Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Denon 5900 Agonistes

My best sounding laser disc reader, a Denon 5900, still plays proudly in my Living Room.

However, all attempts to get a second Denon universal disc player for the bedroom have failed.  So far, I've tried twice twice by buying two Denon 5900's off on ebay.  The first had a noisy transport, the second (which I just got last month) has problems with SACD and HDCD.  With SACD, it often (but not always) doesn't recognize discs, with HDCD it has lots of terrible drop-outs.  These latter problems strongly suggest a laser/detector unit that either needs cleaning, needs adjustment, or needs replacement.  Fortunately, when it is working, the transport is as quiet as any other Denon, and perhaps my quietest.

Now I find out that laser/detector failure is a very common problem among Denon 2900, 5900, and similar units (though it is not said to be so much a problem with 5910).  There are websites with replacement instructions, and other websites that sell replacement lasers.  A typical price for the "traverse assembly" which includes the laser and lens (I believe it also includes detectors) is $100, I've seen them listed at $159.  Typical repaired costs have been claimed to be in the $200-$500 range.

I bought a "laser lens" for $26 from an eBay seller and was a bit worried that I was only getting the lens.  But, as pictured above still in the shipping plastic, it is a complete assembly.  It looks exactly like the "traverse assembly" part offered by Denon parts dealers.  I also previously bought a printed manual for 5900.  I may even already have the official firmware upgrade from the first 5900 I purchased, if not, I can download it.  So I should be good to go, ready to fix my second bad 5900 purchase and make it my bedroom player.

All I need is to actually do it.  If I ever do it.  (Projects like this have a way of never getting done.)

Meanwhile, I see other cheap players, a Denon 5000 (very rare predecessor to 5900 that has HDCD and SACD), 3910, etc., on eBay right now.  There's even a nice 5910 which would be a step up with a modest $300 current bid (probably go to at least double that).  It's so much easier to take another spin on the wheel than to finally deal with the already accumulated detritus.

Long ago, perhaps about 2005, I got a Denon 2900 for my bedroom (which then had my best audio system).  It was to replace a combination of Toshiba 5700 and Sony NS500V DVD players.  The Toshiba could play HDCD and DVD-Audio.  The Sony could play SACD.  Between the two, I had all the high rez disc formats covered.  But neither player was anything like high end, so I was happy to replace the pair with a single high end player.  But then I quickly discovered, to my great dismay, that the Denon 2900 didn't handle HDCD, one of my favorite formats, because it is used by Reference Recordings, who has made some of my favorite recordings.  You can listen to HDCD discs on regular players, but without the special HDCD decoding, you are losing dynamic range and more.  So my great new high end "Universal" player was not as universal as I wanted.  Back then, even Denon 5900's sold for about $1000, and I didn't want to spend that much money.  My 2900 is minty and cute, looks almost like the 5900 and I'd be perfectly happy if it just had HDCD.

My first solution was to get an Aragon DAC that had HDCD decoding.  I connected that to the digital output of the 2900.  I also got it set up to decode the digital output of my Sonos system.  In either case, to actually play on the bedroom system, the analog HDCD output has to be coded back to digital to go through my selector, level adjuster, EQ, and crossover units.  Back then I was using my Tact RCS 2.0AA to do the analog-to-digital conversion.  Now I have several better units, but in the bedroom, which is now only in second place, I only have a spare Behringer DEQ 2496 which does a passable job of nominally 24 bit audio conversion, with better S/N than the Tact.

Unfortunately, that setup was very cumbersome.  I only used it a couple of times to play HDCD encoded recordings through Sonos...and very rarely to listen to high rez discs.  It was hard to get all the selectors set right.  Finally, after mostly non-use (but plugged in) operation, the power supply in the Aragon DAC died.  I had used it so rarely, I only noticed that it had died when I was removing it from my rack anyway to have its shelf used by my new PS Audio Power Plant Premier.

On Saturday, after having hooked up the newest 5900 to my system, replacing the 2900, I was horrified to hear the drop outs on an HDCD (Portraits of Cuba).  The same disc played perfectly in the living room.  So I pulled out the 5900, and plugged in the Toshiba 5700 from 2003 (now almost 9 years old!).  Compared to the heavy Denons that I've gotten used to, the old Toshiba 5700 is a noisy lightweight.  It also makes chassis noises at least as loud if not louder than the 5900 I specifically call "noisy."  But I don't want to give up HDCD again, so the next step should be 5900 or better.

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