Reviews

Review: Denon DRA-100

Denon DRA-100

This week we are reviewing the Denon DRA-100, a network stereo receiver with network functions and digital inputs, especially adapted to listening to dematerialized music with both audio files and online music services. This compact receiver features tactile keys and can deliver up to 2×35 Watts at 8 Ohms ranging from 20 Hz to 20 kHz with a distortion rate in accordance with hi-fi requirements.

Denon DRA-100

The model is not written on the front panel and only appears when the device starts up

Denon DRA-100: who is it for?

The Denon DRA-100 network stereo receiver is part of Denon’s streamers range, only featuring models from the Ceol series so far (the Denon Ceol RCD-N9 and Denon Ceol DRA-N4). This connected receiver (WiFi, Ethernet, Bluetooth) can be operated via a smartphone or tablet to listen to MP3 or FLAC files, Internet radio and Spotify. Flash drives, USB hard drives and external sources such as HDTVs or gaming consoles are also compatible. Its digital to analog converter handles stereo signals up to 24 bits and 192 kHz, as well as 2.8 MHz DSD files stored on a flash drive. The Denon DRA-100 is powerful enough to run compact speakers or even small floor-standing models.

EDIT: Read our interview with Olivier Kriete, hi-fi product marketing manager in Europe for Denon and Marantz.

Denon DRA-100

The DRA-100 inherited its design from the Denon PMA-50 and can be easily integrated into a living room. Here it is next to a Focal Aria 906 speaker.

Denon DRA-100: differences with the Denon PMA-50

Boasting a design very similar to that of the Denon PMA-50, the Denon DRA-100 network stereo receiver stands out, first and foremost, due to its network functions (the PMA-50 is only Bluetooth compatible). The DRA-100 can deliver 2×35 W instead of 2×30 W (8 Ohms) and offers a wider range of connectors, including a line output switchable to variable level output in order to carry out bi-amplification for instance. Unfortunately, there are no USB-B ports, meaning the Denon DRA-100 cannot be used as a USB DAC. The Bluetooth controller is only SBC and AAC compatible. No apt-X here, which isn’t much of a problem in and of itself.

Denon DRA-100

In addition to the current playing track title, the OLED screen displays the type of file, its resolution and the state of the buffer (100% here)

Denon DRA-100: added possibilities with a smartphone or tablet

Listening to music from an iPhone, iPod touch or iPod can be advantageous in many ways with the Denon DRA-100. The receiver is AirPlay compatible, which means that every track read by an Apple peripheral device can be streamed directly to the receiver. Qobuz, Deezer, Youtube… any AirPlay compatible iOS app works with the Denon DRA-100. It is thus possible to stream audio files stored on an iDevice and operate the receiver using the Denon Hi-Fi Remote app. Regarding the use of Bluetooth, AAC tracks are read and files initially encoded in this format (files bought on iTunes) are not re-compressed.

Denon DRA-100

The Denon Hi-Fi app is complete but could benefit from a more functional design. Yet, using it is not mandatory.

Using Android is a little different. No AirPlay compatibility means direct streaming from on line music services outside of Spotify (via the official app in Spotify Connect mode) and Internet radios isn’t possible. Listening to audio files stored on the device often requires the installation of a DLNA compatible playback app (Bubble UPnP, for instance).

Denon DRA-100: operation and test conditions

We decided that we would test the Denon DRA-100 using its WiFi connection. As soon as the device is powered, it invites the user to carry out quick settings. The OLED display is identical to that of the Denon Ceol and Marantz Melody (Marantz M-CR510, Marantz M-CR610, Marantz M-CR511 and Marantz M-CR611) and can be read from the listening point. WPS connection is offered. We chose to enter the WiFi key ourselves, made sure the receiver’s software was updated and carried out its installation.

Denon DRA-100

The first people who bought the Denon DRA-100 will have to make sure they update the device’s software before they can comfortably enjoy the network possibilities.

We connected the Denon DRA-100 network stereo receiver to a pair of Focal Aria 906  speakers, placed on NorStone Hilerod stands and used Micromega Mycable cables (very neutral). The audio files we used were in FLAC studio and CD quality format. We listened to a few movie excerpts via the optical input connected to a LG 65EG960V TV. Can you find out which films we watched?

Denon DRA-100

Two stereo inputs, two digital optical inputs, one coaxial RCA input, a stereo output (fixed or variable) and one pre-out output for a subwoofer, the range of connectors on the back panel is excellent

Denon DRA-100 : bass / medium / treble range

Bass: Really good, the high low and the low are generously delivered, the listening experience is wide and melodic. This feeling is emphasized by the important swiftness of the higher low frequencies. Bass guitare, chest resonance, nothing falls behind which contributes to the overall sound clarity.

Medium: simply excellent. This range is filled with details ranging from low-medium to high-medium. Voices sound fantastic and we were mesmerized by the subtle variations in the vocals of Nina Simone on Feeling Good. The various levels are well layered, the sound benefits from great depth and width. Great analytic capacities – the best of the three ranges.

