I’ve been listening to the same thing for 12 years: the Denon D-M31 micro system that was my gateway drug into the world of hi-fi audio.
So as far as I’m concerned, Denon needn’t have bothered making any adjustments over the years. But they have done so anyway, improving the sound here, adding connections there – until we have today’s Denon D-M41DAB, which is so good it steps on the toes of ‘proper’ hi-fi systems with separate components.
This is an example of a good product refined to the point of near-perfection.
Hi-fi equipment is hardly ever sexy, especially at the affordable end, but Denon has made the most of what it’s got. The overall aesthetic hasn’t changed hugely over the years – it’s still a rectangular metal box with grilles on the top and sides for ventilation. The front has a brushed aluminium fascia though, and the buttons and volume knob are lightly textured.
The entire point of micro hi-fi systems is to save space, and the Denon D-M41 does just that. Its footprint is a little smaller than a piece of A4 paper, so it shouldn’t have a problem fitting into your bedroom, kitchen or home office.
Build quality remains impeccable. The buttons have a satisfying click; the volume knob turns with just the right amount of resistance; the disc tray slides out without so much as a rattle. It feels as solid and reassuringly weighty as my old Denon D-M31.
Connections at the back are… focused. Denon didn’t set out to make a multitool – just a micro hi-fi system with the terminals most likely to be used. There’s an analogue input and two digital optical ones. No doubt Denon expects people will use the micro system to power TV sound, instead of a soundbar. There’s also a subwoofer output, an aerial connection for FM and DAB radio, plus two pairs of binding posts. The latter accepts bare wire or banana plugs.
In case the disc tray didn’t already give it away, this thing plays CDs – remember those?
The big addition here is Bluetooth. That might sound minor, but it’s a big deal for a product line that has always focused on quality physical connections, which can be disrupted by wireless signals. Denon hasn’t gone so far as to add Wi-Fi and built-in streaming services, but the Bluetooth element will let you stream Spotify or Tidal from your phone. Best think of this as the opposite of networked audio devices such as the Sonos One, which has multiroom skills and streaming services built in, but no physical inputs.
The system might look simple on the outside, but things are a lot more complicated on the inside. Basically, Denon has gone over all the circuitry to eliminate as many potential sources of distortion as it could. It’s simplified circuitry, shortened signal paths and separated analogue and digital circuits. It’s suppressed distortion from the input selector, volume control and power amp – all with a view to producing the cleanest, purest sound.
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As I write this, it is a little past 1.30am. That’s because I made the mistake of starting a listening session at around midnight, and the Denon D-M41 is so entertaining that I sort of just carried on.
Good hi-fi has the tendency to make you want to rediscover your music collection, and this does just that. This micro hi-fi system proves you don’t need to go for separate components to get great sound.
12 years on and Denon’s basic sonic signature hasn’t changed one bit. It’s a fine balance between smooth and dramatic; between easy-listening and entertaining.
The first thing that struck me was how big the sound is. It’s not just that the soundstage is spacious – it’s impeccably organised and you’re left in no doubt about where instruments are located.
Complementing that spaciousness is a hugely impressive clarity. This is a really insightful listen, full of subtle texture.
Separation is impressive. It’s easy to pick out all the individual components of even the most chaotic performance. Push too far in this department and you risk sounding a bit clinical, but Denon has the good sense not to do that. Timing is tight enough that disparate elements come together as a cohesive whole.
This is a hugely versatile player, thanks in no small part to its dynamism. The D-M41 is entirely at ease shifting from high-energy and loud pieces like Ruben Gonzales’ Pueblo Nuevo, to more sedate and melancholy ones like Nick Cave’s Into My Arms. Denon knows a thing or two about capturing the mood.
Tonal balance is spot on. You can adjust the EQ settings, but not once did I feel that was necessary. Denon has managed a sound that’s smooth without ever risking sounding too warm or rich, perhaps because the low end is never less than taut. The midrange is direct, without ever overpowering the rest of the frequency range. The treble is crisp and light, like sprinkles on a sundae.
Why buy the Denon D-M41DAB?
This machine puts to bed the notion that a good audio setup requires a lot of space and money. The Denon D-M41 offers a level of musical engagement you’d expect from a large, expensive separates system. That Denon has managed to achieve this in an all-in-one box is simply extraordinary. If I were compelled to downsize or make space, I would happily replace my separates with one of these.
The Denon D-M41 is available in two configurations. You can get a bundle that includes the system plus Denon’s SC-M41 speakers for £380, or go without speakers for £280.
I tested the D-M41 with my Dynaudio Contour 1.3 SE and Mordaunt-Short MS10 and they got on beautifully, but I felt that the Denon SC-M41 also did a very good job for £100. If you don’t have existing speakers, the £380 package is excellent value.
A micro hi-fi system as good as bigger and more expensive ones.