Friday, May 27, 2005

Denon's latest entries into high-end,

DCD-SA1, a stereo SACD/CD player and PMA-SA1 integrated amplifier have agitated some European high-end aficionados - or should I say wannabe HE-experts ;) Some arguments I have managed to catch go like "big Japanese consumer electronic manufacturers have no experience, nor expertise to build high-end products."

Hello? It's said that ignorance is a bliss, but lets look into facts and explore some great Japanese HE-companies.

Teac continues its decades old tradition to produce HE-gear under the brand Esoteric. See, for example, SACD-player on-line review. Have ever heard of Wadia? Well, a big part of Wadia sound is the CD-drive they have been using, Vibration-free Rigid Disc-clamping System (VRDS) - from Teac.

Second example is Harmonix's Reimyo brand. Harmonix itself is renowned by its isolation devices and tuning feet. Reimyo CDP-777 has been noted as one of the best sounding CD-player by various hifi resources like "The Product of The Year 2004" - November 2004 by HiFi+", see full list of awards and player's specs here. Reimyo's pre- and power amp are reviewed CAT-777 and PAT-777 in Positive Feedback Issue 19.

Third example represents for me the "ultimate and affordable" in the Japanese hifi, Shindo Laboratory. This almost Jade color products and their Zen-kind of design including NOS caps and tubes should be heard by every audiophile in order to understand notions like rightness, continueness and coherence. You can read a great review of Monbrison preamp and Shindo's design approach in February 2004 issue.

The list could go on ad infinitum, including both esoteric manufacturers like Audio Note (Ongaku amplifiers), Zanden Audio, or more familiar brands like Accuphase, Pioneer's TAD speakers and drivers, or even Sony (SACD-1 was by any accounts the first SACD audiophile grade player, and still a great one with mods).

About those new Denon products. The DCD-SA1, a stereo SCAD/CD player and PMA-SA1 integrated amplifier were subject to review in June 2005 Hi-Fi News. Like Accuphase's products, these seemed to be built with an attitude. The exquisite attention to detail, a tad of 70's retro design, but where Accuphase has the tonal controls and other bells and whistles, Denon has chosen a more purist approach. The PMA-SA1 has no remote control (DCD-SA1 has one, thank's God), no pre-out connection, no headphone socket, no muting, and SACD-player has no switchable filters (which I personally prefer). In SACD player separate discrete circuits are used for PCM and DSD processing, although final production units might have an alternative signal path, in which DSD is converted to PCM (why? usually this is done for bass management purposes in multi-channel players). Both units have SE/balanced connections, and the amplifier seems to be able to handle difficult load (doubles output to 100wpc into 4ohm load).

Hi-Fi News used no nonsense primary and secondary components in review: B&W 88D speakers and Nordost Valhalla interconnects. Verdict was positive. The resolution and transparence, checked: "The level of detail that the combination can extract from disc is quite extraordinary, and may transform your view of come familiar recordings." Timing, checked: "Nothing drags, ... the best way to describe the effect is similar to the coherence experience you expect from a live music event." Magazine furthermore highlighted overall grip and coherence the Denon combination seemed to impose on music, and clear and tuneful bass.

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