Denon Smart S-301 review

Far and away the best three-speaker all-in-one we've seen

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Our Verdict

Yes, it's an arm and a leg, but my goodness it's worth it


  • Excellent connectivity


    Excellent pictures all round

    Great sound


  • Expensive

With even dirt cheap home cinema all-in-ones struggling to sell these days, you have to wonder just why Denon thinks we should spend £1,250 on its Smart S-301 system - especially when that system doesn't have a full collection of surround sound speakers.

The S-301 certainly looks opulent. The main control unit is a vision with its heavy-duty metallic finish and large, tastefully lit LED, and the stereo speakers scream hi-tech elegance with their flat TV friendly slenderness and sweet finish.

Justify my love

More justification of the price tag comes with the system's connectivity. There's an HDMI output which allows you to squirt out your DVDs upscaled to 1080i - with help from Faroudja DCDi video processing.

Component video jacks allow analogue progressive output too, plus there's an RGB Scart, S-video and composite video outputs, a trigger jack and even a wide selection of AV inputs with which other AV kit can take advantage of the S-301's audio talents.

This flexibility even extends to 'USB Host Play-compatible' MP3 players, and Apple's iPod, for which a special docking cable is provided. JPEG, MP3, CD, MP3 and even DVD-Audio and SACD playback are also supported.

The system is capable of pumping out 280W of total power, including 140W to the active subwoofer. As you'd expect, Virtual Dolby 2.1 processing is applied to recreate a surround sound sensation from the three speakers.

On to the main event: even in standard definition its DVD pictures are excellent. Pushing it hard with notoriously hard-to-show disc Magnolia, the S-301's deck does a great job of suppressing the MPEG noise that can afflict darkish scenes.

The system reproduces every subtlety of the film's varied colour palette, instilling it with vibrancy during bright scenes, and presenting immaculate tones for the deliberately monotone interior shots.

Holy grail

Its HD upscaling is impressive: 720p and 1080i pictures achieve the holy upscaling grail of being immensely more detailed and sharp without suffering seemingly any extra noise.

Sonics are tremendous too. With every source we tried, from iPod to DVD-Audio, the system's speaker triumvirate combines audiophile clarity and subtlety with far more power and scale than you'd believe possible from such small speakers.

We have no hesitation in declaring the S-301 far and away the best three-speaker all-in-one package we've seen to date - and as such, £1,250 seems just about fair after all.