Review: Denon D-F10 mini system
Originally printed in the January 1995 issue of Gramophone.
Way back in May 1991 I was able to welcome the first Japanese domestic audio pieces that had managed to break away from the utter sterility which had represented—and very largely still does represent—their concept of design. Black boxes with pointlessly variegated knobs and buttons plus a plethora of coloured lights must obviously have a greater appeal to their public than it has to ours. The product then in review was Denon's NS-1 system and it was followed less than a year later by acceptably smaller versions called D-70 and D-100 (February 1992). Their success, not only in the UK but in many markets, led to a number of other manufacturers including such 'lifestyle' products in their ranges, vide John Borwick's report on the Pioneer Impress° 7 system in November. In the meantime Denon have considerably expanded their range of these smaller systems, which now comprises the D-65, D-90, D-110 and D-250, a number of which have won awards. All of them share the original styling of titanium finished panels, matching paintwork and green/gold displays with only the minimum of essential controls on view. The first models of a breakaway range incorporating fresh thinking were to be seen at the Bristol Hi-Fi Show last February, and it is a working group of these which we are considering here.
The Denon D-F10 Series displays a more modern and yet simpler outward appearance, so that a group of units offers a smoother and highly sophisticated approach to domestic hi-fl. Front panels are now completely flat 4mm thick aluminium plates with rounded corners and the Denon name neatly sculpted at top left. They are given a lightly brushed titanium colouring with a hard finish from which all the control buttons scarcely protrude, the larger ones, e.g. the volume knob, having their own shaped recess. Legending is mainly white with a touch of red here and there and the access drawers and display windows are flush fitted. All six units so far available in the series have a common panel size of 270 x 96mm (approximately 10 x 3in) and have folded sheet steel casework making them 300inm (12in) deep plus whatever rear projections are involved, which vary slightly from unit to unit. These casings are painted in a fine metallic grey which complements the front panels; that of the amplifier is perforated with ventilation slots. Each unit is fitted with four plastic drum feet with rubber inserts.
A major departure from the philosophy of the previous series can be seen in the shift of emphasis away from the 'system' approach back to that of unit high fidelity or, as it is popularly and rather uncomfortably named, separates. Each of these new Denon components has its own power supply, standard phono inputs and outputs and essential panel controls; they are available individually and are so priced. However, when linked by the included connecting leads to the common data bus, automatic mutual functions become available. The four units under consideration are a 50 watts per channel integrated amplifier with overall remote control, an AM/FM stereo tuner with timer and RDS (Radio Data Service), a CD player and an audio cassette deck. Other units available are a receiver which gets close to combining the features of the first two, if space is at a premium, and an alternative three-disc CD auto changer. Forthcoming additions include a MiniDisc player/ recorder, a surround sound processor and a digital radio tuner for the new proposed broadcast chain already being tested.
At the heart of our system is the UPA-F10 amplifier. Although this is a completely integrated design there is provision to remove two rear panel links and treat the pre and power amplifier sections separately—an indication of future versatility. That apart, this component can be regarded as a fine example of modern design, incorporating up-to-date technology such as the `11.-Core' power transformer and 'Audio Grade' electrolytic capacitors that we have already met in certain Technics units. Controls are minimal: power flows as soon as the amplifier is connected to the supply and the prominent front Power/Standby button is accompanied by a yellow LED which flashes during a four-second stabilising period. This is joined by a similar indicator in the function group below the five selected source legends—CD, Tape, Tuner, Phono and MD/Aux. A tiny pushbutton enables one to cycle around the choice. A gold-plated headphones socket and three centre detented knobs for Balance, Bass and Treble adjustments complete the fascia with the sole exception of a small window above the power switch which hides the sensor for the remote control.
A handheld controller (RC-172) is supplied with the amplifier (or the receiver) and is a most comprehensive device, although of `plasticky' construction compared with the solid feel of the equipment itself. Only 12, ergonomically shaped and laid out raised rubber buttons are in view and these suffice to cope with all the everyday requirements from all the connected sources, including setting the volume level since the control itself is motorised. However, the lower portion of the controller can be slid back (not too easily, to prevent children altering the preset arrangements) to reveal another 38 buttons and the battery compartment. Obviously there is no point, nor sufficient space, in going into all this here (the not overly clear instruction booklet should be kept handy) but all programming, direct track access, recording, editing, copying, tuning, clock and timer setting can be accomplished here and this includes facilities not available on the equipment itself.
