GOODSOUND!GoodSound! "Equipment" Archives

Published November 1, 2002

 

Denon D-107 Music System

It must be tough being a lifestyle stereo system, always having to look so suave and suck-in-your-gut trim even as The Eminem Show comes snarling from a pair of ill-prepared speakers not much thicker than a deck of cards. But that's what a lot of people want now. A stereo system that just sounds good isn't good enough anymore. It must look good as it's sounding good too. The familiar black box -- remember when everything on store shelves was dressed in conformist black, like some private-school uniform? -- now competes with shimmering silver matte finishes, soothing blue backlighting, and trim-line designs.

Denon, no stranger to mini-systems, has entered the lifestyle division with the D-107 music system, the first release in its Prime Sound Series. It's an ultra-compact and versatile system, at least for placement purposes, with CD, CD-R/CD-RW and MP3 playback, an AM/FM tuner, stereo speakers, and a subwoofer. It has only one digital output and a single auxiliary input/output.

The D-107's physical beauty is beyond debate. But is a little beauty with almost dollhouse-scale speakers driven by a 20Wpc amplifier worth $749? Hey, some people like an expensive lifestyle.

Description

Obviously, Denon has been watching the lifestyle beauty pageant. The D-107 has that lifestyle look, almost two-dimensional, with speakers and a "control module" each less than 3.5" deep. Each piece can be mounted on a wall or rested on a tabletop with its screw-on plastic stand. The subwoofer, a vital player in this system, features a cylindrical "bazooka" design neatly obscured by a sloping silver facade. It too can be mounted, but at 17 pounds it's best left on the floor.

The six-pound control module is about as big as the fall issue of Glamour (we're talking beauty here, aren't we?), a mini-tower about 10" high, 8" wide, and 3" deep. Beneath the brushed-aluminum front panel is an AM/FM tuner and a CD player with the sort of open-face drive mechanism that has come to define lifestyle components.

The front panel is all silver except for the blue display stretching across the lower part and a slot on the upper half, illuminated blue, that serves as a window onto the CD. In the blue light, the disc becomes translucent, but it's a bit of a tease. Why not show the entire disc, like executive desktops from Sony or JVC?

The display registers the D-107's many functions, but otherwise displays the day and time. On startup, the display offers a cheerful "Hello!" message. On shutdown, the sendoff reads "See You!," though with these looks maybe a formal "Adieu" would be more appropriate.

The front panel has only two controls, one on each side of the display. One control starts and stops the CD. The other control accesses the loading mechanism by opening the entire front panel from the top. When the mechanism senses a disc in the slot, it swallows the CD and the front panel closes automatically. Most essential controls, including the on/off button, are on top of the control module. So looking dead-on at the panel, you see only silver, blue, and the two front-panel controls. It's a clean, attractive layout. All functions are accessible by remote control.

The D-107 can connect to your TV, PC, or DVD player via a set of audio outputs or to a digital device like a CD recorder via a digital optical output. Because of its size and Auto/Off and Timer/Sleep modes, it's also fit for bedside or desktop duties.

But such small and slim components put design engineers in a bind. With limited space, where do you fit the amplification? And how can you fill a closet, much less a room, with sound with these undersized speakers? First thing, add a subwoofer. It covers up the deficiencies of the satellites. In the D-107's case, it also opens space for the system's amplifier. Although it's still puny -- 20W maximum for the satellites and 40W maximum for the subwoofer -- it's enough here. The sub has a 4.7" driver at each end of the "bazooka" cylinder aligned in Denon's Push-Pull Dual Driver system. The edge of one driver is concave, while the other is convex, to help cancel high-harmonic distortion.

The control module is tethered by cable to the subwoofer. The speakers, which also connect to the sub, come with basic color-coded wiring. Denon also applied the Push-Pull Dual Driver system to the two-way speakers that use three drivers: two 3" units and a 0.8" tweeter. The surround of one of the 3" units is concave; the other is convex.

The D-107 isn't as striking as some of the latest lifestyle designs -- and for a $749 system the D-107 sure flashes a lot of plastic -- but its handsome good looks should fit easily into most decors.

