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July 2006
Superior Audio Equipment Review

ModWright Instruments
Denon 3910 All-Format Digital Player

Can One Player Truly Do It All?
Review By Wayne Donnelly
Click here to e-mail reviewer.


ModWright Instruments Denon 3910 Universal Digital Player  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 regulation

Upgrade laser tracking/focus circuitry

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 "Corditioners."


Performance Evaluation
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 have?

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 mod work.)

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!


Bottom Line
Obviously, 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
           Modification Only: $2500


Company Information
ModWright Instruments
21919 NE 399th St.
Amboy, WA 98601

E-mail: modwright@yahoo.com
Website: www.modwright.com













































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