Net­work mu­sic play­ers

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In this cat­e­gory we were look­ing specif­i­cally for net­work mu­sic play­ers that will fit into a con­ven­tional hi-fi sys­tem — so hi-fi com­po­nent width, ef­fec­tively re­plac­ing or aug­ment­ing a CD player with this new type of source, one that can stream from mu­sic shares on your net­work at hi-fi qual­ity.

Many such units also pro­vide dig­i­tal in­puts so that the streamer can dou­ble as a DAC — but our win­ning Denon specif­i­cally does not do this, other than hav­ing a USB slot into which sticks or drives of mu­sic can be plugged, and per­haps most use­ful for the con­nec­tion of iPods, iPhones and iPads.

By omit­ting the DAC func­tion­al­ity, Denon has man­aged to hit a price-point of $849, sig­nif­i­cantly lower than ri­vals offering sim­i­lar lev­els of sound qual­ity. We reckon that’s a smart choice, since you might have a stand­alone DAC any­way, or a mod­ern am­pli­fier with dig­i­tal in­puts. Why pay to dou­ble up on th­ese?

What you do get is four main types of stream­ing — DLNA au­dio, Air­Play au­dio, Spo­tify Con­nect and in­ter­net ra­dio. So the first cov­ers Win­dows and An­droid-style house­holds. The sec­ond cov­ers Macs and iOS de­vices. The third, Spo­tify Con­nect, will re­quire that ser­vice’s ‘Pre­mium’ sub­scrip­tion (about $12 a month) and pro­vides your choice of just about any mu­sic at fairly good qual­ity. The fourth al­lows ac­cess to just about any ra­dio sta­tion through­out the world that streams its ser­vices over the in­ter­net (that’s 36,358 of them at the time we had the Denon in for re­view).

The unit packs a Burr Brown/Texas In­stru­ments PCM1795 32-bit 192kHz DAC, and sup­ports sam­pling rates up to 192kHz and 24 bits, where avail­able. The lossy for­mats it will han­dle are WMA, MP3 and AAC (in­clud­ing the iTunes version). For loss­less it han­dles WAV, FLAC, ALAC (up to 96kHz only) and AIFF. It also han­dles DSD with both 2.8 and 5.6MHz sam­pling (aka DSD64 and DSD128). A close look at the PCM1975 datasheet sug­gests that the DAC chip switches to a proper DSD mode when han­dling such sig­nals, so DSD purists can be happy that the sig­nal isn’t be­ing con­verted to PCM along the way.

The only is­sue we really had was with the app you can use for con­trol (Denon Hi-Fi Re­mote app), which was glitchy in both its iOS and An­droid ver­sions. But you get a con­ven­tional re­mote con­trol, all Air­Play stream­ing worked fine, and An­droid users have a wealth of other UPnP/DLNA apps they can use. For iOS users, we used the Sony Re­mote App to serve DLNA shares to the Denon. Ob­vi­ously we hope Denon will release a bet­ter set of apps.

That aside, the Denon DNP-730AE per­formed won­der­fully. The hard­ware and in­ter­nal soft­ware worked swiftly and ef­fec­tively with ev­ery­thing. It popped up as an Air­Play de­vice on iTunes and iPad, and when mu­sic was sent to it via Air­Play it typ­i­cally took three or four sec­onds to switch over. Like­wise with Spo­tify.

It net­works via ei­ther wired Eth­er­net or Wi-Fi (2.4GHz band), and the unit fully sup­ports gap­less play­back. Cru­cially, the sound qual­ity from its ana­logue out­puts was won­der­ful, its sonic per­for­mance up there with ri­val units at $1500. (There are dig­i­tal out­puts, but we can’t see why you’d need them, un­less you have a spec­tac­u­lar DAC else­where, in which case a dif­fer­ent so­lu­tion might be pos­si­ble any­way.)

What this Denon DNP-730AE net­work au­dio player pro­vides is a straight­for­ward way to bring all the won­ders of new on­line and net­worked me­dia sources into your ex­ist­ing stereo hi-fi sys­tem, in a suit­able phys­i­cal form fac­tor, and with in­tu­itive con­trols, app notwith­stand­ing. More info:

www.qual­ifi.com.au

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