DENSEN B-350 MONO POWER AMPLIFER
PRICE $5,500 each
Publisher's note: Bruce Brown is owner and Chief Engineer at Puget Sound Studios near Seattle where
he masters high-resolution music recordings for HD Tracks and FIM recordings among many others.
Amp for a Lifetime!
A Lifetime is a really long time! Just think, you can now buy audio equipment that would last the rest of your life! You could start buying your last amp, pre-amp or even CD player. The CD player would outlast the CD’s that go into the machine! No more upgrades. No more endless merry-go-round of equipment in and out of your room for evaluation. No more “amp of the month” club. Just think a cure for “Audiophilia Nervosa”!
In business since 1988, Densen is a company that has flown way under the radar. I told my audiophile friends about these great amps and you could see that big imaginary question mark above their heads along with a blank stare. The first thing I did when I heard about Densen was to go straight to their website and start salivating. What popped out at me was “Lifetime Warranty”! Who the hell does that?
The B-350 amps are Densen’s top of the line monoblocs with an output of 125 watts at 8 ohms and doubling that to 250 watts into 4 ohms. Densen is a manufacturer in Denmark that has garnered quite the following in Europe. For some reason, Densen has not caught on here in the U.S. They make Amps, Pre-amps, Integrated amps, CD players and a FM Tuner. I guess I had a little bit of expectation bias since I already own 2 digital converters from Denmark, the Grimm AD1 and the Digital Audio Denmark AX24. These 2 converters, along with my Playback Designs MPS-5 are the best converters I’ve ever heard.
There is now a U.S. distributor for Densen products. To my surprise he lives just 15 minutes from me. Pretty convenient! Adrian Wu owns TrueHarmonix in Redmond, WA. I called Adrian to arrange for him to drop off the amps one Sunday afternoon. What caught me off guard was how small these amps are. The Densen amps are a work of art. While not quite machined from a billet of aluminum, they certainly do look great! They were replacing my reference amps, Pass Labs XA-160.5 monoblocs. The B-350 amps weigh approx. 35lbs., 100lbs LESS than the Pass amps! I placed the amps in the same exact spot between the speakers. One thing I noticed is if you have gigantic power cords or interconnects, be prepared to rig some sort of strain relief for the cables. At first I placed the amps directly on the hardwood floor. I listened mostly with the amps there. Halfway through the review, I placed the amps on a set of Wave Kinetics A10-U8 footers.
There is a power switch on the back beside the IEC socket but no stand-by switch. After leaving the unit on for a day, the top was barely warm. These things are looking better all the time! I usually have to run the air conditioner when I have the Pass Labs amps on for more than a day.
There is a silver toggle switch on the back that selects the gain sensitivity for using a standard pre-amp or connecting the unit directly to a DAC/CD player with variable output. I left it in the Normal position for this review. I did not have a manual for reference, so all the information I got about this amp came from the website and Mr. Wu. There are also 2 D-sub connections in the back called “DenLink” for use with other Densen products. The amps only have single-ended RCA inputs. There are 2 sets of binding posts to facilitate bi-wiring. Also, another feature of this amp is it can be used in active systems by using Densen’s “SAXO” electronic crossover fitted into an internal socket.
The first test of these amps was a new mastering project from the Jovino Santos Neto Quintet titled “Current”. My first impression was, “did I replace the Pass Labs amps”? I thought I did. I looked up and the Densen amps were just glistening off the front track lighting right there were I left them. I thought to myself this is going to be easy. As the weeks passed, I could pick out the differences between them and the Pass Labs XA-160.5 amps more clearly. I could tell their strengths and weaknesses. I should mention the Pass Labs cost well north of $20,000 per pair.
