written by Mike Shea on 26 November 1999
For the last six months or so my mother has been talking about getting a small shelf audio system for her condo. She had recently been enthralled with my home theater system and it's reproduction of Das Boot (almost getting me evicted in the process). We went to the local Myer Emco where she saw a JVC mini system and proclaimed that that was what she wanted. In the present day she told me once again of her wish for a stereo. My home theater mind started steering towards a low priced receiver, DVD player and a pair of bookshelf speakers but about the best price for such a thing is around $800. Too much. So I left my dreams of my mom watching Sphere in all of it's digital glory and began surfing for the perfect bookshelf systems. After scouring Audio Review for an hour I read some wonderful reviews of the Denon D-M3S.
Denon's D-M3S did something different than just about every system out there. Knowing that their strength was in electronics (they have an excellent array of home theater receivers) and not in speakers, they outsourced to Mission for speakers. What they came up with is a CD player / receiver called the UDM3 and a pair of Mission MRS-5 bookshelf speakers. This was a far cry better than the other companies who designed both the speakers and electronics regardless of whether they are any good at it or not.
Requirements: The needs of this system were pretty straight forward. My mom wanted a stereo system and a CD player that looked good, sounded great and didn?t have too many unneeded features. She was demanding a high quality sound and understood that this is where the money should go. Personally I wanted to see some extra inputs should she ever choose to integrate it with her VCR and some kind of subwoofer output should she want to add some extra oomph to the lower octave. The whole thing should come in at under $500. The Denon system was chosen for it's attention to these requirements, the lack of many useless features and it's attention to quality (especially in the choice to outsource the speakers to Mission).
Features: The features of this system include three extra stereo inputs (tape, mini-disc and aux), a subwoofer output a simple remote control, and digital AM/FM tuner. The amps are rated at 20 watts per channel. The system wasn't so much chosen for its features as it's simplicity, ergonomics and sound quality.
The Listening Environment One note is that my mom's living room isn't really acoustically treated for listening. While she has carpeting, a thick couch and chair and knickknacks all over, she doesn't have any kind of treatment (quilts, rugs or anything) on the walls and nothing on the window except plastic blinds. Her back wall has a large china cabinet with glass doors, which doesn't help the situation any. Probably a way to fix almost every problem with this system would be to add a subwoofer, put some absorbers on the walls, some thick curtains on the windows and chuck the cabinet. No doubt this will not happen, but it isn't too much of a problem.
How Does it Sound? We started off with a little piece of Ride of Spring which was the disc played for us at Tweeter. To be honest, we weren't so sure of the recording quality and it wasn't a piece I had heard on other systems so I am choosing not to talk about that one that much.
We then stuck in Portrait of Yoyoma by CBS Recordworks. My first impression was very good. The accuracy of the recording was excellent and the Denon/Mission combination didn't miss a single note. My mom likes to listen to music loud and the system didn't strain at all. I was really taken by how clear it sounded and how quiet it was between notes. The contrast was perfect.
Next I yanked out Yoyoma and stuck in something I was a little more familiar with, Sarah McLachlan's 'Surfacing'. This is a recording I have listened to many times on my own reference system (see Mike's Home Theater) so I felt I could make a better judgement using this CD. On 'Building A Mystery' the sound was very accurate and dynamic in all the right places. The bass was quite present even though I was expecting it to be. It didn't feel quite as full as my own system, though when considering the cost difference (about $3200 for my stereo system portion) this shouldn't be too surprising. Adding the single Energy ES-8 subwoofer to the sub out would probably change that quite a bit. Track 2, 'I Love You' is one of my favorite songs by her and was done very well by the Denon system. It is a real hard track with way overdone bass that needs to be tamed before it really shines. On my system I have to shut off the sub just so it doesn't overbear the rest of the song. On this system it was just about right, with a strong bass presence but not enough to take away from the rest of it. The sound was much more enveloping than I am used to, which is perfect for this song but not so much for others. I didn't have any Jewel on hand but the Yoyoma CD showed that it is also great at accuracy rather than enveloping sound. The sound was also a tad edgy but that was probably due to the brand new speakers not having been broken in yet.
Next I threw in my new James Bond CD that includes 19 of the James Bond theme songs. I started off with my favorite 'Goldeneye' by Tina Turner. This is my favorite James Bond intro song and the Denon/Missions did it just right. It was powerful and dynamic although not as full as the Dolby Digital 5.1 version on the DVD (duh!). Next was 'Nobody Does It Better' which is another favorite of mine. Just hearing the powerful intro of the song gave me an audio buzz, which is a good sign. It too sounded a tad edgy but this is probably due to the age of the song and the lack of break in.
After my mom ran Ride of Spring again, I managed to get some disc time with Loreena McKennitt's 'Book of Secrets', another reference disc of mine. The first track, 'Prologue' sounded as full as it ever has. Once again I found myself closing my eyes and imagining a much larger system without any problem. Opening them I was once again surprised at what I was seeing and what I was hearing. I also tried 'Mummers Dance' and 'The Highwayman' both of which had their usual excellent sound. 'Night Ride Across the Cavcasus' brought me back to the one truly beautiful scene in the movie 'Soldier' without reminding me I wasn't listening to a Dolby Digital system. Overall I was very surprised at how wonderful this system sounded even though I walked in with some very great expectations (pun intended).
Conclusion/Recommendation This system has a particular spot to fill. If you are getting into the world of Home Theater, this is NOT the system for you. While it does sound great and is easy to use, it is very limited in expandability to anything outside of stereo. If you are looking to buy a stereo, one can be had for about $800 that has a Dolby Digital, DTS receiver, a DVD player and a pair of good bookshelf speakers. Add four more speakers and you are in the big leagues. With this system, you have to basically start over. What it IS good for is exactly what my mom bought it for. Two channel music listening with a high sound quality and ease of use. For this purpose, the Denon / Mission is perfect for the job. It looks good, sounds wonderful and is very easy to use. For stereo music, it is well worth the $450.
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