Although not quite the equal of the excellent Denon DCD-825 UK inspired CD player reviewed last month, the UCD-F10 is nevertheless a highly specified partner in the group. It continues Denon's allegiance to the multibit philosophy and incorporates eight-times oversampling in its digital filters and the "dual lambda super linear converter" already used in their better players. An optical digital output has been provided, which is essential for direct recording on to MD machines. Panel controls are limited to Power/Standby and drawer Open/Close buttons, Play, Stop, Pause and a pair for Track selection. Opening the remote control slider accesses all the usual extras, Repeat play (All, Single track or A–B), 20-track programming and programme editing for recording. The fluorescent display, now in a tasteful pale orange colour, is rather deeply recessed behind the flush tinted window below the slim disc drawer. It is quite comprehensive and incorporates a 1 to 20 linear track scale, cancelling each numeral as play of that track is completed. I found the colour less easily distinguished in artificial light than the more common greenish displays and no one has yet equalled the readability of the bright blue once favoured by Pioneer, among others.
The UDR-F10 cassette deck continues with the horizontal loading cassette drawer used in the previous systems and therefore closely resembles the CD player in appearance—almost to the point of confusion! In the interests of tape stability Denon have dropped the auto-reverse facility in this model and concentrated on producing near-CD quality by including the Dolby HX-Pro headroom extension system as well as Dolby B and C noise reduction. A rotary record level control now appears among the usual panel buttons, controlling tape motion, and the display includes twin bar-graph level indicators with red 'over' sections. There is also a four-digit linear counter which has a remaining time mode which is useful for assembling a recording. Extras include a Record Mute button and a CD SRS (Synchro Recording System) button which activates both the deck and the linked CD player to start recording.
Number four in our quartet is perhaps the most disappointing. The UTU-F10 tuner is likely to cause many prospective purchasers to pass the complete system over because of its lack of Long Wave reception in the AM section. Now that BBC Radio 4 indulges in optouts for sport on the 198kHz frequency and a certain rock music transmitter beams its singularly frenetic messages at us from across the Irish sea, I can't visualize many people foregoing these niceties in such a universal set-up. The inclusion of RDS (Radio Data Service) in its simpler form might be considered a poor exchange as it has limited application in a domestic set up, although it has undoubted virtues in the car. However, this tuner's ability to store 30 random stations, its auto scanning and direct entry manual selection plus the once-a-day alarm function and sleep timer do add to its attractions.
Measurements made on the system were so close to those in the various specifications that to quote them here would be repetitious; they are in large degree state-of-the-art. Listening tests in general were also very satisfying and I would particularly praise the amplifier and the CD player. Again, though, the tuner let down the remainder. Although it was quite acceptable on the AM band, even using the supplied loop antenna, it was somewhat below par on FM. On strong signals the response was lacking in life and sparkle and although a check showed that the top octave drooped a couple of dB (with which the specification agrees) it did not seem sufficient to account for the lacklustre quality and often splashy sibilance. The predetermined internal switching which reduced perfectly acceptable stereo transmissions (as received on another tuner) to mono was an annoyance and there is no means provided to make the tuner reassess its decision. For example, Capital Radio on 95.8MHz is a reliable stereo signal here in Oxford on the house antenna system, certainly for 95 per cent of the year. The UTUF10 would not acknowledge this as a stereo signal unless connected to my seven-element rotary beam aerial and even then disconcertingly reverted to mono a couple of times without warning as no signal strength indication is provided. Denon certainly need to rethink this unit which spoils an otherwise viable system for, although the Denon amplifier may well excel, the additional features enumerated by JB in his Pioneer report in November, together with its lower price, could well carry the day.
