On Densen B130xs @insider9 (but not only)

rainsoothe

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Of course it's not meant only for Insider9, but starting the topic so the amps thread (where he enquired about my experience with the Densen) can die in peace :)

So I managed to get the Densen B 130xs on home audition. An experience that reinforces for the billionth time how vital home auditions are (for both system and room matching reasons).

I brought the Densen home yesterday and gave it a go fed by my Naim 172xs, connected with the only RCA interconnects I have lying around - Atlas Element Integra. My experience was far from what I heard in the shop. Everything sounded soft, uninvolving and unconvincing. Luckily, I asked the dealer to lend me some price appropriate interconnects (I use Chord Shawline between the 172 and Nap200, but it's DIN-DIN for obvious reasons) just in case my Atlas wouldn't be doing the Densen any justice. So after some 3 grueling hours with the Atlas, I swapped the blue Accuphase RCA the dealer gave me. Now we're talking.

Everything opened up, slam returned, but something was bothering me: 1. guitars sounded a bit too metallic 2. bass was too prominent and not nimble enough 3. treble was too sparkly. Not harsh, quite the opposite, but still fatiguing (for me). Decided to let the whole thing run on internet radio at low volume during the night. Today I resumed my auditioning. The bass problem almost went away (or so it seemed), but it still sounded tiresome and quite uninvolving - there was a nice airiness, but no joy to the music. Detailed in a smooth kind of way, not necessarily clinical, but I was clenching my teeth most of the time (over 2 hours). So my mind was made up that the Densen wasn't for me.

Then I remembered that I updated the firmware on my 172 a couple of weeks ago, and quite a high percentage of the posters on the Naim forums (less than half, though) prefered the previous firmware - the update brings some changes in the Naim streamers DSP. In short, you get more detail and instrument separation and bass goes lower and hits harder, and the famed Naim midrange forwardness is tamed in the new firmware. So the new version makes the Naim streamers more HI-FI-ey, but reduce the boogie factor. It wasn't a deal breaker for me in the Naim system - I did miss some things about the old firmware, but wasn't enough to make me switch back quite yet. With the Densen it was horrible. So I rolled back to the old firmware (which was what I was running when I had the 282 on home dem as well, I think). Boy, am I glad I did. From the first track I played I started smiling and got a huge sense of relief. Went through lots of different stuff, because I know how the recordings sound, and everything just works. Steven Wilson, Porcupine Tree, Alan Parsons Project, Daft Punk, Dream Theater, Snarky Puppy, some old romanian prog, Public Service Broadcasting, Yes and other stuff. The older firmware might be considered a bit veiled (slightly velvety) in comparison, but it's so much more musical imo. A bit rolled off or soft at frequency extremes? Yes. More musically engaging? Yes. Finally the bite in the trumpets and brass sections was back. Although, to be fair, the new firmware is better for voices.

CONCLUSIONS:

1. My first and most important one is not system specific, and it's an eye opener for me: SOURCE FIRST. I know there's a lot of people who swear by this rule, but this made it obvious to me and made me a strong supporter on this.

2. System sinergy (including the room) is king. I know lots say this all the time, but I think it's so important that it's worth stressing over and over again.

3. The Densen integrated is VERY close in both performance and character to the Naim Nac 282 + Nap200 combo (within my system at least). Couldn't compare directly, but imo this makes the Densen fantastic value for money. It also doesn't leave you with the feeling that there's more to be had, like the 282 did. If you consider retail prices (and the fact that a new Nap200 costs more than the Densen integrated - or similar), it really is a bargain. Also, as a tounge-in-cheek comment, I think Densen succeed at what Yamaha amps are trying but failing to do :)))

4. With the Densen in, the system sounds more airy and detailed, but just a touch - it's never clinical, and very musical, punchy, smooth, coherent and engaging. It is a definite step up from all the Naim integrateds and their budget pre-power imo. In case anyone was wondering about comparisons.

5. I am now in a pickle. My plan was to sell the 172XS + 200 and use that money to get the Densen and a cheap-ish streamer as a temporary sollution (at least 6 months, if not more) - something like the Yamaha WXC50 - as I also need an optical input for my TV. Unfortunately, I don't know if I can live with that, because when the source was not a good match for the Densen, it really made me cringe on the inside, and music was so joyless. Even with the great price my dealer is offering me, I can't afford to only sell the nap 200 and keep the 172 and make up for the difference. I know I should be patient untill I can fill the gap, but impetuousness will probably get the better of me, and I'll end up hating my system until I can get my hands on a SH 172 or ND5XS.

