Equipment Review No. 1  •   July-August 2003

Denon DVD 2900 Universal Player
Formats Played: CD, SACD stereo and multichannel, DVD, DVD-A, MP-3, DVD-R and RW, CD-R, & CD-RW
Outputs: 5.1 audio, digital coax and optical, stereo RCA, composite video, S-video, 480i/480p component video.
Processors: 108MHz/12 bit video, 192kHz/24-bit audio, DTS and Dolby Digital

Special Features:
Progressive-scan output
Bass management for multichannel output.
Display Dimmer
Multi-disc resume
Program Play (Random, desired, repeat)
Parental Control
Specifications: Audio signal to noise ratio 118 dB
Dynamic range 100 dB
Dimensions: 17 inches wide, 5.2 inches high and 13 inches deep.
Weight: 18 pounds
Price: $1000
Denon Electronics (USA) Inc.
19 Chapin Rd., Bldg. C
Pine Brook, NJ 07058
973-396-0810
www.usa.denon.com
s_baker@denonnj.com


General Impressions

This is the third in a series of moderate-priced omni-players that I have reviewed. The unit displays above-average upper-mid-fi build quality. It weighs the same as the Marantz DV-8300 which I reviewed four months ago. The faceplate has an excellent finish. The display does a good job of letting you know which mode you are playing. The power chord is non-captive, so a better chord can be easily used - recommended for any component. The remote has a standard remote appearance and is well designed for ease of use. The manual is well-written and for once user friendly. I prefer the navigation buttons of the DV 2900 to the toggle button of the Onkyo for navigating the menus. The cables supplied, as usual, are worthless. Track access is very fast and disc access is faster than most SACD players.

One negative point I have found on all the omni players is the scan forward is very slow. For CDs you have the choice between 2, 4, 6 and 8x scan speeds. If you wanted to scan 8 minutes into a disc, it would take you 1 minute at 8x scanning. On the 20 minute scan to get to the introduction of the instruments on Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells it would take 2 1/2 minutes to scan forward to the spot. I usually jump to track two and scan backwards onto track 1, but found the Denon did not allow backwards scanning of a previous track. The scan jumped at 2, 4, 6 or 8-second increments instead of just speeding up the playback. I have not seen this limitation on a player before. Another negative point is that there is no button to switch between different formats on the same disc. You must go into the menu screen to choose CD on a hybrid disc. This is also true for selecting stereo SACD over multichannel SACD. Looking inside I noted average mid-fi build quality. The chassis seemed to have a better build quality than with the Onkyo DV-800.

Special features

The Denon has display off/on feature with off and three steps of brightness. It also has Pure Direct Memory Mode to make various settings to achieve higher-quality sound. It gamma. It has various black levels for progressive and interlaced outputs. The video features the PureProgressive (SiI504) decoding engine from Silicon Image. This decoding features high-speed ultra-resolution DSP at 6 billion operations per second with 64 Mb external SDRAM. It has 4x video over-sampling on progressive output and 8x on interlaced output. It also has Noise-Shaped Video processing on the video outputs. It uses a SuperSub Alias Filter on progressive and interlaced for Luminance and Chrominance signals. The video processing is done with an Analog Devices ADV-7300 12 bit/108 MHz 4:4:4 Video D/A converter. It has built-in Dolby Digital DTS DVD-A and discrete SACD decoders with 5.1 analog outputs. It uses a custom Denon specification Burr-Brown 24 bit, 192 kHz DSD 1790 Audio DAC that decodes PCM and DSD signals discretely with no down-conversion.

