Denon has some stiff competition in the all-in-one market - not least from itself. The DHT-500SD is an excellent and elegant system.
Now Denon has come up with a new one-box solution. The £400 DHT-M330DV is a micro DVD surround-sound system comprising the DVD-M330 DVD player, AVR-M330 receiver and SYS-M330 sub/sat speaker system.
It is a 5.1-channel set-up out of the box, but is upgradeable for 6.1- or 7.1-channel sound and is aimed primarily at small-room installations (possibly as second installations in bedrooms).
The design of this two-deck system is faintly retro and it certainly stands out from the plethora of combined DVD player/receiver boxes we've seen lately. The two main units are each 210mm wide and 70mm high, making them much squatter than we're used to. It's a pleasing design.
The DVD-M330 has some basic disc transport controls on the fascia, but it remains mostly uncluttered. Connections at the rear include component video outputs for PAL and NTSC progressive scan, alongside an RGB-capable Scart and S-video socket. There is no provision for HDMI or DVI signals. Digital audio is handled by a pair of optical outputs and there is stereo audio back-up as well.
The absence of six-channel outputs confirms that there is no DVD-Audio or SACD compatibility, but Denon has stated clearly that at this sort of price they consider them to be unnecessary extras. You do get playback for WMA, MP3 and JPEG files, however.
The AVR-M330 carries six channels of amplification at 20W per channel. This is decidedly modest compared to other systems around this price, but again we would remind you that this is a set-up aimed at small-room use.
There are three optical digital audio inputs (shame there is no electrical option as well), for piping in sound, along with stereo support for two inputs and one output. There are also three pre-out sockets, one for an active subwoofer (if the one supplied does not satisfy you) and two for surround back channels.
You would need to provide the extra amplification needed for these extra channels as well. Speaker sockets are colour-coded plugs, matching the plugs on the ends of the supplied speaker cables.
Decoding formats cover Dolby Digital EX, DTS-ES, DTS Neo:6, Pro-Logic IIx, Dolby Virtual Stereo and Dolby Headphone. There is also a single, rather lonely, DSP mode. The AM/FM RDS tuner wraps things up.
On to the speakers and for the first time the budget nature of the system begins to show. Where the more expensive DHT-500SD is graced by beautiful wooden speaker cabinets, the satellites here are small and plasticky, although they are finished in a quite pleasant faux brushed aluminium.
Each satellite is packed with a 57mm mid-range cone and a 25mm super-high range tweeter. Power handling is rated at 30W, with peak power handling a rather optimistic 80W. The centre is identical, except for the fact that it carries an extra 57mm woofer and is horizontally aligned. The subwoofer is compact at 210(w) x 322(h) x 304(d)mm, carrying a 160mm cone and claiming a frequency response of 30Hz-240Hz.
Each speaker has spring-clip cable connectors.
Ease of use
We're always wary of labelling a system as being less than easy to use. It's so often a case of needing to familiarise yourself with the controls over a respectable period of time. Even so, it must be said that this is a rather tricky system to get to grips with.
The remote control is the problem. Admittedly it has a lot to do, but it is festooned with buttons, many with multiple functions. The biggest issue is with the function controls at the centre of the remote. There are two of them and you have to have them correctly aligned before you can do whatever it is you want to do.
For instance, in order to access some of the DVD controls (such as initial set-up) you need to have both function controls set to 'DVD'. This blights an otherwise user-friendly set-up procedure.
The performance of the DHT-M330DV falls into two distinct categories. The picture is excellent, the sound is average.
To start with the good news, the image is dynamic, detailed and beautifully presented. Colour rendition is accurate, with cartoon material looking saturated and luxurious, while live action is naturalistic and believable.
The picture is obviously best on a progressive scan-capable monitor, but we also loved the RGB Scart feed to a conventional TV. This means that the DVD-M330 earns top marks.
The AVR-M330 does not, but that is more than likely due to the limitations of the speaker system it is paired with. Certainly there are no issues with the steering of sound effects and you get the impression of an enveloping soundstage.
But the satellites are unable to present the information with which they are provided with any real depth. The presentation is always a little edgy and occasionally verges on the screechy.
Dialogue, in particular, causes problems, especially at higher volumes, where a slight but noticeable crackle can be discerned. Push this system close to its maximum volume setting and the effect becomes uncomfortable.
The subwoofer puts in a game effort, with some effective bass, but it struggles to mesh convincingly with the satellites, leaving you with a fractured soundstage.
Suited to small rooms
This system is aimed at small-room installations and it is probably up to the task in these circumstances, as long as the volume dial is treated with respect. There is severe doubt, however, about its ability to step into a bigger arena and still deliver a quality performance. The SYS-M330 speaker system supplied just does not seem to be capable of stepping out of its weight class.