Dynaudio Focus 110 Speaker System & Denon AVR-4806CI A/V Receiver Page 2
If Denon didn't show a little imagination with this $4,000 receiver's remote, there'd be hell to pay. As it happens, the supplied remote has a sweet blue-on-black touchscreen. The touchscreen consumes about 40 percent of the remote's upper surface, making it easy for you to change sources or modes. Below the touchscreen is a minimal but well-laid-out set of hard buttons. If you pick up the remote by the middle, the navigation keys fall naturally under your thumb. Grab the bottom, and the 0.75-inch-long volume and channel keys are similarly accessible.
We Are All Audioslaves
Not for the first time, my powers of description wilt in the face of this kind of virtuosity. What can I say about a system that does everything well? First, I can say there's nothing missing. The midrange is free of obvious coloration, and it's as varied as the source material. High frequencies are extended, when the information is available, but there's no painful treble emphasis, and wailing high-pitched stringed instruments like violins don't hurt a bit when they've been recorded sympathetically. The subwoofer delivers bass frequencies pretty objectively, not only their pitches but their tone color, as well.
Walls and ceilings seemed to move around as one recording space gave way to the next. As the system played through BBC recordings of Richter piano recitals, I found that I preferred those recorded in the close confines of a Suffolk church over those recorded in big, bland Royal Festival Hall. The church's short reverberation time, which cruder equipment can turn into a mere blur, became a more specific sensation. Knowing what the system was capable of, I added a fourth layer of scruple to my usual criteria when choosing my late-night listening: composer, work, performer, and ambience.
Lately, I've been soothing myself with Haydn's string quartets. The Los Angeles String Quartet tenaciously recorded all of them over a five-year period and released a 21-disc boxed set—and won a Grammy for their effort. Of course, it took a few months to play my way through the whole thing, and, my listening life being what it is, several systems took part. The Dynaudio/Denon rig turned in the strongest performance, doing all at once what other gear could accomplish only in part: precisely outlining the instruments, filling in their timbre, fixing them in space, rendering the size of the space in what felt like the right proportions, and delivering all of the microdynamic subtleties, without losing focus, ignoring nuance, or overemphasizing the violins. Now I want to play the whole set over again.
Time Control is the fourth album from Hiromi, the Japanese jazz pianist—and better yet, the fourth to be released by Telarc as a multichannel SACD. It's also the fourth one to keep the bandleader's piano out of the front center channel, although the rhythm section punches through strongly there and elsewhere. This time she bills her band as Hiromi's Sonicbloom, presumably to celebrate her first quartet, with David Fiuczynski on fretted and fretless guitar, joining her usual rhythm section of Tony Grey (bass) and Martin Valihora (drums). The Dynaudios conjured maximum tone color from the plummy Yamaha piano, recorded with minimum reverb, which gave the disc a pleasantly intimate quality.
Out of Exile is the second of three albums from Audioslave, now defunct with the withdrawal of lead singer Chris Cornell. The band's songwriting and playing have never been less than magnificent. However, all three of their CDs exhibit squashed-dynamic-range syndrome, turning their dramatic peaks and valleys into one extended plateau. Cornell's voice suffered the most. His many dynamic gradations averaged out to a single level, although his interesting modulations of vocal color remained intact. Only during the (artificially boosted) quiet moments did the bass punch through—for example, during the intro to "Be Yourself." Otherwise, I could have played this CD through a boom box. I hope Cornell finds himself a better producer and a smarter record company in the next stage of his career. If he made a true audiophile recording, he'd take no prisoners.
The Narrator Is Going to Kill You
Our ears are tuned to hear the human voice. That was one of this system's strong suits. The best example was Emma Thompson's omniscient voiceover in Stranger Than Fiction. That it sounded so natural, so right there, just made the movie's author-controls-character premise even more effective and comical.
Since I depend on potluck for movie effects, I didn't get the grand aha moment I sought every time. In Man of the Year, the system aced splashy crowd scenes with Robin Williams stoking an audience or playing the climactic scene on Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update. But the movie's most natural moments were its nothing moments: Williams in a parking lot alive with night traffic sounds or sitting in a plane on a runway.
The Departed got its second audition in this upscale system—this time after Martin Scorsese collected his Oscar. I watched it the first time through a system that cost a mere $2,400. Quadrupling the price of the equipment didn't change my perception of the soundtrack, although the movie's fleeting use of surround panning effects came through slightly better, and I grew to appreciate the fact that Scorsese and his mixer didn't deafen the audience during car chases and shootings. The properly matched front center speaker did justice to numerous stellar performances from Jack Nicholson and company.
Returning to a few other old favorites, I checked one of the later crowd scenes in Eminem's 8 Mile—the "Rabbit Finds His Voice" chapter. For the first time, I noticed how simply (albeit effectively) the crowd noise was mixed, with the sound concentrated in the front channels and simply repeated at lower volume in the surrounds. There weren't many discrete crowd noises in the surrounds. The thunks of the rhythm machine were right on target.
Master and Commander set me adrift in choppy seas. In a pre-battle scene, I noticed how the whooshing of seas over the hull of the ship were differentiated, some coming from port and some from starboard, keeping the aquatic ambience whole. The onslaught of ship-to-ship battle was a feast of threatening (and interestingly varied) low-frequency effects.
The Dynaudio Focus 110 shows just how terrifyingly good a high-end sub/sat set can be. Likewise, the Denon AVR-4806CI is a hot-list surround receiver that balances a shrewdly chosen features set with effortlessly musical and reliable performance. Unless you have a very cavernous room, you won't be unhappy with these components. If you can afford the investment, it will pay dividends for a long time.
Dynaudio Focus 110 Speaker System:
• Trapezoids with rich wood veneers
• Highly transparent and neutral
• Small but potent sub
Denon AVR-4806CI A/V Receiver:
• Denon's second from top of the line
• State-of-the-art features set
• Power to spare