Hope this helps someone, but do seriously consider Densen amplifiers, they're great. Oh, and lifetime warranty - WHAT?
 

insider9

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I'm so happy you didn't give up. I agree source is important. My B-110 (which I believe is a predecessor to B-130XS) almost never sounded poorly. Only subpar from cold, but once warmed up it was great. Perhaps it was never ideal pairing for my room and speakers, but it wasn't that far off and I really enjoyed it.

I've tried it with number of sources one of which was Yamaha WXC-50 and it was fine. However it didn't make the best of the amp. Interestingly, the best I heard it sounding was with Hegel H160 as a source *unknw* I know this is an integrated but it just sounded stunning as a DAC. Even Hegels own HD12 didn't sound anywhere near as good as H160.

Lifetime warranty is a massive bonus and tells you all you need to know about their engineering. My suggestion would be try a different source while you have B-130XS on home demo and it will be so much easier to decide what to do next.

What's the warmup like on it? B-110 would take up to 3 hours from cold. I kept it on all the time so it never got cold.
 

CnoEvil

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I have been through something remarkably similar.

I was convinced that a certain Linn Firmware update made the sound uninvolving (despite Linn saying that it shouldn't)..again this seemed to be the view of many on the Linn Forum at the time. I rolled back and the familiar sound was restored...and is the version I have kept since.

On a demo of the LS50s, unbeknownst to me, the dealer happened to use an Atlas Voyager I/C (that I had traded in with him a year or two before, as I thought it sounded rather shouty and sibilent)...and they sounded rather harsh. On discovering the problem, I had it replaced with a Linn Black and all was well again.

None of this should, in theory make a difference, but in my case, I thought it did.

I am also with you on the importance of the Source and system synergy.

FWIW. I have heard Densen before and liked it enough to recomend it...though there are brands I would take over it.
 

rainsoothe

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Thanks both for sharing your xp.

@insider9 that's a nice budget option (the H160) :) Don't know whether the warm-up was real or percieved, and after the interconnect swap I haven't turned it off. But in the dealer's room I also heard it from cold and it sounded great - and after changing the interconnect, the difference was obvious from the get-go. I also didn't run the same song when cold and later, only did that after the interconnect swap and the firmware change. Otherwise, I played different stuff, to see how I feel about it generally. After leaving it on during the night, I just thought the bass was tighter - just a noticeable difference, neither huge or small. By the way, I believe I read somewhere that Densen (just like Naim) recommend leaving their amps on all the time as well.

@cno what do you recommend over Densen and why? And what products did you hear from them? The B130XS is at @3000 euro or 2.5k quid mark, by the way.
 

CnoEvil

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rainsoothe said:
@cno what do you recommend over Densen and why? And what products did you hear from them? The B130XS is at @3000 euro or 2.5k quid mark, by the way.
It was an open evening at one of my dealers, when they started stocking the brand. It was a while ago and I think the B110 may have been one of the models.

As for brands I prefer...that would be Arcam, Electro, Sugden, Various Valve Amps, Pathos, Luxman, Accuphase and the MF Class A/Nu Vista. Now I realize some of these are more expensive.

I just found these other brands richer and more organic sounding....but remember, I'm basing my judgement on one eveing.

Bel Canto and Coda are other brands I quite like, but like Densen, would prefer others.
 

insider9

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@Rainsoothe indeed I think they do. I'll be honest as long as the amp kept temperature it was great. But completely different from cold. Imaging wasn't sharp, it sounded lacklustre and tinny.

@Cno I admit Densen's sound isn't about very rich timbre, however musicality is just effortless. It's not that there's anything lacking (re timbre), but it means it wil just with different speakers to the amps you mention. Also making sure it's warmed up may make it not as impressive under demo conditions. I've heard this mentioned on many other forums, so it wasn't just me. It looks like new B-130XS is better in that regard.

