Denon DVD-2900 Universal Disc Player 
Home Theater Video Players DVD Players
Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Monday, 01 March 2004

Audio enthusiasts struggle to understand why every DVD player can’t always play every kind of disc. The answer is complicated and often has to do with nothing more than the raw cost of the universal drives. It is expensive, especially for a high-end audio/video company, to buy a transport from an OEM manufacturer and make it into a player that can play all of the new formats. Some of the early players that can play both DVD-Audio and SACD skimp on bass management for SACD and/or convert DSD (the technology that makes SACD sound its best) into PCM, which is the technology that is most associated with DVD and even CD. For an audio enthusiast, these compromises are wholly unacceptable, which presents a difficult challenge. In order to do DVD-Audio and SACD correctly, audiophiles needed separate players, as well as a receiver or a preamp with two sets of six-channel analog inputs. Up until recently, that was a whole other costly problem.

Enter the Denon DVD 2900. Powered by the vast engineering team at Denon, this $999 player successfully plays both of the new audio formats with their own dedicated audio sections. The 2900 also includes a Silicon Image video processor for 480p “progressive” output and Burr Brown 24-bit audio DACs. This kind of laundry list of internal parts is what you might expect to hear from an ultra-high-end player, so at $999, this player becomes an even more interesting option, even for music and movie enthusiasts who have other, much more expensive components.

Other features on the DVD 2900 include full digital bass management for DVD-Audio, featuring Analog Devices’ Melody 32-bit processor and 80Hz crossover with 12dB high and 24dB low pass slopes, as well as full digital bass management for SACD, and 80Hz crossover with 6/12dB slopes on all channels. The DVD 2900 plays every disc format I can think of, including audio/video CDs; DVD-Audio/Video, Super Audio CD, DVD+/-R/RW(conditional), Audio CD-R, Audio CD-RW and MP3 CD-R/RW (128 or higher kbps work best). The pure direct modes defeat “unneeded” portions of the player for the ultimate in audio performance. RS-232C and remote in/out ports are included, so you can control the DVD 2900 by a sophisticated remote control system. There is also a Glo-Key remote control, which is useful for darkened rooms and nighttime use.

The Denon 2900, unlike its digitally connected big brother, the DVD 5900, still connects via an analog six-channel connection, so you need three pairs of good interconnects, a good digital audio cable as well as a component video cable. While the player cost about a grand, you should expect to invest at least another $200 to $300 for cables in order to get the most from the player. If you are going for the ultimate in performance from all of the new formats, you need to use exactly the same interconnect for all six of the analog connections. One connection that is often and mistakenly overlooked is the video connection. The video processor in the DVD 2900 is excellent and, by using a poor video cable, you are giving away a healthy percentage of your video performance right between your DVD player and video monitor or receiver. I recommend considering using a very high-quality component cable despite the investment cost. I used Transparent’s entry-level component cable, which costs about $350. I used Ultralink interconnects for the analog and digital audio connections which sell for less than the video cable.

You might want to use the menus of the DVD 2900 to assign the size of speakers you have. I am used to setting everything to full-range in my reference theater system. In the case of the 2900, which was primarily in my bedroom, I needed to make sure that it was set up for small speakers across the front as well as in the rear. I did the same in my matching Denon AVR 3803 AV receiver, which also has bass management. These set-up tweaks keep my system from getting blasted with low-frequency information in speakers that might not be able to handle it. My grapefruit-sized Gallo A’Divas fit wonderfully in my bedroom theater, but they can’t rock 20 Hz at full volume like you might expect to hear on a dynamic DVD-Audio or SACD disc. Within seconds, I was able to make the DVD 2900 aware of my situation and the bass was diverted to the Gallo sub. The difference in sophistication with the bass management of this player vs. my older Sony SCD-ES555 SACD changer was impressive. Granted, the Sony is now a year or two older than the newer Denon, but the way you can set up the bass management on the Denon was greatly improved.

The Music
CDs, SACDs and DVD-Audio Tracks Starting with CDs, I fired up Sly and The Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher” (Epic) to hear a nicely dynamic sound, considering the modest price of the Denon receiver and Gallo Acoustic speakers being used. The imaging was solid and the sound was better than I expected. In playing with the Pure Direct button on the front of the DVD 2900, I couldn’t really hear any difference in Mode 1 vs. Mode 2 vs. off, so I left the feature off.

On “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” from The Beatles Rubber Soul (Capitol/Apple Records), the Pure Direct feature was more noticeable. I opted for Mode 2, which made the instrumentation sound incrementally clearer in the left and right speakers. Overall, the imaging remained strong and the soundstage was surprisingly wide, considering how close together I was forced to place the three front Gallo speakers.

The DVD 2900 transitions easily to SACD. Literally, drop the disc in and it defaults to the surround mode. There is a very thoughtful button on the front of the machine that allows you to switch from multi-channel to stereo to CD layer on the SACD without the use of a video source.

On “Breathe” from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon (Capitol), you can hear an exciting surround sound mix that uses all of the available speakers to create an all-encompassing sound experience. At higher levels, you could hear some brightness in the top end, which is not evident on more expensive players and on far more expensive systems. “Money” sounded more liquid and three-dimensional at higher levels. The cash register sound effects ping-ponged from speaker to speaker at high levels, but did not sound as thin as some of the effects sounded on “Breathe” when auditioning the DVD 2900 vs. other SACD players like my Sony. “Time” is one of the most difficult tests of a player, because it needs to be able to hold up to the potentially shrill clocks without sounding overly aggressive. The DVD 2900 did a passable job, but some levels of brightness could still be heard even into the song in ways that couldn’t be heard from my Sony SACD player.

