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Denon's D-M71DVSXP is a stereo home theater in a box. That's right: stereo. Instead of using the standard five-speaker array, this HTIB works its mojo with a pair of tiny satellites backed up by a full-size subwoofer. And the system's diminutive receiver/DVD player is the first to offer Dolby Virtual Speaker technology. While the altogether elfin M71 won't uncork the power and the glory of a bigger package, it will look elegant in intimate home theaters. It's listed at $999. Compared with the ubiquitous silver-plastic HTIBs, the M71 is decidedly upscale. Its satellites feature heavy, extruded-aluminum cabinets sporting cherrywood cap ends. At just 2.75 inches wide and 8.25 inches high, these speakers are tiny, but they squeeze in two woofers and one tweeter. The matching sub, impeccably finished in wood, is a beauty. It measures 17 inches tall, 8 inches wide, and 13 inches deep, but it seems smaller--maybe it's that daring wedge shape.
The receiver/DVD player is clad in real aluminum; there's not a scrap of cheesy plastic or a single gaudy, flashing light in sight. The box is delightfully compact at 8.25 inches wide, 3.75 inches high, and 14.5 inches deep. It's one of the smallest head units we've seen.
Relative to the setup chores required by the average 5.1- or 6.1-channel home theater, hooking up the stereo speakers and the sub is a piece of cake. The buttons on the chunky remote are in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and all the important keys are well placed.
We're looking at the DVSXP version of the M71 here, but Denon offers two other variations on the theme. The D-M71DVS, listed at $699, features the same receiver/DVD player but a completely different set of larger stereo speakers and no sub. You can also get just the head unit, the ADV-M71, for $599. The M71's satellites are genuine two-way speakers; twin 2.25-inch midbass woofers flank a 0.75-inch dome tweeter. All-metal connectors accept banana jacks or bare wire. Denon doesn't specify the driver size of the 100-watt powered subwoofer, but it ably supports the sats with its deep, articulate low-frequency performance. The sub's connectivity is limited to just a mono line-level input and output.
Denon packed plenty of sound-processing muscle into the M71's receiver/DVD player. You get a DTS mode, and joining Dolby Digital and Pro Logic II is the company's new Virtual Speaker technology. It promises that this stereo system will deliver something close to a bona fide surround-sound experience when you listen to CDs, MP3 files, FM radio, and Dolby Digital 5.1-channel DVDs. The receiver supplies each speaker with 20 watts. The player happily accommodates discs in all sorts of formats: DVD-Video, audio CD-R/RW, VCD, DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, JPEG, MP3, and WMA.
The system's connectivity choices are skimpy. For analog stereo, you get two inputs and two outputs. Covering the digital-audio side are two optical ins and one out. And for video, you'll find component, composite, and S-Video outputs. We also spotted pre-out jacks for a center speaker, left and right surrounds, and a subwoofer, but curiously, there are none for the left and right main channels.
The M71 also features Dolby Headphone signal processing, so sound from your 'phones won't seem so locked inside your skull. Unfortunately, the front-panel stereo headphone minijack is recessed, so compatibility depends on the shape of the male plug. Our Grado SR80 didn't fit, but our Shure E3c earbuds worked fine. The Lion King DVD sounded appropriately royal, and James Earl Jones's growling voice had majestic presence and weight. The scene in which Zazu sings in the cave turned out to be a good demonstration of Dolby Virtual Speaker--we felt like we were there. No, the mode didn't manage to re-create a five-speaker setup's wraparound effect, but the sound was palpably more spacious than stereo.
The Saving Private Ryan DVD was a tougher test of the M71's fortitude. Dialogue remained clear, and detail was good. The little sub strained during some of the more ferocious battle scenes, but it regained its composure when we lowered the volume. Gung-ho home-theater extravaganzas won't pin back your ears; the ensemble will do best with straight dramas and comedies.
Music sounded even better--a real step up from the norm of ultracompact HTIBs and shelf systems. Paul Simon's You're the One CD laid down a supple groove, thanks to the way the spunky sub easily negotiated the band's nimble support for Simon. And the sats' airy treble worked its magic on acoustic guitars and percussion.
The Sweet Tea CD, from bluesman Buddy Guy, is loaded with pungent blues riffs and stinging guitar solos, and Virtual Speaker mode made us feel like we were in a small club. We could hear the studio's ambience.
Since Denon also offers the M71's receiver/DVD player separately, we tried replacing the micro sats with NHT's excellent bookshelf models. The resulting sound was warmer and fuller but less detailed and immediate. Our respect for the Denon speakers shot up a couple of notches after that comparison.
We can't credit too many HTIBs with elegance, but the D-M71DVSXP oozes class. The system will serve with distinction in cozy bedrooms, dorms, and living-room theaters.
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