Denon didn’t necessarily need to release a new microsystem with the D-M41DAB. The multi-Award-winning D-M40DAB hung around our most-read reviews list like an Adele record that simply refuses to drop out of the charts.
Logically, then, there are two explanations for this latest model. Either it’s a subliminal reminder that Denon remains at the top of this tree or, in the near-two-year wait for the product’s emergence, the company has once again managed to significantly better itself.
The lengths to which Denon has gone with this updated system would suggest the latter. And the multiple What Hi-Fi? Awards it has received confirms it.
Even if the rest of the package had remained the same, the inclusion of Bluetooth for the first time in this range (which can be turned on or off to avoid affecting the D-M41DAB’s overall performance while not in use), is our first cause for celebration.
The lack of wireless capability didn't stop us giving Denon Awards, but it had been the only blot on the M-series’ otherwise-pristine copybook.
Given the merits of the D-M40DAB, it might have been risky for the company’s engineers to tinker so much with the insides of its flagship micro system.
Denon claims its brand new analogue amplifier circuit offers greater clarity and purity, with shortened signal paths and further measures to avoid sources of interference built in.
This is part of what Denon dubs its Triple Noise Reduction Design which, while sounding like something off a gastro-pub menu, also encompasses careful separation of analogue and digital circuits plus precision signal grounding.
It also claims distortion from the input selector, volume control and power amplifier has been better suppressed for the purest possible sound.
But if Denon has redesigned the interior of its micro system, the same cannot be said of the façade. At a glance, the only way to tell the D-M41DAB apart from its predecessor is the CD drive and display screen have swapped places, so that the former sits above the latter – as it did prior to the D-M39.
On closer inspection, however, you’ll notice the screen is flatter than before, meaning less reflection. It isn’t immediately obvious, but placing the pair side-by-side reveals a significant improvement.
You’ll also notice Denon has removed the USB input. There are still analogue and digital optical inputs for playing music from an external source without Bluetooth, such as an old iPod, but it means no more memory sticks.
As with previous models, the D-M41DAB is available with or without matching Denon speakers. Without, the system is called RCD-M41DAB. The speakers are dubbed SC-M41. Put the two together and you have the D-M41DAB we're testing here.
Last time we tested a Denon micro-system, we preferred its designated speakers to any price-comparable alternative.
Though they look the same as before, Denon says it has fine-tuned this 12cm driver/25mm soft-dome tweeter configuration to make the partnership even more harmonious. If you buy the complete system, you’ll also take receipt of upgraded, heftier speaker cable.
So the design has undergone more than just a tweak, and the rewards are reaped in the performance. The D-M40DAB improved on its predecessor in just about every department, but it wasn’t as clear a leap forward as this. Here, the whole character of the system has been bettered.
We play Hot Chip’s Made In The Dark on CD and immediately notice the spacious gains in the soundstage as well as greater detail. Dynamics, too, are more insightful and expressive – and this is only in the album’s opening build with the intro of Out At The Pictures.
By the time it gets properly going, it’s as if the Denon has been on a mindfulness retreat for the past two years and rediscovered itself.
To say the presentation is more forward is not a slight. The balance here is still pleasantly even, but it really throws itself into the changing rhythms and does so with sprightly confidence.
We play around with speaker positioning and end up with the SC-M41s further away from our back wall than a bookshelf would really allow – but the tonal character isn’t compromised if it’s a tight fit. Really, it’s another feather in Denon’s cap to have retained worthwhile heft and stability without the assistance of a rear wall.
We’ve hinted long enough in our reviews that Denon should add Bluetooth connectivity to these systems, and it has been integrated very well indeed. The drop in sound quality from CD to Spotify stream has no effect on the D-M41DAB’s sonic mastery.
We change pace with Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker and it’s clear the energy with which the Denon rendered Hot Chip can be easily traded for gracefulness when playing the more delicate passages of this album.
While its touch is light across the fingerpicked acoustic guitars in tracks such as Oh My Sweet Carolina, it gives away no weight in Adams’ vocal performance.
The combination of low-end stability and dynamic sensibilities leaves us with a remarkably human performance for a hi-fi system at this price.
Denon could have simply added Bluetooth to its system and struck the only item from our “against” column. But we’re pleased it didn't.
If the D-M41DAB – which we'd again recommend pairing with the company’s designated speakers – doesn’t quite put its predecessor to shame, it certainly puts it in the shade.
It sees multiple marked improvements across the board, combining to offer a character of performance that could hold its own against groups of separates at greater cost.
We suspected it would be good. We just didn’t realise it’d be this much better.
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