IT GIVES US no pleasure to write this review.
Denon has an enviable record of producing talented hi-fi and home cinema kit. The brand even managed to make micro systems respectable with its multiple generations of class-leading performers.
However, with the DCD-500AE CD player and PMA-500AE amplifier, it has missed the performance target by a massive margin.
Not that you'd guess it by looking at them. Both components are smart and nicely put together for the money. Each unit comes with an easy-to-use remote hand-set and feels classy every time you press a button or use a control.
The DCD-500AE CD player is decently equipped as far as budget CD players go. You get an optical digital output, a headphone socket and a relatively slick transport.
The PMA-500AE amplifier covers all the bases, too, with its complement of moving magnet phono stage, and tone, loudness and speaker switching controls. Little to complain about so far, then.
Struggle with sonic complexity.
Initial sonic impressions are also OK. Listen to In the Ghetto, and Elvis' voice is strongly projected and solidly delivered. There's decent detail, particularly in the midrange, and no shortage of speed when the music demands. But those wanting warmth and smoothness won't find it here.
A lack of refinement is a problem, but not the problem. What these Denons struggle with is organisation of instruments and sounds so the final result resembles the tune originally recorded.
This combo sounds messy, leaving you struggling to make sense of the various strands in a piece of music.
They stutter making sense of simple recordings, and fall apart when asked to replay something demanding like Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. Scale, dynamics and authority are all lacking.
There's no denying Denon builds some great-sounding kit, but this CD/amplifier duo proves that reputation alone is no guarantee of getting a good product. The build, usability and finish on both the DCD-500AE and PMAS-500AE are spot on: the sound isn't.