Kenwood DV-4070-B DVD-A/DVD-V/CD Player
by Marc Mickelson
DVD-Audio is finally here, and if you notice a distinct lack of fanfare, you're not alone. The ho-hum vibe surrounding DVD-A is partially due to its tardiness, partially due to SACD stealing some of its thunder (and SACD has made only a little noise of its own so far), and partially due, I strongly believe, to the fact that so far it's being billed and sold primarily as a multichannel format. It's the video performance and convenience that have pushed DVD-Video along at its frantic clip, and it could be the same with DVD-Audio -- except that instead of using all of the 192kHz sampling frequency available, and thus shooting for the best possible sound quality at the outset, DVD-A software instead goes for more channels and downgraded two-channel sonics.
What's so bad about multichannel music? Nothing, except that the vast bulk of music lovers play their tunes on two-channel rigs, and we know how good two channels can sound -- two really good channels, that is. I'm not saying multichannel music doesn't have a future -- it does, perhaps a very big one -- but rather that it's not the path to early acceptance with people who buy music to hear in two channels. Seems obvious to me.
End of sermon
All this ranting brings me to the first DVD-A player I've heard and the first one we've tested here at SoundStage!, the Kenwood DV-4070-B, which plays DVD-As, DVD-Vs and CDs. I will be evaluating the player as a two-channel music source, while Doug Blackburn will tell you more about its video and multichannel capabilities over at our sister publication, Home Theater & Sound.
Like most DVD players available today, the $1000 USD DV-4070-B has a bevy of features, a good number of which are applicable to home-theater use and thus things I won't touch upon here. In terms of audio only, its functionality and features are fairly straightforward: two-channel analog and two digital outputs, the ability to pass the 24/96 datastream to its digital outputs, a Pure Audio Mode that "blocks the video signal to prevent interference between audio and video signals," 96kHz and 192kHz LEDs for indicating the sampling frequency of the disc being played. Connection to your audio system is simple even though the back of the DV-4070-B is covered with numerous jacks for audio and video: just use the Mix Line Output jacks, which are standard stereo outputs that include all of the information of the six-channel outputs meant for, ugh, multichannel/home-theater use. The power cord is captive, as I expected, so I couldn't experiment with after-market power cords. And as I mentioned, if you'd like to use the DV-4070-B as a transport with an external DAC, it will pass the 24/96 signal, although you have to turn on this functionality via an onscreen menu. The digital outputs are ubiquitous for a DVD player -- one RCA coaxial and one TosLink. And a note for home recordists: The DV-4070-B won't play CD-Rs or CD-RWs.
The DV-4070-B's front panel has all the requisite buttons for music-only use as well as a couple of niceties such as a headphone jack and level control along with buttons to skip from disc to disc. Did I mention that the DV-4070-B is a five-disc changer? Well, it is, and you can swap in or out discs while one is playing, a nice feature for playing hours of music while you cook or clean the house (I can't do this because my listening room is in the basement, but maybe your life is a little more normal). This changer operates like any other, but the discs themselves take a rather long time to be read and then played. In all fairness, the DV-4070-B is meant for use in an A/V system, so you'll see on your TV what's happening while the player's front-panel display shows "Reading." Still, if you're used to the speed of a CD-only player, you'll be disappointed.
The DV-4070-B's LED display can tell you just about everything about its operation, and its letters and numbers are large enough to be seen from across the room. The remote control is petite but fully functioning (a bit more on this later), and the player and remote come packaged with some generic cables for connecting the player to an A/V system as well as comprehensive connection and operation manuals. When you review esoteric tube amps and speakers from small companies, it's easy to admire the manuals that come with a component like the DV-4070-B. And they're necessary because of all the settings available via the onscreen menus as well as the indicators and operational features.
