With 65 watts per channel on-board, the Denon CEOL is much more powerful than most mini systems. Its potential isn't fully mined by the matching SCN7 speakers, but the sound is nevertheless impressive.
Smooth, refined and detailed, it blows most iPhone docks and budget mini systems out of the water. Unlike an all-in-one system, the separates approach lets you achieve a great stereo image - when properly positioned - and is arguably more versatile across a variety of different room sizes and shapes.
However, with the standard speakers the sound is not particularly bassy - something you'll notice even more if you usually listen to music with a dedicated subwoofer pounding away underneath the other speakers. This is to be expected of a pair of entry-level bookshelf speakers, and the Denon CEOL gives you plenty of scope for changing the way it sounds. You could pair the base unit with a pair of home cinema satellites and a sub if you wish - for a more subtle look, or a whacking great pair of floorstanders.
Its power rating is closer to a dedicated separates amp than a mini system too, further widening this scope. The only real limitation is that it's a resolutely 2-channel system, so there's no home cinema potential here.
If you prefer your music more measured and don't mind only having a calorie counter's portion of meat wrapped around its bones, the full speakers plus base unit can be found for as little as £50 more than the speaker-free edition. And that's not a bad deal at all.
The closest rival to the Denon CEOL is the Marantz MCR603, another connected CD player from a top hi-fi manufacturer. However, we can't help but compare these systems to Logitech's Squeezebox range and the Sonos series. These two long-running ranges outclass the Denon CEOL in terms of online streaming services, offering access to more services and a control interface that's much better suited for the frequent text seaching that's involved when using a service like Napster or Last.FM.
Plus of course both Sonos and Squeezebox offer Spotify integration - the number one streaming service to include beyond simple internet radio. The obvious point being that you will likely still need a hi-fi system to actually playback what a Sonos or Squeezebox delivers. Will Denon catch up? We'd like to think so, but unless you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, you'll still be left with the slightly clunky physical fascia button/remote control navigation.
The Denon CEOL successfully melds a traditional separates mini system with some of the top connected services, bundling-in some of the most popular connected sources including internet radio, Airplay and Last.FM. It stands out as a good all-in-one solution in a fairly underpopulated space, but is shown up by less hi-fi-oriented names like Squeezebox - who have managed to tailor their connected experience over a longer time.