Denon DCD-580 CD-player
A 20-bit converter, instead of the usual 16 or 18-bit, designed with the help of the experts at Burr-Brown. The idea is to reproduce low signal voltages more accurately, by processing the digital signal in smaller, manageable chunks.
Bitstream's technical advantage is its innately accurate resolution of low-level signals, but because it uses high frequency processing of huge chunks of data, it relies heavily on digital filtering, which can compromise the sound quality. Hence Denon's move further in the opposite direction, which means good linearity, low distortion and a high signal-to-noise ratio.
Not that the DCD-580 looks anything but conventional from the outside. It's in Denon's usual black house-style, being faultlessly solidly constructed with a decent metal casing and facia panel. The features include 20-track programming, a threemode timer and a repeat button, while the remote adds the facility to repeat part of a track to see how long you can sustain the emotional orgasm of a particularly tasty guitar lick.
Unusually, the remote includes a volume control. The DCD-580 also has a headphone socket, but round the back it offers no more than the basic analogue output. Still, if Denon's new DAC is so good, you won't be needing an offboard upgrade anyway.
Well, is it that good? First into the drawer was the Eurythmics' Be Yourself Tonight. Apart from a treble response which can sometimes seem a shade disembodied and sibilant, the Denon is dynamite. On It's Alright (Baby's Coming Back), the brass section chugged along with a convincing crackle while Annie Lennox's ethereal vocals hovered over the soundscape with just the right degree of otherworldliness. The bass lines were fast and clean, but never less than solid. And through it all was a sense of space, both breadth and depth, the like of which isn't at all usual in a CD player as inexpensive as this.
Tanita Tikaram's The Sweet Keeper album emphasised the point. Her laid-back songs tend to have fairly sparse instrumentation so there are lots of gaps in the sound filled in by low-level ambient information. She's a good test of a CD player, and the DCD-580 passed with a wonderfully intimate projection of the album's opening track, Once & Not Speak. There was no background mush, just a clear, close and believable voice backed by a flowing band.
In fact the sound was not far adrift from that of a very decent record-playing system, apart from that sometimes over-potent treble. So I compared ABC's Tears Are Not Enough with the vinyl version on a Roksan Xerxes/Rega RB300/Corus Black combination. There's lots going on in this track: several streams of percussion, a quasi-funky bass line, lots of brass and Anne Dudley's wonderfully wacky piano, and both transducers captured the lot. The flow and rhythm didn't swamp the detail and impact in either case; let's just say that the Roksan had more of the former, while the Denon majored on the latter.