This is the premiere review of this new top of the line model from the venerable Denon Limited Company. This is a new name for the oldest Japanese audio company. It was founded in 1910 as Columbia Grammaphone by three Americans living in Japan. Initial products were shellac records and players for them. In 1972 they were co-developers of the first PCM (pulse code modulation) machines for professional use. Perhaps it's more than coincidence that they've brought out DVD-Audio players before SACD players which seemingly all are using data streaming or single bit technology. Jeff Talmadge, their relatively new National Product Manager, taking over from the well-known David Birch-Jones, says that Denon likes to say, "we manufacture CD players that can play movies or video". I was very surprised to hear Jeff say that Denon is #1 in sales of 2-channel stereo equipment in Europe and Asia. I am going to take Jeff to task on the, CD player that can do movies statement, and will report on his reply. You see (you hear?) that Denon's new model DVD-9000 like other DVD-Audio players, including my recently reviewed Toshiba 9200, to obtain maximum audio performance or at least the theoretical maximum performance, requires hooking up to a television set or monitor. A glance at the DVD-9000's control knobs would lead a user to believe that to not be true and I certainly think it should not.
I had been anxiously awaiting this new model player from Denon for half a year. . So far it has played everything I've put into it including CDR, CDR-W, the fine DAD 24-bit/96kHz recordings by Classic and others, the CD layer of the fine new hybrid SACD discs by Telarc and others, properly decodes and plays the still relatively unappreciated HDCD recordings by Reference Recordings and of course DVD-A discs as well as DVD (movie discs). No, it will not play either two channel or surround sound (6 channel) SACD recordings. As far as I'm concerned, this new model DVD-9000 is the direct descendant of the discontinued model DVD-5000 which I had purchased about three years ago. It was a greatly under appreciated single box DVD/CD player. The only other person that I remember mentioning it in any audio magazine was Stereophile's John Atkinson, in reply to a reader's question regarding the best choices of DVD players for possible or potential audio use. Atkinson's response was to choose either the Denon #5000 or the CAL player, model number now forgotten by me. The new model, at about 41 pounds has added 4 pounds, the ability to play all the CD-R and CD-RW discs I have, MP-3, all DVD-Audio discs and an out of character rather gaudy sticker proclaiming "Pure Progressive Silicon Image".
The build quality is impressively solid and its weight really strains the usual type protective inner packaging when plopped down on its side. The remote control is nothing I'd brag about, but pressing a side button lights up about half the usual control buttons. The typically called "navigation system" consists of four widely spaced directional buttons and a centered enter button instead of the common single stubby joystick control. In addition to the expected front panel controls, all of which have a solid feel and a separate tiny light to indicate detection of any DVD-A signals, there is a three-position switch. It is labeled "Pure Direct" with "off" and two "on" modes. Oh boy, I thought to myself, just the way it should be. On the Toshiba I had to plug into a television set's video input, then use the remote to bring up the appropriate menu and select the settings, which are then held in memory. Then the remote had to be used every time it was turned on to choose the Toshiba's direct, "no-video circuitry activated", audio which had no memory when the power was turned off. It seemed obvious that the Denon with a mechanical switch could simply turn off unwanted video and digital signals bouncing around inside the unit. Ha! Instead of having one of the "on" positions set to a logical default position for audio only, the user must first hookup to a television or monitor initially with instructions for doing so on two nonconsecutive pages. Fortunately, once set, the DVD-9000's memory should retain the settings.
At this point I got to quiz Jeff Talmadge. Basically he agreed that Denon could have set one of the mode positions to a default position (or added a third mode position on the selector) that would set things properly for two-channel stereo audio analog output with no television in the equation, not even initially. Denon's decision was made to encourage independent choices for all users as most are expected to be interested in the video side of the balance sheet he explained.
