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Denon S-Series (2007) review:

Denon S-Series (2007)

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The unit includes detachable Wi-Fi, AM, and FM antennas. As we'd expect with a networked entertainment device, the firmware is upgradeable.

The S-52's step-down model, the Denon S-32, loses the USB port, CD player, HD radio, and XM satellite support found on its big brother. It retails for a still hefty $500.

Using the S-52 wireless network feature (you have the option of using the Ethernet port on the back of the radio as well), we were able to connect to our WPA-encrypted Belkin router with no issues. Once connected, we fired up the Rhapsody music service. This was one of our favorite features as it allowed us to call for music "on demand" completely via the included remote control. Getting the S-52 to connect to our music server was a bit more of a headache as it took a few restarts on our Windows Vista PC before the S-52 would recognize our Windows Media Player 11 software (which needs to be running). However, once the S-52 made the initial connection, it never required a restart on subsequent attempts. We found this to be the easiest way to play music remotely; however you can avoid using Windows Media Player by setting up your own music server with a program such as Twonky Media Server.

USB playback was a bit slower than we would have liked as changing tracks caused a noticeable lag. However, the Denon was able to read all ID3 tag artist and track information in addition to displaying it.

Yes, the Denon S-52's features lineup is impressive, but what does it sound like? In a word, it sounds "fine"--but for a product at this price, we expected exceptional sound and didn't get it.

We used the best possible sound source for our first listening tests--CDs--and immediately noted the sound was bright and aggressively detailed. True, the bass was deep enough to shake the table the S-52 was sitting on, but the midrange between the bass and treble was recessed to the point it made vocals sound thin and anemic. Bruce Springsteen's Magic CD sounded harsh and grating, so we played the CD over a Polk I-Sonic table radio, which was much more to our liking. Springsteen's voice sounded more human and the treble range was smoother.

The Springsteen CD isn't the best of recordings, so next we tried Harry Connick Jr.'s Chanson du Vieux Carre CD that features a swinging New Orleans big band. That sounded much better on the S-52, but the i-Sonic's richer sound was still way better. Backing away from the S-52 to around 3 or 4 feet was where it sounded best--much further than that and it started to sound small. Stereo imaging, never a strong point with table radios, wasn't in the cards with the S-52.

Listening to our iPod, Rhapsody, and Internet radio didn't change our opinion of the S-52's sound. If it was much less expensive, we'd be less hard on its sonic deficiencies, but for this kind of money you could buy a really nice home theater in a box, or for even a bit less, Polk Audio's i-Sonic.

While the S-52 does offer an impressive amount of features, its mediocre sound quality and high price point is enough to deter potential buyers. While the Polk Audio I-Sonic lacks the iPod dock and network audio functions of the S-52, it sounds notably better.

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