Denon PMA 1600 NE Review: A beast of an integrated!
Updated: Dec 12, 2020
Hey guys, welcome back to the neighborhood. Today’s review features the PMA-1600 NE. This is a 140w into 4 ohms, 70 watts into 8 ohms; 2 channels driven, stereo amplifier from Denon, and it’s a beast!
So, let’s get InToit….
The Denon PMA 1600 NE is an integrated stereo amplifier. What does that mean? Well that means that it has preamp, amplifier, and other input functions built into it- in this case, a built in dac, phono stage, and other unbalanced analogue inputs for other devices. It is also a relatively powerful unit- capable of driving high current loads. Denon’s Advanced Ultra High Curent MOS ttechnology claims that it balances high power output with delicate musical details, and for the most part I’d agree with that.
In terms of the specifics regarding the DAC (digital audio converter), I could not find much information on it other than that it is “built-in” for the US version, and utilizing Advanced AL32 Processing Plus, whatever that means… Regarding bit depth, it supports PCM up to 32/384 and DSD up 11.2 MHz via the USB bus, and 24/192 PCM visa via optical and coaxial inputs.
The European version lists the PCM1795 as the DAC chip. The USB connection is also supposed to have a digital isolator associated with it to eliminate adverse effects due to high frequency USB noise.
While this sounds impressive, I will come out, and let you know, that the DAC of this unit is its Achilles heel. It is simply just not very good. The built-in DAC was lean sounding, lacked bass presence, and was bright leaning.
Luckily, it was not completely useless, because Denon included a two-band equalizer; with a left and right balanced function as well. I was able to get enough "woman tone" from this unit by raising the bass a bit, and lowering the treble a little more than a hair.
The PMA 1600 NE is also equipped with a source direct mode that basically cuts out the EQ, and supposedly eliminates high frequency interference from components of its built-in circuitry. However, I could not discern a real difference between using this feature or not with most sources, much of the time. The sound-stage did seem to open up a bit with source direct on some sources, while the presentation was somewhat restricted without it.
This Denon also features an analog mode, which removes the digital circuitry entirely for the signal path, including the digital display- eliminating any potential impact of this circuit on the analogy section of the amp- allowing the amp to operate as a purely analog device. You would use this, if you want to understand the true impact of your DAC’s output (or analogy other source) on your amplifier.
The front of the unit also has a nice, large, volume knob; which looks machined, and turns fluidly- as all the knobs on the unit do. A cool feature of the volume knob, is that the knob itself rotates via a mechanical function when one adjusts the volume with the remote. This made a small bit of noise from the mechanism itself, but could barely be noticed overall.
Another thing I will point out is that the EQ knobs were very sensitive, and the turning of these knobs affected the presentation like a hair trigger. I would suggest making extremely finite micro adjustments to your unit, and then leaving it alone from there; rather than adjusting it fluidly or on the fly, depending on track. Furthermore, it was unfortunate that the eq presentation was not adjustable through the remote, as this would have made the eq feature more user friendly. Other than this oversight, just about everything else was accessible through remote functionality. The remote is also functional with other devices in this series, such as the matching SACD player; the Denon DCD-1600 NE.
The back of the unit has inputs for your digital and analog sources; including 2 optical connections, a coaxial connection, a USB-B connection for the built-in DAC, an IR control, in and out, a recorder, in and out, an analogue connection for a network player, an RCA connection for a CD player, and a Phono connector with a ground. There are also 2 sets of speaker inputs, for both main inputs and bi-wiring, if your particular speakers need that.
Going back to the phono stage. The Denon is capable of handling both moving magnet and moving coil phono cartridges. I was only able to test the moving magnet portion, but I found the phono stage to be extremely capable, and probably the best part of this unit. Sound was balanced, smooth, crisp, and airy, with good directionality to it. Bass and treble extension was good, never venturing into muddy or harsh.
The unit was also tended to be rather neutral and balanced when using an external DAC, and it really brought out the flavor and capabilities of whatever particular DAC was connected to it, rather than the amp section of the Denon flavoring the sound itself.
I found that, in the affordable range, I really enjoyed the presentation of this unit with a Topping D30 for some reason-in. Bass was strong and coherent, unlike the built DAC, and the top-end was smooth and not too bright; again, unlike the built-in DAC, which was somewhat thin and piercing on top.
The unit also played well with Gold Note DS-10 as the DAC or the streamer- providing what I call “Gold Note transparent honey” to the tones of this thing.
For the most part, I found that the Denon generally exposed the scalability of most DACs that I auditioned with it; sounding best with DACS that tended to scale, rather than those that have a certain ceiling with regard to their sonic capabilities.
DACs that I enjoy in scenarios, such as the SMSL SU-8, iFi Zen Dac, and iFi iOne Nano were rather pedestrian in comparison. But then again, it is possible that these DACs were just a bad match for this amplifier, whereas the others were exceptional.
In general, I would say that the Denon PMA 1600 NE offers a balanced, neutral sound signature, with enough power to boot. It has good resolution and detail capabilities with more than sufficient treble and bass extension capabilities. I’m not sure what the dampening factor on this unit was, because I could not find it actually spec’d out, but it did an excellent job of controlling the woofer on my Gershman Acoustics Studio II Bookshelf Monitors. The bass dug really deep, and it was tight and resolving at the same time. The amplifier as a whole did produce a rather clinical sound with Studio II; however, which was something I did not expect from a Gershman speaker.
As a result, I have elected to continue my search for a better matching amplifier, and settled on the Gold Note, PA-10 to power these Studio II’s instead. I’ll talk more in-depth about the Gold Notes in a future review, but, in general, I will say that the PA-10 is still rather neutral, like the Denon, but more natural sounding and more musical in its presentation. Additionally, vinyl is not my main method for consuming music, which would be my main motivation for keeping this integrated if I were to do so. Unfortunately, this was where the strength of this integrated lied. So, in the end, I felt better served by a Gold Note DS-10/PA10 combination, which is more aimed at the streaming crowd and primarily digital users, such as myself. Having said that, I toyed with the idea of keeping this unit for reviews given its power handling capabilities, revealing presentation, sonic range, and neutrality.
*Gold Note DS-10/PA-10 available at: https://gestalt.audio/
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