Comparison Is the Thief of Joy. You CAN Have Too Much of a Good Thing. And I've got the Beat!

Discussion in 'Solid State Gear' started by Prime Minister, Dec 4, 2017.

  1. Prime Minister

    Prime Minister Site Owner

    My insane schedule of the last few weeks is finally starting to die down some (I've been out of the office either fully or partially for 6 weeks of the last three months, and oddly no one has come along to do my work!). I actually spend some time today listening to a new piece of gear, that was leant to me by our own Mike O.

    The Densen Beat B-100 is a lovely, simple, no negative feedback 60 WPC amp of the european school. Beautifully made in Denmark, it has a lovely black anodized alloy case and real 24k gold plated knobs, on for volume, and the second for the source selection. In this case, source 1 is an add on MM phono board. On the left rear is a on off switch. The RCA's are of good quality, with the 5 way binding posts being typical, if solid, plastic construction. There are two sets of binding posts in the rear, but they are just there for easy Bi-Wiring. So no fancy toys of any kind to mess with. Nothing in the very short signal path to compromise the sound. Just purist audiophile of the purest kind.

    To ensure that you suffer a little for your audio, or perhaps this is Densens way of keeping you fit, no remote comes with it. Too loud or too soft? Get off your lazy but, and give that beautifully made volume knob a turn!

    Under the hood, you see very little. Most of the space is taken up by a monster of a toroidal transformer. It is a real beast for a 60 WPC amp, and it really shows that that power supply was the priority for Densen. Which is not a bad place to start!

    As the title speaks of comparison, I should clarify what it is being compared to. While I did very little comparing, per se, the amp I have been running for the past few months, and have becoming intimately familiar with, is the luxurious Sony TA-F808ES. This was perhaps the last of the great run of Sony ES gear from 1985-1990. The folks at Sony threw everything they new into this beast. The parts list is all the best Japan had to offer in the mid 90's - Muse, Duorex, Alps, etc. The chassis has Sonys proprietary anti-resonant Gibraltar material on both the top and bottom. Copper is used generously, including the bus bars. They even added Mosfets in both the driver and power stages. Again, this is the result of some of the best engineers in audio, with enormous resources and buying power, setting out to build the best integerated amp they could. The end result was this astonishingly well built, 100 wpc, 55 pound beast.

    It has every feature you could possibly want built in also. Real tone controls. Every switching option imaginable. Any input you could imagine. It comes with a lovely sounding built in phono stage. It can handle lowish output MC's with aplomb, but it doesn't like the highest output MM's, and seems to overload on ones like the 7mv Rega Exact. It's a sweetheart with my 3 mv Grace F9 however. Around back you have the loveliest, if least practical, binding posts ever put on an amp. Eat your heart out, Tiffany! Oddly, it lacks one of my favourite controls, a real live loudness feature. However, if all of this fanciness is more then you want to handle, or your purist sensibilities are offended by it, their is a very effective bypass button that takes all of it, except for the binding posts of course, out of the signal path. Very simple and effective.

    Add to this, an overly complicated and fussy remote control, that offers limited functionality with the amp, but will control all those other Sony components that you didn't buy.

    Unfortunately, as North Americans seem to not be able to handle any sparkle or shine in our audio gear (Audio is serious business, dammit! No room for frivolities here!), we get stuck with the boring Black Box version. The rest of the world got a truly lovely piece in champagne, with redwood sideburns.

    So how does it sound? Very warm, lush and full. It is a really pretty sounding amp. No lack of detail, but everything sounds like it runs through a layer of really nice chocolate fudge. Again, this doesn't mean you lose anything from a detail perspective. It's all there and more. You just end up with a not totally neutral view into the music. Not only does it sound warm, it plays warm too. It must be heavily biased into Class A, as it makes a pretty good impersonation of a tube amp when viewed as a room heating device. But the presentation is certainly lovely to hear.

    The downside? You wouldn't categorize this as a Prat Master. It has a certain plodding quality to it. Eveything just seems a bit slow and deliberate. This has been characterized to me as a Sony characteristic, and based on my limited experience with their gear, I wouldn't argue that point. It isn't a deal killer, but it is something to keep in mind. As such, you would want to match it with source and speakers that are quick and light on their feet. Which is probably why it works so well with both my Exposure cd player, and the Totem Arros.
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2017
  2. Prime Minister

    Prime Minister Site Owner

    So what of the Densen? It is about as far removed from the Sony as you can find. Where the Sony is lush and luxurious (yes, audio gear can sound luxurious!), the Densen is quick, lean and detailed. The Sony leaves an impression of being much more powerful then the 40 wpc difference would imply. It is a total powerhouse, and feels ready to handle any speaker you want to throw at it. Infinity Kappas? Pfft. Bring 'em on!

