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Product Review - Densen Beat B-200 Preamplifier - February, 1999

Daniel Long

Divider

Densen B-200 Solid State Stereo Preamplifier

No global negative feedback

Inputs and Outputs: 4 Line Inputs, 4 Pairs of Pre-Outs; 2 Tape Loops

Size: 2 3/4"H x 17 1/2"W x 12"D

Weight: 15 Pounds

MSRP: $1,495 USA (Optional Remote Control $200)

 

Densen Audio Technologies, Esbjerg, DENMARK; E-Mail www@densen.dk; Web: http://www.densen.dk; US Distributor - Audio Outlet Inc., 69 South Moger Avenue, Mt. Kisco, New York 10549; Phone 914-666-0550.

Introduction

"When the world famous Russian Opera Diva, Mrs. Nathaly Troitskaya heard our Densen DM-10, she said the following in an interview with Russian TV: 'For the first time since 1991 I felt myself again in the company of Placido (Domingo) on stage' . . . "

So begins a paragraph on Densen's web page about their philosophy. If you've read the review elsewhere in Secrets of Densen's DM-10 and Beat B-100 integrated amps, you know Densen eschews the use of any global negative feedback in their designs. While use of feedback typically results in lower distortion, if "too much" is used, phase linearity and speed suffer. This is not apparent when the frequencies in question are in the bottom two or three octaves, but is easily audible higher up. Densen has chosen to go with phase linearity and speed.

Completing the Beat amplification lineup, which up till now consisted of the B-100 integrated and B-300 power amp, is the B-200 preamplifier. The Beat series actually occupies the budget range within Densen. The DM series is designated "cost no object." Densen uses SMD (Surface Mounted Device) robots together with skilled humans during manufacture and mounts all PCB components entirely in-house.

The B-200

The B-200 shares the large-brass-knob look with its siblings. Although the B-200 has only one large volume knob, it has two brass buttons on either side of it. These respectively put the unit in standby (the power switch lies in back where you'll be least likely to use it), scrolls left through the inputs, scrolls right, and puts the unit in fixed-gain processor mode (more on this later; since I am particularly interested in this mode).

That's it up front. What's behind? There are 4 line level inputs, one of which (input 3) can be configured to accept either a DP-01mm or DP-02mc phono stage. There are also 2 tape input/output sets (no monitoring facility, for reasons given in the B-100/DM-10 review), and processor in/outs. Preamplifier outputs appear on four, "si(4)", "empat", "quattro" unbalanced pairs! You can bi-, tri- or quad-amp your speakers easily. I guess this is what you can do if you have an overkill power supply to begin with. I quad-amped my Alon IVs with three Bryston 2B-LPs and a Velodyne FSR-18 subwoofer on the bottom.

Associated Equipment

Aside from my amps and speakers, I use two Pioneer LD players (the second, the 909, also spins DVDs) as CD transports feeding a Classé DAC-1 into the B-200. Interconnects include various lengths of MITerminator 4s, Nordost Black Knights and Blue Angels and a long StraightWire run from my phono preamp (an old Audiolab 8000A II). Speaker wires are Audioquest Type 4 to the rears and Nordost Flatlines to my mains (L, C, and R).

The Alon Petite center is bi-wired and the IVs quad-amped as described above. I used a Lexicon DC-1 for movies and to evaluate the transparency of the B-200s processor bypass.

Listening

I first listened to the B-200 with CD. I put all sorts of music through it. HDCD, regular, good and bad recordings all took turns in my playback chain. Right out of the box, it sounded more forward than I was used to on the DC-1 (which served as my primary CD preamplifier prior to the B-200). The cables were the Black Knights from preamp to power amp and the MITs from the Classé to the Densen. I put in Blue Angels after about a week and found it wasn't so much forwardness but a rather subdued upper and mid bass. The Blue Angels maintained the clarity and transparency in the mids and treble while allowing a better balance of upper and mid bass through.

One thing didn't change. This was the very, very accurate portrayal of air and space. It let me see and hear the entire recorded acoustics on recordings, where before, the DC-1 only hinted at. At the same time, it wasn't as sweet or forgiving as the DC-1 had been. In comparison, the DC-1 smoothed over non-musical recordings to a much greater degree. If you have a system which is brighter than neutral, the B-200 may not be such a good idea, otherwise you'll find, as I did, that the Densen preamp didn't so much emphasize the upper frequencies as let them all through. This may be less of an issue once 96/24 CDs are here, and we have a less brassy sound coming from our players.

