Audio Style System of the Year
JUDGES’ COMMENT “If you want neatness and style in a unit that has streaming and networking along with external inputs and your amplification, Denon’s DRA-100 is a must-audition.” Audio Style System of the Year
First question here is how to describe this unit which includes so many functions? Is it a stereo amplifier (the group into which we’ve lumped it) or is it a system? Denon, of course, has a long and illustrious history in producing very conveniently-sized micro systems, though this is something rather larger, between those offerings and full-sized component hi-fi. And in many regards it is the quintessential modern amplifier — handling conventional analogue inputs, plus digital inputs handled by an internal DAC, and then transformed by Wi-Fi and Ethernet, Bluetooth and Spotify into a streaming networking music player as well as amplifier. And as its ‘receiver’ tag implies, it also has radio on board, though this is internet radio rather than ye olde FM and AM. So perhaps we might call it a stereo receiver with benefits, or, given its above average looks, an audio style system.
It’s a solid and impeccably neat unit 280mm wide and about 100mm high, and you’ll need another half dozen centimetres to let its rear Wi-Fi/Bluetooth antenna stand upright. It has a luxurious metal casing that forms the top plate then wraps around to meet the base.
Round the back are two pairs of analogue RCA inputs (no phono option for a turntable here), and four digital inputs — two optical and one coaxial, plus a USB slot on the front panel which can play back from a smart device (no USB-B for playing a computer straight in). Then there’s the network connection to be made — either by Ethernet or by Wi-Fi.
The binding posts for the speakers are full-sized and good for bananas, bare wire or small spades, and there’s also a subwoofer output and a pair of RCA line-level outputs which can be made variable if using the Denon as a preamp directly to separate power amps.
The DRA-100 sound was impressively clear and clear from digital sources, whether a USB stick of content plugged into the USB socket (powered USB drives can also be used), or files sent over the network using DLNA, or our iPhone plugged into the front USB slot. Denon covers the mains targets of low-res WMA, MP3 and AAC files, plus FLAC, WAV and AIFF up to 24-bit/192kHz, Apple Lossless to 24-bit/96kHz, and dsf/ dff DSD files at 2.8 or 5.6MHz.
The power is quoted at 2 × 35W into 8 ohms, and using average sensitivity speakers we never wanted for level in a medium-to-large sized room. This is Class-D amplification, but a specific variant of it, since Denon is using Qualcomm’s Direct Digital Feedback Amplifier (DDFA) technology, which uses pulse width modulation in a closed-loop architecture with a discrete output circuit, all aiming to correct for nonlinearities of power supplies and output stages, so it doesn’t sound like ‘Class D’. And it was certainly only at full pelt that you could pick it as having less musical magic than a big Class-AB amp of higher pricing levels — you can, of course (as ever!) spend more to get more.
But for its price of $1799, and considering the DRA-100’s wide abilities, the Denon provides excellent value.
More info: www.denon.com.au
QualiFi’s Phil Hawkins collects the Award.