Now that they have been moved into their new purpose built home and the dust has settled (as the photo’s doubtless show…), they are properly run in and I have had plenty of very pleasurable long nights getting to know them intimately I thought it about time to write the promised long term review of this amp and SACD duo as a follow up to my initial impressions here;-
Denon PMA-2500NE & DCD1600NE review
These have been used with;-
Monitor Audio Gold 300 (Series 4) speakers https://www.monitoraudio.com/site/assets/files/8940/hfn_oct_monitoraudiogold_300_reprint-low.pdf
QED Reference 40 analogue and digital co-ax interconnects and QED Genesis Silver Spiral speaker cable ( for the 50% of you who hear differences in cable this group test will give an idea of what effect these may have;- https://kleinnovations.com/wp-conte...o1-ICs-KLEI-gZero2-SCs-by-HiFi-Choice_1.0.pdf ) in single runs (not bi-wired as Monitor Audio recommend Gold Manual(s) )
Various CDs, SACDs and downloaded files burned onto DVD-R
AIFF & DSD files from Mac via Supra USB
Systemdek IIX turntable with Linn Basik LVX arm and Ortofon 2M Blue stylus (those of you not familiar with the Systemdek it evolved into the Audio Note TT1 and info here;- Systemdek IIX TurnTables user reviews : 4.2 out of 5 - 22 reviews - audioreview.com )
Panasonic UB820 Blu Ray and Yamaha RX-A3070 to HT Bypass (both well reviewed on these forums)
B&W P7 headphones
Home made hi-fi rack using 40mm solid oak butcher block kitchen worktop
For acoustics the room is a self build garage conversion dedicated stereo Hi-Fi listening / 7.1.4 home cinema / office / bike shed (so not, er, dedicated…) Dimensions 5.5m x 4.6m (partly built in to 4m with tall cupboards to get as close to ideal room acoustic dimensions as practical) x 2.4m. No windows or glass / reflective surfaces, 6” stud partition free standing walls, ceiling and suspended floor, except specifically where speakers and equipment are located which has concrete raised to new floor level for direct solid support (spikes through carpet). 3/4 carpeted with thick underlay 1/4 oak floor at rear. Speakers symmetrical along 5.5m wall 2.5m apart 1.07m from front wall 1.5m from side walls (bottom driver 0.92m from side base cupboards) measured from centre of front and slightly toed in. Equipment on dedicated separate ring main with tested good clean supply figures. Central listening positions 2.5m (sofa) and 3.2m (office chair) from front wall.
Denon DCD-1600NE SACD player
An impulse purchase as really surplus to requirements; the initial intention for this system was to have only 2 inputs to the amp - USB from Mac with CD collection downloaded onto iTunes and HT Bypass; my CDs staying with my Cambridge CX system in a different room - I am not, however repenting at leisure. It is a cracking player and getting much use. First up, the issues;- 1. it has no digital input to be used as a DAC (the matching amp does though). 2. it can only play SACD in stereo as analogue out, not surround sound and doesn’t have HDMI or USB out. 3. HMS SACD is a sinking pleasure craft with major availability issues. 4. AIFF files on DVD-R get added hiss at the end of each track. So would I recommend it? Assuming one was looking to play a large existing collection of CDs and SACDs or burned DSD / FLAC / WAV / MQA files then, with one major caveat, which I will get onto later, absolutely yes. For this it is excellent. The AL32 Advanced Processing Plus makes Redbook (standard) CDs sound almost SACD like, as other owners on the earlier thread testify. If you have more budget and if the slight sonic step up from analogue out to digital out to the PMA-2500NE amp’s DAC equates to the sonic difference between the DCD-1600NE and DCD-2500NE players then you may wish to splash the extra cash for that little extra many chase, but be in no doubt the DCD-1600NE has superb sound and build quality most would be absolutely delighted with.