    The Densen seems much fussier and pickier. Careful system matching will be the key. I wouldn't want to match them with small lean speakers, like, ahem, Totem Arros, for instance. And those that have done actual audio engineer type tests on it, have found that it does not like difficult loads. But with the right combo, I think it would be great fun. Something of the Spendor/Harbeth school would likely work very well.

    However (Isn't there always a however?). You better be investing in some top quality recordings. Feed it your gems from Analog Productions, Speakers Corner or DCC, and you will be rewarded with some incredible insights into the recordings you are listening to. On the DCC Beach Boys Endless Summer, you can hear of all of Brian Wilsons brilliant producing tricks laid bare. You can hear the echo on Mike Loves lead vocals. When they join in harmony, you can catch all five voices doing their thing. It's really interesting to step into the audio time machine and gain an understanding of what was being done at Gold Star studios in 1964. However (again with the howevers), it does tend to take you out of the music somewhat. You get a lot of "Oh cool! Listen to that!" moments, but you realize after a while that you are spending a lot of your time listening to the recording, rather then the music.

    What about those guilty pleasure 80's cds or late 70's vinyl? Well, if it ain't well recorded, you will know it. The Densen doesn't make them unlistenable, but it sure reminds you that this recording isn't as good as the other ones. And it keeps reminding you. To me, this becomes problematic, as I then start subconsciously reaching for good sounding recordings rather then good music. That to me is a deal breaker.

    How does the Sony do with the same records? It glops a little hot fudge on top, and every recording just starts sounding lovely. Accurate? Likely not, though not notably inaccurate either. Enjoyable? Definitely!

    So that's where I stand with the Densen at present. A fun sounding amp, that needs more careful then usual system matching. If your tastes run to a clearer window into the details of the recording, then this might just be your cup of tea.

    Tomorrow, I will try to listen to some records on it, and see how it likes that. More to follow!
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2017
    MikeyFresh likes this.
  3. Prime Minister

    Prime Minister Site Owner

    a Naked Densen!

    MikeyFresh and Celt like this.
  4. Prime Minister

    Prime Minister Site Owner

    For comparison, under the Sumo Sony's hood:

    Last edited: Dec 4, 2017
    MikeyFresh likes this.
  5. Celt

    Celt Active Member

    Clean and sweet....just the way I like 'em!
  6. TubeHiFiNut

    TubeHiFiNut Administrator

    Nice review....of both pieces. :)
  7. MikeO

    MikeO Active Member

    Can't wait to read more of your experiences with the Densen. It was an amp I first heard about 25 years ago when I was fairly new to audio and long before the internet had much impact on my audio hobby. I just walked into a high end audio store and a Densen integrated was playing with a pair of Totem model 1 speakers and I thought I had heard one of the greatest systems ever. I have only had this experience a few times in my life but it was so far beyond my reach as a university student at the time but it did set me on a ten year quest to find a pair of Totem model ones. The Densen amps are not common here and I have wanted to try one for many years but when they do come up for sale the price point is usually out of my reach. Well a couple of weeks ago one popped up for sale at several hundred dollars below the usual pricepoint and I jumped on it right away. I really didn't need it but there was enough room in the price to sell it easily if it wasn't for me.

    I hooked it up to my system and gave it a listen and found much the same as Erik. As I usually do I found some of my greatest jazz recordings and was blown away by this incredible sound. Tons of detail and just great music. After a couple of days I usually settle more into my usual listening habits and back to playlists from Tidal, 70s rock, or whatever happens to catch my interest while I am sitting on the computer. It was a strange experience. When I put on some Christmas playlists from Tidal each song I was noticing dramatic differences in the quality of the recording. Not that any of them sounded really bad, just that the best of them sounded amazing and the others were noticeably lesser. Over the course of a week or so of listening I found myself listening to only my best recordings when I was sitting at my desk because they were so incredibly great.

    This for me is the kiss of death and is a primary reason I find myself moving away from truly high end systems. I have had this in a couple of systems before where I end up listening to the same 20 albums over and over and for me it is not the place I want to end up. I am not at all implying that this is bad or that the amp is at fault for any of this as it is unquestionably one of the best sounding amps I have ever owned. But I put my little Ion Obelisk 2 back into the system and for the past couple of days have just been playing whatever recording I want to listen to. It is not nearly as detailed but it just takes away any worry I have about recording quality. It was a really interesting experiment because it has helped me find a very comfortable middle ground where I want to be where the system is good enough to really enjoy the music but not so good that the recording itself becomes a factor in the enjoyment of the system.

