Denon DRA-100 review

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Awards

  • Recommended by TR

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Denon DRA-100 5
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Summary

Our Score:

9

Pros

  • Classy design
  • Impressively layered sound
  • Simple setup and operation
  • Good connectivity
  • Hi-Res support

Cons

  • Naff remote
  • Needs a little care with speaker partnering

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Key Features

  • Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirPlay and NFC
  • Internet radio and Spotify Connect
  • 2 x 70W (4ohms) digital amplifier
  • USB, coaxial digital, 2 x optical, 2 x RCA phono, Ethernet inputs
  • Headphones, RCA phono, subwoofer outputs
  • Manufacturer: Denon
  • Review Price: £799.00

What is the Denon DRA-100?

Denon has been the undisputed king of the micro hi-fi world for well over a decade now, and the DRA-100 is yet more proof that the Japanese company knows how to squeeze a ton of sonic sauce into a sexy little container.

But this is new-age hi-fi of the kind that’s become increasingly common over the past few years. For just shy of £800 you get 70W per channel of stereo amplification, but no CD player or FM radio. It doesn’t even have DAB. Instead, the DRA-100 has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, as well as AirPlay and Spotify Connect compatibility, so you can stream internet radio or tunes from your phone or computer. It even supports Hi-Res Audio.

Just add speakers and you’re all set for modern-day musicality.

Related: Best Turntables to Buy

Denon DRA-100 8

Denon DRA-100 – Design and Features

The DRA-100 is a pretty little thing. The aluminium wrapping around the top and bottom, and the black gloss sandwiched in between is all very contemporary. Ditto the circular brushing on the power button and volume knob.

There’s little else to the fascia other than a USB input, headphone socket, some touch controls – a D-pad and a source button – and an OLED display. The panel is bright, clear and classily monochrome.

It all looks luxurious, even if it perhaps feels lighter and flimsier than it appears. Still, we’re not talking about high-end hi-fi here, so it’s churlish to expect high-end build quality.

Denon DRA-100 12

Around the back is a decent array of connections. There are 4mm banana-plug sockets for connecting stereo speakers, a pair of RCA phono line inputs, two S/PDIF optical inputs, a coaxial digital socket, an Ethernet port, a subwoofer pre-out and RCA phono outs. There are also two connections for dual antennae that help strengthen the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections.

Inside is a 2 x 70W (into 4ohms) digital amplifier with Denon’s Advanced AL32 Processing to upsample digital music to 32-bit. The internal DAC supports Hi-Res Audio files up to 24-bit/192kHz in the WAV, FLAC and AIFF formats, as well as DSD 2.8MHz and 5.6MHz files. Streaming options include DLNA 1.5, Apple AirPlay, Spotify Connect, and Bluetooth – but not aptX. There’s also an impressive range of internet radio stations on tap.

Denon DRA-100 14

The only real disappointment is the big, plastic remote. It isn't the worst remote in the world, but this is yet another example of a piece of hi-fi where so much effort has been put into styling the main unit, and absolutely none has been put into one of the key ways in which you interface with it. Grrr. Still, you can always use the Denon Remote app instead.

Denon DRA-100 – Performance

Denon has been at the top of the micro game for quite some time, not just for the wealth of features crammed into every delightful little box, but for sonic performance that leads the class.

The DRA-100 is no less impressive than its forebears in this respect.

I attached a variety of suitable speakers, including some old B&W Maharishi special editions and Scandyna Minipods, as well as some, well, less suitable ones. The 70W-per-channel power output is healthier than the 50W from this system’s PMA-50 sibling, but quoted power never really tells the full story, and in this case it still doesn’t mean you can hook up anything really exotic.

It’s a little tough to criticise the lack of grunt, though, since no-one in their right mind is going to attach big, insensitive speakers to what is still essentially a micro-system. It sang beautifully with the more sensible partners, and there’s always that subwoofer pre-out if you need to make up for the deficiencies of smaller drivers.

Denon DRA-100 10

The DRA-100 took a little time to break in, but the musicality eventually shone through. It has impeccable timing and digs out decent levels of detail, as well as summoning up a healthy dollop of tight bass. The soundstage is wider than you might expect, and mid-range layering is excellent.

You don’t quite get the distinct separation of instruments, the shimmery treble, or the super-realistic vocal reproduction you can get from spending £1,000+ on a dedicated hi-fi amplifier. For the money, however, and for an all-in-one, the DRA-100 remains impressive. Aside from the frankly ridiculously priced McIntosh MXA70, this may even be as good as I’ve heard a micro-system sound.

There’s also the option to bypass the amplification and use the DRA-100 as a pure streamer with a fixed output level, so I took the opportunity to see how its DAC measured up on its lonesome by connecting it to my reference system. Pretty assuredly, is the answer. The built-in headphone amp is similarly more competent than I’ve come to expect from a micro-system. Denon has done a good job of creating a well-rounded package here.

Should you wish, you could even hook it up to your TV via the digital inputs and give your viewing a sonic boost.

Should I buy the Denon DRA-100?

This is very much a micro-system for the modern generation. If you’re still committed to CD or broadcast radio, move along – Denon’s own CEOL RCD-N9 might be more your thing. But for the digital stream team, there are few better options with genuine hi-fi capability and bags of style.

With the right speakers, the DRA-100 will rock your world.

Verdict

Streaming hi-fi has never looked or sounded so good at a real-world price.

Overall Score

9

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Bugblatter

October 24, 2016, 9:12 am

Thanks for calling out the lack of Apt-X.

You haven't mentioned DLNA support, although I imagine it kinda has to have that or it's not really a streamer?

Ralph

October 24, 2016, 4:50 pm

Why oh why can't they put 5 or 6 pre-sets on the top of the unit - or even on the remote control. When I get up in the morning (roused by an alarm clock, not a phone!) the last thing I want to do is fiddle around trying to get it to play the right radio station. And the thought of having to use my phone or tablet to sort it all out is just too much bother. These manufacturers might make stuff that is technically fantastic, but if it's not user-friendly they shouldn't be surprised when it doesn't sell very well

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