I think Densen is a music lower amp and as long as you have speakers that pair well with it, and Rainsoothe's speakers do, it's just very hard to come near to what it does well. That's one of the brands I will definitely look to go back to at one point.
 

CnoEvil

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insider9 said:
@Rainsoothe indeed I think they do. I'll be honest as long as the amp kept temperature it was great. But completely different from cold. Imaging wasn't sharp, it sounded lacklustre and tinny.

@Cno I admit Densen's sound isn't about very rich timbre, however musicality is just effortless. It's not that there's anything lacking (re timbre), but it means it wil just with different speakers to the amps you mention. Also making sure it's warmed up may make it not as impressive under demo conditions. I've heard this mentioned on many other forums, so it wasn't just me. It looks like new B-130XS is better in that regard.

I think Densen is a music lower amp and as long as you have speakers that pair well with it, and Rainsoothe's speakers do, it's just very hard to come near to what it does well. That's one of the brands I will definitely look to go back to at one point.
The MF AMS35i recalibrated what I now regard as Natural, Dynamic, Exciting, Real and Musical. The only other SS amps I know of, to give a similar effect, are the Class A from Luxman, Accuphase and the Monoblocks from Sugden (the IA-4 is similar, though not as good).

It's hard to describe, as it's something that you have to experience....but just speak to anyone that has heard one, or owned one (Iceman, Neuphonix, Roby, Acalex...and I think Singslinger).
 

insider9

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Cno, I really value your experience. I'm yet to experience MF of that level including your AMS 35i, so don't dispute your finidngs. But worth to mention your MF was twice the price of Densen we're discussing. AMS 35i retailed more than Leema Tucana II Anniversary, which I still have here. There's no question in my mind Tucana is a far superior amp to Densen (that's B-110 I used), but for musicality alone I think Densen would edge it (just), unless you used Densen source into Leema then perhaps it wouldn't. In no way this is criticism of Leema which I value very highly, but it's just how much I value musicality of Densen. It's not perfect in other aspects, but if you like what it does and it matches your speakers I believe everything else could become irrelevant.
 

rainsoothe

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Thanks for the input both. By the way, I think the 130xs is 2 generations onwards from the 110, there was the + inbetween, and also I was wrong about it being the entry-level, which now is the 120. I also read that the 175 is the one to go for, but of course it's out of my price range. They're also launching all kinds of products, but their press-coverage is close to none, and their website is very out of date (for instance, the 130xs page still advertises a DAC module you can plug in that WILL launch in 2015 lol). One of the downsides of running a small business I guess, along with poor resale value or the warranty caveat that you have to send them the product if it breaks down (I hear they had a lot of problems with their CDPs, and in some instances didn't have spare parts because they went out of production - whereas you can service 30 year old Naims without a hitch). Point of this, I guess, is that they might be worth revisiting, Cno, in case their newer stuff is different (and it should be, reading around suggest that the 110 was not that well recieved, even by their fanbois). I understand why you might not like them, though, they share some traits with Naim (which is also not up your alley) - still forward but much smoother sounding. Not trying to convince you, btw, I'm just surprised it sounds so good for the price, and would pick it over bare Nac 282 + Nap200 if I were given the choice, even for the same ammount of money.
 

CnoEvil

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rainsoothe said:
I understand why you might not like them, though, they share some traits with Naim (which is also not up your alley) - still forward but much smoother sounding. Not trying to convince you, btw, I'm just surprised it sounds so good for the price, and would pick it over bare Nac 282 + Nap200 if I were given the choice, even for the same ammount of money.
Going back to your point of system synergy....I loved my Naim 42/110/Snaps, when combined with the LP12/Ittok?Asak of that era, driving MA R852 MD.

Nobody can convince me into something that I don't want to be convinced into. I have periodically been recommending Densen on here, ever since experiencing it from back then. I prefer it to Naim and the more expensive Linn Amps. The cheaper Linn Amps sound fine with Kef R Series - it's back to that synergy thing again.
 

insider9

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Thanks for clarifying Rainsoothe. I wasn't sure as mine was purchased second hand albeit from Densen dealer.

You're probably right that a lot of it is down to taste. My Densen sold to a guy who too used Naim before and he loved it.

I'm really intrigued how much has change since B-110. Sounds like they kept to their house sound which is great.
 