How does the DCD-1600NE compare as just a transport? I lined it up against the Cambridge CXC and Panasonic UB820. It is oft stated on here that all transports sound the same, just reading 1s & 0s and, until I actually listened, I could buy this argument. They don’t. Playing CDs (Talk Talk Spirit of Eden, Blazing Redheads Crazed Women, Yo Yo Ma & Bobby McFerrin Hush, Tears for Fears Tears Roll Down, Malcolm Arnold Beckus the Dandipratt ((Reference Recordings)) and many others) the differences were immediately clear. As already stated on another thread the UB820 is a big step down from the CXC, dead sounding by comparison. Of more interest is the difference, if any, between the CXC and DCD-1600NE. By comparison the DCD-1600NE produces a more detailed, brighter, transparent, fuller and more dynamic sound; the CXC being slightly flat. Not as big a difference as with the UB820 but different nonetheless. Also the Denon read perfectly a damaged disk the CXC stuttered and jumped on. Possibly not a straight test as I used different digital co-axial cables (the PMA-2500NE amp has two co-ax inputs). With the Denon I used QED Reference and with the CXC I used Cambridge 300 cable. So time to swap them round. The differences were still there but, and perhaps I could be wrong, they definitely seemed more subtle. The DAC in the DCD-1600 is top drawer, however, so I wouldn’t recommend digital out unless you were using something pretty special as an alternative DAC. Assuming, as I had been led to believe on here, that all digital cables sound the same, indeed have to, and with the conclusions I had so far come to, it made sense to A/B test the QED and Cambridge cables from the DCD-1600NE using the Gaucho 48/96AIFF disk. Comparison was more difficult given the extra time in swapping cable and turning back on components, however the QED was indeed brighter. more open and transparent, going some of the way to explaining the differences between transports. It seems there are subtle differences in sound between a copper cable with two layers of shielding and a silver plated copper cable with three layers and different connectors, at least on this revealing system, if not on one of my others. I’ll get my tin hat and fire proof onesie and lick my mortally wounded reputation and before I hear “confirmation bias placebo for the expensive one” it is true that the QED is listed at 6 times the price of the Cambridge but it is also true I actually paid only £5 more for it than the Cambridge from AVonline - and we are only talking marginal gains in sq. There. That’s me now off the fence on such a contentious subject and now I have poked my stick into this particular hornets’ nest may I politely ask this thread doesn’t degenerate into a popcorn slinging match and things other than cables be discussed. Please.
I am struggling with SACDs, specifically the bare bones availability. Virtually all mainstream music is simply unavailable at any price. Much of what pittance is for sale is left-field, at extortionate prices, from dubious sellers around the world and of poor recording quality. I am referring here to the remastering of old recordings - like what is going on with 4K Blu Rays where some of the re-releases are from such poor original recordings they are no better than a decent bog standard DVD. Get a top level new recording on SACD though and it’s like 7 Worlds on 4K, hair-raisingly excellent. Take Stravinksy’s Rite of Spring for example. This is what SACD was invented for with its sudden dynamic changes. My first SACD of this was Leonard Bernstein / N.Y. Phil. (Sony SICC10267) which was recorded in 1958. A great performance - Stavinsky himself was in the audience and summed it up with the one word “Wow” - but there’s no escaping it’s a 1958 recording with the 2018 DSD Remastering letting you know this in clear detail, warts ’n’ all. Thankfully classical music at least is soldiering on in a limited way with SACD - with sensible pricing to boot - and so other versions are available. My Litton / Bergen version BIS-SACD-1474 is an original DSD recording with excellent results. Remastering of old recordings can get good results though, one example being Jazz at the Pawn Shop 30th Edition SACD. Other new recordings specifically for SACD of worthy note are from the Reference Recordings label, e.g. Mahler Symphony 1 (DSD recording) and Holst Planets (24 BIT HDCD). Interestingly R.R. release recordings with high dynamic range such as these on SACD and recordings with a naturally lower dynamic range such as !Viva Segovia! on standard CD for the same price. I say interestingly because they manage to get this particular CD to sound good enough that if blindfold I could think it were SACD (at least when played on this player with its upscaling): certainly it has a better sound quality than some SACDs I own. With this CD I was able to ascertain that there is a slight improvement in sound quality when using the DCD-1600NE as a transport only and using the DAC in the PMA-2500NE versus using the DCD-1600NE DAC and analogue out. Note using digital co-ax out doesn’t work with SACD. Analogue out is the only option and so I am unable to use the fractionally better PMA-2500NE DAC components for SACDs. Another CD I can tell the difference between DACs with is Spyro Gyra, which is a neat way to round off my SACD issues rant as I purchased it as a SACD and what was sent all the way across the Atlantic was the standard Redbook CD I now have. Ouch!
The DCD-1600NE has the facility to play CD-+R & DVD-+R and so a solution is to download high res files onto my Mac and burn them onto disk, thereby creating homemade SACDs. This has been partially successful.