    At any rate, I am eager to hear what you think of the Densen's phono stage as it is really really nice.
    SPL db likes this.
  8. JohnVF

    JohnVF Administrator

    Fantastic reviews, if a bit surprising to me on the Densen end. I'm, of course, not at all surprised by your description of the Sony because it's an integrated I happen to know well... and admire greatly. In fact, I think it's one of my two favorite integrated amps I've ever owned. The other being the Leben CS-300s, which is oddly enough not cut from an entirely different sonic cloth. It's snappier, but has much much less power. But a bit of chocolate fudge nonetheless. My wife doesn't call me Piglet for nothing..I love chocolate fudge.

    I wonder how the Densen would sound with something like my old Spendor S-100s? Or even the Elacs I have, which err on the warm side here. I don't know that the Harbeths would like it. They have a reputation for warmth that I don't necessarily agree with. They're chameleons that take on whatever character of amp that's attached to them, and amplify it a bit. Lean amps get leaner, warm amps get a bit warmer. Odd, that.
  9. mhardy6647

    mhardy6647 Senior Member

    I'm sorry, I just cannot help myself...

  10. MikeyFresh

    MikeyFresh Junior Member

    I think Spendor or Harbeth in general are a very nice match with a B-100. The Harbeth HL-P3 for instance is a good match I've actually heard, along with the C7.

    I really like the B-100 (actually I've never met any Densen product I didn't like), but the classic Densen integrated to be on the lookout for in the 2nd hand market is the DM-10.

    From the outside, it looks very similar to the B-100, however that's where most of the similarity really ends, the DM-10 is a dual mono 50 watt/ch. design (later updated to 75 watts), it sounds considerably more powerful than that, with more heft and flesh on the bone at all listening levels than the very good B-100, and also exhibits grace under pressure when pushed. It is a no negative global feedback design (as is the B-100).

    Under the hood this is what the DM-10 looks like:


    It's a shame how underappreciated Densen products are in North America.

    Their current upper-end models are absolutely superb, the B-175 integrated would shock most people who've never even heard of Densen before with it's combination of power and finesse, as would their flagship preamps like the B-250 and B-275, which I think are world-class examples in the solid-state realm coupled with their DNRG external power supply.

    Even compared to a vacuum tube pre such as the Hovland HP-200, I preferred the B-250, scary good it was.
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2017
  11. Prime Minister

    Prime Minister Site Owner

    I think much of what you describe the DM-10 adding to the Densen experience, is exactly what left me feeling just a bit cool towards the B-100. I'd love to give that a listen. It sure seems they squeezed all they could into that small box.

    And Johns comments notwithstanding, I do think the Spendor/Harbeth match would be a nice one. The B-100 is on the quick and lean side, and the Totems are also on the quick and lean side. In this case, too much of a good thing. Either the more neutral Harbeths, or the slightly warmish Spendors, would balance that out nicely.
  12. JohnVF

    JohnVF Administrator

    I think it would be a good Spendor match. I don't happen to feel that Harbeth and Spendor have the same sonic characteristics. At least not current Harbeth, which I feel are extremely neutral.
    MikeyFresh likes this.
  13. Prime Minister

    Prime Minister Site Owner

    I thought I just said that. :)
  14. JohnVF

    JohnVF Administrator

    I guess you did. But I think the Harbeths neutrality would not be great. Your description sounds like it would need overtly warmer speakers. As I said, the Harbeths seems to take whatever characteristic an amp has and then magnify it. So if the amp is brightish, the overall sound becomes annoyingly so.
  15. MikeO

    MikeO Active Member

    This has me wondering if it is possible that the Densen integrated I heard back in the mid 90s was actually a DM10 rather than a Beat. It would have been around 1993 and the earliest review I could find on the B100 was from the late 90s. They do look almost identical.
    MikeyFresh likes this.
  16. MikeyFresh

    MikeyFresh Junior Member

    Not just possible but probable, Densen launched as a company in 1992 with I believe just the one product, that being the DM-10. If they had other products, they weren't imported to the U.S. at that time.

    The "BEAT" series didn't come along until a few years later, 1995-6 or so if memory serves me.
  17. MikeyFresh

    MikeyFresh Junior Member

    I wouldn't describe it as bright, more so a lean or thin midrange character as compared to some other amps, but not annoyingly bright or fatally flawed.

    This is strange in some ways as one consequence of the no negative global feedback is a slightly less than spectacular damping factor, typically you'd expect that to mean a slightly fatter warmer mid bass or tonal balance that is not lean.

