­dio, and this is one hell-of-a-well recorded al­bum. Maybe it’s dy­nam­i­cally a lit­tle on the shy side, but the son­ics are fab­u­lous. If you’ve never heard Spoon, buy ‘Hot Thoughts’ right now to prove that I’m right, and you’ll love them, and then buy all their other al­bums in ‘da­teof-re­lease’ or­der. You can thank me later.

Switch­ing to SACD play­back, the light-bulb mo­ment for me was that I didn’t ex­pe­ri­ence the dra­matic im­prove­ment in sound quality that I usu­ally do when switch­ing to SACD. In this case, this was a good thing, be­cause it means that with the DCD-2500NE, Denon has fi­nally been able to el­e­vate CD sound to the same level as SACD. I was able to prove this with Michael Jack­son’s clas­sic ‘Thriller’, which I own on SACD and on CD. No mat­ter how many times I hear it, the in­tro of that creak­ing door, the foot­steps, the wind, the sud­den vi­o­lent crash of thun­der… I al­ways get a chill up my spine, plus a de­li­cious sense of ‘know­ing’ as I an­tic­i­pate what will come next… that great bass line with syn­co­pated per­cus­sion. Was there a difference? Yes, I think the sound from the SACD was still slightly bet­ter, with a bet­ter sense of mu­si­cal flow, a weight­ier feel to the deep­est bass and per­haps a bet­ter idea of tim­ing, but the CD was so close this time that it was a su­per-dif­fi­cult call… and cer­tainly close enough that I think I’ll keep my SACD ver­sion locked away to in­crease in value (the SACD is out of print and re­port­edly won’t be re-re­leased) and hap­pily lis­ten to the CD ver­sion on the DCD-2500NE.

CON­CLU­SION

Any­one with a col­lec­tion of CDs wants to be able to play them back with the high­est pos­si­ble fi­delity. If it seems strange that that is now best done us­ing an SACD player, rather than a ded­i­cated CD player, so be it. The Denon DCD-2500NE is a truly su­perb ma­chine. It con­tin­ues to be avail­able at an amaz­ingly low price and, al­though I don’t have a crys­tal ball, I chance that it may not con­tinue on in Denon’s line-up. So if you don’t be­lieve in tak­ing chances, buy one now… while you still can! Chris Croft

The Denon DCD2500NE is a truly su­perb ma­chine… buy one while you can!

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