The Denon Ceol N9 amplifier (or Denon RCD-N9) is an all-in-one model designed for audio-CDs, FM and Internet radios, Spotify, audio files shared on a local network or stored on a flash drive or USB drive. It is also compatible with AirPlay, DLNA and Bluetooth technologies. This hybrid digital amplifier can power any type of compact speaker and even small floor-standing speakers. The Denon Ceol N9 amplifier can be used without a network connection (CD, USB, FM and auxiliary or digital line inputs). This is the evolution of the Denon Ceol N8 amplifier which, along with the Marantz M-CR610 (its twin brother) has been an undisputed reference during its 3 year lifespan. This incredibly functional and musical small amplifier delivers an inexorably balanced sound and a remarkably well built sound stage. Given the amount of excitement caused by the N8, we absolutely wanted to test the Denon Ceol N9 amplifier. Know that Denon offers two different versions of this amplifier. A version sold with a pair of 2-way compact speakers under the reference Denon Ceol N9 and a version without speakers under the reference Denon RCD-N9.
Denon Ceol N9 : what’s new?
The Denon Ceol N9 has been completely redesigned. The buttons at the front of the top panel make it even simpler to use the amp.
The back has been elegantly remodelled and new speaker terminals have been added. The binding posts are now horizontally positioned just like Denon’s home cinema amplifiers’, which makes for an easier cable insertion. Denon also traded the screw terminals for push type models. Just push, insert the unsheathed cable, let go and the cable is securely fastened. Be careful with banana plugs as some will not fit. Luckily, our Viard Audio Silver HD12 cable was fitted with compact banana plugs which were easily inserted in the push terminals.
A second S/PDIF digital audio input has also been added to plug an HD TV and a Blu-ray player for instance. The lines of the Denon Ceol N9 were also refined and the device now boasts a flat design. The command keys are not sticking out anymore, but are incorporated into the sleek front and top panels. As for the OLED screen and CD tray, they are aligned on the front panel. Denon equipped the Ceol N9 amplifier with a Bluetooth receptor and an NFC microchip (for contact pairing) in order to make streaming from a smartphone, tablet or laptop even simpler. A convenient function to let your friends stream their music without having to enter the WiFi key.
Denon Ceol N9 : what hasn’t changed
The OLED screen is the same and so is its quality. It’s very easy to read and features various levels of intensity that you can adjust by using the dimmer button on the remote control.
Denon Ceol N9 : what has changed
The iPhone and iPod dock of the Denon Ceol N8 was not included in the design of the Denon Ceol N9. No real reason to complain about it as it is much easier to plug your iPod, iPhone or iPad to the USB port placed on the amp’s front panel and even more convenient to use the AirPlay function with an iPod touch, iPhone, iPad or iPad mini. Besides, Apple has stopped using 30 pin connectors since the release of the iPhone 5. This model does not offer a front mini-jack input and one of the stereo RCA line inputs at the back has also been taken out. It is a sign of our time considering that streaming (AirPlay, DLNA, Spotify, Bluetooth, web radios) is more and more used today. Denon chose to favour a fully digital transmission between the Denon Ceol N9 and each of his sources. Most of the command keys that were located on the front panel were moved to the top of the amp. The power button as well as the eject button are still located on the front panel.
Denon Ceol N9 : Box content
Denon Ceol N9 : test setup
In a living room of approximately thirty meter square, with a pair of Monitor Audio Radius 270 loudspeakers using Viard Audio Silver HD12 HP cables, streaming internet sources, studio and CD quality FLAC files (up to 24 bits / 192 kHz), via AirPlay, DLNA and Bluetooth functions… and of course a few stereo home cinema listenings. We added two external digital sources: an LG HD TV and a computer via a Graham Slee Bitzie USB DAC, with Audioquest Cinnamon Optical Toslink and Audioquest Vodka Optical Toslink cables to connect the optical outputs.
Denon Ceol N9 : installation and configuration
A piece of cake! All there is to do is to connect the Denon Ceol N9 to the local network via an Ethernet cable or WiFi. Once the amplifier is on, just press the SETUP button on the remote control, chose the language then the type of connection: WiFi or cable.
Note: the amp features a mode which is optimised for Denon speakers. It is necessary to deactivate it in order to obtain a linear balance with other speakers. To do so, set it up in the amplifier’s system menu.
The menu also offers tone adjustments (bass, treble, loudness) as well as balance adjustments. You can also limit the maximum level (limited to 45 by default).
Denon Ceol N9 : how to control the amplifier
Remote control and OLED screen: the Denon Ceol N9 amplifier’s remote control is very easy to use. We like the conveniently placed supplementary and favourites access buttons. These favourites can be a choice of Internet radio stations, FM radio stations or shared audio files on the local network (via the DLNA protocol).
IOS control application and Android: one of the highlights of this Denon Ceol N9 amplifier is its control app for Apple smartphones and tablets and Android. Denon Remote App, which is available for iOS and Android is common to all network amplifiers, network audio players and current Denon network Blu-ray players. The application benefits from regular updates and is complete. This app is useful for the management of favourites, the creation of play lists from the network or when looking for Internet radio stations. Please note that the Denon cannot play audio files contained in a smartphone or Android tablet. This is something which can be rectified by installing the BubbleUPnP application for Android.