This was after a month of breaking in, however. Out of the box, it was a little ruthless. When it had more time on it, with recordings such as Janis Ian's Revenge CD, where previously I found it a little dark and unemotional (with the DC-1), I now enjoyed it tremendously. The various skin-percussive instruments used on it were all easily differentiated from one another.

On HDCD CDs (and especially the 1997 CES sampler), which had tracks illustrating the difference HDCD makes, it was easy to hear the increased depth and space (most obvious) and a better portrayal of instrument timbre (cymbals, drums, toms, etc). I had previously struggled to hear the difference.

The Painter

One evening early on during my audition of the B-200, I put on Livingston Taylor's Ink CD (16/44 Chesky, not the 96/24 DVD), and had just put away the case on top of the Pioneer transport and walked back to my chair when my wife Teresa, who was painting at the dinner table (she's a folk artist; see http://web.singnet.com.sg/~teresal/teresa's.htm if you're interested!), said to me, "What's that nice tune you're whistling?"

But it wasn't I who was whistling! I sat down and gave her a "got'cha!" look, and pointed to the Alons. These times are rare and far between, not because there's a lack of music in the house, but the B-200 (in concert with the rest of the equipment) just made everything more believable. It paints a picture that hides nothing.

Is it High-Performance?

Where does the B-200 stand in comparison with other high-performance gear? I found it to be very accurate, in so much as accuracy is defined by a system consisting of an all Camelot digital front-end (Uther V2.0, Dragon Pro2 and a Merlin Pro transport), VTL TL-5.5 preamplifier driving MB-750 Signatures. Speakers were the incredibly big-sounding Joseph Audio RM-25sis. Though that particular setup (which I heard courtesy of John Tan and Bill Ng of K.H. Marketing, Singapore) sounded superior with respect to depth reproduction and definition of the acoustic venue (Kari Bremnes, Gåte ved gåte), the B-200 in my two-channel system went at least 95% of the way at much less cost.

In fact, even as I write this, I realize that the comparison, although unfair due to the extreme cost of the system mentioned above, is enlightening because of how close to this the Densen sounds. In the more expensive setup, at the end of track 1 off the Bremnes CD, En elsker I Berlin, the studio space in which I presume the recording was made literally collapsed, much as one's air must be sucked out of one's lungs when ejected into the vacuum of space (too much 2001). Although the B-200 hinted strongly at this, it was simply too much for it to do as well. In another comparison, my DC-1 presented even less of this space.

You Bypassed a What?

OK, the reason I took a good look at the Beat B-200 preamp was because it had a processor bypass. Let me explain: I am both an audiophile and a HTB (Home Theater Buff). I appreciate a good two-channel system and spend close to 25 hours a week listening to two-channel reproduction. I also spend weekends (during the day when it is socially acceptable to have space shuttles blasting off in my living room) with good and sometimes loud movies in the home theater. Up until I put the B-200 in my system, I had been using the very same system for both two-channel and home theater.

I was intrigued when I discovered some months ago while participating in discussions in rec.audio.x newsgroups and Stuart Robinson's excellent Forum 3 (hosted at http://www.smr-forums.com/forums/forum_3/) that the DC-1, though a tremendously over-achieving (in MY HUMBLE opinion) surround preamp, just isn't the last word when it comes to transparency and other high-end attributes.

So I looked, first out of curiosity just to see who provided a recourse for people like me, then seriously as I found most high-end manufacturers provided some form of processor pass-through input/output on their preamps that is active only when using some form of surround processing. For normal two-channel listening, I would use the DC-1 preamp fed directly by a source (CD, LP etc.).

At this point, I must add that I do use the DC-1's music surround capabilities on certain recordings. Which? I experiment and I urge you to do the same with whichever surround preamp you use. You never can reliably predict which two-channel CD sounds better as two-channel or with surround processing. I do this about 20% of the time with (not-specifically-surround-encoded) various material.

Just how good was this bypass on the B-200? Good enough that I couldn't detect any anomalies in the front L and R channels which I could otherwise attribute to putting the B-200 into the signal path. I evaluated this aspect of the B-200's performance mainly by watching movies, as this was how it was going to be used.

Conclusions

I absolutely loved the Densen. When I first received it for review, I was apprehensive, to say the least, since the DC-1 is a very respectable performer on music and has been top-notch in my home when used as a surround preamp. I can confidently state that the B-200 gave me more of everything that I treasured, not in the sense that it emphasized any aspect of the music but rather that it brought me closer (as far as I could tell) to it.

I bought the review unit, and it is now part of my reference system. Enough said, no?

Daniel Long


© Copyright 1999 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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