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While some of us are content to listen to portable radios on kitchen worktops while children scream in a far-off room and oven timers buzz, there are those who demand a little more from their hi-fi. If you're one of these more discerning listeners, looking for a DAB component worthy of your existing stereo separates system, then the TU-1800DAB may have a place in your stack.
Denon is no stranger to the radio scene. The company has previously made higher-end FM tuners and its expertise in digital to analogue conversion is in evidence throughout its range of AV amplifiers. It was first to market with consumer THX-EX decoders for movies like Star Wars: Episode I and its DTS surround-sound systems are well regarded.
With DAB receivers the challenge is slightly different though. Not only does the unit need to decode a digital stream, but it has to make what is, at best, a 192Kbps digital audio broadcast sound like something an audiophile would be happy to listen to. Hi-fi radio receiver manufacturers have always fought against the odds in making this equipment sound great. Though their efforts are often impressive, the source medium -- high-frequency airwaves shared by multiple stations -- don't lend themselves well to the transmission of complex, dynamic music. Nonetheless, the range of stations on offer and quality of reception make the technology tempting, even if CD-quality broadcasts are not quite within sight.
The TU-1800DAB is extremely sturdy and, at 3.8kg, heavy. Though it's a crude test for the quality of audio components, there does seem to be an uncanny correlation between the weight of separates and the quality of the sound they produce. A high-quality transformer coil in the PSU will typically be heavy, so there is logic behind this assumption.
We were so mystified by the heavy weight of the TU-1800 that we detached the cover to take a look inside. As expected, there is a large transformer and a sleek black circuit-board that includes the DAB decoders and AM/FM receiver, as well as a pre-amp for the rear left/right phono connectors and a stage for the optical outs. Denon's attention to detail is obvious even inside the case -- somewhere you'd never usually pry. The circuitboards have a handmade look not unlike those of British audiophile posterchild NAD.
The front of the TU-1800DAB is a clean silver with a faint wire-brushed finish. The fascia is fairly uncluttered -- it looks like Denon has anticipated the loss of your remote control at some point and included buttons for all functions, save for the memory recall, on the fascia. Four LEDs on the panel indicate the TU-1800DAB's various status messages. 'Secondary' lets you know when a secondary service is available -- for example, Five Live's coverage of a more minor sporting event alongside its main coverage; 'Stereo' lets you know when a broadcast is stereophonic; 'Tuned' indicates that a station is being received at a strong signal level; and 'RDS' indicates that an FM broadcast is transmitting station information and the tuner can use this to determine the optimum transmitter frequency to receive the broadcast from. This might sound complicated, but it's an invisible process that makes tuning far easier.
The radio is switched on and off using a recessed power button and tuning is done using a simple rotary control. A line of small buttons alongside the tuning dial provide Dimmer, Menu, Display, Band and Auto Tune functions. The LCD screen is bright and readable even at long distances, and it's backlit by an attractive blue light that seems refined in this age of gaudy Dixon's mini-systems. It displays all the usual DAB information, including scrolling text.
Denon has been generous in including digital optical and coaxial outs on the rear of the radio, as well as an RDI optical connector. RDI is little-used, but it allows you to hook the DAB up to other devices like a PC. There are also three different aerial connectors: one for an FM coaxial antenna, one for an AM loop antenna and one for a DAB coaxial antenna. All three aerial types are included in the box. Although reception in our case was excellent, because the aerial sockets all use standardised connectors, you can improve reception in difficult areas by using custom aerial solutions, purchased separately.