|Denon DVD-3910 Universal Disc Player|
|Home Theater Audio Sources DVD-Audio/SACD Players|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Tuesday, 01 November 2005|
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Music and Movies
If you’re a fan of the recently departed HBO hit “Six Feet Under,” then you have probably heard of Sia. The one-time vocalist for the indie band Zero 7, Sia has a recent album, Colour the Small One (Universal UK), which contains some of her best work to date. On the track “Breathe Me,” Sia’s vocals reign supreme, floating nimbly in the center of my room with a hauntingly breathy realism I’d not experienced from this track or disc before. The 3910 struck a wonderful balance between Sia’s vocals and the subtle orchestral cues that made it all the easier to get drawn into the music. From the highest highs to the lowest lows, I was unable to really find anything objectionable. The 3910 never lost its composure and never once became harsh or tubby. The soundstage was deeper than I had experienced with previous players in this price range and the width was nothing to cry about, either. I wouldn’t classify the 3910’s presentation as razor sharp, but there was an appropriate amount of air and space between the performers that was quite alluring. The 3910 let the music simply unfold naturally; preferring to lure you in vs. reaching out and grabbing you by the throat. One thing that struck me was just how sure-footed the 3910 was. The 3910 proved its dynamic prowess during the orchestral bridge, providing an enveloping and explosive performance that in the hands of some of my other players had been a bit mushy and one-dimensional.
Wanting to test the 3910’s mettle a little bit, I threw on Eminem’s third album, The Eminem Show (Aftermath). During the track “Cleaning Out My Closet,” the 3910 treated me to all the spiteful, gritty, raw anger Eminem could muster, putting the rapper right square in the room with me, which is about as close as I ever want to be. It was clear that the 3910 wasn’t about smoothing over the rough parts and could get down and dirty with the best of them, if need be. The bass was tight and carried with it the appropriate scale and weight. Moving on to the track “Without Me,” the 3910 not only showcased its rhythmic speed, but managed to unveil a little something extra in the track that I can only refer to as “zing.” I’m not saying the 3910 added anything to the music; I just feel it has the resolving power to bring out more of the artist’s energy that some players might miss.
Moving on to multi-channel fare, I opted for the SACD version of John Mayer’s sophomore album Heavier Things (Columbia). During the track “Something’s Missing,” the 3910 proved just as adept at SACD as it was with standard two-channel fare. The 3910’s clarity is addicting and it managed to solve a lot of the edginess that once seemed synonymous with Mayer’s vocals. The highs once again were crystal clear and kept completely in check, a feat few digital players, even in this price bracket, can manage. The midrange was free of excessive warmth that often is associated with players trying to mask their digital pedigree. I would have to say (after some deliberation) that the 3910 tends to be on the lean side of neutral via its IEEE 1394 output. I found its RCA outputs to be a bit fuller-sounding, but not quite as refined. The bass was again spot-on, relying more on resolution than sheer gut-churning weight.
On the track “New Deep,” the bass plunged a little deeper, all the while remaining very musical, balancing very well with the drum kit’s shimmering cymbals. The bass guitar was beautifully detailed, once again showcasing the 3910’s ability to pull the innermost detail from every recording. Overall, I found the multi-channel performance of the 3910 to be exceptional. While it’s the recording that is responsible for getting the mix of multiple speakers right, the 3910 had no issues when it came to presenting me with one of the most enjoyable multi-channel experiences I’ve had in my room to date.
With the music over, I moved onto movies. I began with the Superbit version of the Mel Gibson blockbuster “The Patriot” (Columbia). Through its component outputs, I was treated to a bevy of rich vibrant colors, good black levels and crisp whites. The 3910 was also a natural with skin tones and depicting fine gradations in hues and saturations. However, I was able to detect some slight jaggedess and pixilation during long pans across the numerous corn and wheat fields. It didn’t call attention to itself the way I’ve noticed in other players, but to say it’s free from typical digital video compression and artifacts would be false. Compared to other DVD players in and around the 3910’s performance bracket, it did give me one of the better component pictures I’ve seen in a while. Switching to the 3910’s DVI output and setting the internal up sampling to 1080i was an experience I wasn’t prepared for. Gone were the before-mentioned compression issues. In their place was a crisp, focused, endless picture that, while not as saturated as its component counterpart, felt much truer to the original film itself. Through the DVI output, I could not only see further into the image more clearly but in low light scenes, such as the one where Mel’s son returns home from battle, I was able to make out more detail previously hidden in the shadows. I’m a sucker for close-ups, and again through the DVI output, I was able to see every subtle detail down to Mel’s sweat-soaked pores. I’d go so far as to say the 3910 might be the closest one can get to high-definition DVD performance without having to sell the children into slavery.
A direct comparison between the DVI output on the 3910 and my JVC D-VHS deck proved quite eye-opening. Yes, HD still has the upper hand in absolute terms, but with HD-DVD or Blue-ray still a way off, the 3910 gets you closer to the mountaintop than ever before. On the audio side of things, the 3910’s way with both Dolby Digital and DTS was breathtaking. A battle scene featuring hundreds of soldiers, countless firearms and cannons, all surrounded by lush landscapes and gentle winds, must be nerve-wracking for a sound designer. Yet, when presented with the challenge, the 3910 produced a true to life battlefield, complete with crackling gunfire and rumbling cannon shots, all the while managing to resolve even the tiniest of birds still chirping in the trees. It’s been said that you can lose sight of the big picture by focusing too heavily on the details, and while this may hold true for you and I, this is not the case for the Denon 3910.
I ended my review period with the action film “Spy Game” (Universal Studios Home Vido) from director Tony Scott. Scott, once steadfast with the camera, now moves and shakes the viewfinder like a man on his umpteenth cup of coffee. With enough wild pans to give any progressive scan DVD player a headache, the 3910, with its DCDi processing, kept the film from becoming nauseating. During the scene on the rooftop between Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, the motion was smooth as butter, with nary a sign of breakup or artifacting. The steely blues and grays that make up much of the scene’s color pallet were rendered wonderfully, without the image seeming at all washed out. The 3910 also made quick work of the film’s driving techno score, providing a nice blend between the elements throughout a film I can only describe as a sonic train wreck. It was during this film that I also experienced the 3910’s true bass capabilities. While the 3910 never failed to amaze me with its high-frequency and mid-band response, it wasn’t until I neared the end of my review that I finally unlocked the 3910’s full bass potential. I guess patience is a virtue after all.