All in all the initial setup was relatively simple and straightforward. Unfortunately the instructions for all the audio settings were not all together, not even close. Once set, the front panel rotary switch allows instantly switching between off and two pure audio on positions of personal choice, such as all video circuitry off or display off, etcetera. I had two other CD players, the well-reviewed tubed Heart brand player and Denon's model 1500, which includes a CD burner. I also had Toshiba's 9200, which is a DVD-Audio/Video player. Therefore instead of some arbitrary absolute basis, I had continuing comparison models available. With a great deal of confidence I can state that the Denon DVD-9000 DVD-Audio player is one of those pieces of equipment that needs time, plenty of time to sound its best. The differences are not of the night and day variety. They are a bit more than very subtle though. Figure on a minimum of two hundred hours to even get close to hearing it at it's very best! Late insertion: see note further on in article for update on this timing.
It seemed to be in excess of that for me even after using Purist Audio's "The System Enchancer - Rev B", four times to speed up the burn/break in process. Jim Aud developed its algorithmic program to condition and improve the sound of all components in a system in the shortest possible time. The time element was important when he was exhibiting at shows or for dealers using associated equipment right out of the box. Even early on it was very apparent that the D-9000 was mimicking its physical attributes. The impression of solid, richly solid right down to the bottom of the deep bass range was ever present. If you like the real thing, that feelable bass on those CDs, DADs and DVD-Audio discs that really have it, you are in luck. No sense of boom or bloated mid bass or artificial resonances faking it here. This is the real thing. The closest thing I can compare it to is to visualize (audiblize?) the recently reviewed Toshiba 9200; then add perhaps a half a decibel output evenly, tightly and with fine detail across the bottom three octaves of its response from 25 Hz to 200 Hz. Yes, by direct comparison the Toshiba sounds just a bit thin or light weight, the Denon more palpably solid and richer while at times, only at times though, relatively a touch sweeter. Which is the more accurate you might ask? I would answer, that is an excellent question.
The physical feeling of solidarity of actually feeling the pressure of the air against your body on well, or closely recorded, bass drum whacks is unsurpassed in my experience. I actually double-checked to see if I had connected Kimber's superb PK10 Palladian AC cord to the Denon. I had not done so. It was hooked up via one of the other merely excellent A.C. cords I use. This was surprising as the resulting sound had that unique and unsurpassed, actually so far unequaled, bass response that I associate with that new Kimber model. Changing to the PK10 Palladian noticeably further enhanced that outstanding bass range reproduction. Now at times, I wonder if it's possible to go too far with damping of bass fullness, resonances and so forth. Lets just say that with my speakers now coupled to the flooring, I at times preferred some of the other A.C. power cords but only true with the Denon 9000, not with any of the other players and then only sometimes. But who would run around swapping power cords depending on the disc being played - don't look at me.
On to the sound, DVD-Audio sound specifically. With the DVD-Audio recording of Tchaikovsky's well know 1812 Festival Overture [Telarc's DVDA-70541], finds a beautiful show piece Capriccio Italien plus four other selections by Tchaikovsky was done almost three years ago using the DSD (Direct Stream Digital) recording process, from which I believe the engineers can go almost anywhere. According to the back cover of this two-sided disc, they only went to 20-bit/88.2kHz surround and 24-bit/88.2kHz stereo. One side also gives an unchanging picture from the compatible DVD-Video program. Surely they could have changed from a "battle" picture while the 1812 (Battle of) Overture was playing to a "dance scene" while the Waltz from Eugene Onegin was playing and so on! The sound quality took awhile to get used to mainly because it had been recorded at an extremely low level, lower than any digital recording in my memory. When played with my preamp's gain control turned up much further than usual the overall sound quality was just fine with no hint of common CD digitis or harsh edgy treble response. With this Denon 9000 player, DVD-A was delivering the promise of DVD-Audio. Same was true and even more so from Telarc's Jazz DVD-Audio disc cut at a much higher level. It features the music of the famous band Weather Report [Telarc DVDA73473].
