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unhalfbricking's picture
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Denon DM39 or NAD dilemma...

I have a modest budget for a new hi-fi system of around £350-400. Having browsed the internet for the past couple of weeks, the clear favourite on such a restricted budget would appear to be the Denon DM39, which I intend to pair with decent budget speakers eg Monitor BX2s or Dali Zensors. I am booked in at Superfi in a week's time for an audition and shall listen carefully to all the speaker options. Fine. The only problem is that as someone who owned and loved the NAD 3020 (paired with B&W DM110s) back in the 1980s, I have this nagging thought that I should cash in a few more beanies and up my budget the necessary £300 for a NAD 316 amp and NAD 515 CD player instead of the Denon.

 

In readers' opinions is the step-up in price for the NAD separates really worth it? Is there really such a substantial difference in sound that I should consider the pricier option, ignoring some pretty spectacular deals on the Denon (£349 for the DM39 and the BX2s from Richer and Superfi to name but two). 

 

What do people think?

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RE: Denon DM39 or NAD dilemma...

Hi and welcome to the forums.  Given your name I'm guessing you are a Fairport fan which is great by me!

Difficult choice, especially given the excellent deal on the Denon.  The Denon is a great unit and will undoubtedly offer a cleaner and more detailed sound than the NAD, though the NAD amp will give you a slightly warmer, bassier sound.  Build quality is better on the Denon, particularly with regards to the CD player, but these small Denon units do have slightly large volume increments in places making it hard to precisely adjust the volume level, particularly if low level listening is important to you.

I don't know how much the NAD combo would cost you but if you want to go for seperates I'd suggest trying the Marantz CD6004/PM6004 combination which you should be able to get a great package deal on with some suitable speakers.  It will out-perform the entry level NAD kit and the DM39DAB.  The other great option to consider would be the Marantz MCR603 which is a more upmarket all-in-one unit than the DM39DAB with a corresponding hike in sound quality.  Again you should be able to get a great deal on this with some suitable speakers.

Rega RP3/Elys 2 - Graham Slee Gram Amp 1 - Rotel RCD965BX - Exposure 1010 amp - Dynaudio DM2/6 - Chord Co. Chameleon VEE3/Rumour 2 - Musical Fidelity V90-HPA - Sennheiser HD595

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RE: Denon DM39 or NAD dilemma...

Hi Matthew and thanks for the reply. The Marantz PM and CD6004 is sort of on my radar screen, although I had hitherto assumed that if I was going to go down the separates route, the sentimental pull of NAD would probably mitigate against Marantz. Having read so many good things about the 6004, I may give it a trial, although I am conscious about not taking too many variables into the demo room! I think the bottom line is that I will listen to the DM39 first with two or three speaker alternatives and if I really like it then all other options will look frivolously expensive. The demo is booked for 28th Jan and I will report back with my findings and any possible purchase!

 

You're right, my screen name references the great Fairport album. To be honest, I don't listen to them as much as I used to although I still go and see the great man Richard Thompson in concert as often as possible. I am hoping that having a decent sound system will re-kindle my enthusiasm for listening to bands like Fairport Convention and music in general.

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RE: Denon DM39 or NAD dilemma...

Seems like a sensible approach to me.  One thing I will say for most Denon gear is that it is great fun to listen to and that is really what it is all about and one of the reasons why I use their PMA720AE amp.  My other amp is a NAD C326BEE - another great fun piece of hi-fi.

RT is brilliant.  I've had the privilege of seeing him twice - once with Danny Thompson and once as the Richard Thompson Band.  Can't wait for his new album in February!

Rega RP3/Elys 2 - Graham Slee Gram Amp 1 - Rotel RCD965BX - Exposure 1010 amp - Dynaudio DM2/6 - Chord Co. Chameleon VEE3/Rumour 2 - Musical Fidelity V90-HPA - Sennheiser HD595

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RE: Denon DM39 or NAD dilemma...

