Denon DNP-720AE: streaming made simple – and even more affordable
Recent price-cuts have brought this Denon 'internet tuner' down to a mass-market price-level
Music-streaming is a fast-moving market, with new models appearing and existing hardware repositioned. The Marantz NA7004, launched at around £720, has settled just south of £400, while the same fate has befallen the Denon DNP-720AE: launched last Autumn at £ 430, you’d now have to work pretty hard to spend any more than £250 on it – while writing this review I spotted it for £219! And, on paper at least, it packs a lot for the money.
It has Wi-Fi as well as an Ethernet port, both a digital USB input for iPods and iPhones and wireless Apple AirPlay connectivity, and will also stream content from home networks, internet radio and services such as Last.fm and Napster.
It also packs an FM RDS/AM radio tuner, can play music from connected USB memory devices, and acts as a client for Windows 7’s ‘Play to’ functionality, allowing you to playlist music on your computer and then send the whole list for playback to the Denon. There’s even ‘Wake on LAN’ for this application: if the DNP-720AE is in standby, it’ll ‘wake up’ and start playing.
As well as a remote control handset, the Denon has a further trick up its sleeve: it can be controlled over a network by an iPhone or iPod Touch running the company’s free Denon Remote App.
This puts both control and display in the palm of your hand, while those who like to use more conventional controls will find three direct-access buttons on the remote handset, programmable to favourite internet radio stations.
On the inside, the DNP-720AE has typically Denon circuit design: it’s simple and direct, with specially selected components in sound-critical locations. The digital-to-analogue conversion uses a 24-bit/192kHz chipset, and the player supports MP3, AAC, FLAC (up to 96kHz/24-bit) and uncompressed WAV files.
The Denon is simple to set up, and works reliably (all other factors being equal) on either wireless or wired networking. Denon makes no specific recommendations about which type of connection to use, but I settled on a wired connection to the router, using the wireless purely for iPhone/iPod Touch control and Airplay functions.
The Denon Remote app makes it easy to access music, if slightly time-consuming due to page-by-page rather than scrolling lists. And the sound, while slightly anonymous by the standards of the very best streaming hardware, is always smooth and inoffensive, with reasonable low-end weight and a treble that’s smooth, if not always the most informative when it comes to ambience.
The DNP-720AE is definitely a step up in sonic terms from streaming using a budget Blu-ray player with such capability, and while it won’t trouble top-end machines or even those one step up the price spectrum – the stablemate Marantz NA7004, for example, has more substance and presence – if you’re after a very affordable radio/internet/network tuner it has much to commend it.
However, there is one yawning gap in the Denon’s performance: it doesn’t play music gaplessly. That’s fine with music clearly divided into sections, but not great with opera and choral sets, for example, where one track flows into the next.
How much that will put you off is really a matter of personal taste: the Denon is highly impressive for not very much money, but I fear that gapless thing may rule it out for many classical listeners..
Price £250 (see text)
Network connections Wi-Fi, wired Ethernet
Formats played WMA / MP3 / WAV / AAC / FLAC / WMA lossless (Transcode) / FLAC 96/24
Inputs USB, Apple AirPlay, FM/AM antennae
Audio outputs Stereo analogue on RCA phonos, optical digital
Accessories supplied Wi-Fi antenna, remote handset (can also be controlled by Denon app)
Dimensions (WxHxD) 43.4 x 7.4 x 28.2cm