Denon DCD-960 CD-player
Visually, the one outstandingly different feature of the DCD-960 is how bland the designers have managed to make it look. If blandness was the intention, Denon has done an outstanding job, closely pursued by Kenwood with the DP-5030.
Ergonomics has also taken a nosedive since most of the fancy features - the tape editing buttons, peak level search, programming keys and so on - are arranged as a simple row of identikit buttons.
The converter is the Denon 20-bit Lambda Super Linear Converter, aka ASLC, with eight-times oversampling.
The player itself includes certain rudimentary anti-resonance measures. But what does this all mean?
As it turns out, it means less than you might suppose. The Denon DCD-960 is a neat, modern player whose sound is never going to send anyone screaming from the room, yet which is equally unlikely to get the adrenalin flowing or the hairs standing on end either. It performs unexceptionably well but gives the unmistakable impression of going through the motions. It isn't even especially unobtrusive in the sense of being transparent, a constructive quality that would have served music reproduction well. On the contrary, the Denon imposed a faintly electronic haze on the sound, which inhibited it from developing the authority and stature other players were able to demonstrate.
Such findings are disappointing in any player, but are doubly so in view of Denon's better than average track record with many other components, and their history as a prime mover in the digital field.
The AR jazz sampler generally sounded bland and uninvolving, and the more energetic and committed the playing, the less attractive the sound became. The opening track, Bulfunk, sounded distant and a little woolly, especially at the frequency extremes. The music just kind of happened, without much context in the form of a solid soundstage or any real sense of scale. Bass lines appeared to drag. This sloppiness was apparent throughout Dire Straits' predominantly low key album, and ditto with Mary Black. The Stravinsky lost much of its vivid presence and tangibility. But I suppose we ought to look on the bright side. At least the DCD-960 won't frighten the horses.