Hiya folks. Thought I would just check in with the results from our demo at Superfi this morning. The original idea was to demo a Denon DM39 against the NAD 316 amp and 515 CD player, but Superfi didn't have the NAD units in stock so events took an unexpected turn....

Caveat: In the limited amount of time available at an in-store demo, these are really nothing more than initial reactions. Obviously more time would allow a more considered appraisal of the individual units and a more true assessment.

Started with the DM39 hooked up to a pair of Monitor BX2s and played Paul Weller 'Blink and you might miss it' off his 'As is now' album, just to get things of to a rockin' start. At the end of the track me and the missus looked at each other and we both had the same expression....pursed lips and scrunched up noses. Didn't like it. The top end sounded harsh -- vocals and percussion both sounded thin and a bit ragged. The Superfi bloke recommended we lose the speakers for a pair of B&Ws -- I think they were 686es. They gave possibly a small improvement, a slightly more organised sound but still harshness at the top end. Next we tried 'Nothin's real but love' by Rebecca Ferguson and again her smoky vocals had a raspy thin-ness to them and some of the percussion was harsh.

We sat around looking gloomy and wondering what to do next. Superfi bloke recommended we keep the B&Ws and change the head unit and duly came back with a Marantz 603 (step forward MatthewPiano!). Strangely, we started off with a completely different track - 'Long distance runaround' by Yes. Sudden and instant improvement! The song has a nice, open, uncluttered production anyway, but straight away the mid and top range sounded sweeter and more natural. Squire's throaty, toppy Rickenbacker 6003 bass was captured in great detail but with no concomitant harshness. Bruford's drums were spot on, especially the cymbal crashes at the end of each verse...crystal-clear but smooth. Back to Rebecca Ferguson -- vocals greatly improved...warmer, more musical, all the harshness removed. Great. I was almost ready to start wielding the cheque-book, but wanted to go back to something more 'rocking' so we sampled 'Limelight' by Rush. Guitars sounded great...crisp, clear, ballsy....not too 'digital'. Halfway through the song, though, something started to bug me. Where's the bass? During the verses it was largely lost in the mix, only becoming more prominent in the guitar solo where Lee's busy, fluid bassline only just managed to assert itself between the drums and guitar. There was bass there, but it was too 'polite', not punchy enough and felt 'boxed in'...it needed more presence.

So, that's where we left it. I really like the Marantz 603, but the bass isn't connecting with me. My gut reaction is to go Richer Sounds and see if seperates (Cambridge) give me the combination of sweet treble and a fuller bass.

What do people think?  Should I try different speakers with the Marantz to bring out slightly more bass? (I don't want to go down the sub-woofer route). It really just needs a minor tweak and I will be happy. I am beginning to cool on NAD, mainly because so few places sell it, so may see what Richer Sounds have to offer. Overall, I thought the BX2s and the B&Ws were pretty close, but thought the B&Ws slightly shaded it. Went back to the BX2s right at the end to see if they offered more bass, but they didn't. Anyway, ideas and suggestions would be gratefully received.

 

 

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RE: Denon DM39 or NAD dilemma...

Interesting stuff.  I'm glad you found the process informative.  My initial reaction would be to say you should try the 685s if you can afford to as they are massively better than the 686s (I've owned both).  Alternatively, consider the Boston A26s, which might give you the balance you are seeking.

I'm not convinced Cambridge gear is going to give you what you want.  It does tend towards the brighter side in general and although the 351A is pretty good, I think you'd have to go up to the 651A to make it worthwhile.

Also, don't under-estimate the difference playing with positioning can make, as well as the room acoustics.  When I had 686s my biggest problem with them was too much, ill-defined bass.  I didn't experience this when I auditioned them. The 686s are rear ported and moving to the larger, front-ported 685s gave me more controlled and punchier bass in my room.

Rega RP3/Elys 2 - Graham Slee Gram Amp 1 - Rotel RCD965BX - Exposure 1010 amp - Dynaudio DM2/6 - Chord Co. Chameleon VEE3/Rumour 2 - Musical Fidelity V90-HPA - Sennheiser HD595

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RE: Denon DM39 or NAD dilemma...

matthewpiano wrote:

My initial reaction would be to say you should try the 685s if you can afford to as they are massively better than the 686s

Yep. For bass and punch, this would solve your problem. I don't like the 686s at all and they don't work well with the Marantz (although I do like that Marantz matched with CM1s).

