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: 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.
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: 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.
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.
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 : 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: 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: 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: 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.