World Premiere Review:
The Densen B-110 Integrated Amplifier:
by Andre Marc
Densen Audio Technologies may be unknown to many high end audio enthusiasts in the US, but in Europe and Asia, they are considered among the top tier of high performance audio. Densen has never had good luck with US importers, but I think they have a dedicated, hard working partner in True Harmonix, based in WA.
I had the distinct pleasure of reviewing two Densen pieces in the past, the B-200 preamplifier and the B-310 power amplifier. Individually, and as a pair, I thought they were high value, high fidelity components, with good looks to boot. At a combined price of around $4500 they competed with much more expensive gear that this reviewer has heard. While I was impressed with this pair, I wanted to hear one of Densen’s integrated amplifiers, which consistently get rave reviews abroad.
Enter the Densen B-110 integrated amp, rated at 60 watts per channel into 8 Ohms, and doubles to 120 watts per channel into 4 Ohms. The B-110 is descended from the B-100 amp, one of Densen’s most popular products in decades past. According to Densen, the B-110 includes many refinements and upgrades. Actually Densen practically calls it a redesign. The B-110, as of the time of publication, retails for $2200.
One aspect of the B-110 I find very impressive, and this also applied to the B-200 preamp, is the precision volume control. I very much appreciate the ability to adjust the volume at very specific increments. According to Densen, “the volume is controlled by an extremely precise attenuator made of Vishay metal film resistors, which is switched by relays controlled by the microprocessor. Compared to a normal volume potentiometer of the kind used in the majority of all preamps, the resistor network has virtually no self induced noise and an extremely low distortion. This results in an unsurpassed precision and refinement, and the attenuator contains no less than 200 steps! This makes it possible to adjust the volume very precisely (0.5 dB).”
Other design characteristics of the B-110 include an output stage utilizes Densen’s unique ”DMCD” (Densen Mass Current Distribution) technology. The B-110 is, like all other Densen amplifiers in their line uses zero global feedback. Densen says the B-110 internal components are mounted with a precision of 0.02mm using silver solder. They go to the extreme step of soldering in what they call “an artificial atmosphere, consisting of nitrogen, to avoid oxidation of the soldering.”
Densen also touts their power supply as a major aspect of the design. Interestingly, they also claim not all of the capacitors are mounted in a capacitor bank, because some are directly adjoining the output stage for more efficient power delivery. Lastly, Densen says their custom made transformer has a huge effect on the sound since it is designed to minimize mechanical noise and vibration.
Set Up & Listening:
The B-110 out of the box exudes Scandinavian cool. The review sample was finished in beautiful silver case work. Black is also available. The B-110 can be used with the Densen Gizmo system remote, also beautifully made, however the buttons, or better put, rubber nubs, are a bit on the small side and close together. Everything on the B-110’s itself is laid out nicely, with high quality front buttons, speaker binding posts, and RCA connectors. Perhaps the one thing that AC cable aficionados might find annoying is that because of the position of the IEC receptacle, very close to the speaker binding posts, you are limited in your choices of after market power cords. I ended up using a Shunyata Venom, which because of its modest profile, was not an issue.
Not far into my first listening session, it was obvious the B-110 was cut from the same mold as the B-200 and B-310. The trademarks of the Densen house sound was there. That means super quiet backgrounds, crystal pure treble, midrange transparency, and superbly articulate bass. I would say that the Densen pieces I reviewed are among the least mechanical sounding solid state components I have had in my system. Speaking of which, the B-110 was driving a pair of Harbeth Compact 7 ES3, tethered by Transparent MusicWave speaker cable (review forthcoming). The sources were a Marantz CD5003 CD player, a Squeezebox Touch connected to a Musical Fidelity V-DAC II, and a PS Audio NuWave DAC, with Darwin and Stager interconnects in tow.
The B-110 seemed to me to be much more powerful than the published power rating, so effortless were the dynamic swings. This seems to add credence to the Densen design claims of a carefully implemented power supply and an efficient output stage. Along with the amazing dynamics, the overall musical picture was refined, coherent, with a sense of natural flow. Again, I heard no mechanical artifacts at all. I especially enjoyed to pristine, shimmering high frequencies.
Bottom end control seems to be a Densen trademark, and it is here in the B-110 as well. No matter what the source… bass guitar, cello, acoustic bass, or deep percussion, it was easy to identify, and there was never any overhang into the midrange, and zero smearing. Readers should not get the impression that this precision somehow means there is a lack of any body, or that the presentation is anyway clinical. Nothing could be further from the truth. There was nothing “cool” about the B-110 except the looks. But it also adds no fuzzy, artificial warmth.
The B-110, as good as it was at either frequency extreme, really excelled at midrange purity and just allowing the music to happen. Graceful is how I would label the B-110 in its overall ability to unravel complex musical passages without a hitch. I found it virtually impossible to make the B-110 sound strident, uninvolving or unengaging musically.
This may be going out on a limb, but I would bet the Densen line, overseen by founder Thomas Silleson, is designed by music lovers. As a matter of fact, Sillesen is an avid musician, surprise, surprise. I mention this because the B-110, along with the B-200/B310 pairing just allows you to forget about evaluating electronics and just to enjoy the performance of a given recording. I have heard far, far more expensive components that never let you forget you are listening to HiFi, and fail to draw you into the music.
This may seem hard to believe, but I did not know the price of the B-110 until midway through the review process. When I was told it was priced at $2200, the first thing that entered my mind is that they are practically giving this amp away. If I had been told $4500 I would not have blinked.
I can only say that in my experience a component that sounds this elegant for $2200 is not just a rarity, but virtually non-existent. Couple that with a two hundred step, hyper engineered volume control, multiple inputs, top shelf parts, stunning looks, with a 20 year track record, and there is very little to complain about. Check out the Densen line. in my opinion a beautiful counterpoint to cookie cutter, trend chasing, buzzword friendly products that are a dime a dozen today. The Densen B-110 hits all the marks, and then some.
Tel.: (+1 530) 988 8886 • E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Densen B-110 Integrated Amplifier:
Price at time of publication: $2200
Power output in 8 ohms: 2x60W
Power output in 4 ohms: 2×120
Weight/shipping weight: 13/14 Kg
Product dimensions (WxDxH): 440x310x64mm
Integrated Amplifier: McIntosh MA6600
Speakers: Harbeth Compact 7ES3
CD Player: Marantz CD5003
Streamer: Logitech Squeezebox Touch
DAC: PS Audio NuWave DAC, Musical Fidelity V-DAC II
Interconnects: Darwin Ascension , Darwin Silver, Stager Silver Solids
Speaker Cable: Transparent MusicWave
AC Cable: Mojo Audio (various), Pangea AC-9, Shunyata Venom
Accessories: keces external power supply for Squeezebox and DAC,
Audience aR2p line conditioner, CablePro NoiseTrapper