Today's demo experience
I've been hankering after a new amp for quite some time.
I bought a Denon 1909 a few years back to partner a B&W 685 set up. It was to replace a Pioneer AVR that was marginally older than the hills.
As soon as I set it up, I was blown away by the hi-def sound, but left extremely let down when I switched to music. The sound was extremely flat and muddled. I bought a Clearer Audio copperline alpha power cable (and think it helped). I also went for the Pure Direct function, that definitely helped. But still, it didn't excite.
Recently I decided to upgrade the amp - and was eagerly watching the prices of the Pioneer SCLX-73 - it was originally £1500ish, but as the new model (the 75) came to market, it dropped to £1099, then £1049 and now £999. I even found it for £770 at Hi-Spek, but they didn't answer several emails trying to arrange a demo and verify that it was A grade stock, so I went to Sevenoaks on the King's Road in London today - they had it for £999.
For a second set of ears, I took my 9 month old son.
I wanted to demo against something else to serve as a benchmark, but I went in with my mind made up - I was coming home with the Pioneer!
I asked if they had a Yamaha RX-V3067 in stock, but they said not on demo, and they instead suggested I try the Denon 3312 as a back-up. (Newly released, and retailing for £999 - the same as the discounted Pioneer). This was ideal, I could see how the (much more powerful) Pioneer 73 compared against a Denon that was more up-market than my current amp.
For the test, I went for two ends of the spectrum - Gladiator on blu-ray and The West Wing on DVD (to check what it made of poor sound and poor picture).
The Pioneer was absolutely masterful. The sound was tight, well-directed and engaging. Simply perfect.
Then I switched to music (using the USB iPod interface and my ancient iPod). And it was, well, okay. Just okay. I tried different types of music and each time - just okay. It sounded like it was holding back, no matter how much I turned the volume up.
With this in my mind, I switched to the Denon 3312 make-weight. I tested with music first, while the Pioneer's performance was still fresh in my mind.
It was a revelation - it sounded engaged, where the Pioneer was reserved or even lazy. It made me listen, but not in a way that would exhaust me. It was lively, fun, rich and powerful sounding (odd, because Pioneer is a much more powerful machine).
I then tried the same discs (Gladiator and West Wing) and it was very good; perhaps not quite as good as the Pioneer, but quite close - extremely worthy. Considering the Pioneer originally retailed for almost 50% more, it was very impressive.
This really threw a spanner in the works, the Denon was only really to show how good the Pioneer was - I was torn, on paper the Pioneer was better in every way. The reality was quite different. I had another go on the Pioneer - my 40 minute 'in-and-out' demo was approaching the end of the second hour! I decided I had to trust my ears.
The Denon is now on order, due in end of August (but hopefully sooner!).