Despite being born in Texas of New Yorker parents, my wife spent many of her formative years in Denmark—and hasn’t stopped talking about it to this day. So there’s always something a bit Pavlovian about the sight of a Danish flag around these parts. When she looked at my stack of incoming packages and saw the box for the Tangent Ampster BT II, her initial reaction was, “Ooh! What’d ya get from Denmark?” When I told her it was an integrated amplifier, I half expected the wind to leave her sails, but she immediately shot back, “They make good gear! Like B&O!”
A few weeks back, Dr. Sean Olive, longtime director of acoustic research and now senior fellow at Harman International and former president of the Audio Engineering Society, paid homage to one of the most enduring audiophile test tracks, just over 35 years after its original release, with a LinkedIn post that went something like this:
Denon’s new DNP-2000NE, which the company markets as a “high-resolution audio streamer with HEOS built-in,” is an interesting beast in a number of ways. For one thing, at $1599 (in USD), it’s on the pricier end of the streamers I normally cover here on SoundStage! Access—at least ones that don’t have built-in amplification, which the DNP-2000NE doesn’t. Honestly, half the reason I requested a review sample was simply to see what Denon has done to justify the price of this thing.
This is an idea that’s been kicking around in the back of my noggin for a bit, but my recent review of Denon’s behemoth gazillion.bajillion-channel AVR-A1H receiver solidified a lot of my thoughts on the subject. It’s a simple question, really, and you’re already hip to it if you’ve read the headline: should you use an AVR instead of a stereo preamp/amp, integrated amp, or receiver in your two-channel system?
I’m such a hypocrite. Don’t worry—I’ll explain why in a bit. But to set that story up, I need to convey my initial reaction to seeing the shipping box for Rega’s new Elex Mk4 integrated amplifier ($1875 USD).
A few weeks back, I was chatting with my buddy Brent Butterworth—former SoundStage! Solo editor and co-host of the first season of the SoundStage! Audiophile Podcast—about the algorithms that drive the streaming music services many of us know and love. Brent and I both subscribe to Qobuz and Spotify for our own reasons, and we both generally agree about the strengths of each service. Where our opinions diverge involves which service does a better job of recommending music that we didn’t know we were in the mood for or that we’ve never heard before, or at least not for a long time.
Any unboxing begins, of course, with a box. And in the case of the packaging for Denon’s new flagship AVR-A1H 15.4-channel A/V receiver (not a typo), the sheer scale of the cardboard container gives you a sense of what you’re in for, even if you’re not the one to hoist the 80-ish-pound shipping crate into the den yourself for unboxing. To say that pictures don’t do it justice is such a cliché, but in this case it’s apropos—I hauled a lot of A/V receiver boxes through my house in the past few months while doing the most recent update to Wirecutter’s guide to the category (or watched them hauled when I was unable to do so myself), and none of them was anywhere near this imposing.
Nearly every time I review an integrated amplifier, I get an email from a reader commenting on the fact that I didn’t have much, if anything, to say about the phono stage, assuming the amp has one. Some emails are friendlier than others, of course, but all boil down to something like this, which I received from a reader in the Netherlands:
Don’t get too hung up on the hand truck you see in the image below. It gives, I fear, the impression that GoldenEar’s new ForceField 30 subwoofer ($900, all prices USD) is heftier than it actually is. In reality, I’m still recovering from pretty brutal surgery and have only just recently been cleared to lift 35 pounds—and nary an ounce more.
Blame it on my age, perhaps. Or blame it on four-plus decades of failed economic policy and the pacifying Orwellian language designed to prop it up. Either way, the term “trickle-down” sticks in my craw. Of course, I can see its utility in the consumer electronics industry, where technologies designed for flagship products become cheaper to produce as R&D costs are recouped and begin to appear on mid-tier products until economies of scale allow their inclusion even in budget offerings. It’s neat that we can sum all that up in one hyphenated adjective, and it’s certainly an effective marketing tool. After all, without much effort, you’re clueing the budget-conscious audio enthusiast into the idea that they can now afford technologies they might not have been able to spring for before. Hell, I’ll be giddy the day some design elements of the new Monitor Audio Hyphn loudspeaker finally work their way down to the level of the Silver Series models.