Denon Ceol N9 : review of musical sources
AirPlay: this Apple technology allows music to be listened to with iTunes as well as iPhone, iPod touch, iPad and iPad mini. The principle is simple: the Denon Ceol N9 is used as an output audio device and therefore receives the audio flow in streaming, all without recompression (CD quality). Qobuz, Deezer, Spotify and Youtube iOS applications can stream their music directly to the Denon Ceol N9 amplifier. Playback is immediate and volume control is carried out by the iPhone, iPod touch or iPad. In other words, you can watch a concert on Youtube on your handheld tablet and benefit from a quality sound on speakers which can be connected to the Denon Ceol N9
Convenient: the Denon Ceol N9 switches on automatically when it is activated via the AirPlay network protocol.
DLNA: this competitive AirPlay technology allows us to use the Denon Ceol N9 amplifier as an audio device with Android operating systems or on computers equipped with Windows Media Player. This is the DLNA DMR mode (Digital Media Renderer). The Denon Ceol N9 amplifier can also look for audio files shared on the local network to which it is connected, so that these can be shared by a Box, a computer (DLNA software server such as Serviio for example), a smartphone (Samsung models often have this option) or else a NAS.
You can look for DLNA servers on the local network in the following way: either by using the remote control and the OLED display (really easy) or with the iOS / Android application. MP3, WMA and in particular ALAC (Apple Lossless) or FLAC files are supported. Another major asset is that WAV and FLAC HD files are played, up to 24 bits / 192 kHz. When files have an identical resolution, they can be played continually without any interruption (gapless). Spotify : the Denon Ceol N9 can support the Spotify Connect connection protocol, which allows users with a Premium account (pay) to listen to their playlists and the entire Spotify catalogue. is carried out with the remote control on the OLED screen or with the Denon Remote App mobile control app.
Audio CD: loading is quick just like the disk scanning. If we were to split hairs, we could say that we miss an on-line disc database, allowing us to display the artist’s names, the album and the track being played. Sound quality is up to the standards of FLAC or ALAC files. We will discuss this later.
Internet radio: thousands of Internet radio stations can be accessed. These can be selected by country or popularity. OLED screen navigation or navigation using the Remote Control App is possible. The app also features text search. Stations can be stored in the list of favourites. FM radio: the reception using the cable provided was excellent, but the proximity of a relay antenna mast could explain this. We liked the possibility of memorising radio stations in the list of favourites. USB port: located on the front panel, it allows you to connect an iPhone, iPod, iPad or iPad mini. It recharges all these devices, apart from the iPad as there is insufficient voltage, but whose autonomy will only slightly reduce. iDevice can be run and you can listen to the music of your choice, which is immediately decoded by the Denon Ceol N9 amplifier. USB drives (with FAT/FAT32 partition) are supported. Their contents are displayed on the screen of the Denon Ceol N9 amplifier, as well as in the Denon Remote App. The played files are the same as for the local network, namely ALAC and FLAC HD in gapless mode (if they are identical files).
Bluetooth: this is one of the new features of this N9 model. There is no apt-X codec but a decent listening quality in this mode with FLAC files (automatically converted to SBC format) from our smartphone. From our point of view, Bluetooth transmission is minor on a device which can support lossless wireless protocols such as AirPlay or DLNA. S/PDIF inputs: there are two of these. These optical digital Toslink inputs are compatible with audio stream up to 24/192 PCM. This is useful for connecting an HD television and a computer with a USB to optical converter.
Our thoughts on the listening quality
We were impressed by the Denon Ceol N8 amplifier and we expected a lot therefore from the Denon Ceol N9. Denon has taken up the challenge and delivered an amplifier which to us seemed better than the previous model. Minor adjustments have been carried out for a consistent audio delivery. The slight rise in the medium has been removed for a more standard listening experience with a continued solid bass range for such a small-scale amplifier. Even at a low volume, the Denon Ceol N9 amplifier ?pushes? our Monitor Audio Radius 270 column speakers. Listening maintains a pleasant liveliness in the bass range with increased softness in the medium. Treble is relatively precise, even if it is not as precise as the Marantz PM-6005 amplifier (leading reference in its category).
The sound signal is delivered with expertise and listeners immediately feel at ease. This is a pleasure, regardless of the sources.
Internet radio streaming is an area in which the Denon Ceol N9 excels. Despite the inherent MP3 format compression (@ 128 Kbps most of the time), it’s difficult to not appreciate the sound localisation offered by FIP radio programmes. The dynamic range of the signal is inevitably low, but the message is coherent and that’s the most important. With CD quality or HD FLAC files (24/88.2 at 24/192), it’s another experience and the amplifier stands out. We’re impressed with its bass handling, regardless of the speakers, be it Monitor Audio or Denon. For stereo home cinema use, the Denon Ceol N9 surprises everyone. With roughly twenty Watts, this little amplifier rises above many other home cinema amplifiers. Last year, we were impressed by the energy of the N8 with the series Breaking Bad. This time round, we judged the N9’s performance with action films such as, Pacific Rim, Godzilla and Guardians of the Galaxy. In a 30 m2 room and at a steady volume (95 dB), you’ll be amazed. A versatile and high-performing amplifier, which we recommend highly in its version without speakers, so that you can match it up yourself with compact or small tower speakers.