Sunday, January 17, 2016

Denon DP-300F

"How much does a turntable cost these days?"

Someone (who is not an audiophile) recently asked me that question. And, like usual, it was a struggle answering it, because of all the variables involved. Are we talking new? Used? (If used, how old?) What are the quality expectations? And so on.

In this case, I mumbled something along the lines of "about $450, for a Rega RP-1." For whatever reason, the RP-1 came to mind first, although there are a lot of selling points. It has decent sound, seems to be well made (and might last 20+ years like older Rega Planar 2 turntables), but has a price that's not too horrifying for the non-audiophile.

But...perhaps I went too high. Maybe the right answer is $330 for a Denon DP-300F.

Indeed, the $330 Denon has two huge selling points for the first time buyer. (These are the people most likely to ask "how much?") It's $330 vs. $450. One thing I've noticed with people in the real world: they like their audio equipment cheap. For example, many audiophiles will see a $2,000 phono cartridge, and light up like a Christmas tree. "Wow! I bet that would sound great playing my audiophile 45 RPM records!!!!" Meanwhile, a "normal person" will shudder. "$2,000? For a needle? I bought my last system for 10% of that!!!!"

The Denon also has the selling point of convenience. It has full automation.  Hit a button and it starts playing. Hit a button and it stops. It also stops when it reaches the end of the record. Just like a CD player, except the discs are bigger. Convenience is always a selling point for non-audiophiles.

The convenience has even interested some audiophiles. I've read of many people who've bought one as a second turntable. Perhaps a bedroom system, where the auto-shutoff is handy if one falls asleep while listening to the gentle sawing of strings. But the Denon is always a second turntable. The main turntable remains the Linn LP12/VPI/whatever.

The Denon also has an advantage of some upgradibilty. The cartridge can be replaced. The built-in phono stage can be bypassed to use an external phono amp. Thus one can get started for $330, and, as funds allow, make upgrades.

I had sort of assumed the Denon might "only" be good as a second turntable. But recently, I've had a chance to hear the Denon, and even hear it some good systems. (It was one source used with Quad ESL-57 speakers that I heard a while back.) And I've been impressed. It's hard to gauge exact sound quality - I've only heard it in "other" systems, and with unfamiliar LPs. That said, what I hear suggests that many will find this turntable perfectly fine. It certainly would suit many first time buyers, and be revelation to those using a junky "plastic deck" turntable.

I also think more seasoned audiophiles might be happy. Someone who mostly uses digital, but still has a few old LPs, might be perfectly happy. And I think I could use this turntable as my primary turntable, and live to tell the tale.

Of course, the Denon has its limits. I think the Rega RP-1 would be a huge step up. But that comes at a cost of more than $100 extra, and the loss of the automation. The Denon also has a "plastic" feel, and between that, and the added complexity of the automation, I would doubt the Denon would be a 20+ year investment. (Unless used lightly.) But, while there are limits, it's worth remembering that this is a $330 turntable.

I was talking to someone recently about the Denon. He actually owns one. Like me, he has heard a lot of good turntables the last year or so. He can hear the difference between the Denon and a $2,000 Rega. And yet, he's happy with the Denon. Happy enough that when I saw him he was looking for used records to buy. Which shows the turntable is doing something right. In the end, what matters is not the detail, bass, or even suppressing surface noise as much as possible. What matters is doing a good enough job of playing music that you will actually use the turntable to play records.

Edited 1/23/18 to remove dead link.

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