Kenwood DP-7030 CD-player

In contrast with companies like Sony, Technics or Philips, Kenwood is not a true corporate giant. For this reason, it is not always able to crack on at the leading edge of technology, but when the company does get to grips with a new system - in this instance, bitstream conversion - you can be sure the final product will benefit from one or two unique twists.

So it is with the DP-7030, which comes complete with a central (rather than the usual off-set) drawer mechanism, switchable fluorescent display and a bank of direct access keys sunk into an ultra-modern matt-black case. Yet it's the more subtle touches which give this player an identity, like the mini-LED's that turn its 20-position keypad into an impromptu music calendar, and the Play key which winks from green to orange in pause mode.

Kenwood has also provided a novel disc file memory (a kind of bargain-basement Favourite Track Selection facility) to complement the tape edit and three alternative play modes on offer. This allows you to find tracks directly via conventional programming or via a specific time point on a CD. The choice is yours. However, don't go expecting the sort of outrageous convenience features on offer on Sony's 222ES - the DP-7030 is sensibly not gratuitously equipped.

Inside, too, you'll find Kenwood has been hard at work squeezing the best technical performance from one of Sony's PLM bitstream DACs. Kenwood has paid particular attention to the crystal clock that keeps the highspeed switches at the heart of this DAC (and all other DACs for that matter) working with utmost accuracy. Sony's DAC is faster than most so it is even more critical of timing errors, errors that can lead to distortion.

Just like a very early sample of the DP-7030 I managed to lay my hands on, this unit refused to load certain pristine CDs. And even some that loaded successfully would not play from time 0:00 on track 1. This tends to suggest that the player's laser mechanism runs into trouble at the very inside (the start) of some CDs. Six months on, it's about time someone at Kenwood pulled their finger out and looked more closely at what could be a vote-losing design fault.

With discs that do play, the DP-7030 has no difficulty coping with scratches or slight surface damage, just as there's no evidence that the sound of the player is compromised by over-stretched error-correcting circuitry. Quite the reverse, in fact, as-the cool, calm and confident sound of the 7030 quickly demonstrates.

For example, the player coped well with the fast pace of the brass on Marty Paich's It's All Right With Me, dishing out blasts of raw trumpet and sax, and contrasting this nicely with the resonant patter of the vibraphone. The entire track was able to swing along, tightly detailed and sharply focused, if a little detached at times.

And there you have the problem with this player. No matter how demanding the combination of instruments, its technical presentation never falters. Meanwhile, unfortunately, the heart and soul of the assembled performers is often forgotten along the way. Everything is so neat and tidy, so damn pleasant, that the music simply fails to stir the emotions. Listening to Joni Mitchell's Night Ride Home, I found the interplay between her voice, guitar and steady beat of percussion too civilised for its own good. Intuition told me the music was somehow smoother and more comfortable than it should have been, even if it had bags of detail.

This is not just something you'll hear with the Night Ride CD, but with virtually any choice of music. Of course, you may be taken with the refined sound, particularly if it can be used to tame a less refined-sounding system. On the other hand, its 'super natural' composure often leads to a suppression of the music's true ambience, and this might prove a drawback in a system that's already both transparent and revealing.

Kenwood DP-7030 CD-player photo