Denon DCD-2560 CD player

My first CD player was a Denon DCD-1800, the grandpappy of ’em all. It was big, clunky, and sounded like, well, you can read back issues to find out what it sounded like. But I was living in a fraternity house at the time, the kind of place where you wake up the next morning after a blow-out to find five plastic cups half full of stale margaritas merry-go-rounding on your turntable because whoever broke into your room during the party snapped your cartridge’s cantilever off trying to hear the backwards messages on The Wall and decided to leave you an artistic message to buy a better needle next time, dude. Also, I spent far less time sitting in the sweete spotte getting lost in the superb resolution of inner detail than I did balancing my big-ass Genesis speakers out on the windowsill facing outside so we could have music to drink kegs by. So CD made a lot of sense.

To Denon’s DCD-2560 ($750), I say, “you’ve come a long way, baby!” Sure, it’s still heavy; it’s still a Denon. However, the 2560 is a far sleeker unit than my old 1800: easier-to-use controls, better programming protocol, even the transport is smoother in operation. Somebody spent a lot of time getting this player to ooze “solidity.” The internal build quality is excellent, with a nice-sized power supply and good-quality parts. Small-value film caps and 5532 dual op-amps populate the analog stage, which is AC-coupled to the outside world with what appear to be two large Elna electrolytic caps in parallel with a film bypass for each channel. In addition to the fixed and variable outputs, the 2560 has both Toslink optical and coaxial digital outputs.

Aside from all the usual Every Programming Capability You’ll Never Need, the Denon sports one feature unusual in a consumer CD player: PITCH CONTROL! Don’t laugh! For us guitar players, the lack of pitch control is one of the worst things about the CD Revolution; used to be, you could slow down or speed up your turntable to match the pitch of Magic Sam’s “West Side Soul” to your guitar’s standard E tuning while you tried to steal as many licks as you could grok. The Denon came in handy when I bought the new, posthumous CD of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Sky Is Crying (Epic EK-47390); as Stevie always tuned his Strat down to E-flat, all I had to do was tweak the Denon up in pitch to play along in E-natch’l, even if the now sped-up guitar licks were even harder to cop! Good thing my digits don’t creak. Yet.

20-bit D/A conversion
Technically, the Denon has more in common with the Kinergetics, Thetas, and Proceeds of the world than the typical Japanese player. For starters, the 2560 uses four Analog Devices AD-1862 20-bit DACs, two for each channel in push-pull configuration. These DACs are flanked by their attendant MSB trimpots, which Denon hand-trims for highest linearity at the factory.

Denon operates these high-quality chips in an interesting configuration they call “Lambda D/A Conversion”; to minimize the zero-crossing distortion caused by MSB nonlinearity, the data stream is taken from the digital filter and duplicated so there are two data streams. After adding a constant digital “bias” to each data stream, positive-going for one and negative-going for the other, the data streams feed the 20-bit Analog Devices DACs, whose analog outputs are then summed; as the bias signals are opposite in value, they ultimately cancel, but the resultant signal is biased away from the zero-crossing line, eliminating that source of distortion. The tradeoff (there’s always a tradeoff) is that for high-level signals requiring the full dynamic range of the DACs, the Lambda process is momentarily disabled, the high-level signals then theoretically masking the residual distortion.

Who’s on foist?
The first impression the Denon gives is good, solid bass reproduction; one of the CDs that spent a lot of time in my system has been the soundtrack to The Commitments (MCA MCAD-10286; reviewed in the January issue), and the Denon seemed to have both the tightest and most pronounced bass of any of the players reviewed here. Of course, this is electric Fender P-bass we’re talking about here, not some audiophiliac organ recording, so what I’m calling bass here is the 40–200Hz range, I guess what a real audio reviewer would call the lower-midbass to the over-easy-hold-the-taters-upper bass/lower midrange. Whatever, the Denon has a fine, firm bottom end that endows pop and rock with a satisfying, pulsing foundation.

Unfortunately, that’s about all I can enthuse about. Because while the bass was the best of the bunch of the other CD players I review in this issue (footnote 1)—the opening sub-bass room noise at the very start of the Cowboy Junkies’ Trinity Session, courtesy of the mighty Muse subwoofer, made my kidneys hurt—the Denon was outclassed in virtually all other areas of performance. Even after a month of infinite-repeat Motörhead (footnote 2) the Denon had a veiled, chalky midrange that seemed to persist no matter what cables I used with it. The high end, too, was off-putting: following a subdued presence range, the trebles were hard enough to make me not want to continue listening.

Lapis interconnect did much to reduce the glare, but the overall sound still lacked life. Joe Henderson’s tenor intro on track five of the Chesky Bros.’ McCoy Tyner disc (New York Reunion), a 3-D live-in-the-room track through the Theta DS Pro Basic, became less emotionally stirring, as if Joe were merely warming up instead of really blowing. Switching to the XLO cable did little to change things, the sound still lacking that essential harmonic rightness that clues the brain to “Dig This.” And it doesn’t take a $2000 Theta to hear this quality, either; the $399 Audio Alchemy DDE has it, the similarly priced Rotel RCD-855 has it, even the li’l $299 NAD 5425 a couple of pages down the river has it. Without that indefinable “rightness,” I find it extremely hard to pay attention to the music. Whenever I find myself trying to remember if there’s anything I forgot to take care of at work while I’m sitting there listening to music, I know something’s desperately wrong, and that’s just what I found myself doing with the Denon.

I won’t go much into areas like depth, soundstaging, and imaging, because the Denon was disappointing in these areas. Imaging featured inflated center-fill and next to no discrete image outline; on The Trinity Session‘s first track, Margo Timmins’s vocal, usually very starkly defined, was vague and shapeless, changing position as her voice went up and down in range. I could go on, but it would be cruel; space, the Denon doesn’t do.

Summing Up
To say I was surprised by the relatively poor performance of the Denon DCD-2560 is putting it mildly; its litany of advanced technology and use of edge-of-the-art DACs suggested greater things, but in practice it sounded pretty mediocre. For nearly the same green, I got true high-end digital sound with the Audio Alchemy DAC/Rotel 855 transport combo.

Footnote 1: JVC XL-Z1050TN, NAD 5425, Sony CDP-X555ES, and Sonographe SD-22.

Footnote 2: The Denon player was broken-in for roughly a month before I sat down to listen. I fed it CDs, set it for infinite repeat, and hooked the fixed outputs to a 10k load (you can make this by soldering a 10k resistor between the signal and ground of an RCA plug, or alternately, you can just hook the player up to an input on your preamp, turned all the way down), which ensured that signal would flow through the audio circuitry, output coupling caps, wire, etc. If you leave the output jacks unterminated there’s no signal flow, and all you accomplish is a ha’pen’orth’s higher electric bill. This is a good way to break in interconnects as well, although an FM tuner set for interstation hiss puts less wear on your player.

NEXT: Specifications »


Denon America Inc.

Parsippanny, NJ 07054 (1992)


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