There were some DAD recordings released by Classic Records and others. These were remastered from some well-known recordings and offer 24-bit96kHz. Two of my favorites, "Weavers Reunion at Carnegie Hall", Classic #DAD 1041 and "Casino Royale", Classic #DAD 1033, sound as good as anything ever in my home when played back on the D-9000. Smooth, rich, natural, sweet, relaxing, beautiful are some of the words to describe the combination. I believe they are still available. Most HDCD recordings by Reference Recordings have been particularly outstanding lately. The number of their releases have slowed lately and there was even a rumor they were going to come out in DVDA. How nice that could be, but I doubt if they would be significantly better in two channel (stereo) sound than they are now with this Denon player properly decoding them. Try that combo soon if you get the opportunity. Remember DVD-Audio and SACD both start with 24-bit digital technology, so does HDCD! Those discs will play on regular CD players and usually give good results, but not as good as when the CD player has the proper HDCD decoding chip.
Everyone knows that the DVD-A players will not play either SACD stereo discs or the surround sound (six channel) SACD discs. The many fine new Hybrid SACD discs are a different situation. They will play on almost all CD players and sure do on this Denon DVD-Audio player and with outstandingly good sound. I'm becoming convinced that a large part of the truly excellent and sweetly extended sound quality is due to better recordings, starting with microphones/placement through better attention to quality control to even better disc pressing procedures. Whatever, the DVD-9000 with its superb bass range response in the bottom three octaves from 25 Hz to 200 Hz creates an excellent synergistic result with most of these new hybrid SACD recordings. Many of these can be found in the Enjoy the Music.com Music Review section.
That simply leaves us with plain old CDs, some good and quite a few not so good. Here the extended high-end response of this model may create some trouble at time compared to others and possibly including the older D-5000. How could that be? A distinct scenario could be that the DVD-9000's extended and relatively clean top end response could be revealing distortions and faults common to a large proportion of older CDs, while other player's are covering over or smearing that part of the audio range and hiding some distortions. Some expensive newer model players are claiming to overcome the limitations of standard CD reproduction using new circuitry, upsampling techniques enabling slower rolloff filters and perhaps uniquely designed filter characteristics. All this to compensate for that harsh or digital edge to the sound of too many of the musically important releases of the first ten or fifteen years of the CD age. At CES, at least one player was featuring a technique referred to as resampling to help accomplish the goal of improving, noticeably improving, the quality of sound in the top two to three octaves. For a variety of reasons, many of the newest recordings don't seem to need much audible assistance. Both some hardware and software companies (not all unfortunately) are attempting to provide a relatively natural, smooth and sweet quality to their products. The sound is getting more like, shall I say, really good analog.
Where is this train of thought heading you must be wondering by now? At this time I'm assuming that a few of the companies are vying with any of their DVD (video) playing products to be recognized as having the best or at least outstanding video reproduction. If they can earn that reputation it might pay off extremely well in the future with all that is being tantalizingly offered for home television or video "just around the corner". I had waited many months for the introduction of this new Denon flagship model. The date had been postponed at least once. I have heard rumors that Denon had found a way to improve on the DVD-9000's video reproduction at a cost in time (a few months) and money ($500 additional) and that sounds logical. Remember products such as Denon's DVD-9000 have somewhere between little and no market appeal in most of the rest of the world. In other places two channel stereo rules and people watch their television in the evening, not their home theater setup.
Any comments I would have about the video qualities of the D-9000 would meaningless even if I were to say it's the best ever seen in my home. My 35-inch Toshiba doesn't even have component video inputs. With all the newer discs that the Denon D-9000 can play, the sound is exemplary. It is definitely a bit superior overall to the Toshiba 9200 I reviewed recently and still viewable in the archives equipment section of Enjoy the Music.com™. I have noticed a number of reviews, in other publications, of SACD players giving excellent two and six channel sound, but decidedly mediocre playback results with average or typical CDs. A few hundred words ago I mentioned putting more than two hundred hours usage into the Denon, to that can now be added an additional hundred plus hours, many with Audio Purist's CD enhancer disc. The overall sound quality continues to improve. When will it end? There's a distinct possibility that I was expecting a bit too much in improvements over my personal previous model 5000 by Denon. Maybe my audio memory of it is not as accurate as I think it is.