I liked the way the bass sounded on “Ten Inch Record” from Aerosmith’s Toys In The Attic (Columbia) on SACD. The low end was in fact low and nicely round-sounding. The mix of the record was fun and more neutral-sounding than Dark Side when listening on the DVD 2900. On “Walk This Way,” you can hear a very real Les Paul sound from guitarist Joe Perry that is alive, open and resolved. I was really impressed with the level of details I could hear, especially on the surround mix, on this recently remixed-for-surround rock ‘n’ roll classic.

Moving to DVD-Audio, the DVD 2900 also defaults to surround MLP mode. If you want to change the settings or access the added values, you can do so via the onscreen menus.

“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” from the recently released Pet Sounds from The Beach Boys (Capitol) glistened with resolution you might not expect from a 1965 recording remixed for surround sound. I have been listening to the disc on my Meridian 800 DVD-Audio player (about $19,000) and found the DVD 2900 keeps up nicely with the performance I heard on the Meridian. While the highs were not as resolved as on the Meridian, they did sound musical and non-threatening. The vocal harmonies wrapped around the listener and created a surrounding experience that was warm and engaging as you might expect from a high end DVD-Audio player. I wasn’t really expecting it from a $999 player, but I was sure happy to find such fantastic audio results.

The DVD 2900 did a great job with Al Green’s Greatest Hits (Hi Records – EMI) on DVD-Audio when compared to other DVD-Audio players I have heard. The DVD 2900 was able to reproduce the sultry soul feel of this classic 1970s recording on tracks like “Still In Love With You.” The guitar tone is ultra-mellow and the organ is even more muted. When the chorus comes in, the organ roars to life, yet all of the vocal and instrumental details remain present and resolved. “Love and Happiness” might be the best the DVD 2900 sounded, with the guitar having a three-dimensional sound, as well as an energetic bite that I liked, juxtaposed with the mellow musical accompaniment.

The Movies
I have paid a lot of attention to the DVD 2900 as a music playback component, but I don’t want to confuse the fact that it is a better DVD-Video transport than it is a DVD-Audio or SACD transport. I was blown away by how good a picture this $999 player could make going component out of the DVD 2900 directly into my Sony KV34XBR910 HDTV WEGA set. In “Zoolander” (Paramount Home Entertainment), when Derrick is taken to the “day spa” by Mugatu’s henchmen (and henchwomen), he is ultimately seated in a space age chair so that he can be brainwashed by Little Cletus (Will Farrell’s Mugatu character in disguise). The colors in the room are soft and gorgeous shades of blue, yet when the shot pans to Zoolander, you can see the edgy details of his tragically hip five o’clock shadow. When Little Cletus starts his speech, he is carrying a gigantic lollipop, which is vividly colored. You can at times see sharp detail in terms of each color on the candy.

  One of the big problems I have in my big system, which features a 100-inch screen using a Madrigal Imaging D-ILA projector, is the ability to reproduce dark scenes from DVD. “The Sopranos” is the most troublesome source material I play, so I wanted to see how the DVD 2900 could do on my CRT HDTV set. While the TV technology is a big help, the DVD 2900 and its internal Silicon Graphics video processor did a commendable job of trying to resolve the contrast issues during the “Guy Goes To See A Shrink” episode. Tony meets up with his estranged associate, Pussy, after he has disappeared for a number of weeks. In the basement, the lighting is dim but you can see more of the details within the shadows than I could see on other systems. A certain level of graininess is noticeable in the picture. This could be because of the way the show is shot on film, but it was not as present on my larger video system, so I think the blame more likely lies with the video playback system.

The Downside
The DVD 2900 has been on the market for a number of months now and, since it was released, the latest rage in DVD players are ones that have a DVI digital video output. DVD is a digital format, yet Hollywood has forced us to watch it converted from digital to analog and then in many cases back into digital so our DLP, D-ILA, LCD and plasma sets can make their wonderful pictures. If this sounds inefficient to you, then we are in agreement. The Denon DVD 2900 has nearly every feature on the market other than a DVI digital video output.

While connecting the DVD 2900, I wished I had opted for the bigger Denon DVD 5900 and its matching receiver. They have a proprietary digital connection for audio that works between the two components. This means one cable for audio, instead of six. This also means that your DVD-Audio and SACD can avoid an entire level of analog to digital processing, which is a big deal in terms of audio quality. At $999, some compromises had to be made to meet the aggressive price point, but I would have loved to see a Firewire digital output that not only worked with Denon receivers but one that works with other systems.

The Denon DVD 2900 is a kick-ass universal DVD player at its price point. Consumers want it all from their components and the DVD 2900 does its best to deliver at an affordable $999. The video quality is really something to behold and the fact that the player has dedicated processing for DVD-Audio (PCM) as well as processing for SACD (DSD) is truly impressive. The uncluttered front faceplate is easy to use and the remote is loaded with features but not too hard to navigate either.

For those looking for another level of performance from the DVD 2900, there is a company that significantly modifies the unit changing the DACs and digital clocks for audiophile purposes. Their changes to the DVD 2900 more than doubles the price, but that is still fair, considering how good the player is compared to other universal players on the market.

For anyone interested in taking a voyage into high-resolution music and crystal clear video for DVD movies, the Denon DVD 2900 must be considered a specifically fantastic value at its price.
Manufacturer Denon
Model DVD-2900 Universal Disc Player

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