I first used the DV-4070-B to play DVD movies via my Mitsubishi CS-35305 35" direct-view TV. I reasoned that this would be a good way to break the player in, and I was working on another review anyway -- adding a new component in the middle of a review period is a big no-no. When I moved the player into my audio system, it was in with some very good high-end company: Audio Research VTM-200 mono amps, Lamm L2 and Audio Research Reference Two Mk II preamps, Wilson WATT/Puppy 6 speakers, a Mark Levinson No.39 CD player, and a Bel Canto DAC1.1 digital-to-analog converter. Cables for the review period were either Nordost Quattro-Fil interconnects and SPM Reference speaker cables or a full Transparent Reference XL setup. Power cords were from Shunyata Research, Viper and King Cobra primarily; or Transparent, Reference Powerlink for preamp and DAC, Powerlink XL for amps, which require 20-amp power cords. A Shunyata Research Hydra and PS Audio P300 Power Plant with MultiWave functionality powered everything.
The three faces of sound
I used the DV-4070-B to play CDs, 24/96 DVD-V discs from Classic Records and, of course, DVD-As, four of which I received from Kenwood with the player. Before I comment on the sound, I need to let you know that the DVD-As I received were all in multichannel format, which limits their sampling frequency to 96kHz, the same as the 24/96 DVD-Vs I had on hand (and what I complain about in the opening of this review). So while DVD-A can decode a 192kHz sampling frequency, it was not to be for this review. I tried to buy a few DVD-A discs at my local Best Buy and Circuit City, which drew only blank stares from the people I asked. I was also unable to do any comparisons to CDs -- much of the music on the DVD-A I received exists only in this format. However, Kenwood was kind enough to send along a DVD-A sampler on which were some tunes that I've heard on CD at some point.
Playing CDs and DVD-V discs, the DV-4070-B offers warmish sound somewhat similar to that of the Bel Canto DAC1.1 I use as my reference, which means this aspect of the DV-4070-B's sound was not problematic to my ears. I listened to many CDs, throwing everything I often use for reviewing purposes and a few new discs that will undoubtedly see more pixels in upcoming reviews. A recent fave, G.Love and Special Sauce [Okeh/Epic EK 57851], sounded spacious and nondigital through the DV-4070-B; I played a few cuts from it for a friend and he remarked how good and "pumping" it sounded.
But in the case of the DV-4070-B, there were a couple of caveats to its warmish sonic signature. And, of course, it's my job to point them out. Its treble sounded slightly opaque, not as sweet and smoothly resolving as that of the Bel Canto DAC1.1, for instance. A disc that shows this is Emmylou Harris' Red Dirt Girl [Nonesuch 79616-2], which can sound whitish and slightly hot in the treble, but it lacked air and sounded blunt through the DV-4070-B. And so you know, I played the same disc via the Bel Canto DAC1.1, using the DV-4070-B as a transport, and everything was there as I expected, so this characteristic was attributable to the Kenwood unit used as a CD player.
One other thing I noticed, especially in relation to the Mark Levinson No.39 CD player, was some dynamic restriction, as though the elements of each recording existed at more of the same loudness level. This is not as noticeable on good 24/96 discs like Armstrong & Ellington: The Complete Sessions [Classic DAD 1031] as it was with most CDs, especially a disc like the Jacques Loussier Trio's Plays Debussy [Telarc CD-83511], which has some wonderful dynamic shading. And for those of you wondering, I did check to be sure the player was not in late-night mode (a feature the DV-4070-B does have), which restricts dynamic range and makes low-level dialogue more intelligible when the volume is down.
So the Kenwood DV-4070 proved to be a pleasant enough CD and 24/96 DVD player, but it has a few sonic characteristics that are not wholly positive. Welcome to the club -- no $1000 CD player is perfect, especially when matched against the likes of the $6k Levinson No.39 and $1295 Bel Canto DAC1.1. However, things changed rather dramatically with DVD-A discs, and this is odd given that the sampling frequency of the discs was the same as that of the 24/96 DVD-Vs I played. Where the DV-4070 was demure with CDs and DVD-Vs, it was dynamic and visceral, especially down low, with DVD-As -- all of those I had here for evaluation, that is. Yes, it could very easily be a matter of recording or mastering, the discs themselves sounding more punchy and alive than the CDs I played. But whatever the reason, the DV-4070-B took a step toward the bigger time with DVD-A.
