The turntable market has been on absolute fire lately, and no segment within that market has been hotter than offerings at the roughly $500 price point. The Denon DP-450USB reviewed here is one such turntable, and on the surface, it has a lot to offer in the crowded waters of all-inclusive turntable options.
The DP-450USB is a moderately upgraded DP-400, so you'd be forgiven for thinking they were one in the same at first glance. The DP-450USB costs $100 more than the 400, $599 versus $499, and this is due to the DP-450USB's inclusion of a USB port that is capable of ripping your vinyl records to WAV or MP3. Otherwise, the DP-450USB is the same turntable as the 400 in every other conceivable way.
The DP-450USB is a design-forward turntable, in that it looks rather modern and sleek, especially in its gloss white finish. It is a belt-driven design with an electronic speed control for 33-1/3, 45, and 78 rpm, which is nice. It features an S-shaped tonearm with a DJ-style removable headshell that comes with a pre-installed MM cartridge, likely one built by Audio Technica. While the DP-450USB is largely assembled out of the box, you will be required to set the counterweight and anti-skate upon initial setup, making installation of the DP-450USB easy enough for a first timer, but not automatic by any means. The DP-450USB does have a built-in phono preamp, which Denon calls an "equalizer. This is nice for those with simple tastes or systems, though you can defeat it if you prefer to use a dedicated phono preamp.
There are two things that set the DP-450USB apart from other turntables in its price class: first is the aforementioned USB connectivity and MP3 or WAV recording capabilities; second is the turntable's dust cover. Most dust covers are but hinged plastic lids meant to keep dust and debris from the stylus and whatnot when the turntable is not in use. The DP-450USB's dust cover is not hinged, nor is it even sealed.
Instead, it's a molded piece of plastic that sits atop the platter and bends over the tone arm in a hump-like fashion, only it's completely open on all sides, making it a cover of sorts, but not one that will keep any semblance of dust, hair, or debris from collecting on the very exposed stylus or platter. Sure, it looks cool, but functional as a dust cover it is not. Moreover, you must fully remove it before playing any record, but there is an included holder that puts the dust cover on vertical display beside your turntable.
As for the USB port and recording feature, I could detect little if any difference in recording quality between MP3 or WAV encoded files. The recordings were, of course, only as good as the playback of the record itself. So, if you have an older record, one with scratches, pops, and clicks baked in, that's all going to be in the recording. I'm honestly not sure what the purpose of this feature is, apart from perhaps archiving really old or rare records that may have since gone out of print, or are on their last legs due to age.
Aside from those strange quirks, the Denon DP-450USB is a capable turntable indeed, one with a warm-ish signature that is very much on the polite or smooth side of the spectrum. Upgrading the cartridge to either an Ortofon 2M Red or better yet 2M Blue yields noticeable and impressive results straight away, and makes the DP-450USB virtually indistinguishable from, say, a Fluance RT85 at the same price ($599). But out of the box, with the factory installed cartridge from Denon, the DP-450USB is average to maybe a tick or two above average sound-wise in this class.
Competition and Comparisons
At $599, the DP-450USB has a lot of competition both at and even a little below its asking price. Three turntables that come to mind as comparable, in more ways than one, include Music Hall's Classic, U-Turn Audio's Orbit Special, and Fluance's RT85.
The Music Hall Classic retails for $599 and features an internal phono preamp, speed controls, and a DJ-style removable headshell just like the DP-450USB. The Orbit Special ($459) lacks the removable headshell, but packs all the rest of the features and comes standard with an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge, which is superior to the cartridge packaged with the DP-450USB. The Fluance RT85 has them all beat at this price point, what with its similar functionality but Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge pre-installed as standard. While I know Fluance isn't paying street prices for the Blue, if you wanted to upgrade the Denon to the Blue down the road, the cartridge upgrade alone would set you back $200. Did I fail to mention the RT85 retails for $499--a full $100 less than the DP-450USB?
The Denon DP-450USB is a curious turntable, all things considered. It's gorgeous to look at, easy to use, and has enough of the right features, making it a legit contender at its price point. But, the DP-400 at $499 is likely the better value among the two, since the DP-450USB's distinguishing feature--USB audio recording--is a non-starter for me due in large part to its poor quality and limited utility.
Moreover, the dust cover is more of a nuisance than an asset, making an otherwise well-thought-out design suddenly clunky The DP-450USB is still worthy of consideration, though, but it's not without a great deal of competition, which is why I would urge anyone reading this to listen to one for themselves if possible before making any final purchasing decisions.