The universal player market is truly starting to heat up, with several new models hitting stores, and a number of other models in the works.
Denon has entered the fray with their new $999 DVD 2900, which is very unique as it is an in-house effort, and is not based on the Pioneer OEM Kit as many of the universal players thus far have been. It is, instead, based on the video section and chassis of the well-received 3800 DVD player, which uses the excellent Silicon Image de-interlacing system, and adds SACD to the DVD-Audio already present. Further, Denon has included digital bass management and time alignment for both DVD-Audio and SACD, rather than just analog filters for bass management. The time alignment feature is even more unique, as few players today include it (and no other universal player that I know of). The hoopla around this player has been significant, but we now need to see if it delivers on its promise.
Unique Features - The Denon is a large solid piece, weighing in at a nice hefty 17.6 pounds. The look is classic Denon, and a dead ringer for the 3800 except for a few changes. It has a nice clear front display, a solid, smooth loading tray, DVD-Audio and SACD lights to the left of the display (that they are different colors is a nice touch, making it easy to see what format the player is decoding), and transport controls to the right. There is a button named Super Audio CD Set Up, which is used to cycle between the different SACD layers--multi-channel, two-channel, or CD. To the right of this is the Pure Direct knob, which lets you select from two memory modes that allow you to turn off any combination of digital audio output, video output, and the display.
The back of the player has multi-channel outputs (two pairs for the front channel--great for comparing cables), S-Video, composite, and component outputs, and both coaxial and TosLink digital outputs. There is also a RS-232 port, 12V trigger, and a standard power cord connector.
The remote control is very standard, non-back lit, black, but clearly labeled with discrete controls for on/off. I like the fact that Denon avoided the goofy yellow-brown-white color scheme on this remote.
Installation/Setup/Ease of Use - Setup is fairly easy with a few quirks including the Audio/Video mode in the etc. submenu that will not allow you to play the DVD-Audio layer until it is set to the Audio setting. In the multichannel section you can set levels with a test tone (the sub level is actually quite low in comparison to my processor setup--I had to decrease the main channel levels while leaving the sub level high to achieve a proper balance), set speaker size (small activates a 80 Hz crossover), and set time delays. There is also a "filter" function that, when turned off, will increase subwoofer response 5dB for DVDs and 15dB for SACD. This is used to adjust for certain discs recorded in 6.0 instead of 5.1. There is also a bass enhancer which provides subwoofer output when listening to two-channel CDs. Personally, I think that these functions could be a little better labeled and easier to understand.
The 2900 was hooked up to a Fujitsu plasma using BetterCables Silver Serpent component cables, to McIntosh MX134 and Krell Showcase processors using AudioQuest Python interconnects, plugged into a Monster HTSP7000 power conditioner, and used with a Parasound A51 amp, KEF Reference 207/204c/201 speakers, and REL Strata III subwoofer.
Click to Page 2 for the Final Take.
Final Take - After breaking in the 2900, I started by watching a few DVDs. The picture quality of the 2900 is absolutely excellent. Colors are lush, there is no chroma bug, there is little video noise thanks to the 12 bit/108 MHz video DAC, and the de-interlacing from the SiL504 chipset is excellent. In fact, picture quality is very close to the flagship 9000 that I had in my system a few months ago, which is not surprising as it uses a similar, but less complex, video stage. Transport controls are lightning-quick, the quickest of any player that I have used, and there is no perceptible layer change. This is class-leading DVD picture quality, not only for universal players, but DVD players in general.
I moved on to DVD-Audio. The soundstage was fairly good, the bass very deep and solid, the midrange slightly laid back and fairly detailed, but the top end was lacking in resolution and somewhat reserved. The soundstage was fairly cohesive, but the overall sound lacked a certain openness I find in my more expensive Marantz 8300 universal player. Overall, a fairly respectable, solid DVD-Audio performance without any grain or ragged edges to the sound.
CD playback was sonically fairly similar, with a strong bass response, and somewhat reserved top end. The soundstage thrown was very good for this price range, and imaging was also quite good.
Moving on to SACDs, I found that the top end became a bit more reserved, and definitely not as open as the Marantz. The midrange and bottom end were still smooth and solid, the sound was just not as resolved or transparent in the upper midrange to treble section. It presented a smooth sonic character, and overall sounded fairly good, once again without sounding ragged in any way.
I did have a rather interesting experience with SACD, though. I had left the Frankie Goes to Hollywood multi-channel SACD in the player for break-in purposes, and happened to flip the system on one weekend morning. The Frankie SACD mix had never seemed quite right to me, and always felt lacking in a certain something. This time, though, it sounded very different, with a very cohesive sonic bubble, and Holly Johnson's voice had moved from the center speaker right into my head. This was obviously due to the time alignment, as I have not had a SACD player with time alignment in my system, and it displays how important this feature is to really bring out the best in certain recordings.
If I could get on my soapbox here, it has been said in the past that a digital connection is necessary for SACD/DVD-A players to provide proper time alignment and bass management. It did occur to me during this review that high end CD players are almost always hooked with the analog connections. Even when digital connections exist, analog connections will be around for the better players. If we follow that train of thought, then it is inexcusable for DVD-A and SACD players to not already have time alignment, as it really does make a significant difference. Kudos to Denon for offering this in a middle-of-the-pack offering.
All in all, the Denon turned in a respectable sonic performance, although I would like to have seen a bit more top end resolution, especially with SACD playback. I have not heard a $1K universal player that sounded as good as this, nor have I had one that does the proper processing as the 2900 does.
In a system not quite as ambitious as mine, this player would sound excellent, and I look forward to the sonic gains that will be achieved in the more up-market universal offerings that Denon will inevitably have.
The DVD quality is flat out fantastic, with no chroma bug and rock-solid de-interlacing, making this player not only an overall bargain, but in some ways a real breakthrough.
Denon is taking the universal player very seriously, and this first offering is class-leading in the thousand dollar range. I have long held the belief that universal players are the future, and I am glad to see Denon agrees.
Denon DVD2900 Universal Player
Dimensions:17.1W x 5.2"H x 13.0"D
Chroma Bug Free Mitsubishi MPEG/DVD-
Sony CXD-2753 Second Generation
Analog Devices ADV-7300, 12 bit/108 MHz
Built-in Dolby Digital, DTS, DVD-Audio and
discrete SACD decoders
(no down-conversion of DSD)
Full Digital Bass Management for
DVD-Audio and SACD
Plays Audio/Video CDs; DVD-Audio/Video;
Super Audio CD;DVD-R/RW(conditional);
Audio CD-R; Audio CD-RW; MP3 CD-R; MP3
CD-RW • JPEG photo file viewer,
Kodak Picture CD and Fujicolor CD
4:3 Shrink and Zoom Controls
Composite, S-Video, Component video output
Coaxial and TosLink digital output]