If my memory is accurate, then my assumption would be that two items headed the list for what was demanded from Denon's design engineers for this new flagship model: #1 make the video better than anybody's all in one video/audio player of any type, #2 get that DVD-Audio sound right on the button so we'll not have any question about its superior quality and at the same time do justice to those hybrid SACD recordings. I'm guessing that little time was spent on improving regular CD sound, since it had been so good previously with the #5000 predecessor. In that respect it's good, really good but I was hoping for even more. If any of the commonly known Japanese brands can do it, it is Denon and don't forget that outstanding bass range. Music lives in the midrange, but there's a great deal of fun and satisfaction in the bass if you've got speakers to handle it.
Here's an excellently built top of the line product by the highly regarded Denon Limited company. For an "all in one box" product the results are almost uniformly excellent. Design and execution were obviously aimed at bringing out the best in the newest consumer technologies such as progressive scan video DVD and hopefully emerging DVD-Audio reproduction. As I finish this review, a spokesperson for Telarc recordings, informed me that the two DVD-Audio recordings I used to help evaluate the Denon DVD-9000 DVD-Audio/Video player, are the last two (as well as the first two) discs of that new genre. To change Telarc's decision would take their customers, our readers, calling, writing or e-mailing to let Telarc know that releasing current and future albums in the DVD-Audio format is wanted. Enough demand could change the situation; it is that simple. At the moment at least, Telarc is firmly committed to SACD. That narrows the choices for possible DVD-Audio discs, though Chesky is still in there the last I heard, as well as EMI, Warner Group, Teldec, Naxos and rumors had been buzzing that Reference Recordings might go DVD-Audio by this autumn. As mentioned previously the HDCD results are outstanding with the DVD-9000, so the gain will not be as great as with most other recording companies.
If you are after an exceptionally well-built machine that will play any DVD-Audio recordings you can find and as well as you can expect, this player should satisfy. Specifically, it sounds even better than the recently reviewed Toshiba 9200 as it well should at approximately double the price. It plays everything else except SACD recordings, and does superbly on the hybrid (dual layer) versions. Continuing burn in time, now adding another hundred plus hours since last mentioned and innumerable listening sessions, may have allowed me to pin down the top end response quality of the DVD-9000 - finally. Closely scrutinized listening sessions do indeed indicate extended high frequency response. Response definitely more extended and/or higher in output at the extreme top than at least one CD player I had on hand. I'm going to stick with the presumption that the very extended response is a plus with really good recordings, such as many of the latest ones of various types and some of the very best CDs. You know the other side of this coin; quite a few CDs have a slightly harsh edge to them, sometimes almost hidden but not when the player's response cleanly reveals it. There, in that well-known nutshell, you have it. It's good; it's really good.
Post summary comments bring up some quite interesting thoughts. At CES this year during my one day at the zoo (the main convention hall) I was not able to spend time at the Toshiba exhibit to get details about their model D-9200 DVD-A player but got the phone number for the product contact person. I needed some background information and eventually called. Actually I wound up making seven calls to various Toshiba departments in three states. No one knew the listed product contract person and told me to call someone in another department in another state. I never received any of the information I wanted even after an e-mail request. To this day, I have no idea how to contact Toshiba's audio or DVD department. By way of a bit of contrast, Denon Limited with about thirteen hundred employees world wide, seems to have little trouble finding someone to answer my questions. That person was either Jeff Talmadge their National Product Manager or Tony Hartin.
Tony's official title is Customer Service Product Specialist and Sales Coordinator, but co workers (and many customers) refer to him with such respect and added compliments that he would blush if he heard them. The last time I talked to him, two days ago, in response to my question about another product, the Denon model CDR W1500 CD recorder, Tony answered "I'm not positive about my answer, and I'm looking it up on some information sheets that I enlarged the other day so that I wouldn't overlook that sort of small detail". So, double-checked, I had my answer from and my thanks to Tony. Perhaps you now know why my personal biases are toward companies such as Denon, smaller than the international giants such as Toshiba and others. Then if you need info, problem solving or possible repair you can actually find a person that can help; I like that, really like that. At the other end of the spectrum, I will finish this with a food for thought question; is it possible for an audio company to be too small to effectively support their customers in many situations? Feel free to e-mail me your responses!
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