Setup

If the D-107 were mine, I'd find it hard to resist wall-mounting at least the speakers and maybe everything except the sub. Because it was only visiting, I used the stands for the speakers and module, leaving the sub on the floor near a corner to accentuate the bass.

The D-107 can be used as a desktop system -- Denon specifies only that about three inches separate the control module and each speaker -- but you'll get better stereo imaging when it's set up more like a full-size system. I preferred the speakers about four or five feet apart, then tried to get the best balance between them and the subwoofer using the system's rudimentary bass-adjustment feature. The lower frequencies can be boosted or decreased by 10dB in increments of 2dB.

Sound

The D-107 would be lost without the subwoofer. The speakers are so small, so flat, that even the slightest workout can leave them gasping. Though I avoid tone controls -- I'll usually take it natural, in neutral -- I knew right away that I'd have to do some tinkering with this system.

Alan Broadbent's Pacific Standard Time [Concord Jazz 4664] seemed a genial partner, an acoustic jazz trio setting led by the New Zealand piano player best known around here as a member of bassist Charlie Haden's Quartet West. Yet the speakers' limitations were obvious immediately. No bass, a nice-but-not-lush midrange and limited reach into the higher frequencies. Adding a 2dB bass boost to "This One's for Bud" helped. Adjusting the midrange and treble controls did not.

With the subwoofer, bass was somewhat loose but certainly welcome. Even more tonal trickery, a feature called Super Dynamic Bass that's a bit like an old-fashioned loudness control, made the low end much too boomy. I quickly realized that the quality of the midrange became dependent on the volume setting: the louder, the thinner. The D-107 fares best at lower volume settings in a smaller room with this type of music.

Now for something more raucous: How about T-Bone Walker, whose blues-R&B-jazz hybrid in the '40s and '50s might have prevented him from getting his due in the blues world. A 1992 Delmark collection, I Want a Little Girl [Delmark 633], is a nice introduction. (The definitive collection, however, is the out-of-print The Complete Recordings of T-Bone Walker 1940-54, a six-disc/nine-LP set on Mosaic Records.)

Just when I wanted to keep cranking up "Leaving You Behind" on the Delmark disc, I had to back off the volume and return the bass setting to neutral because the speakers didn’t like the pressure.

So the D-107 isn't a party system. Maybe it's everything but that. It performed well running the TV through it. It's suitable for nearfield listening in a bedside or desktop setup, for background listening, and, with its CD-ROM drive, well versed in MP3 playback.

Comparison

Are looks really that important? In some households with little spare room and a desire to blend electronics with furnishings, absolutely. As hard as I try, I cannot resist comparing each lifestyle system I audition with a comparably priced system of conventional design. Denon itself championed high-performance mini-systems that combined Denon electronics with Mission speakers (Denon is the US distributor for the British speaker manufacturer). I still remember trying out the D-M7, a $1000 flagship system with AM/FM receiver, three-disc CD changer, auto-reverse cassette deck -- each in a compact, all-metal chassis -- and the excellent Mission 731i bookshelf speakers.

Even now, Denon offers the D-M30 with a single-disc CD player, AM/FM receiver, and Mission MS-50 speakers for $449 and the D-M50, the same system with a three-disc changer. Another nomination: the $800 NAD Music System, with a one-piece AM/FM receiver and CD player with PSB Alpha Mini speakers. Sonically, any of these systems would eat the D-107 for lunch. They just wouldn't look quite so modern doing it. And you'd never see one of them hanging from a wall -- at least not elegantly.

Conclusion

Every lifestyle system sacrifices some sonic performance because of its compactness and the greater expense committed to design. So it's hard to get too picky about the D-107. But this system, though attractive, is not such a visual knockout that I could readily overlook its sonic limitations and give it the gotta-have-it blessing at $749.

The D-107 looks more inviting, however, at some of the much lower prices advertised online by authorized dealers. You can play it safe with one of Denon's conventional systems, the D-M30 or D-M50, but neither will be a conversation piece, on-the-wall artistic statement, or space saver like the D-107. Go ahead and take a chance, but put the shopping 'bot in overdrive to get the best price.

Price of equipment reviewed


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