DENON DCD-2500NE SUPER AUDIO CD PLAYER
SUPER AUDIO CD PLAYER
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.
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.
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!