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Equipment Review
March 1998

Densen Beat B-100 Integrated Amp

by Todd Warnke

Us and Them

The other day, over on rec.audio.classical.recordings, an interesting discussion arose about a misposted ad for a pair of used Monster Cable speaker wires. At $450, if you or I liked the sound of the cables, we might think it them bargain. However, the general opinion on the newsgroup was that $45, let alone $450, would be too much. Now, these are people who, in their own way, can be obsessive. They may own, say, $1000 worth of Beethoven symphonies, or every recording of Bruno Walter. Obsessive, yes. But what they are really obsessive about is listening to music. They listen to digital, to FM radio, to cassette tapes; why, I bet one or two of them even has an 8-track player. Many of them still have and use vinyl. Mind you, they don’t listen to vinyl because Michael Fremer told them to, or because of any supposed vinyl superiority. They do so simply because they own music on vinyl. Why do they do this? Because, most emphatically, they are music lovers. And with equal force, they are not audiophiles.

What!? There’s a difference? You bet.

After a decade or so as a serious audiophile, I have come to the conclusion, no news flash here, that audiophiles and music lovers are if not two different people, then two completely different and opposing roles. It seems to me that the role of the audiophile, if put into school-day terms, is akin to that of the grammar teacher. I’m sure you remember writing the world's best essay in school, full of unique and stimulating ideas for which you deserved praise and recognition. However, your mean ol’ grammar teacher completely failed to notice what was there, instead focusing not on what you said but how you said it. On the other hand, Bill Bifocal, who couldn’t come up with an original idea even if it meant sex with the entire swim team, got an A, all because he never, ever had a run-on sentence—and always used punctuation correctly, and knew that to horribly split an infinitive was to sin. In other words, he wrote like audiophile records sound.

The role of the music lover is more what you do when first learning a new language. As you listen to native speakers, you catch a word here, a phrase there, and fill in the gaps to extract the meaning. You listen to what you know, and then extrapolate the rest. In sports terms, the audiophile is like a G.M., who must look at what’s missing from the team in order to improve it, while the music lover is like a coach, who uses everything he has to win.

Further, I’ve come to the conclusion that until and unless audiophiles market and enthusiastically talk about affordable high-end products that make a real-world difference (that is, a difference that our online comrades over in rec.audio.classical.recordings or rec.music.bluenote can hear and appreciate as valuable), our little world will disappear. We will be tossed out with yesterday's news when DVD, multimedia and home theater finally converge. Once again, no news flash here. But unless we do this, other entertainment options will consume the young and impressionable, while the old and music-minded will fail to see why they should pay the entry price to play our game. So, you may ask, why bring this up now? Well, I’m looking for affordable gear that you and I can own and enjoy in both roles, audiophile and music lover, and I think I’ve found something that does just that.

Sounds Good! Costs Less!

At $1295, the Densen Beat B-100 integrated amp costs more than the average import receiver and a lot less than the new wave of integrateds being pumped out by the established high-end companies. Its price places it smack-dab in the middle of the contested zone between audiophile and music lover. Thus it stands as a bridge product, affordable in audiophile terms, but it had better perform, and perform very well, to attract the music lover. Fortunately, it does.

Svelte at 17.5" wide, 3" high and 15" from the front of the control knobs to the rear of the speaker posts, it is also very stylish. All black, except for the gold-plated volume and selector knobs, it fits smoothly into listening room, living room or den. With 60 watts a side and, it also offers sufficient power and drive capability for most speakers it will be paired with. Two notable design features are the power supply, which Densen speculates is perhaps the largest of any amplifier in the Beat B-100's general price class, and short signal paths. As it comes from the manufacturer, the Beat B-100 has five line-level inputs and a tape loop, once again, enough to cover the duties that will be its stock and trade. As an added audiophile bonus, the back of the unit has a couple of surprises. First, two pairs of speaker posts per channel allow for easy bi-wiring. And second, pre-amp-out jacks offer both an upgrade path as well as access to bi-amping. The inside also offers audiophile jollies. The first line input is adaptable for a phono board (for an additional $250). All in all, the Beat B-100 offers well-thought-out features that give value to both the music and audio lover.

