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AUDIO SHOOTOUT: Denon DVD 2900 vs Arcam CD23

2683 Views 6 Replies 6 Participants Last post by  Elmo C
I just spent a few hours doing an A-B comparison test between the Denon DVD 2900, a universal player, and the Arcam FMJ CD23, a relatively high-end dedicated CD player.

My goal was simply to test two-channel audio performance. Beyond that, I’m trying to get an idea as to whether a universal player can really serve as the only player you need for all disk-based media. More specifically, I’m wondering if a higher-end player like Denon’s upcoming DVD 5900 could do everything I need it to do: play my extensive CD library as well as or better than the Arcam CD player, play the new hi-res audio formats (which the Arcam can’t do), and play DVDs, my lowest priority (I like watching movies, but I like listening to music more).

I should also note that I’m generally a two-channel, analog-oriented music listener. At this point I’m not interested in going multi-channel for my music. At some point I might create a surround system for watching movies, but I’ll need some convincing to start listening to music in more that two channels.

My test system is as follows:

Denon DVD 2900

Arcam FMJ CD23

Arcam A32 integrated amp

Definitive Power Monitor 900s

Audioquest Python Interconnects for both players

PS Audio Ultimate Outlets

PS Audio Power Plus power cables for Arcam CD player and amp

Stock power cord for Denon DVD 2900

Nordost Blue Heaven speaker cables

The first disk I listened to was Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. This is a HDCD recording, which the Arcam player can decode but the Denon cannot. However, since it happens to the only CD I have two copies of, I had to use it. I’m not an expert listener, but I was surprised that it took about an hour before I heard any significant difference between the Arcam and the Denon with this disk. This is to say that the Denon player held its own with Redbook audio compared to a $2500 dedicated CD player. The Denon reproduced the details very well in comparison, and the low-end held up also. The only noticeable difference is that the Arcam seemed to create a more expansive, fuller atmosphere than the Denon. I’m not sure if the HDCD encoding (20 vs 16 bits) created this effect, but it was pretty subtle. All in all, I could definitely live with the Denon for CDs, but given a choice of devices, I’d pick the Arcam.

The second test was not an ideal experiment but worth mentioning all the same. I compared the Stone’s SACD version of Beggar’s Banquet to the original non-super-audio CD. As one might expect, the difference here was huge: in contrast to the SACD, the old CD sound like it was stuck in mud: it was far less dimensional, the instrument tracks were not distinct, and even Jagger’s voice sounded flat. But given the vast difference in the mixes – these are almost completely different albums – the comparison really doesn’t hold water. The SACD version is a complete remix; even the tempo of many songs has been altered. For an ideal comparison, obviously, I would have used the Redbook layer of a SACD disk in the Arcam player. But this test reveals what the SACD format, in the right hands, can do to an older recording: give it magic. I’m not sure what would happen with a more recent, high-quality recording, but the difference between the old Beggar’s Banquet CD and the new SACD version is as dramatic as the difference between analog television and a 1080i high def.

In conclusion, I’d say that the Denon player almost succeeds as my ideal universal player. This is surprising, because I didn’t think that the 2900, which I bought essentially as a toy to test the new audio formats, would perform as well as it did against the Arcam. If it played Redbook audio just a bit better, I’d consider selling the Arcam. The bigger question is how the next generation of universal players, like the Denon 5900, will change the market. A slight improvement in Redbook audio quality, and in audio performance in general, could make it a winner.
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Have you considered modding the 2900? (Parts Connexion offers several levels of mods for the 2900 I believe) That might make it as good or better than your Arcam.
A few questions/concerns arise, concerning the Underwood mod:

1) They say it's a "Factory-Authorized" modification. Does this mean that it will not void Denon's limited warranty(and the extended warranties that many of us have purchased)?

2) They state: "The unit's noise floor is lower..." Does this mean that the modified unit's signal-to noise ratio is measurably increased (The stock player has a measured S/N ration of 107dB*, A-weighted)?

3)They also state: " The unit is more dynamic..." Does this mean that the modified unit's dynamic range is measurably greater (Although Denon specs it at 110dB, it's already limited by the noise floor)?

I would appreciate feedback from anyone who actually owns a modified DVD2900 -chas

*September '03 Hi-Fi News



...You might consider having your 2900 modded by UnderwoodHiFi...Wally's 2900 mods reportedly boost its audio performance substantially...
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Your review is quite interesting, gregeas. I have the CD92 and got the 2900 recently to try out the hi-res formats. My reaction is similar to yours. The Denon held its own quite well with my Arcam. I would say the Denon rounded off the details a bit vs. the Arcam, resulting in a mellower, less-spirited sound. If I didn't have the Arcam, the Denon would suit me fine for redbook audio.
I'd love to hear a comparison between the modded 2900 and the Arcam CD23...

Thanks for the excellent review, very unbiased and informative. I seems more and more like an Underwood-ed Denon 5900 could be the only player I'll need in my system until HD-DVD comes out. Assuming Denon gets the DVI port ennabled.

Like you, we are two channel music lovers first, DVD watchers second and multi-channel listeners not at all. We are very sensitive to the presence and coherence of low level musical details, so the slight differences you noted between CD23 and 2900 would matter to us. Still, the better DAC implementation of the 5900 plus better componentry installed by Wally may address this. No digital source is going to best my analog front end anyway, so why have more than one silver disc spinner?


I tried to address your two audio-related questions on the original Denon thread. Short version: our ears are more sensitive than specs. Specs may show up the junk, but they rarely help distinguish differences between good components. Not trying to be argumentative, just stating what I hear.

Underwood has a full warranty statement on their site, though I'm not sure they address extended warranties. Wally seems like a nice guy, why not email him with that question?
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Informative review,its the same conclusion I also came to,good redbook and very good sacd/dvda.
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