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

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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:

Qual­iFi’s Phil Hawkins col­lects the Award.

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