This amplifier from Denon delivered powerful accurate and very musical performances with all genres without audible disortion and all from whisper-quiet backgrounds.
I never thought I’d see the day when I would start a review by pointing out that a piece of consumer electronics equipment was made in Japan, but that’s exactly where Denon’s new PMA-700AE is made. Not in Taiwan, or Singapore, or Korea, or China. Why is this significant? Primarily it means that you can be absolutely 100 per cent certain that the people who built the PMA- 700AE enjoy good working conditions, and are being paid a fair wage. You can also be certain that the factory in which the amplifier is produced is non-polluting and has robust recycling policies in place.
As you can see from the front panel, Denon provides a handy number of controls, so if you lose the infra-red remote, you’ll still be able to use all the amplifier’s features and facilities, which are extensive. The volume control dominates the front panel. To its left are bass, treble and balance controls, all of which have a smooth rotary action (not click-stop) and a centre detent at the 12 o’clock position. Above these three controls is a single loudness switch and a pair of push-button speaker switches. These two switches can be used to select speakers ‘A’ or ‘B’ or ‘A+B’ or left off so you can listen quietly through headphones, via the Denon’s front-panel 6.5mm socket.
At the far right of the front panel is the input source selector, which has positions for MiniDisc, CD-R, Phono, CD, Tuner and DVD. Obviously, with the exception of the phono position, you can substitute any component with a line-level output, so Denon ‘double-marks’ several of these inputs with the options Tape-1, Tape-2 and Aux. These days, the most obvious external component to connect would be an iPod, but if I guess that if Denon actually printed the word ‘iPod’ on its front panel, it’d have to pay Apple a licensing fee. Me, I would have labelled one of the inputs ‘iP’ and left it to the imagination. Each of the source positions has an orange-coloured LED associated with it, which lights when that point is reached.
To the left of the source selector is a Record Output Selector, which means that you can be listening to one source through your speakers, and recording a completely different source onto CD-R (or MiniDisc, or to any other component capable of recording: such as a computer.) Why would you record to a computer? One reason would be to get around an anti-copying signal on the original source material. If you play back an encoded music track or complete CD in the analogue domain, then re-encode back into digital, you’ll bypass any DRM (digital rights management) restrictions. (As of this year, it’s now legal in Australia to copy CDs that you own for use in your own home on some other format, such as to a hard drive or iPod.)
Above the Record Output Selector is a ‘Source Direct’ button. When activated, the signal at the input of the amplifier bypasses the tone controls and the loudness control, effectively minimising distortion and reducing the noise floor.
The rear of the PMA-700AE has RCA sockets for all line-level inputs and outputs, and adds an extra set of ‘Pre-Out’ terminals to which you can connect a subwoofer or a power amplifier. The speaker terminals are large, multi-way types. There are three switched 240V shrouded output sockets on the rear panel, but because they use European ‘round’ active and neutral posts and are not earthed, they should not be used in Australia.
Denon supplies its ‘all-purpose’ RC-1022 remote with the PMA-700AE, which means it will also control Denon CD and DVD players, AM/FM tuners and cassette decks should you own one or more of these components. However, this means that of the 39 controls fitted to the remote, only ten can be used to control the amplifier. These ten allow you to switch the amplifier on and off, control volume, and switch between different source components. The remote provides one feature that is not available on the front panel: a mute button, so you can instantly mute your speakers to allow someone to answer the front door, or a telephone. Regrettably, Denon has not built a logic circuit into the muting function, so that it does not automatically defeat itself (i.e. un-mute!) if you adjust the volume (using either the up/down buttons on the remote or by rotating the front-panel volume control). This means that someone unfamiliar with the operation of the Denon could accidentally turn the volume up to maximum and then un-mute the amplifier, possibly risking damage to your loudspeakers. This can easily be avoided by keeping the remote out of sight of anyone who doesn’t know how to use it, but Denon could just as easily have included a circuit that un-muted the amplifier when the remote’s ‘Volume Up’ button was pressed.