Let’s start with the failures first. I downloaded both Steely Dan’s Gaucho and Talk Talk’s Colour of Spring as 24/96k AIFF before burning them to DVD-R using iTunes - burn - DVD. They played as an album should from the Mac via USB. With the burned disks though, whilst the sound quality of the music was superb, there was a terrible loud hiss of 1 second right at the end of each track. Digital out to the PMA-2500NE amp DAC and the same ear splitting hiss. Stick the burned DVD-R into the Panasonic Blu Ray though and all works fine - a little groan as it finds the next track, but no truly awful hiss at the end of each, suggesting this issue is Denon related. Sound quality from the Blu Ray player, using the Yamaha AV preamp (Pure Direct) and Denon power amp (HT Bypass) is a BIG step down, flat, dull and sounding like a very compressed file, not a high res one. I have oft read on here that such a set up is a viable option for stereo music playback - indeed it was recommended to me not to bother with a stereo amp & CD player as the RX-A3070 and UB820 are very good indeed. Sorry, but no. I am listening as I type and the difference is huge (update - listening from Mac via Airplay to RX-A3070 preamp - HTBypass and via USB to PMA-2500NE the difference is a lot closer, suggesting the main difference is the players). The hiss makes the DVD-R unlistenable to which is a real shame - the sound quality is slightly cleaner than playing the download via USB, possibly because I’ve needed to put an iFi iDefender3.0 onto the USB to address a ground loop issue with partial success (I only get the ground loop when both USB and HT Bypass are connected. Remove one and the loop breaks. The Mac is on a different ring main)
So onto the success - DSD download. I have downloads in 5.6 DSD128 (double the resolution of SACD) of Eddie Daniels’ Heart of Brazil and Rachel Podger’s Bach Cello Suites transcribed to violin. The latter is available as a SACD but I instead chose to purchase multi format downloads to play around with to hear which I prefer. I was expecting much of a muchness but found DSD provided a fuller, more grounded sound to 24/192 FLAC. DSD files, however, are very large. At 6.5GB Eddie Daniels requires a dual layer DVD+R, which the Denon can play no problem and at 10.5GB Podger’s required 2 disks - a dual layer and a standard single layer. Sound quality is simply superb though. Breathtaking. And no hiss! Just a modest double click between tracks (instead of the Panasonic’s groan) that I can easily live with. But like SACD, DSD DVD-Rs can’t play digital out to make the most of the PMA-2500 DAC (AIFF hi-res can though). Unlike SACD they do play in the Panasonic. As well as large file size, DSDs also have the SACD problem of availability. I went to download DSD files of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Norah Jones’ Come Away With Me from a U.S. site, where such things are available, only for the purchase to be refused due to me being in the U.K.
I have since tried WAV, FLAC and MQA all with success - and these can be played into the PMA-2500 DAC.
Downloaded CDs work absolutely fine burned onto a CD-R using iTunes - burn - CD and play exactly the same as the original CD.
Denon PMA-2500NE Integrated Amplifier
If I am pleased with the SACD player above then I am ecstatic with the amp. Powerful and delicate, fast and neutral, musical and revealing, multi layered and three dimensional, it is a true “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” 25kg beautifully crafted, fleet of foot, solid brute of an amp. Officially rated at 80W per channel, Hi-fi News lab tested it at 125W / 198W into 8 / 4ohm http://www.novial.sk/documents-denon/denon-pma-2500ne-hifi-news-2016.pdf But it is far more than merely an integrated amplifier. It is also a DAC, a Phono Preamp, a Headphone amp and has HT Bypass - and don’t think that makes it a jack of all trades; it has proved itself in my opinion to be master of all. Hi-fi Choice describes the DAC of the PMA-1600NE, which if the same as the SACD player above is not quite as good as the PMA-2500NE DAC (including all the electric bits that go with it), as sweeter and smoother than a Chord Hugo DAC - a most highly regarded component retailing in the same ballpark price as this complete package amplifier https://files.hifiklubben.com/4a500.../hfc_427_gt_integrated_amps_reprint_denon.pdf The DAC is claimed to support 11.2DSD256 (four times that of SACD), https://files.hifiklubben.com/4a54e...cd-2500ne--pma2500ne-hi-fi-choice-review0.pdf however I get “unsupported” when using either USB (I may have a setting wrong) or burned to disk on the DCD-1600NE. Probably a good thing considering such a size is over 15 times bigger than CD wav file size. As stated previously sound from the SACD player digital in sounds slightly cleaner than from the downloaded file using USB. I put this down to the cable. If there is a smidgeon of difference in sound between different digital coaxial cables and very slightly more between analogue coaxial (see previous review) I have found to my complete surprise that there are night and day differences between USB cables. My Supra cable that I am using is far superior to my Fisual Havana, however, that it is not entirely clean is in no way helped by the fact it is 8 metres long (The Denon instructions state a maximum of 3 metres) and has an iFi iDefender3.0 attached to tackle ground loop hum. If using USB cable then get as good as you can and keep as short as possible.