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RE: Denon DM39 or NAD dilemma...

Why not try the new Denon ceol or Denon ceol piccolo ?

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RE: Denon DM39 or NAD dilemma...

Just thought I would report back on our second demo session -- this time at Superfi's Stockport branch -- and an eventual purchase!! Once again events took an unexpected turn...

 

Having sampled the delights of micro systems: the Denon DM39 and the (considerably better, IMO) Marantz 603 last week, I was keen to audition the NAD 316 amp and 515 CD player just by way of road-testing some seperates. We used B&W 685s as our test speakers and took it from there. The Superfi bloke sucked his teeth slightly about the NAD and hinted that he might have something else up his sleeve for later.

 

The first track we sampled was 'Nothing's real but love' by Rebecca Ferguson. A tough test that blew away the DM39 the previous week -- too many sharp edges and too much top-end raspiness from the Denon -- so our ears were pricked for top end problems. Instead the NAD / B&W combination produced sweet, coherent treble frequencies and plenty of bass grunt but - dear, oh dear and totally unexpectedly - a really muddy, cluttered mid-range that left me, Linda and Superfi bloke staring at our feet and scratching our heads. At this very early stage in proceedings Superfi bloke went off and came back with a pair of KEF Q300s and we re-ran the same track. Unblievable difference and a real halleluliah moment....a total turning point. The KEFs produced a crisp, detailed, three-dimensional level of sound that we hadn't heard on any combination of anything before. The separation of the vocals from the instrumentation and quality of delivery was on a different level. We had a game-changer on our hands. It was the first time I could actually turn round to Linda and say, 'This is what hi-fi is all about'. Goosebumps.

 

Another of our demo staple tracks, the punchy, frenetic, 'Blink and you might miss it' by Paul Weller was next on and wowed us again. The level of detail and separation revealed subtelties in the frantic, bluesy guitar playing I had never head before and uncovered a keyboard, buried in the mix that I'd never even noticed. The NAD and the KEFs handled the cacophony of sound that the track produces with aplomb. Only on Rush's 'Limelight' and Yes' 'Long distance runaround' did the, otherwise excellent, sound start to feel a little bass-light. You know there's a bass issue when your gut reaction is to want to tweak the bass control to the 'five-past' position!

 

Revealingly, at the end of the hour and a half session (for which many thanks to Superfi) the NAD amp and CD player were still in situ...which sort of tells its own story. I was totally happy with the NAD combo and it never really crossed anyone's mind to change it. Even Superfi bloke was impressed. I duly purchased the NAD 316 and 515 CD player together with the KEFs. The NADs were solid, accurate, reliable performers and the KEFs totally blew us away with their level of detail, depth and clarity. Were they a bit 'technical' and a tiny bit light on bass? Possibly. Time will tell. In your head you have this idea of aural perfection, which in reality you will never quite achieve. After a while, chasing the Holy Grail of hi-fi with an £800 budget, cooped up in a demo room produces diminishing returns. I knew, however, that I'd heard enough from the NAD / KEFset-up to completely justify my selection. Sitting in Superfi, listening to the Rebecca Ferguson song on the KEFs in that quality was a trascendental moment that will stay with me for a long time indeed.

 

As a 'system deal' the guy knocked £90 off the speakers (down to £360) and a tenner each off the NAD units (down to £215 apiece) because the NADs were 'ex-demo' -- even though they had only been out of the box for three days and used once.

 

Sincere thanks to all the people who have come on here to offer advice, especially Matthewpiano. It was really useful for me to bounce ideas off people as an adjunct to the demos themselves. I would be interested to hear any reactions to any of the opinions or observations in my account. I shall come back in a few weeks time with an update of how things are going with the new system.

 

Cheers.

 

 

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