As for the sound, I tried the Densen in two very different setups, with consistent results. In my office system it drove Platinum Audio Studio 1s. The source was either an Assemblage DAC-2 driven by a JVC XL-1050 CD player coax out, or a Sony XRA20-ES CD player used by itself. Wiring was by Audio Magic and JPS Labs, while power conditioning was handled by my homemade box (cheap and effective, but very ugly). In other words, a modest but nonetheless high-end setup. Here the Densen did an admirable job of simply making music. The bass, while not the latest word in tautness, was extremely musical and nicely propulsive, so much so that it often interfered with my work, resulting in more than one or two 1:00-AM listening sessions as well as couple of missed deadlines. Everything from Charles Mingus to Mozart to Funkadelic loved the bass lines put out by this unassuming box.

The mids, as you would expect from the above comments, were also of a musical and pleasing nature. While not lush or swimming, neither were they sterile. Vocals were rendered a bit drier than absolute perfection, but not in any fatiguing manner. In fact I found that following vocal lines was often easier in this setup than out in the big room. The treble was smooth and showed very little grain. During my overly long listening sessions I never grew tired of the sound of this integrated. Detail was appropriate and abundant.

My office is not set up to highlight staging, but I found that I was often distracted by the images the Beat B-100 threw around the room. Solid and with great width, jazz recordings were reproduced in an intensely involving and remarkably real manner. Depth was minimal, but let me emphasize that this room is not set up to reveal that type of information. Dynamics, as I’ve come to expect from the Platinums, were outstanding for the price of the components, and very good by any standard. In short, this was a well-balanced, involving, resolving, dynamic and musical setup, and for less than $4000. Add the optional phono board and a Rega Planar 3, and for less than $5000 you’ve got a system that plays tunes, offers an upgrade path, and hits all the right audiophile buttons to boot. Is this the perfect second or bedroom system? Come on! "Bedroom system" is just audiogeek speak for nice but not deserving of the high-end name. No, this system is good enough for the main room.

Graduate School

Speaking of the main room, when the Densen was dropped into the big rig, it continued its good showing. In that setup it drove either Dunlavy SC-IIIs or Kharma Ceramique 2.0s—speakers that are respectively three times and seven times the price of the Beat B-100. The source was a Theta Miles CD player (review up next) while cabling was Nordost Red Dawn or Cardas Cross. Power was cleansed by the API Wedge 116, and the Densen and the Theta stood on DH Golden Sound cones. All the electronics were housed in a SoundRack Reference stand.

In this room, with speakers capable of deeper and tighter bass than the Platinums, the Densen was once again a very propulsive box, but its limits were a bit more visible. With deep bass the amp ran out of steam, getting a bit soft and boomy. This was not noticeable at normal listening volumes, nor with the type of music I spend most of my time with. However, pop in Arcana's Arc of the Testimony (Axiom 314-524 431-2)—a freakin' great fusion disk by Bill Laswell, Pharaoh Sanders and the late, great Tony Williams—and the pace got a bit lost.

Mids, just as in the office system, were detailed and slightly dry, although very enjoyable. The highs showed just a bit of sheen, but keep in mind that even the cables in this system cost more than the Beat B-100. Dynamics were nicely shaded and, when called upon, quite convincing. Staging was once again solid and wide, and in a setup which showed what the Densen was capable of, showed very good depth with respectable layering.

Detail retrieval was unexpectedly good as well. I often use Frateres by Arvo Part (Telarc CD-80387) to demonstrate a component's ability to portray subtle room and depth cues. The opening version on the Telarc disk by I Fiamminghi starts out with percussion entering very quietly and about 20 feet back of the mic. The Densen was able to place the musicians well and give a good impression of real people playing real instruments all that way back. Once again, this was an extremely musical performance that was also detailed and sonically pleasing enough to satisfy an audiophile.

Wrap it up

This is a wonderful little integrated. In fact, more than most components, it integrates the two most important things, sonics and music. I am both a music lover and an audiophile. For me, great sonics enhance the reproduction of a recording, and great performances give listening to reproductions meaning. The Beat B-100, at $1295, offers tremendous value, regardless of which side of plate you swing from. Sonically, it hits for a very high average, while musically it knocks it out of the park. I heartily recommend that anyone looking to assemble a real music system look at this box. And I equally recommend that any audiophile looking to put together an affordable but honest sonic rig start here. This is exactly the type of product that will get those heretics over at rec.audio.classical.recordings to see the light, all while satisfying the needs of the audiogeek.

...Todd Warnke
todd@soundstage.com

Densen Beat B-100 Integrated Amplifier
Price: $1,295 USD

Densen USA
PO Box 673
Bedford Hills, NY 10507-0673
Phone: 914-244-4160
Fax: 914-666-0544

Website: www.densen.dk

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