There are built in phono stages and then there are built in phono stages. This one is a good’un. I got my turntable in the late ‘80s and connected it to my Pioneer A400 amp’s phono stage. Not one of the superlatively glowing Best Buy reviews of this amp back in the day mentioned how crap the phono stage was in it and the sound from my LPs were very much 3rd rate compared to my Arcam Alpha Plus CD player. I held on to my turntable as I had a collection of LPs but hardly ever played them as my CD collection grew. Much more recently I gave it a second chance with an Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge and ProJect Phono Box USB-V connected to my Cambridge CXA-80. It still sounded crap - I have previously described the sound as like coming out of a well or from the room next door. I never intended putting it onto this system as I had pretty much given up on it in preference to digital, but out of curiosity I gave it a try - and was immediately blown away. Suddenly it sang. Third time lucky - clearly it had been the phono stages that had been holding it back these last 3 decades and so the turntable has not only stayed, but had much use. Indeed, having not purchased an LP since the ‘80s I have now acquired over 30 new albums, double that of of SACDs. I liken higher res digital as sounding more “analogue” than lower res which is very much a compliment, but it still sounds completely different to vinyl. As stated on my first review LPs that previously were poor second cousins to CD are now siblings of equal merit insofar as giving pleasure. By comparison to CDs my LPs sound somehow more tactile and like a friendly mutt with a waggy tail versus a racing greyhound, both making equally rewarding pets in different ways. Perhaps the biggest difference is in stereo separation. I listen on the sofa sitting looking straight ahead at the AV centre speaker and central Sub and whilst, with digital I am only using the two stereo Gold 300 speakers my eyes and brain are telling me I am using all four speakers with the vocalist or whatever coming from the centre, other instruments from left and right. It has to be said that the soundstage on this system is bigger and more three dimensional than my other systems with everything clearly placed around the room. By comparison there is no brain trickery of sound coming from the central speaker with vinyl, the stereo separation much more clearly defined, the soundstage filling the entire room. The effects are like being in the front row of the audience being performed to with digital versus being placed right slap bang centre stage playing air guitar fully surrounded by the other musicians with vinyl, like I’m actually Santana. It must be noted that the sofa position is a bit forward of the “perfect” equilateral triangle with the speakers and when I move to the office chair directly behind, which is then equilateral, this difference is reduced. It must also be noted that some digital provides comparable sound stage effects as vinyl, presumably depending on how it’s been recorded. The turntable also emphasises the rhythm of the music to irresistible toe tapping proportions, creating a sound that is engaging, making me simply enjoy the music rather than analyse. The snap, crackle and pop, along with motor hum somehow adds to the character, or dare I say charisma of vinyl. That it is user unfriendly can also be a plus - from effort comes reward, particularly as one listens to a full album without jumping tracks and listens intently to the end in order to lift the needle. I remembered that my late wife had Michael Jackson’s Thriller on LP so, unable to download the DSD, I dug it out from under the stairs, enjoyed it every bit as much as I would have the DSD and then stuck it back under the stairs for another 10 years. That the preamp has allowed me to fully appreciate the sound of vinyl is high praise from an old turntable. Having it fixed in my mind for so long that this turntable wasn’t much good I have fought upgraditis tooth and nail, however I have finally concluded that the preamp allows it to really deliver FUN. It’s both a keeper and a user! To sum up I liken the whole vinyl experience through this preamp to my good self - resistant to progress, flawed and hard work but ultimately utterly loveable.
The H.T. Bypass works as it should - effectively using the PMA-2500NE as just a power amp, enabling the AV receiver and this amp to share the MA Gold 300 speakers. The issues are the previously mentioned ground loop problem which I only have when both USB and HT Bypass are connected at the same time and the not so good sound quality from the UB820 Blu Ray player. I was surprised it won AV Forums player of 2019. Picture quality is a definite 10 / 10. Stunning with Seven Worlds One Planet 4k on my 65E8 OLED. Sound 6 / 10 as stated. Build quality 3 / 10 - it’s a cheap, lightweight, plastic thing that is slow and very noisy in use. To be able to clearly hear it spinning the disk from the sitting position over quiet passages of film is really not good.
I am not much of a headphone user in general and not on home systems at all. My B&W P7s are ok but nothing special. Sticking them into the headphone amp the sound is a big improvement over their normal use stuck into my iPhone 6 and I can hear that the amp is getting the best out of the cans - and that these headphones are clearly inferior to my MA Gold 300 speakers, not surprising given they are 10 times the price.
