Published On: January 11, 1995

Pioneer DVL-909 DVD Player Reviewed

Published On: January 11, 1995

Pioneer DVL-909 DVD Player Reviewed

Massively-built, especially when compared to current DVD players, this several-year-old, now discontinued DVD player was "The" thing to have when it came out due to its very decent video and audio capabilities. If you have one, I bet it's still working.

Pioneer-DVL-909-review.gifRotting mutterers - myself included - have pretty much accepted that DVD is not going to go away. But have we learned our lessons, or will a bunch of idiotic Luddites attempt to stall the format the way they did CD? Probably not, as all of the main culprits in 1983 were only capable of making turntables; now they're all digitised to the last man. If the Pioneer DVL-909 is anything to go by, things are going to be as bad as they were for CD's first half-decade. Indeed, so fine is the DVL-909 that I'm buying one.

Additional Resources
• Read more Denon DVD-Audio and SACD player reviews here.
• Read audiophile source component reviews here including SACD and DVD-Audio players, turntables, DACs, CD transports and more.
• For a blog about tubes, turntables and the future of audiophila - check out AudiophileReview.com.

What? The supposedly-cautious KK purchasing a product? Is this the same paranoid who thinks analogue tape is cutting-edge and swears he's gonna run Windows 95 into the next millennium? The very same. But that's not inconsistent if you look at DVD's brief history.

While I and others have bitched and grumbled about (1) the US and Japan getting DVD over a year ahead of Europe, and (2) the iniquities of the zoning system, it actually worked in our favour. How so? Simple: We never got any of the nasty, early-1997 machines which certain Yanks now regret buying.* So 'first generation' in the previous paragraph actually means 'first generation Europe' - equal to second or third in the US. Hence, the poor saps who bought DVD players in the first half of 1997 were our guinea pigs.

As for the new Pioneer machine, a friend in the USA - a hard-core videophile with hands-on experience of most top machines - tells me there's growing street-level support for the DVL-909 as 'the first combo-player worth owning'. This is due in no small part to the DVL-909 featuring twin pickups, one dedicated to DVD and the other to CD/LD, rather than sharing a joint device. Or so I gather.

Although Zone One consumers took care of the teething problems before we so much as got a sniff at a Zone Two player, we are at the same stage as they were 18 months ago: total ignorance, no software. So, please, try to follow my shaky logic: If this is Year One for DVD, and if the first people here to invest in DVD are hard-core videophiles, it stands to reason that they were masochistic NTSC laserdisc users as well. Hence, they have libraries of precious LDs which they may not wish to discard. Assuming that they weren't so impatient as to have already purchased Zone One players converted for 240V operation, a combo DVD/LD player is just the ticket. (And the LD portion of the DVL-909 plays both NTSC and PAL laserdiscs, too.)

If the whole point of buying a kosher Zone Two machine is to avoid all of the problems of acquiring imported discs, it presupposes that we will eventually have access to a catalogue as broad as that in the USA. Na ve, or what? If anything, we'll be as badly treated for at least the first five years as we were with PAL laserdiscs. But, giving the software manufacturers the benefit of the doubt, we must judge them as innocent until proven guilty, venal and stupid. In which case, the DVL-909 is a perfect way to start one's DVD 'awareness'.

Because this is a 'pure hi-fi magazine' and there lurk among you Philistines with an utter lack of interest in or respect for motion pictures, my brief was to assess the DVL-909's sonic worth. Which is a good thing because the DVL-909 supplied for review is absolutely identical to the 240V machines we will be able to buy here with one exception: it's a Zone One player in the DVD visuals department...

What the hell. At the time of writing, there's a total of one Zone Two DVD disc available as far as I can tell: . Whereas I have a fistful of Zone One discs. And, anyway, the video side of things takes second place to the sonic in your world, right?

Merely to glance at the DVL-909, to mess around with its funky, comprehensive remote controller, to check out the various methods of configuring it, is to want one. It has the look of certain luxurious Marantz items, that aluminium front panel finished in champagne gold. For a machine which accepts 12in discs, it's sleek and compact at 420x146x464mm (WHD). The front panel is remarkably uncluttered because nearly every control has been fitted to the hand-held. All you get on the DVL-909 itself are separate open and close buttons for the LD tray or the DVD/CD tray, play/pause, stop, forward and reverse, side A or B, meter-off and power on/off. And the latter will be used rarely, as there's a standby mode: touch any button, e.g. tray open, and it powers on.

Pioneer thought of every possible installation requirement with an array of connections including two SCART in/out sockets, 75 ohm component video output, S-video, optical and coaxial digital audio, phono for analogue audio output and RF output to access Dolby Digital (off laser discs). Trying to imagine a situation which the DVL-909 couldn't address yielded nothing, unless you insist on BNC or XLR balanced...

Pioneer-DVL-909-review.gifFeeding a Lexicon DC-1 surround sound decoder/pre-amp and a speaker set-up of three Apogee LCRs across the front and two Apogee Compact Monitors at the back, driven by Acurus amplifiers, the DVL-909 was compared to a slew of CD players and DACs to assess its pure audio performance. These included Theta's now sadly-discontinued DATA III LD/CD transport, the Chroma and Pro Gen Va converters, Musical Fidelity's X-DAC, and the Jadis Orchestra and Roksan Caspian CD players. Programme material included a barrage of conventional CDs and samplers from Classic Records' 96kHz/24-bit program, plus assorted DTS titles. For the visuals, I compiled a selection of titles which I had on both LD and Zone One DVD, including a selection of demo DVDs, including the ornery DTS, of which the Meridian 586.2 DVD player could only access the visuals.