    Another thing about the B-100 is sensitivity to cable changes, you can alter the sonic character quite a bit by using different cables, preferably low capacitance cables. This is because it is a direct input type design, there is no preamp gain stage, it is passive (unlike the DM-10).
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2017
  18. Prime Minister

    Prime Minister Site Owner

    I had to take a bit of a break between part one and part two. Mostly because I was surprised by what I was hearing, and just wanted to let it settle for a few days in my own mind and life.

    In part one, i had listened to only cd's. This time, I switched to the Densens internal phono stage (an option that upped the price almost 25% originally), and feeding it from my Kenwood KD-750, modded with a Fidelity Research arm and a Grace/Soundsmith F9 cartridge. BTW, if you really don't think a mass market Japanese direct drive table can sound fantastic, I'd invite you for a listen. This thing held it's own easily in a $50k + system, and was certainly able to hold up it's own end. No, it wasn't as good with the stock arm, but even that way it was easily the equal of my Rega RP6, while being immensely more pleasurable to use.

    Back to the Densen. SO while I don't doubt my turntable is the better source of the two, the Exposure is no slouch as a cd player, and I have no affiliations in the cd vs record religion. I've heard fantastic music and sound out of either format, and enjoy each regularly. In this case, the switch to turntable was a VERY good thing! The Densen really came to life, and I got a much better appreciation for what it is and what it can do.

    So what does it do? It creates emotional connections to the music that are almost spooky at times. This is not a sound quality thing. It's not about tricks or sound effects. Listening through the Densen seems to transport you to a different time and place. You are with the musicians, not just listening to the results of their endeavours. You end up connecting and feeling what they are sharing, not just hearing it. Not always, and with every recording, but when it hits, woah Nelly! Just try to concentrate on anything else. Try to keep reading that book. Your online game? No chance.

    But what does it sound like? It has gobs of detail, but it doesn't deliver the detail in the "hit you over the head", Wilson/Krell way. It never draws attention to the fan blowing in the studio, or the screeches of chairs moving. I'm sure that all of that stuff is there, but it doesn't draw attention to it. Rather the detail is delivered in a very musically involving way. Want to know which Beach Boy was singing which part of the the harmony? No problem. It's all there and it is truly fun to hear all of those different parts. However, it is YOUR choice if that is what you want to hear, and only if you pay attention to it. Slip your mind out of analytical mode, and you just get to enjoy a full, lush harmony. The Densen delivers all of the detail, while never sacrificing the soul of the performance.

    I had promised myself I wouldn't say this, but a foolish consistency being the hobgoblin of small minds, I'll break that promise. The closest thing the Densen reminds me of is an SET amp. As a good SET amp highlights the heart of a recording, the Densen does the same. Not to say it sounds like an SET amp, but rather is effects you the same way. Nice trick.

    That all being said, the Densen is still a picky beast. Unless you are very lucky, don't expect to just drop it into your system, and figure it will do it's best. This is definitely an amp you will need to build a system around. I can say definitely that the Totem Arros are not the perfect match for it. Totem uses some great engineering tricks to get the 4 inch driver to do all that it does to sound as great as it does, but those tricks become a bit too evident with the Densen. I'd guess something that is an easy load, with at least a 7 or 8 inch woofer, would be perfect. Neutral to warm sounding. I'll agreee with the comments I made above, regarding fair size Spendors or Harbeths. The 2 cubic foot BBC monitor thing seems about right. I think speakers by JM Reynaud would likely match beautifully. I wonder what Densen uses when testing their amps?

    Remember those comments about the Densen being picky about cables? Yup. They are true. More so then any other amp I've had. I've never heard an amp/speaker combo change tonally as much as this. And I don't think it is the Totem side of the equation causing it. Should you choose to add a Beat to your system, You will get to listen to a lot of speaker cables before you settle in to the right fit. And I haven't even started down the interconnect road yet!

    But all that being said, the Densen could easily be the heart and soul of a wonderfully musical, long term system. Even with all of it foibles, it is a true audio gem.
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2017
    MikeyFresh and opa1 like this.
  19. JohnVF

    JohnVF Administrator

    It makes for an interesting dilemma. I agree that the key here is probably the speakers. I recall hearing the Totems once connected to a Moon amp, with their designer explaining them but also explaining that the Moon gear, which in this case had a more sterile but open presentation, was not at all what he had in mind for gear to drive these speakers with, but that that was what was there, so let's listen. I wish I could have heard the speakers on a different amp. As for the Moon gear, not my thing.

    You do seem rather more excited about this amp than the Sony, though. I think it could be the basis for a longer term happiness. Do you still have the larger speakers you had just prior to the Totems?

Share This Page