The Test Results
Our Video Editor, Stacey Spears, came by and, in between chasing my dog with a vacuum cleaner, helped me perform the benchmark tests on the player. As you can see below, the player did wonderfully when set to deinterlacing Mode 1. The SiI504 passed with flying colors every test involving switching from film to video modes. We saw no combing at all with our bad edit test ("The Big Lebowski"). Like the DVD-2800 before it, the 9000 has an extremely fast layer change, if not the fastest. In fact in the whole time I was using the player, I only noticed one layer change. Using a full bit-rate layer change test, we found it to take less than a quarter of a second to change layers. It also has an amazingly fast transition using multi-angle material. We were unable to time it, since it was virtually instantaneous. In fact, in all our tests, the only quirk we could find with the unit was a sub-picture problem with the Sound and Vision test disc. The player would not highlight the selections (they should be highlighted). This is a pretty trivial quirk, but we had to find something!
Besides all the nice processing, I thought I'd just comment on how the movies looked using normal viewing material. Of course, right after installing the player, I was sure to recheck all my settings for my TV as well as gray scale. This should be done any time you add a new player to your system, as each player will be slightly different due to voltage variations on the video outputs. (We have yet to find a single DVD player that adheres to any published component video standard.) I thought the picture quality of the Denon was outstanding. The player has an inherently soft image compared to the Panasonic RP-82 that I currently have, but depending on your taste, that may not be a bad thing. Some reviewers might not like the soft picture, but I did. The image was everything I've come to expect from a player of this caliber, and I never found myself wanting to start using the RP-82 again. Having the windowing feature was a great benefit, especially with all the television shows being released on DVD now. As far as video performance goes, I think you'd be pretty hard pressed to find many better than this.
The audio side was also very impressive. I have only heard one DVD-A player that sounds better with the new high resolution format, but it is $15,000. The 9000 employs Burr Brown PCM-1704 24-bit / 192 kHz DACs. Each of the main channels has two DACs per channel (i.e., balanced), and the other channels have one. I compared it directly to the Panasonic RP-91 and found it a bit crisper. Detail seemed to be more prominent, especially in cymbals. I used some selections from AIX's great multi-channel sampler as well as their Nitty-Gritty surround disc. The player produced a wonderful soundstage that never left me wanting at all.
The addition of digital bass management in the player is also a great feature, since the Marantz receiver I was using doesn't offer this on its analog inputs. The player allows you to set speaker size with a fixed crossover setting of 80 Hz for small speakers as well as providing time alignment. If you have the Denon 5803, you can utilize the Denon link and do bass management in the digital domain there instead, and the 5803 offers crossover points from 40 Hz - 120 Hz in 20 Hz steps. While the 9000 will decode normal red book CD bitstreams, Dolby Digital, DTS soundtracks, and 24-bit / 96 kHz recordings over the Denon link, it will not decode all DVD-A digital signals. At this time, it is limited to discs that are not copyright protected. However with proper hookup to the 5803, you will still have a seamless interface, and the player will automatically switch to the appropriate signal handling.
For the audiophile out there, Denon has gone to great lengths to appease your pickiness. The chassis is designed in sections so that the different processors cannot interfere with each other. There are also pure direct modes that you can set up that will turn off the video output, front display, and digital output.
To test out the two-channel audio capabilities of the player, I enlisted the help of two friends who are quite serious about music reproduction. One is a two-channel hobbyist who builds two-channel tube amps and is also a band conductor. The other is a renowned audiophile who has been in the business since I was born, and has designed many two-channel tube amps and systems. He is also the owner of Aloha Audio. While I didn't really have a player in the same price range to compare the 9000 to, I went ahead and did a blind test between the 9000, the Panasonic RP-91, and the Krell DVD Standard. Although the Krell won the two-channel audio contest with flying colors, it retails for almost twice the price. The Denon did edge out the Panasonic though, with a little more emphasis on the bass.
Denon has informed me that they currently are trying to add multi-channel SACD capabilities to the player. Unfortunately, it appears that it will only be available through the Denon link, which means you need a 5803 to utilize it. This is probably due to the DACs in the 9000 not meeting DSD specifications. We will report on this development later if it indeed becomes available.
Last, but definitely not least, is the remote control. It is a bit on the larger side, but is intuitive and easy to navigate. The main buttons are backlit, and the menu as well as the main function buttons have symbols on them when backlit. Even though it is big, it is a nice remote that is easy to operate.
To say that the 9000 is a great player would be an understatement. It has superb deinterlacing capabilities and amazing DVD-A playback. Couple this with the build quality of a tank, and you have everything you could ask for in a DVD player. While the price tag is a bit high compared to other players on the market, Denon has insured that this will be a purchase that won't leave you wishing for more. It's truly a reference piece.
- Kris Deering -