Denon also sent along a pair of their British-made loudspeakers which they state were planned as a £150 option for the D-F10 systems but were considered good enough to market separately at £159.99. They are two-unit reflex systems with MDF cabinets veneered in real wood and finished in red mahogany style. Each contains a 200mm (8in) maximum diameter pressed steel frame unit with a 125mm (5in) cone of heavily doped pulp on a 25mm (one inch) voice-coil of 4.8 ohms DC resistance. A flexible convex rubber surround is used and the magnet has a covering shield to minimize problems with a possibly adjacent colour TV. High frequencies are handled by a 20mm cone tweeter fed through a single capacitor and resistor while the bass/midrange has a series iron-dust cored inductor and parallel capacitor in series with a resistor. These components are glued to the rear of the 4mm centred terminal panel recessed into the rear face, where there is also the 35mm orifice of a small 140mm long tube forming the vent. The interior is damped with acetate fibre wadding and there is a plug-on grille frame covered in black stretch fabric. Measurements showed that the bass/midrange unit had a free-air resonance of 44Hz which translated to 17 and 78Hz coupled resonances in the cabinet. Stopping the vent showed that the reflex action is quite small, as a single resonance then appeared at 73Hz.
Listening tests showed these loudspeakers to have an essentially crisp and at times hard characteristic, often resulting in crusty male speech, and with a falling bass response which did, however, hold on to quite a low 40Hz, albeit at a much reduced level. They were certainly not capable of doing full justice to the F-10 system, particularly in its CD mode a Postscript.
Rather cheekily after testing the SC-E313 loudspeakers I tried a pair of Harbeth's HL-Compact 7 loudspeakers (£1,300–£1,600 depending on finish) reviewed by Trevor Butler last August (see also the Buyers' guide on page 148). These, I had thought were making arguably the best sound at the recent Heathrow Show and I therefore arranged to borrow a pair. I was not disappointed; this made a smashing combination with one of the cleanest middle range responses this side of electrostatics. Ah me; class (and money) will out!
Hayden Laboratories have asked us to mention that in their experience the SC-E313 loudspeakers change a little after being "run-in" for a period, though whether they would have changed sufficiently to persuade GH to change his opinion, had he been able to use them for longer, is rather doubtful.
IH UPA-F10 amplifier Power output 40W per channel into 8 ohms Frequency response 5Hz-50kHz ±1 .5dB (RIM phono 20Hz-20kHz ±0.5dB) Total harmonic distortion 0.05% (3dB below rated output into 8 ohms) Tone control range Bass ±8dB at 100Hz; Treble ±8db at 10kHz Dimensions (WxHxD)270 x 96 x 342mm Weight 4.5kg UTU-F10 tuner FM tuning range 87.5-108MHz Usable sensitivity (FM) 1.5pV Signal-to-noise ratio (FM) 76dB stereo, 80dB mono AM tuning range 522-1611kHz Usable sensitivity (AM) 20pV Dimensions (WxHxD)270 x 96 x 318mm Weight 2.8kg UCD-F10 CD player Frequency range 4Hz-20kHz Dynamic range 96dB Signal-to noise ratio 108dB Dimensions (WxHxD)270 x 96 x 315mm Weight 3.3kg UDR-F10 cassette deck Frequency response 25Hz-19kHz ±3dB (metal tape) Signal-to noise ratio 72dB (Dolby C at 3% THD by CCIR/ARM) Dimensions (VVxHxD)270 x 96 x 313mm Weight 3.8kg SC-E313 loudspeakers Type two-way reflex with 160mm bass/midrange and 20mm tweeter Frequency range 35Hz-30kHz Sensitivity 88dB/W/m Nominal impedance 8 ohms Dimensions (WxHxD)222 x 354 x 230mm Weight 5.5kg Manufacturer Denon, Japan (optional loudspeakers made in UK) UK distributor Hayden Laboratories Limited, Chiltem Hill, Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire 5L9 9UG. Telephone 01753 888447 UK retail prices Complete system: £999-99 less loudspeakers; £1,149.99 including loudspeakers. Individual units: UPA-F10 £279.99; UTU-F10 £229-99; UCD-F10 £239-99; UDR-F10 £269.99; SC-E313 £159.99 per pair