Denon 3910 All-Format Digital Player
Can One Player Truly
Do It All?
Review By Wayne Donnelly
here to e-mail reviewer.
Longtime readers may remember
that this writer has previously expressed admiration for the modifications
and original designs by Dan Wright, proprietor of ModWright Instruments
LLC. Last year I raved about his first wholly original product, the
excellent SWL 9.0SE line stage, and I am pleased to report that he has
another winner with this fine-sounding digital player.
Mod Or OEM?
The Denon 3910 is a true 'Universal' player, that provides
playback of DVD, DVD-Audio, SACD, and all variants of the "Red Book"
format: CD, CD-R and CD-RW, even including decoding of the now nearly
forgotten HDCD format pioneered by Dr. Keith Johnson and the Reference
Recordings label. The stock unit is quite decent-sounding (and looking, on
DVD), and would probably satisfy most listeners, even those with better
than average audio and home theater systems. But there is no doubt that
the ModWright "Universal Truth" upgrades take this fine player to a far
more impressive level of performance, rivaling the most ambitious — and
costliest — digital sources available.
The ModWright "Universal Truth" upgrade for the Denon 3910
comprises numerous substantive changes:
Upgrade stock digital and
analog power supplies
Improve digital voltage
Replace stock clock
oscillator with LC Audio XO3 master clock module
Completely replace Denon's
two-channel analog output stage with ModWright 'Truth' tube-based analog
stage, including external PS 9.0 power supply
Provide umbilical (connects
PS 9.0 to player), custom made for ModWright by Acoustic Zen
Provide New Old Stock
Raytheon/Tung-Sol tubes (2)
OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) arrangements are
commonplace among consumer electronics companies. It works like this:
Company A builds a complete product or a significant product element —
e.g., a power module — and sells it to Company B, which markets the item
under its own brand name. Sometimes the purchasing company adds more value
to the acquired product or technology; sometimes not... or the buying
party may make only cosmetic changes.
It strikes me that the upgrades Dan Wright makes to the stock 3910
amount to a substantial re-engineering of the basic Denon version. He
wisely keeps the original's transport and control functionality, but
augments or replaces virtually everything else. Dan has chosen to market
the resulting product as a modification, perhaps because he believes the
high recognition factor of the Denon brand name has more "pull" at this
time than his own brand name. But I think he would be fully justified if
he decided to re-badge this unit as a ModWright product.
Appearance and Ergonomics
Under whatever name, the 3910 is a handsome piece. It is available in
either black or silver (the review unit). Front panel controls, back panel
jacks and the large, many-buttoned remote wand seem to me easy to
understand and get used to, even with my poor vision. The transport drawer
operates smoothly and quietly. I quickly learned to appreciate the 3910's
ability to detect and select unerringly the correct playback mode. CD,
SACD, DVD-Audio — whatever the type of disc I chose, the player handled
it with aplomb. Bravo!
The modified 3910 looks almost identical to the stock unit. The
presence of the two output tubes is betrayed only by two small circular
mesh screens on the cover of the player's chassis, and the umbilical from
the outboard PS 9.0 analog power supply connects to a clearly labeled XLR
jack on the rear panel. The PS 9.0 itself is housed in a neatly finished
black box with a toggle off/on switch and a blue LED on its front panel.
The modified 3910 requires two power cables, one for the player and one
for the outboard PS 9.0 power supply. Both should be of the highest
quality the owner can afford. I heard very distinct changes while going
through a range of power cables, getting especially stunning spatiality,
dynamics and tonal beauty from Jack Bybee's latest Golden Goddess SE Power
I'm not a home theater guy. Yes, I have a 61-inch DLP flat screen TV,
but it's in my bedroom, at the other end of my flat from the audio system
in the living room. The 3910 spent a couple of days in the bedroom, and I
thought the DVD picture quality was as good as I could ask for. The rest
of the time it stayed in my audio system, where it proved a pleasure to
use and a thrilling music maker.
I managed to turn up recordings made on every one of the 3910's
supported formats, and every disc played with no problems. Sonically, my
personal jury is still out on DVD-Audio; I had only a couple of German
releases and they both sounded shrill and "hot" for my taste. Since I had
no other player that would handle those discs, I can't be sure if the poor
sound was due to the software or the 3910. I'm guessing the former, since
all other formats sounded superb. Anyway, how many DVD-A's do you
Of the many SACDs heard through this player, I'll single out the
Michael Tilson Thomas/San Francisco Symphony recording of Mahler's Resurrection
Symphony (No. 2). The 3910 sailed through this sonic minefield, handling
with equal ease the awesome explosiveness and hushed intimacy of this epic
score. I rate the 3910 slightly higher than my previous best SACD player,
the ModWright/Sony SCD-777 — although I am relying on memory in the case
of the Sony which a few months ago went belly-up yet again — for the
last time, at least on my dime. (The endless problems with that
great–sounding but frustratingly unreliable machine were all
Sony–related mechanical ones; nothing to do with ModWright's excellent
I hear more and more rumors these days that vendor support for
high–bit-rate audio playback formats (SACD, DVD-A) is withering in the
face of overwhelming consumer indifference. Younger buyers especially seem
to be voting with their wallets for convenience (and cheapness).
Increasingly, it seems to be an iPod world.
I bring up this point partially to explain why I feel the need to pay
particular attention to standard CD playback quality. Down the road that
old Red Book standard may well wind up being our highest-resolution
digital format! In any case, it's not going away, and virtually everyone
reading this magazine has lots o' CDs. I recall hearing some early
multi-format players that were pretty good on the newer formats, but
mediocre on regular CDs. (I won't name them, as I never reviewed one and
mostly heard them in casual circumstances.)
My own standard for judging Red Book CD playback has been the excellent
— and expensive $8,800 — Dodson DA-218 DAC, which was conceived
specifically to challenge claims that SACD was inherently superior to the
best CD sound. My review of the 218 suggested that it made a good case for
its premise, and the 218 has remained the best CD playback source I know.
I spent a great deal of time, with a broad variety of classical, jazz,
blues, folk and rock CDs, pitting the 3910 against the 218. While one
source might surpass the other on certain discs, the nod would go in the
other direction on another. The verdict? Pretty much a wash... an
impressive showing for the 3910.
Then, toward the end of the review period, my friend Jeff Wells, owner
of Audible Arts in San Jose, California, came for a visit and brought me
two rare NOS Bendix 6900 tubes to replace the very good Tung-Sols that Dan
Wright had supplied with the player. Once burned in, those amazing bits of
glowing glass turned the 3910 into the finest digital player ever to
reside in my system. Now the 3910 outpoints even the superb Dodson DA-218
DAC on Red Book CD. And, more importantly, the gap in musical involvement
between my digital and analog (Basis 2800 TT, Graham 2.2 arm,
Transfiguration Temper MC, Thor TA-3000 phono stage) playback has narrowed
to a degree that I would not have thought possible!
a $4,000 CD player is not a casual expenditure for most of us. But if you
want the best available digital playback, I think you'll have to spend a
lot more than that to get anything comparable or better than the ModWright/Denon 3910. Sounds great, looks great, and a dream to use —
this baby isn't going back! My congratulations to Dan Wright; this
fabulous player it is a triumph!
Type: Universal digital disc player
Warranty: 5 years parts and labor; 6 months on tubes.
Price: New Denon 3910 w/Universal Truth Mods: $4,000
21919 NE 399th St.
Amboy, WA 98601