The Denon DVD-2900 is hardly the first universal SACD/DVD-Audio player to hit the market, but it's the first with comprehensive bass management--a requirement for good sound from a satellite/subwoofer system. This expensive DVD unit (listed at $999) can also play virtually every type of five-inch disc, and it delivers solid progressive-scan video. But sound quality is everything to the well-heeled audiophiles who make up the device's target market, and at the end of the day, the DVD-2900 is the best-sounding universal player we've tested.
&siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Eusa%2Edenon%2Ecom%2Fhome%2F" target="new">Denon Electronics won't honor the warranty on a product purchased from an unauthorized dealer or on one whose original factory serial number has been removed, defaced, or replaced in any way. If in doubt about a particular retailer, online or brick and mortar, call Denon at 973/396-0810.
At 5.25 inches tall, the 2900 towers above its sleeker, more mainstream competitors, and that imposing stature definitely contributes to the machine's high-end look and feel. Solid build quality is also no small part of the unit's sophistication; the 2900 weighs almost 18 pounds.
Compared with the player itself, the small, common-looking remote is a little disappointing. Its keys aren't backlit, and we found the button layout awkward at times.
Unlike other players we've tested, the 2900 allows you to complete DVD-Audio and SACD setup with a single menu. Although the user manual leaves out a lot of setup particulars, Denon's Web site offers an &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Eusa%2Edenon%2Ecom%2Fcatalog%2Fpdfs%2Fdvd2900%2520Eng%2520DFU%2Epdf" target="new">update that clarifies most of the mysteries.
Bass management routes deep-bass frequencies away from smaller satellite speakers to the subwoofer, where they belong. The 2900's implementation of this feature is superior to that of competing players, but it still isn't as flexible or effective as the Dolby/DTS setup options found on a typical A/V receiver. To test the 2900's bass management, we hooked up the unit to our tiny Energysats and the matching Energy subwoofer. The player didn't quite jell with the speakers (the sub's level was too low), but the 2900 still mates with sat/sub systems better than any universal player we've tested to date.
On the compatibility front, Denon's big boy handled every permutation of optical media that we tried: DVD-Audio discs, SACDs, DVD+R/RWs, DVD-R/RWs (including a particularly difficult DVD-R that tripped up most other players), CDs, CD-R/RWs, MP3-encoded CDs, Kodak Picture CDs, and JPEG-photo discs. Our JPEG files took about eight seconds each to load, a delay that can be annoying during a slide show.
The 2900's 16MB buffer memory made the layer change in The Matrix nearly imperceptible. Like some other high-end players, the 2900 provides picture adjustments and lets you store your tweaks in custom memory slots.
Connectivity is pretty standard: you get component, composite, and S-Video jacks; 5.1 analog-audio outputs; and coaxial and optical digital-audio options. The RS-232 port opens the door to integrated-system control functionality.
As with most SACD/DVD-Audio players, you must mate the unit with a receiver with 5.1 analog inputs since the digital-audio connections don't work with SACD/DVD-A. We recommend you examine your receiver's back panel to make sure it's compatible with the 2900 before you buy.
We evaluated the 2900 over our large Dynaudio Contour speakers and an REL Storm III sub. We started off with a brand-new multichannel SACD from Chesky Records, 4 Generations of Miles. We were present when the disc was recorded live last year at New York City's Makor jazz club. The band members were all alumni of various Miles Davis groups, and the electricity in the air was palpable. The 2900 brought the music back to us intact. The bass definition was vivid, and the drummer's cymbals had a metallic ring we never hear on CDs.
We also listened to some offerings from Aix Records, a new audiophile label and a major advocate of the DVD-Audio format. Even on Aix's 5.1 recordings of solo instruments, we were impressed with the surround mix. Claude Debussy's "Maid with the Flaxen Hair" for harp exhibited remarkable purity and clarity. The harp's delicate sound radiated and filled the space.
We next compared the 2900 with another universal player, Yamaha's. First up was Muddy Waters's Folk Singer. This SACD is something of an audiophile classic, known for its spine-tingling dynamics and powerful presence. The two players rendered surprisingly different portrayals. The Yamaha was more upfront and personal, while the Denon had more depth and low-level detail. Over the 2900, Waters's voice and guitar came across as more solid and real, and we could hear the sound of the room the musicians were playing in. Folk Singer is also available as a 96/24 DVD, so we tried that version. Interestingly, the DVD edged out the SACD in terms of believability, offering superior clarity and a stronger sense of the live performance. Both formats trounced the CD. With the 96/24 DVD, we once again preferred the 2900 over the S2300, but the margin of victory was smaller.
The prime reason for buying the 2900 is SACD and DVD-A sound quality, but the machine is also a capable video player. We threw the gamut of test discs into the drawer, and the only significant issue was the appearance of artifacts in the 2900's rendition of video-based (as opposed to film-based) images. In one of the many documentaries on disc 2 of Attack of the Clones, a zoom out from a computer screen introduced moving lines along the monitor's edge. Yamaha's player rendered this scene cleanly. The movie proper looked extremely good, and although the 2900 failed on one difficult 3:2 pull-down detection pattern from the Genesis/Faroudja test disc, the device generally did an excellent job reducing artifacts in film-based material.