For a while, the market for stereo high fidelity equipment seemed to have become subsumed in the broader market for compact systems, with MP3 players as substitutes for traditional components, and even low-cost all purpose systems typically capable of working with (or even including) a DVD player, and playing out through five small speakers and a subwoofer.
But for a variety of reasons, some connected with the current recession, and also by a broader dissatisfaction with the audio quality of such systems, there has been an increased level of interest in what might be called traditional (aka component) high fidelity.
Denon is one of the key players in the market for stereo separates, driven in part by the Japanese home market. Denon is based in Japan of course, which has long been more focussed on simplicity and in some respects purist sound than the UK. The two components featured here, the DCD-510AE CD player and PMA-510AE amplifier, replace the 500 series which has been available for some time, and are available in 'premium' silver or black. Although the prices have increased, this is in line with the market as a whole, and the new models remain among the most affordable on the market. The basic formula remains the same in each case too, but with improvements in key areas. Be assured, Denon's designers have not rested on their laurels.
Overview: Denon DCD-510AE
Price: £230 More info: Denon Size: 434(w) x 107(h) x 279(d) mm Weight: 4.0kg Formats: CD-R/CD-RW, MP3-CD, WMA-CD DAC: 24-bit 192kHz D/A converter Features: 6.3mm headphone socket & volume control, display dim switch, European sound tuned, remote control Verdict: 8/10
The PMA-510AE amplifier is rated at an apparently generous 70 watts per channel, but this is based on a 4 Ohm load, at 1kHz and for 0.9% THD, which, using the usual rules of thumb, should translate to around 45 watts per channel based on the more usual stipulations, namely 8 Ohms, RMS 20 - 20kHz, and <0.1% THD, which indeed is what the detailed specifications state when you read the small print.
Nevertheless, considerable effort has gone into the design of the all-important power supply with claims for improved current output. It derives power from a number of independent supplies, and the amplifier has a wide frequency response to suit SACD, though the matching CD player limits itself to standard iterations of the CD Red Book standard with no SACD capability.
The control microprocessor is switched off when not on active duty, reducing internal noise. Better components have also been specified in critical areas, including, but not limited to Schottky and custom Denon-branded diodes instead of the conventional parts used previously. Gas-filled relays deliver a smooth transition between inputs.
The DCD-510AE CD player also shows significant enhancements, with a new master clock and converter, and the player supports MP3/WMA playback and has a more informative two-line display, both a step up from its predecessor. Both units were specifically tuned for the UK and European markets, with particular attention to signal routing, and better separation of functional circuit blocks to reduce interference from internal noise sources. In the now discontinued PMA500AE, the audio and servo blocks are integrated, but in the new model they are independent.
Both units come with colour keyed remote controls, the amplifier remote capable of controlling a complete system. The remote controls have also benefitted from the root and branch upgrade programme applied to the main units, with improved ergonomics, and clearer control arrangements and labelling.
Overview: Denon PMA-510AE
Price: £250 More info: Denon Size: 434(w) x 121(h) x 307(d) mm Weight: 6.5kg Power output: 45 watts/channel, 8 Ohms, 20Hz - 20kHz, 0.07% THD Connections: 3 line inputs, 2 tape circuits, phono (MM) input, two sets 4mm binding posts for loudspeakers, 6.3mm headphone socket Features: Source direct switching, European sound tuned, remote control Verdict: 7/10
Given the modest asking price, the DCD-510 CD player is nothing less than first rate. It's a fast, detailed and together - coherent if you prefer - sounding player, and it never really failed to deliver. It would be unreasonable to expect any more, or even as much from any other comparably priced CD player. OK, so the bass didn't seem particularly weighty or pungent, but what there was integrated well with the rest of the audio frequency band. The treble was clear of the 'grain' that sometimes afflicts CD players, and there was no loss of tunefulness.
The player gave excellent results irrespective of the type of music. As usual, I gave it a thorough workout with acoustic material (classical in the main), but it delivered the goods with rock-based material too, ranging from Steve Ray Vaughan at one extreme to Mary Coughlan at the other. It just sounded crisp, detailed and in charge, with good stereo in the lateral and depth planes, but just a hint of tightness, or loss of scale.
The amplifier is also an excellent proposition, but there are things no budget amplifier can achieve, and predictably it was somewhat harder to sum up. Compared to some high-end (or at least more expensive) amplifiers - I used a Belles amplifier as a comparison point, which is both expensive and high end - the Denon sounded clear and smooth but a little polite. There was little of the scale or sense of air that a more ambitious amplifier would provide, but it still sounded detailed and in command, even when driving quite ambitious speakers (in one case a £27k model, which was briefly pressed into service just for fun).
Used at high volume levels, the sound became a little messy and out of control, but with compact two-way compact speakers or even entry-level floorstanders, especially when installed in smaller listening rooms, the Denon delivers the goods at low and moderate volume levels alike.
The amplifier will drive headphones, and there is a source direct switch which delivers noticeably better sound quality at the cost of bypassing the tone, loudness and balance circuits.
It's all common sense really. Don't expect a quart from a pint pot, and certainly don't use an amplifier like the PMA-510AE with a speaker with an extended low frequency bandwidth or if you have a large room to fill with music at high volume levels.
In other circumstances though, you'll find this a really easy on the ear, attractive sounding model. It will also work creditably with a moving magnet cartridge equipped record player, though it is not of course compatible with low output moving coils, and you can switch between two pairs of speakers. The CD player is unreservedly excellent, and usefully you can plug in headphones which can be controlled from a front panel volume control. As a sensibly-priced way to get the most from your CDs, it's a serious upgrade from an iPod.
honest opinion. i, to have had a listen. its a competitive market in this section. i feel that it is ok. i think that the cambridge and the marantz are slightly better. its a matter of choice. well worth a listen if you are in the market for a budget system.