Treble: no emphasis here and the treble range works really well with the medium. We enjoyed the fluidity. Cymbals do not sound artificial, energy reaches very high frequencies and is kept under control. The great balance can be attributed to a very good use of the DAC (very little jitter) and to the Denon AL32 oversampling process (every PCM stream is converted in 32 bits and 192 kHz).

Denon DRA-100

The large remote control of the Denon DRA-100 is pleasant to use to play files via the local network.

Denon DRA-100: signature and sound stage

The sound signature of the Denon DRA-100 is close to that of the Denon PMA-50 with the exception of added strictness in the bass range. The sound stage is open, rather wide, especially deep and benefits from a very precise layering. There is no sound projection when the volume is turned up high. These qualities should make it a good fit for most compact speakers due to the strictness of the receiver which does not emphasize flaws. Infra-bass is a little shy which is why we recommend using a subwoofer with compact speakers as well as for stereo cinema listening.

Denon DRA-100

The USB port can be used to connect a flash drive or an iPhone to play music. The headphone output features a three mode gain adjustment.

Denon DRA-100: what we liked

  • The rigorous, analytical and well layered listening
  • The network connections, WiFi and WPS compatibility and iOS oriented configuration
  • The two WiFi/Bluetooth antennas offer good performances, even for HD audio network playback (our WiFi access point was 10 metres away and behind a wall)
  • Gapless playback of FLAC files
  • The elegant design, the tactile keys, the large volume potentiometer
  • The remote control inherited from the Ceol models
  • The solid headphone output with three gain adjustments
  • The comprehensive range of connectors and the variable (or fixed) level line output

Denon DRA-100: what we would have liked

  • A more intuitive control app

Denon DRA-100

Denon DRA-100: Conclusion

The Denon DRA-100 shines in its restitution of the medium range and will work perfectly with speakers designed to excel in this particular frequency range or with models lacking energy in the lower end of the sound spectrum. These qualities will benefit acoustic music (classic, jazz, etc.) as well as programs featuring a lot of voices (radio, TV shows, films). For a really punchy listening experience, a subwoofer is recommended.

We invite you to list the three films we listened to with the Denon DRA-100 in the comments section.

This post is also available in: French

About the author

Tristan Jacquel

Tristan est rédacteur chez Son-Vidéo.com. Passionné de musique, d'acoustique et de high-tech, il réalise notamment les tests matériels pour notre blog.

10 Comments

  • Thank you for the review Tristan.

    As an android user I was left a bit confused though. Would it not be possible to simply connect the android phone and DRA 100 via bluetooth, and thus forwarding all sounds from the android to the DRA 100? If not, I cannot see the functional purpose of the Bluetooth..
    Best regards from Mikkel

  • Denon DRA-100’s Bluetooth receiver can be used for streaming music from any Android device. Actually, any sound from Android as you mentioned. This is not the way you’ll get best streaming quality (DLNA rendering is lossless, therefore better), but that’s the most convenient method.

  • Hi Tristan,

    Thanks for your review.

    I’ve read somewhere that one would need to play with the settings a bit in order to get the best out of the DAC. Is this something you would recommend? Also, I will need to pair it with my Bose Acoustimass 5 which, as you know, consists of 4 tiny speakers and a “fake” subwoofer. Will they be happy together?
    You comments would be much appreciated.
    Regards

    • Sorry for that late answer. I guess the Denon DRA-100 fits the Bose Acoustimass Systems requirements. The tiny speakers do not ask for much power. By the way, Denon PMA-50 is probably an equally valuable option, less costy.

  • What would you recommend as a DRA-100 type model but I need UK DAB radio? Or typically, do users tend to find all the channels they would use DAB for – on Internet radio?

    • Users tend to find the same channels in DAB or Internet radios. Quality may be a little inferior with Internet radios, since MP3 codec is more often used and DAB+ uses AAC. But it’s no big deal. If you really want DAB, the Marantz M-CR611 is a (less powerful) alternative to Denon DRA-100.

  • Hello Tristan wanted to ask if you think that Denon DRA-100, may work well with small floor standing speakers KEF R500 (25 W to 150 W, 8 Ohms) ?.

    Regards

    • Denon DRA-100 has good driving abilities in low end and is quite soft on mids. It should match the KEF R500. But you won’t get very high output levels, so choosing this amp is OK if you plan to listen at reasonable levels in 20 to 30 square meters room.

  • Hi and thanks for a great review.

    I currently have a pair of Dali Icon 5 speakers and an iMac. To date i have been using a NAD 355 with an Arcam rDAC connected to Apple TV. I wanted to take out some of the connections so i am looking for an Airplay amp. Looking at NAD’s 7050 and the DRA-100.
    -Firstly are there any other alternatives you would recommend (preferably closer to 600-700 Euro range)?
    -Which would you recommend for somebody who listens to music from Bowie to Gaga and Robbie? (I do want some low freq punch and i thought that my current configuration has been lacking in that area, but it could be the fault of the speakers).

    Thanks
    Tasos

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