CnoEvil

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insider9 said:
Cno, I really value your experience. I'm yet to experience MF of that level including your AMS 35i, so don't dispute your finidngs. But worth to mention your MF was twice the price of Densen we're discussing. AMS 35i retailed more than Leema Tucana II Anniversary, which I still have here. There's no question in my mind Tucana is a far superior amp to Densen (that's B-110 I used), but for musicality alone I think Densen would edge it (just), unless you used Densen source into Leema then perhaps it wouldn't. In no way this is criticism of Leema which I value very highly, but it's just how much I value musicality of Densen. It's not perfect in other aspects, but if you like what it does and it matches your speakers I believe everything else could become irrelevant.
Yup, price comes into it.....though I didn't pay anything like the full retail. It really is the best amp I have heard under 10k (though I put it on a par with the offerings from Luxman and Accuphase, which are way over-priced here, compared to Japan), but it does ideally need speakers with high(ish) sensitivity and low impedance, if you want to push the volume up, in a large room.

It's no wonder it won HiFi World's Integrated Amp of the Year and was a Group A product in Stereophile.
 

nopiano

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How interesting! I’d looked quite seriously at Densen over a year ago, when looking migrate from my old Krell integrated. Elite Audio offered me a very good px and a home demo but ultimately I wasn’t quite ready to take the plunge. I consider Primare to be of a similar Scandinavian style and approach, essentially ‘no fuss’.

The warranty was a strong pull, except I think it requires return to factory, which is no substitute for a UK dealer equipped to repair, IMO.

Regarding the source, I’ve read similar to you and Cno about firmware having this effect, but for the life of me I have no idea how or why!! If you’re going to lose the Naim, I’d certainly say consider a Linn Sneaky DS based on my experience with same, at a cost of around £400 to £650 secondhand depending on condition, and whether private sale or from a dealer.
 

rainsoothe

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nopiano said:
How interesting!  I’d looked quite seriously at Densen over a year ago, when looking migrate from my old Krell integrated.  Elite Audio offered me a very good px and a home demo but ultimately I wasn’t quite ready to take the plunge.  I consider Primare to be of a similar Scandinavian style and approach, essentially ‘no fuss’.

The warranty was a strong pull, except I think it requires return to factory, which is no substitute for a UK dealer equipped to repair, IMO.  

Regarding the source, I’ve read similar to you and Cno about firmware having this effect, but for the life of me I have no idea how or why!!  If you’re going to lose the Naim, I’d certainly say consider a Linn Sneaky DS based on my experience with same, at a cost of around £400 to £650 secondhand depending on condition, and whether private sale or from a dealer. 
Thank you. Not sure I'm ready to move from Naim source yet :) or you mean Linn being the temporary streamer?

On why firmware affects sound - because at least Naim has DSP, and they followed market preferences or Naimee complaints or both, made a beta test with their new update, and on their sample of people, the vast majority preferred the new one. On the forums however it's more like 60-40 (still in favor of the new).
 

nopiano

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rainsoothe said:
nopiano said:
How interesting! I’d looked quite seriously at Densen over a year ago, when looking migrate from my old Krell integrated. Elite Audio offered me a very good px and a home demo but ultimately I wasn’t quite ready to take the plunge. I consider Primare to be of a similar Scandinavian style and approach, essentially ‘no fuss’.

The warranty was a strong pull, except I think it requires return to factory, which is no substitute for a UK dealer equipped to repair, IMO.

Regarding the source, I’ve read similar to you and Cno about firmware having this effect, but for the life of me I have no idea how or why!! If you’re going to lose the Naim, I’d certainly say consider a Linn Sneaky DS based on my experience with same, at a cost of around £400 to £650 secondhand depending on condition, and whether private sale or from a dealer.
Thank you. Not sure I'm ready to move from Naim source yet :) or you mean Linn being the temporary streamer?

On why firmware affects sound - because at least Naim has DSP, and they followed market preferences or Naimee complaints or both, made a beta test with their new update, and on their sample of people, the vast majority preferred the new one. On the forums however it's more like 60-40 (still in favor of the new).
Yes, was thinking temporary at that price, but if you liked the apps and Space Optimisation, you could stick with Linn and move further up the line if funds allowed. But keep the Naim if you can!
 

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