Monday, March 19, 2012

Finally another working Denon

I've finally got another working Denon universal disc player in the bedroom.  This one is a 3910, roughly equivalent to the 5900 in the living room, though not quite as good for audio IMO.  It came as nicely packed as anything I've ever won on eBay, with double boxing AND padding inside both boxes.

Except that more padding could have been used everywhere, and foam peanuts are not actually the optimal padding.  Solid urethane foam or crushed paper is better.  Peanuts are messy (broken foam peanut bits can sometimes get inside equipment), static electricity makes them stick to everything, and cleanup is a hassle.  Whenever I see peanuts used, I laugh about Krell charging a $50 "Environmental Disposal Fee" to anyone sending back Krell equipment using foam peanuts, and I don't blame Krell for doing that.  Krell boxes use heavy duty cardboard and solid foam.  I myself have sometimes spend 20 minutes cleaning up peanuts even when it they don't get inside equipment.

Anyway, this shipper didn't rely on the foam to do much.  The peanuts were only outside the inner box.  Inside the inner box, the unit was wrapped in bubble wrap and further padded with blocks of styrofoam.  The inner box and bubble wrap shielded the player from getting any foam peanut bits inside.  The packing could have been done better, I have sometimes done better, but it isn't usually done this well.  And the good packing helped me to get an actually working unit.

Compared with the 5900's, the 3910 is:

1) Newer model.
2) Stayed in production for many years (late 2000's), on the other hand, the 5900
    was terminated (and essentially replaced by the 3910) just months after introduction.
3) Slightly lighter feeling and slightly more resonant chassis.
4) Uses slightly downgraded Burr Brown audio DAC chips.  The 5900 used the "beta"
version of the highest category.  The 5910 used the production version of the highest category.
5) Lacks separate transformer for analog circuitry.
6) Has HDMI connector (5900 has DVI connector only) otherwise same Faroudja video circuit.*  Quite possibly the short run of 2900/5900 models were that they lacked HDMI, which became a new standard just after they came to market.
7) Has pretty SACD logo that lights up when SACD is playing, or lights up DVD-Audio/Video icon when DVD is playing.
8) So far, it seems like I cannot control the multichannel settings.  Perhaps it senses that I have only plugged in stereo connections.

(*The Faroudja video circuit included in the 5900 was the first such circuit entirely free of chroma bug issues.  Basically, this was the first DVD video processor that actually worked to DVD specifications.  The kind of thing you'd like to expect from a name like Denon.  The 3910 went with the exact same circuit, since it had already been developed anyway.  The 5910 went to an even more high end solution with the Realta HQV chips.  Lower end video solutions were used on 2900 and 2910.)

I had previously bought 2 5900's on eBay with issues (one needs new transport, other needs new laser), and long long ago, I bought the 2900 on eBay only to find it doesn't support HDCD, one of my favorite formats.  I bought a laser to fix the one that needs new laser, and it's worth fixing IMO to get the upgrade from 3910 audio to 5900 audio.  I wasn't going to buy any more Denons, just fix the 5900 I already have, but there was a very reasonably priced 3910 on ebay, so I decided to go for it, and indeed I won it for about the most reasonable price I've seen a 3910 sell for, and yet it's a good one.  If nothing else, it's a backup for my now-needs-laser 5900.

I enjoyed playing all manner of discs on my 3910 this weekend.  It is especially wonderful to enjoy HDCD discs after many years of having absent or flaky HDCD in the bedroom.  Reference Recordings with HDCD are some of my most spectacular sounding discs.

Denon and Oppo are two of the leading (and almost only) manufacturers to make "universal" disc players that play DVD as well as SACD, DVD-Audio, and HDCD.  Arcam might also once have made such a unit, then dropped HDCD in a later model.  Sony has never (to my knowledge) made a player that played HDCD or DVD-Audio (those were competitive formats to Sony), and HDCD and DVD-Audio players are generally hard to find, and (except for Denon and Oppo) most often don't include SACD capability.

The 3910 chassis seems pretty quiet, however it's clear my PS Audio Power Plant Premier has become too noisy.  At first I thought the loud hum came from the player, but it came from the Power Plant.  I'm planning to take it offline soon.

While they work very well when they work, Denon 5900's are especially noted for laser issues, though Stephen Sank claims all the Denon universals have lasers that burn out quickly.  I think the same lasers are used in all these models, but I think the Hitachi lasers got slightly better over time, and also Denon figured out how to use them better.  A lot of the laser life and quality is determined by the driving circuitry and even the firmware.  If the laser or sensor are overdriven when they are hot, they could burn out.  There's a fine line between best performance and too hot.  Current levels are set in the Denon service menu.

Meanwhile, my noisy old Toshiba 5700 is offline and probably ready for disposal.  Unfortunately, it looks like 5700 transport has same bearing problem as the Toshiba 9200.  Just that most people didn't bother to fix their 5700's when the original damping washer wore out.  I had considered this to be my backup HDCD player, but now the 3910 will take on that role.  The Toshiba also lacks any kind of digital video output, so can't be used as my player for DVD rentals.  (I use a Denon 2910 for playing rentals, it's hooked up straight into my central HDMI switch.)

The new Denon played "Portraits of Cuba" just fine.  Remember the last 5900 I tested locked up on this disc.  I noticed, however, that this disc is not actually an HDCD, it is a Chesky disc. 

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