Denon DCD-A110/PMA-A110 SACD Player/Amplifier Page 2

In common with other recent products released by Sound United stable, the Denon PMA-A110 also uses a two-stage preamp design, with the volume control directionally governing the gain of the first stage instead of merely attenuating the signal. The result is a huge reduction in noise and a boost to the S/N ratio when the amplifier is compared to the company's PMA-2500NE.

Perfect Pair
Completing the set-up is a system remote supplied with both units, giving one-handset operation of the two together. And they are clearly designed to be used together, not least because the 110th Anniversary finish is going to stick out in a rack of either black or silver components. Fortunately, the two components here are not just impressive in their own right, but make a very convincing pairing. What they're not is another 'me too' of the recent upmarket Marantz pairings to pass through these pages [HFN Nov '20]. The two may share common ownership, be made at the same plant and even have some technology overlap, but the two companies maintain their own sound.

sqnote Live And Direct
That's clear as soon as one listens to the DCD/PMA-A110, for while the balance may lack a little of the rich warmth of stablemates such as the Marantz 12SE and Series 30 products, it has both a directness of communication and level of detail certain to grab the attention while the amp has more than enough power and grip to drive loudspeakers with real conviction. And while the sound is crisp and bright, it's in no way overly brash or harsh, even when one plays recordings that are outside the brand-new, audiophile approved canon, whether sourced digitally or via the amp's analogue inputs.


Indeed, playing the early '50s mono recording of 'Take The A Train' from Duke Ellington's Hi-Fi Ellington Uptown [SME Records SRGS4547] shows not only the player's ability to extract maximum detail from this SACD release (in this case in DSD64 on a DVD-R disc), but also the speed and deftness of the amplifier here as the young Louie Bellson pushes the band hard on his 'Skin Deep' opener. If you thought twin bass drums started with '70s rock, then he has news for you!

Come bang up to date with actress/singer Susie Vanner's In These Shoes [Dolce Vanner, N/A cat no], and the Denon pairing gets to grips with the big, lush production job, which is pure showbiz, features the world's least threatening versions of 'Every Breath You Take' and 'Walk On The Wild Side' and is crammed with detail in a glorious campfest. The music may not be to every taste, though fans of showtunes will surely love it, but there's no denying the amount of information Denon's 110th Anniversary combination is extracting and delivering here. Hmmm…

121denon.rem200We're on much safer ground with the Labèque sisters' recording of Philip Glass's opera Les Enfants Terribles, arranged for piano duet [DG 4855097], where the DCD/PMA-A110 pairing not only brings out the subtlety of the performances, but also shows a clean, taut rendition of those intricate Glass rhythms. Separating the player from the amplifier shows that the digital end of the equation is playing a major part in all this information, but it's the amplifier's ruthless control over the loudspeakers that develops the full magic.

That's very much the case with Springsteen's latest set, Letter To You [Columbia 19439811582], whether played on the DCD-A110 in CD quality or fed into the amp as 96kHz/24-bit files from the trusty Mac: yes, there may be quite a lot of the 'Stranger On The Edge Of Town' stuff going on, but the revelation here is the immediacy of these 'recorded as live' sessions. With the meaty Denon amp in the driving seat, this album sounds big, mature and pretty damn magnificent, which is just as it should be.

Driving Beats
And that marriage of speed, weight and insight, allied to surefooted imaging and soundstaging, provided a great foundation for everything I tried. From the latest Faithless album, All Blessed [BMG 538627982], which fills its shockingly short 28 minutes with close-up vocals and driving beats, to John Wilson's glorious second volume of orchestral music by Eric Coates [Chandos CHAN 20148], in which he coaxes the BBC Phil into exuberant yet thoughtful playing. Similarly for the stirring 'London Bridge' and 'Calling All Workers' to the more reflective ballet score for 'The Enchanted Garden'. The sheer textural detail the Denon duo delivers is lovely, as is the effortless sonic picture it casts, the PMA-A110 having enough under the bonnet to power through the dynamics of the music with ease.


Make no mistake, both elements of this pairing are exceptional, and I can see the DCD-A110 having appeal to those wanting a final disc player with minimal frills – it certainly has a simplicity of purpose to match the solidity of its build. But it's the PMA-A110 amp that's the star turn here, whether you use its analogue inputs (including the fine phono stage) or digital connections.

Denon's engineers have again kept things simple, concentrating their efforts where they will have maximal impact on the sound. It's this thinking that's so apparent in the way these products perform.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
The A110 player and amp are pitched short of high-end prices, not to mention the Japan-only stablemates informing their design, but Denon's engineers have come up with something very special by focusing almost exclusively on sound-critical technology. The unique finish means they'll probably be bought together, but if you're only going to buy one, make it the remarkable PMA-A110 amplifier.

Sound United/D&M Holdings
Kanagawa, Japan
Supplied by: D&M Audiovisual Ltd, UK
02890 279830