Very much the baby brother on price grounds, the Denon RCD-M37DAB's physically diminutive system still packs plenty of features into its chassis.
In fact, the list very closely matches that of the Arcam Solo Mini, though the Arcam has a couple more line inputs and Denon's mono line output is unique. That being the case, one naturally looks for signs of corner cutting or cheese-paring to explain how Denon managed to offer so much for so little.
Impressively, there's not very much to give it away. The mains transformer is a frame type and slightly smaller than Arcam's, while the power amplifier is a single stereo hybrid circuit offering about the same output. But there's the same complement of separate DAB and FM/AM tuners, in addition to the CD transport, USB socket and iPod control port (adapter required).
Assembly is on several circuit boards carefully shoehorned into place and component quality is certainly nothing remarkable, though it's decent enough.
The user interface was, for us, something of a drawback: we like the rotary volume knob, but the layout of the function buttons seems a little arbitrary and some functions are awkward to use and access – FM tuning is a low point, being just gruesomely slow from the front panel or remote.
It's not always clear what menu options are on offer, due to a combination of inefficient use of the display and rather unclear instructions, but we got round it all in the end.
This system is very much of a piece with the matching loudspeakers and certain functions are optimised for them, notably frequency response.
The tone controls have a clever twist which will help protect any small loudspeakers, in that boost settings have no effect at high volume control settings, while 'Super Dynamic Bass' is a digital-age version of the old 'Loudness' control which boosts bass at low volume settings – of course this sort of thing is much easier to do when everything is digitally controlled.
To our listeners, there seemed to be quite a lot going for this unit, in a rather individual kind of way. In fact, it appears that Denon has pulled off a very smart trick in providing sound that grabs the listener on first hearing, but doesn't wear thin after a few minutes.
Starting with an old favourite from Michael Jackson, the sound was quite energetic and driving in the bass, and seemed a little warmer overall than previous systems had made it. While detail was a touch soft, there was still plenty of atmosphere to both music and special effects.
The very bright tones of Miles Davis and colleagues were, perhaps, slightly less edgy than usual, but it made the track easier to listen to and digest. There's clearly an issue here of 'active' versus 'passive' listening – Davis was an uncompromising individual and probably wouldn't have approved of his music being repackaged for the background, but the fact remains that our listeners nevertheless found it involving and a sound of this nature has its place in a domestic environment.
In the two classical tracks we used – both of them naturally miked and with wide dynamics – the sound seemed a little less assured in the bass and some lack of detail was noted. All the same, image depth was fairly good and the music had a good sense of flow that maintained a pleasing degree of realism.
Much the same could be said of the DAB and FM sources: they're respectable and certainly get the fundamentals well sorted. Little in our listeners' notes would make anyone think this the most accurate system in the group, but it's clear it is a more-than-competent musical performer.