Saturday, October 27, 2012

Review: Kenwood DP-5090

This is my first review out of nine. You don´t need to read them all, just pick the unit that seems to be the most interesting to you. In the weeks to follow I´ll review the following units: Kenwood DP-5090, Pioneer DV-610, Sony CDP-470, Pioneer BDP-140, iRiver IMP-550, Sony MZ-R 55, Sony MZ-R 37, Sony NW-A 1000 and the Sansa Clip+. Stay tuned and enjoy the first review, the Kenwood DP-5090! I also implore you to read the article describing my rigorous testing methodology before you actually start reading this one.

Kenwood DP-5090

The Kenwood DP-5090 was released in 1997 and it is one of those players released around that time that managed to reproduce 16 Bit CDs with 24 Bit accuracy... or so. Back then many players claimed to be capable of playing CDs with a resolution exceeding their technical abilities. The proprietary Kenwood D.R.I.V.E (Dynamic Resolution Intensive Vector Enhancement) filter did - according to some reviews - well enough for this player to sound sensational. I´ve read several reviews praising its wonderful sound, many magazines ended up rating it higher than many other units. But we don´t want to concentrate on reviews from the past, we want to rate the real thing.
Build quality is nice as well, the front is manufactured out of thick aluminum, the rest of the case is fairly heavy and equally well built, even the drive mechanism is protected with a thick metal plate. Actually... there seems to be a lot of conflicting information around as to which parts the DP-5090 is actually using. The chaos starts with the service manual: the DP-5090 apparently uses nothing less than three seperate D/A converters. The first is the MN35502 from Panasonic, the second is the CXD2507AQ from Sony and the third is Kenwood's own KAN05. According to the manual only the latter is in use... but the streamlined signal flow depicted in the manuals' diagrams looks so chaotic that I might be wrong. Internally the DP-5090 is pretty similar to the cheaper DP-4090 - the main difference is that the more expensive model uses a combination of several ICs for the DSP stage. I don´t exactly understood if it uses two or three seperate digital filters: the SM5843 from NPC or another filter embedded into the KAN05 itself (or maybe the Sony IC?). In any case, the Service Manual confuses me and the layout seems needlessly complicated. Sure, I´m a layman in that regard... still, todays' much more advanced converters contain all the necessary parts in only one IC. Anyway, the D/A converter (or the whole converting stage) is surrounded by an army of transistors, SMDs, ICs and condensers, the output stage required for amplifying signals once they have been converted to analogue seems equally sophisticated. The player is able to read CD-Text information, it also is equipped with two digital outputs; one can therefore connect it easily to more modern D/A converters. When new it cost 350,- which is not exactly what audiophiles consider High End but it still was one of the more expensive mainstream players. According to my boyfriend (who bought it all those years ago) the DP-5090 never was very reliable, it always had problems reading certain CD-Rs or scratched CDs. That wasn´t an issue for me since the CD-Rs I usually create are of high and flawless quality. On the other hand it is not exactly causing me to invest much trust into it.

Kenwood DP-5090 measurments

Kenwood DP-5090 jitter
As you can see above this player measures exceptionally well, noise and distortions are simply absent. Jitter won´t be audible, it´s extremely low. It´s for sure one of the best devices I´ve ever measured. The sound however wasn´t able to hold up the promise of high quality; the DP-5090 is very far away from being a neutral player. Treble is exaggerated, this creates a lot of air and resolution but it also prompts Madonna to sound hoarse, sibiliant and shrill ("Ray of Light" is actually a warm sounding album). Secondly this player presents a very tight, extremely articulated and dynamic bass response with real punch. This would be wonderful if upper bass wouldn´t be diminished; vocalists lack chest, violins sound thin and brass piercing. True, a signature like this could have its advantages because of extreme levels of dynamics, impact and speed. On the other hand staging is flat and doesn´t show any depth, it´s very audible with organ recordings which crumble apart... well, at least it presents an extremely stable, consistent flat stage. But holographic stage impression? Forget it. This is a very aggressive, dynamic and cool sounding player, it has nothing in common with the sound of the reference files. It will turn music into a fast, coloured and icy warzone, presenting it with much more details and punch than it really has. It will also replace the musics' character with its own, not convincing character. I´m probably kidding myself because I have to assume that many people would actually prefer this sound. Not everyone has perfect neutrality in mind; Pop, Rock or Funk might even sound more appealing with the DP-5090 for some people. Jazz or classical music however sounds just horrible with it so I won´t ever recommend it, except maybe as a transport using its digital outputs. Disappointing.

Sonic Balance:
Stage / Ambiance:

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