First up, how low can you go? I’ve measured frequencies in my room below 20Hz. My reference speakers, the Evolution Acoustics MM3’s have a powered bottom end. Even though they have their own amps, you can still get a flavor of what amp is driving them. I’ve had everything in here from a Genesis I-60 to a pair of Bryston 28B-SST2 amps. The Densen was very powerful in the bass. You wouldn’t expect that from such a small amp. The leading edge transients were very fast on picked bass. The body of the bass was a little thinner than what I’m used to. I didn’t get that full round bottom end that the Class A amps have. It was there, but a little recessed. I could bring it out if I turned up the volume a little more. My usual listening level is around 85dB. Once I got up near 85dB and above, the amps would give you that bass that you could feel. At lower levels, not so much. Going up an octave or two, drum toms had everything. The snap of the transient was there, the full roundness was there as well. You could hear the decay fall off evenly. You could even discern the difference between types of wood shells they were made of.
The mid-range is where the ear is most susceptible to artifacts. The hardest instruments to recreate are the piano, vibes and female voice. Jovino was playing a Fazioli piano recorded at DSD128fs. The tone was as sweet and airy as I’ve ever heard it. The notes were crisp, precise and still had that full wood body piano sound. The vibes were not harsh at all. Sometimes when vibes are played louder, the sound becomes harsh and brittle. Not with these amps. The sound becomes clearer, daring you to crank up the volume. Female vocals are what they are, nothing added, nothing subtracted. The tonal character is left intact.
Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” in hi-rez is to die for. The vocals come through without a hint of strain or mic overload, though I feel the vocal track was recorded a little hot. Even after listening to music for 8-10 hours straight, there is no listener fatigue, a quality that is very important to audiophiles and music lovers, but essential when your occupation is listening critically to music all day and long into the night.
The high frequencies are very easy on the ears. If you hear sibilance, it’s because it was recorded that way. The amps will let you hear all the nasties and artifacts without detracting from the overall balance. Cymbals come through with a clarity that sounds like you can hear to infinity. You can hear cymbal decay all the way to the end of darkness. Sometimes cymbals can sizzle on lesser equipment and have you running from the room. Not with these babies. Not only is it great to listen to, it can also be used as a tool in a professional setting. I can guarantee that if you change something on EQ, it’s because the material needed it and not for any weakness in the amps.
So, is this an amp for a lifetime? You bet it is! Densen gives the first owner of the product a Lifetime Warranty. Say what you want about customer care and after purchase service. In this time of budget cutbacks and layoffs, Densen is standing out from the crowd by placing customer service first.
At 125 watts per side, power is plentiful for all but the most hard to drive speakers and you get that power in a form factor that doesn't take up much room. They are also very easy to move when needed. No hand carts needed. While not dirt cheap, they certainly represent a good value for discriminating audiophiles. Or sound engineers.
You owe it to yourself to check out this Danish company and get off that merry-go-round!
Pass Labs XA-160.5
EMM Labs Switchman3
Evolution Acoustics MM3
Playback Designs MPS-5
EMT 948 turntable with custom vDh cartridge
Studer A80RC MkII ½” and ¼”
Sonoma and Pyramix Digital Audio Workstation
Grimm AD1 and Digital Audio Denmark AX24 A-D converters
JPS Aluminata Power/Speaker/Interconnect cables
Wave Kinetics A10-U8 and 2NS footers
Cool Music in Rotation: Hi-rez PCM/DSD files and tape
Jovino Santos-Neto – “Current”
Joni Mitchell – “Both Sides Now”
Nat King Cole – “Love Is The Thing”
Nirvanna – “Nevermind”
CCR – “Chronicle”
Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio – “What A Wonderful Trio”
Oscar Peterson – “We Get Requests”
Janos Starker – “Bach, J.S.: Suites for Solo Cello and 2 Cello Sonatas”
Julia Fischer – “TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto / Souvenir d'un lieu cher / Serenade”
Leonard Shure – “Beethoven Op. 109 and Op. 110”
15127 NE 24th Street, Suite 288
Redmond, WA 98052
Back to HOMEPAGE