Week One with the DVL-909 involves merely exploring its features. Dig this: it comes with a 60-page English-only owner's manual -- 10-pages each of six languages. While you can connect it up as you would a set-and-forget CD player which happens to have a video connection, you'd be missing out on a host of options available on-screen, from the major (adapting the video to suit a widescreen TV) to the trivial (choosing the background colour of the screen saver). Once it's configured to your needs, you can exploit all the various available formats.

Paranoids: look elsewhere. The DVL-909 handles all manner of CD, laser disc or DVD (of the appropriate zone), including the following variants and options: Dolby Digital, DTS (into the necessary decoder), 96kHz/24-bit audio, and MPEG 1 digital Video CDs (for you karaoke psychos out there). And it plays CD-Rs, which some won't. A further nice touch, its billing amusingly free of the justifiable snobbery which other makers might have employed, is a 96kHz-48kHz 'step-down' so you can play 96kHz/24-bit CDs digitally into external DACs or digital recorders which can cope with 48kHz but not the full 96kHz. As Pioneer's John Bamford put it: "The DVL-909's SP/DIF output can actually deliver 96kHz/24-bit data, but where are you going to connect it? And what about jitter?" Which is a neat way of saying, "Stick with the on-board DAC..."

Which I did for most of the time because it's so ideally tailored to the transport. Never did I feel that the DAC was letting down the player, having discovered instantly that the transport section was simply stupendous. Feeding it digitally into various DACs showed it to possess exceptional detail and clarity, if a bit less warmth than either the Chroma or the Pro Gen Va. Pioneer shows allegiance toward high resolution and transparency rather than the ameliorative stance preferred by audiophile makes. At no time does it sound edgy or overly crisp; neither will you ever imagine that it carries valves in its analogue stages.

Using the DVL-909 as a standalone CD player, it easily delivered sound quality consistent with players in the 800 to 1200 bracket, while excelling in the creation of a wide and deep soundstage. Some might find its sound a touch lighter than, say, the Roksan Caspian or the Jadis, the former of which seem to be voiced in a similar way as the '909 as far as detail and transparency are concerned, the main difference being that the Roksan has a richer lower register. The Jadis lacks the detail but adds warmth.

What knocked me over, though, was the sound issued when the source consisted of 96kHz/24-bit discs. Quite blatantly, the sound improved in nearly all areas, with greater slam, detail, transparency, dynamics - hell, it was like going from small two-way speakers to WATT/Puppies. The 96kHz capability reinforces the pitch that the DVL-909 is more 'future-proof' than its competition. After all, DVL-909 owners will be among the few who can exploit, say, the next generation dCS Elgar converter.

When it came to assessing video, I was in for a double surprise. What I didn't expect was that the LD portion would be so markedly superior to earlier players, including the DATA III, itself based on an earlier top-end Pioneer mechanism. Amusingly, the one area showing the greatest improvement is that which is used as a hammer for DVD to bash LD: in the 'blackness' of the bars above and below a widescreen picture on a 4x3 monitor. DVD offers true black, while LD has always provided shades of grey. Improvement was noted first on the DTS version of Waterworld, with Kevin Costner and the perfectly named Jeanne Tripplehorn, but I swiftly tried a number of other widescreen titles and noticed gains every time. Quite clearly, the DVL-909 is the player to consider even if you're just sticking with LD.

But then there's DVD, and both Terminator 2 and the Beatles films converted me: the DVL-909 simply slaughters other DVD players I've tried. Previously, I thought the Beatles discs were simply bad transfers, and that the claims of remastering were bogus. Not so. Through the Pioneer, it was easy to see that the colours on help! were bolder and richer, while the black-and-white Hard Day's Night revealed a crystal-clarity not seen on any other formats, including the Criterion LD. As for Big Arnie...

Terminator 2, it was explained to me, is a special 'show-off' disc for DVD, mastered with a trick or three. Whatever, it revealed a visual depth bordering on the three-dimensional, visible from the earliest scenes in the wasteland of the future. The blurriness and 'acid trails' I witnessed in earlier players are gone, even on sequences showing flames. LD is still amazing, but DVD stomps it. There - I've said it.

Pioneer's DVL-909 costs 899.95; its nearly identical DVD-only sibling, the DV-505, costs 449.95. Not having tried the latter, I can't say that it's a clone of the DVL-909's DVD section, so I can't swear that it's THE DVD player to opt for if you don't need LD compatibility. But what I will say is that the DVL-909,even if it didn't play LDs, is so utterly wonderful as to be an absolute bargain, which is why I'm buying one. (Gawd, has this been an expensive month.) An extra 450 is a lot to pay for a facility you may never use, in which case the DV-505 has to be the way to go. But I - and other LD users - have been so well-served by the combo version that its price tag is a grand short of what I expected it to cost.

Now, how about some Zone Two discs to feed it?

Additional Resources
• Read more Denon DVD-Audio and SACD player reviews here.
• Read audiophile source component reviews here including SACD and DVD-Audio players, turntables, DACs, CD transports and more.
• For a blog about tubes, turntables and the future of audiophila - check out AudiophileReview.com.

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