Denon S-101 Viewing Tests and Conclusion
I was eager to see Batman Begins in the comforts of my home, so the moment this DVD was released, I was in line at my local retailer buying it. What a fantastic movie, especially if you are a diehard Batman fan like I am. It was about as true to the story line as you could get without having to read the comic books. In Virtual DD, the S-101 did produce a reasonably enveloping soundfield but it was limited mostly to the sweet spot. Again toeing out the speakers helped widen this a bit, but don't mistake this setup for a replacement to a full fledged 5.1 discrete audio system or even Yamaha's venerable YSP-1 . Both of these alternative solutions are more costly and space consuming so the trade off may be well worth it depending on your needs and WAF. The S-101 was able to deliver action scenes with good clarity and dynamics when listened to at reasonable levels. When pushed too hard however, you could hear some compression and strain during dynamic peaks in the movie which sounded more like digital artifacting rather than amplifier dynamic range limitations. Though at these levels, you are likely to get run out of your apartment or condo which is what this system is truly meant for. All in all it should provide enough oomph for bedroom type environments or small living rooms.
DVD: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was yet another movie I was eager to watch on DVD. On the S-101, I heard good bass extension, especially when Lord Sidious was mind chucking the hover platforms at Yoda. The S-101 managed to keep me involved in the action despite the surround effects remained mostly in the front soundstage. Vocal clarity was good, though best when sitting dead center. At times I did find myself missing the center channel speaker and wished Denon would have provisioned it as an optional accessory for those able to accommodate one. The strong point of enjoyment of the S-101 was its subwoofer's ability to bolt out the SPLs during space combat and crash scenes. Most budget HTIB systems at this price point would have simply whimpered away in these instances, but the S-101 eagerly played them without hesitation.
From a video standpoint, the Denon S-101 served up excellent interlaced and progressive images. Judging by the picture quality I saw I would say it was right up there with Denon's entry level DVD players. I particularly found the 1.5x Zoom feature a necessity when watching widescreen DVDs on a 4:3 display. In my experience, most zoom modes on DVD players tend to cause too much pixilation or compromise in resolution. This was simply not the case when using the 1.5x Zoom on my 27" display sitting about 8 feet away. I used this feature so frequently that I truly wished it had a hot key on the front of the remote.
Like all products, the Denon S-101 is not without flaws. I found the DVD transport to be finicky when compared to all but the worst DVD players we have reviewed in the past few years. It consistently skipped briefly on track #1 of my Diana Krall DTS CD despite there being no blemishes or scratches on the disc, as well as a couple of areas on one of the test DVDs I used to evaluate its performance.
This product has its limits, but they usually aren't called upon if not used beyond its intended purpose - to deliver quality sound in small to reasonable sized bedrooms or living rooms. $999 could certainly buy a two-channel system that could comfortably outperform the S-101 musically, but they won't likely be able to playback multi-channel recordings at nearly the same sense of envelopment and realism as this system.
To put this into perspective, I spent some time at my local Best Buy A/B-ing the similarly priced Bose 321 system which incidentally offers less features and performance. The Bose system features full range paper wizzer cone satellite speakers and a so-called bass module that sounded like its usable bass extension didn't extend much below 60Hz. The bass it did produce was rather boomy and sloppy in comparison. The Bose system sounded more like a boom and sizzle show while the Denon S-101 took on a more fluid sound just like a good subwoofer/satellite system should.
The Denon S-101 makes a gallant effort of delivering all of the major surround formats into a 2 speaker + subwoofer, easy to use, and cosmetically appealing platform. While it can by no means replace what a good discrete 5.1 speaker system could achieve in terms of surround envelopment and dynamics, its value, ease of setup, and space savings make it an attractive package for people dabbling in home theater without making a big commitment in space, money, and the learning curve of setting up more elaborate alternative systems.
About Denon Electronics
Denon is a world leader in the manufacture of the highest quality home theater, audio and software products. Denon is recognized internationally for innovative and groundbreaking products and has a long history of technical innovations, including the development and first commercialization of PCM digital audio. Denon Electronics is owned by D & M Holdings Inc.
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