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Vanity modules in Denon 4010UD

Posted by Helge 
Vanity modules in Denon 4010UD
January 13, 2012 06:10PM

Many may wonder why a separate digital output may be important in a Bluray player, since today's players can be usually linked to receivers or amplifiers via the HDMI connection. Correct, but many high-end afficionados use more and more reproduction chains, where the speakers are controlled by digital crossovers. However, up to now, HDMI connections are absent here. This implies a second, avoidable DA-AD conversion in the chain, which, of course, will not improve sound quality. Furthermore, the overall quality of the reproduction chain will be dominated by the weakest part, which, at least in my setup, is definitely the analog output quality of the Denon 4010UD.

The tests:

The implentation of the Vanity module(s) (VM) in the Denon 4010UD does not deactivate any existing outputs. This enables a truly double test by comparing the original digital output (OD) with the VM using CDs, because all other parts of the chain remain exactly the same. For the listening setup see below.

In the first setting, the VM played with 96kHz, 24 bit and the filter set to a sharp roll off. Regardless of the material played, the OD did not match the VM output in terms of soundstaging, tonal balance and detail. However, the Transporter competed well with the VM, although the differences were not really large.

The OD places the sound stage a bit more to the front compared to the VM, whereas the Transporter moves everything further away from the listener. Especially the latter reproduction gives more a feeling of a stage and not a one-dimensional front. These different locations of the sound stage are accompanied with subtle, but noticeable differences in the tonal balance. Especially the energy in the treble region decreases in the order OD/VM/Transporter, which is also accompanied with a decreasing diffuseness of individual voices or instruments.

Switching the filter in the VM to a slow roll off improved the quality substantially. Since it can get even better, when switching the sampling frequency to 192kHz, we omit the few tests we made with 96kHz. Now we hear with 192kHz/24bit/slow roll off.

Recordings from the genre of progressive rock are usually so heavily compressed (there are exceptions!) that the inherent distortions may turn down the fun of listening considerably. Holes in the sky from the last Vanden Plas album The seraphic clockwork begins with some kind of toms alternating between the left and right channel. The Transporter places the toms almost at the locations of the speakers (but virtually behind them), whereas the VM moves them slightly inside and a bit to the back. The cymbals sound more like a high-frequency noise (Transporter), because the aural localization is considerably blurred (quite usual for many rock recordings). With the VM the cymbals sound noticeably clearer, but are still far away from reality. The vocals of Andy Kuntz condense spatially more to a spatially defined voice, which is better separated from the instruments, which goes along with a more two-dimensional soundstage compared to the Transporter. Overall, the VM provide more details in the recording, but it does not elevate it to a great one (because it isn't).

The problem of blurring in the treble region is also nicely evident in the piece Sleeping Sun from the Nightwish CD Oceanbound. In the intro some computer-generated bells and triangles produce some acoustical sparkling effects, which are placed close to the middle of the soundstage and far in the back. With the VM this sparkling seems to be more focused in its individual appearances. The wonderful voice of Tarja is also more focused by the VM and seems to stand firmly between the speakers. The Transporter gives a slightly broader, but less deep soundstage.

We observed the same trend (VM: more detail, better soundstaging, less tonal blur) with many other prog rock recordings (Threshold, IQ, Subsignal, Dream Theater,...).

How is a piano reproduced? Chopin's nocturne in C minor (Op. 48, No.1) played by Idil Biret (Naxos CD) over the Transporter starts with a very soft introduction, where the piano (presumably a Steinway) is placed exactly in the middle of the soundstage with little lateral extension. The phantom source of single key strokes, however, seems to fall apart slightly with the highest harmonics coming from locations slightly different to he fundamental tones. The metallic character, however, is there. Hearing this piece over the VM, however, reveals immediately, what can be done better: The overtones, which provide the metallic character, belong now to the fundamentals. Furthermore, especially the soft passages reveal much more inner detail of the key strokes and the decaying of the tones. Now the impression of really listen to a piano placed some meters away from the listener seems perfect.

Coming to recordings with higher resolution, the Cantatas of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach from the DVD recorded by the Bachchor Mainz (Ralf Otto) benefit substantially by setting the VM filter to slow roll off and increasing f from 96 to 192kHz. The marvellous vocals of Dorothee Mields and Gerhild Romberger are really fascinating and contrast beautifully with the orchestra placed acoustically (and visually, of course) behind them. The soundstage is as sharp as the picture and acoustically every tiny detail is easily discernible. An addictive reproduction!

Finally, a comparison between SACD and 24/196 files was done. Vivaldis twelve violin sonatas La stravaganza performed by Rachel Podger and Arte Dei Suonatori are available from Linn as the 24/196 master and as a SACD. Again the VM won in terms of soundstaging, precision and inner details. The violins had "more wood", there was more space between instruments and in general, this great recording made more fun over the VM than over the Transporter.

Resumee: It was some kind of surprise to us that the vanity module not only competes, but even exceeds the Logitech Transporter, the latter being already a very high quality streamer. If you are for a top-notch surround system (as we are, since in a few months we will run 4.0 channels), this it is!
This test shows also that even CDs with their "low resolution" can provide plenty of fun, when played over a top-notch system. Resolution is obviously not everything, as was revealed by the SACD/masters test. Filters seem to have a substantial influence upon the sound quality, maybe even more than sampling frequency.


My setup in brief:

Denon 4010UD tuned in the digital section by Michael Krehl and Michael Schiffers (www.cinemike.de)
DAS Digital switch from Thomas Funk (www.funk-tonstudiotechnik.de)
Digital crossover HD2 (www.four-audio.com)
Six amplifiers self-made using power supply boards from Schuro (www.hifituning24.de) and class B amplifier boards from Rod Elliot (sound.westhost.com). The amplifiers were tuned pairwise for the different frequency ranges and populated with hand-selected electronic parts.
The speakers were home-made, too using closed cabinets for the 15" woofer from 18Sound, the midrange chassis come from Accutone and all above 2.2 kHz is reproduced with a really large air-motion transformer from Mundorf.
All speakers were measured professionally for their frequency and phase response with subsequent calculations of FIR filters to obtain a flat frequency response and a fully linear phase response between 20Hz and 20 kHz. More details can be found here:


In this fully digital chain, the Logitech Transporter serves as a comparison. All cables (RCA/BNC 75Ohm) come from Thomas Funk except for the XLR connections between the Transporter/DAS and DAS/HD2, where Mogami 110 Ohm cables are used.
The reverberation time of our listening room is optimized by placing several absorbers behind the speakers. Two bass absorbers improve the reverberation at low frequencies.
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