I first heard Big Phat Band's Swingin' for the Fences [Silverline 81017-9] at CEDIA 2000 in Indianapolis, during a demo put on by Kenwood. The sound was much better in my listening room -- big and raucous. This is a recording of some high-energy swing, and while the horns displayed a tad bit of glare, they had the requisite bite I expect from brass. I found this disc to be a swing overdose for me, but it was an interesting listen nonetheless. I had a harder time warming up to the music on Venice Underground [Immergent 82001-9], a collection of electronica that did, in all fairness, have some very interesting effects -- sounds that seemingly emanated from behind the listening seat or far left or right of the speakers. By far, I enjoyed Aaron Neville's Devotion [Silverline 81028-9] and DVD-A sampler from Kenwood (Kenwood 5.1 Collection [Silverline 72434]) the most. The Kenwood disc included a great Cannonball Adderley live take of "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" as well as tracks from Fleetwood Mac, Blondie and Billy Idol. "Only the Lonely" by the Motels was very impressive, especially the bass, which was way deeper and tighter than it was on the CD I used to own. And Aaron Neville's unique voice was ambient and inviting, soaring in spots before it settled into a more plaintive vein. These four DVD-As sounded uniformly good via the Kenwood DV-4070-B, but I hope to score a few other discs, if only so you don't have to keep reading about these four in future reviews.
Finally, I mentioned that the DV-4070-B could also pass a 24/96 signal via its digital outputs, which makes it a candidate for use as a standalone CD transport. In this capacity, it is roughly equal in sound quality to the Pioneer DV-525 I use normally in this capacity, which is to say it's good but not the equal of a good CD transport like the Levinson No.39. The sound is less lively and striking, but pleasing nonetheless -- unless you are a hard-to-please audiophile, in which case you'll curse my hearing, or lack thereof.
In fact, I found that this sort of summed up the DV-4070-B: good, not great, by high-end, audio-only standards, but about what I would expect given its price and versatility. I'm sure it could be bettered by a CD-only player at its price, and perhaps even by a DVD player too. But in either of these cases, you would not get DVD-A functionality, which would mean buying another player. There's also the matter of the DV-4070-B's picture quality, which was slightly softer than that of my Pioneer DVD player but very color saturated and film-like, to my eyes at least. I liked it very much with my 35" direct-view TV; it may, in fact, be perfect for this kind of large TV. All in all, I suspect that the DV-4070-B would be very competitive given its real home -- an A/V system -- and less so as the sole two-channel source in an audiophile's pride-and-joy rig.
Done, but only for now
As much as being about the Kenwood DV-4070-B, this review has been a light evaluation of the DVD-A format -- by necessity given that it's new. In this regard, we need more music, and hopefully at least some of this will take full advantage of the format's potential -- and 192kHz sampling frequency. I would love to see an audiophile classic remastered for DVD-A; then we would be able to separate the format and its intrinsic sound from that of the software. And I'll make a plea here for more originals of high musical merit, not just whizzy test discs that we'll listen to a few times and then bury.
The DV-4070-B's true claim to fame, however, is as a DVD-A player -- no surprise, I guess -- and in this respect, it shows real promise, as does the format. I enjoyed the more physical sound of the DV-4070-B with DVD-As, although I have to say that even here a good CD was not completely outclassed. The DV-4070-B's value is as a source for an audio-video system, and here it offers many features and a lot of flexibility as well as a picture that I, for one, liked very much.
One DVD-A review down, who knows how many more to go....
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