On the subject of my speakers I promised in my first review to report back how they compared with my Monitor Audio Silver 8s once I had them run in. The Gold 300s and Silver 8s are two different quality levels of the same speaker and both of them the previous generation to what is current. My opportunity arose when I came to decamp my new gear out of the garden room to install into this new room and bring my Silver 8s back out of storage and into the garden room allowing me to have them side by side before the Golds were decamped. Going back to the Silver they had a particular sonic that, despite the fact I hadn’t used them for a few months, I instantly recognised. They are slightly warmer (more coloured?), less detailed and softer than the Gold 300s and in my garden room, which is lots of glass and hard / reflective surfaces I actually preferred them to the Golds. Quite a statement given their RRP was 1/3 that of the Gold. Certainly it was a shock to myself. It also exaggerated why, in my first review, I found the Herbie Hancock SACD so hard to listen to, the Gold ribbon tweeters shrill with the room acoustics. In the new room, however, with much better acoustics, carpet and no glass, the Golds have come into their own and are a definite step up from the Silver. I am very pleased with them. As they are wired internally with silver plated cable, as are the bridging cables, I decided to get silver plated speaker cable for them. How this compares for sound with the £1 per metre 4mm o.f.c. cable I got for the AV speakers I don’t know as I haven’t yet a/b tested. It looks bling but is very inflexible. Lesson to all - audition speakers in the room they are going into rather than a shop demo room.
I started by stating there was a major caveat to my recommendation of the DCD-1600NE and it is this - price. I purchase mine only a few months ago from Hi-Fi Corner with the PMA-2500 amp as this store was cheaper than others. The list price for them both was £699 and £1,899 respectively and I got a wee deal off that. At these prices I highly recommend both. The price in this store has just gone up to £999 and £2,399 - an increase of 43% and 27% respectively. Ouch!!! At such a price I wouldn’t have purchased the DCD-1600NE on an impulse and if I were to spend this amount on a need to have basis then I would have pushed the boat out for the DCD-2500NE knowing I wasn’t getting second best. The DCD-2500NE hasn’t changed price and is still £1,499. I will still heartily recommend the PMA-2500 amp at its higher price because I feel it’s worth it, however it would stick in the throat knowing that just a couple of months ago it was £500 cheaper. I recently saw the PMA-1600NE somewhere discounted to £999 which I considered a steal, however Hi-fi Corner are currently advertising it at an increased £1,399. My decision to purchase before I needed to because gut feeling was prices were going to go up for once proved correct.
Finally a game of Musical Rooms. Simultaneously playing from iTunes via USB to my Denon PMA-2500NE, via ethernet cable to my Cambridge CXN / CXA80 / MA Silver 8 in the garden room and via airplay to Yamaha WXAD10 to both my Cyrus 6 / MA Gold 50 in the games room and Pioneer A400 / Castle Chester in the dining room I can skip around the house and compare four clearly different sonic traits. I could (attempt to) wax lyrical about these large differences and rank them in order - unsurprisingly the Denon would easily group test win - but that would be to entirely miss my ultimate conclusion. All gave pleasure. I am extremely happy that now I have the modern equivalent of the “best” system I craved 30 years ago. It is a tick off the bucket list. I am extremely happy with the sound and have satisfied myself that any potential improvements would be extremely marginal gains that won’t, if I am honest with myself, bring more pleasure. So I am going to appreciate the music from now on and stop critically listening to the sound, happy in the knowledge it’s roughly 99% as good as it can be and, as my ears start to fail as I get older, that’s more than good enough for me. I’m a 99% full kind’a guy. Upgraditis is put to bed.
Let me leave you with the equally valid opinions of other owners to compare with my own. On my first review santiago66 posted “fell upon this discussion while searching out some reviews for the big denon 2500 amp & cd player. it’s weird how there are next to zero reviews for these superb, industrial-grade machines. built like battleships and producing deep, wide, clear multi-layered sound through a pair of 10 year old sonus faber toy towers, these old school japanese boxes are making me fall in love with music all over again. cd, sacd, ripped files, vinyl...doesn’t matter. so long as the source recording is good, the sound i hear (and feel) brings a smile to my face. not bad for a grumpy old sod like me.” This is the one and only post he has ever made on these forums, so clearly a man who stays quiet until such times as he feels he has something worthy to contribute - and he has done so far more succinctly and eloquently than myself.
Some other owner reviews of the amp;- Denon PMA 2500