For many listeners, the ability to play SACDs will be a little extra icing on the cake, a nice freebie rather than a major reason to choose the DCD- 1500AE over the CD-only competition. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t investigate the possibilities offered by these discs. The Denon might not do so much with the more refined format that you will feel compelled to search out the high definition discs at every opportunity, but it does enough to quietly and clearly reveal their relative strengths compared to CD. And it does so as well as the likes of Pioneer’s new PD-D9 at £600. That machine has better build quality and arguably nicer (or at least more “high-end”) looks, but it is so close in character to the Denon that you can’t really split them without resorting to minutiae, while the extra £100 you’ll still have in your wallet/account/credit limit can make a serious difference to overall system quality if carefully spent. Being a relatively affordable piece of equipment the DCD-1500AE does inevitably have its shortcomings but these should not be too obvious in an appropriately priced system. Specifically, the high frequencies are not as solid and pure as dearer players and inevitably the dynamics are limited in absolute terms. That said it is a more dynamic machine than its rivals and this was one area in which it clearly distinguished itself, something that is quite likely to be related to the UK tuning factor. Pure Japanese Denons tend to be a little too refined, for my UK tastes at least, but this avoids that particular trap.
This incarnation of the DCD- 1500, despite the aforementioned tuning, is also more refined sounding than its UK designed competitors. Cambridge’s popular Azur 740C at the same price point has a considerably more gritty and forward character, which might make it more appealing with less transparent systems so long as they are not too bright. Even in an unsuitably high-end system the Cambridge might have an edge with quieter, more relaxed music, but as soon as things get heavier, more complex or more lively, especially with material that you want to play at full bore, then the Denon’s smooth, relaxed character and musical versatility is the tool for the job.