Setup

The unit was put into my 7.1 surround system. For information on the system see the Meet the Staff section at www.positive-feedback.com. There has been one change in the system. I am using a Pioneer unit as a processor for DTS and Dolby Digital. I also use the 5.1 bypass to go to the Citation 7. The DV 2900 was put on a Bright Star Big Foot base. The 5.1 cables were from Jena Labs. I used the Jena Labs coax digital out to the Pioneer. I used a Cardes Hex gold cable for stereo from the 8300 to the Citation. I used Jena labs component video cables. The Citation processed the surround from a 5.1 to 7.1 output. The setup of the 2900 is menu-driven. You will need 6-8 RCA audio cables. All of which need to be good quality or better. You will also need component video cables (3) and a digital cable. For the 5.1 output, you will need a receiver or preamp with 5.1 input. I used a Kimber Power chord on the Denon. You must also make sure the 5.1 settings of your preamp inputs agree with what is set on the Denon. You can set which speakers are going to be used in the surround. You can also set the size of all the speakers, the distances from each speaker to listener and the level and balance for each speaker. You can also select delay times for the rear speakers if you wish. A test tone output by the player is used to set sound levels. I ran the unit on repeat play for a couple of days before listening to break it in fully. The unit was a quick setup. This being my fourth such player, setup has gone from hours to about 20 minutes.

Video Performance

On my 55-inch Mitsubishi HD rear projection set, the picture was the best I have seen from any player. The Marantz was close, but the Denon slightly edged it out. Some reviews have found problems in the Progressive Scan output of the 47A on which the Onkyo and Marantz are based. This has been fixed by the use of the Digital Image 504 de-lacer. The difference shows up on distant background stability and closeup image noise. The differences were not major and would take very careful observation and/or A/B of the players to appreciate. As the screen size becomes larger, the benefits of the Denon picture will become more important. I am happy with the picture on the Marantz, but it would be nice to have the picture provided by the Denon.

Audio Performance

I had hopes that the Denon would come closer to or beat the Marantz DV8300 than did the Onkyo DV SP800. The Denon beat the Onkyo in every sound media. The Onkyo does not sound bad, but overly polite. As compared to the sound of the Marantz, the Denon provides an alternative view of the music. On Telarc’s SACD Celtic Spectacular the Denon sound stage had good imaging and dynamics. The sound was impressive and bold. The Marantz had a deeper soundstage and a little more detail. The Denon had a more forward sound, which could be impressive. On surround sounds the Denon had a bigger and more solid sound and the Marantz had more detail and clarity. Instruments appeared larger on the Denon. On the Marantz you had more sense of a point source with sound radiating out from it in all directions.

When I first listened to Fresh Aire 8 on DVD-A on the Denon, I thought that the Denon was possibly a better DVD-A player. When I went back to the Marantz, I found the same sort of sound difference I heard on SACD. There was more detail and nuances on the Marantz and a bigger bolder sound on the Denon. On the Waterfalls track the Denon gave you more water and the Marantz more detail about the falling water. On The Rising CD, by Misty River, the Denon put you closer to the band members and the Marantz gave you more instrumental detail and put the band in a deeper, more layered sound stage. On Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells SACD the Denon gave a bigger bolder sound and the Marantz gave a more ambient and delicate sound. Images on the Denon have a tendency to be larger and more forward. Just to see what would happen I took the Denon over to a friend using a heavily modified Pioneer DVD player. The first thing I noticed was the Pioneer player had a much higher sound level output. We used CDs, 96/24 and 192/24 discs for comparison. The Pioneer had a very powerful bass output and an even more forward presentation. The Denon was smoother, more detailed and much more pleasant to listen to. The Pioneer was more dynamic, but had a tendency to be blatty.

Conclusions

The Denon offers an alternative in the audio department to the Marantz and offers a slightly better picture. The Denon is also $600 less than the Marantz. Some listeners may prefer the more forward and exciting sound of the Denon. Some of the advantages of the Marantz will probably be nullified if a system is not well set up and the room properly treated. It seems that the Denon emphasizes macro-dynamics and the Marantz offers a better sense of micro-dynamics and fine detail. The Onkyo for my tastes is too laid-back sounding, although some listeners and/or systems may prefer this sort of sound. I feel that all three players are worth a listen if you are in the market for an omni player. Judge for yourself which one fits into your listening preferences and system. My preference is with the Marantz for sound and the Denon for picture.

- Clay Swartz
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