110 years – it’s a very long time in home audio, taking us right back to the very first days of music-playing devices, and the arrival of anything that looked like the modern LP record. Yet over that time the intention at Denon has always been the same – to bring customers new and exciting ways to get closer to their home entertainment experiences, from great music performances to cinema quality sound at home.
Nippon Chikuonki Shokai Factory around 1910
||Frederick Whitney Horn|
Founded by American entrepreneur Frederick Whitney Horn in association with Japanese partners, Nippon Denki Onkyō Kabushikigaisha (which literally translates “Japan Electric Sound Company”) first came into existence in 1910 as part of Nippon Chikuonki Shokai (the Japan Recorders Corporation). The two words – ‘denki’, the Japanese for ‘electric’, and ‘onkyo’, the Japanese for ‘sound’ – would become essential for the future of the company.
Producing disc recorders
At the time, the parent company was making single-sided recording discs and gramophones, until then used for little more than voice recording. After all, this was only a few decades after Edison first invented his phonograph, which ‘wrote sound’ onto a wax cylinder, and Emile Berliner had only recently started the transition from cylinders to the kind of discs we still play, In the process coining the term ‘gramophone’. Back in America, shoppers were still being intrigued by a cylinder player announcing ‘I am the Edison Phonograph’!
The new company became not only the first consumer audio manufacturer to sell a gramophone, but also Japan’s first record company. That illustrates why Denon – as the name of the company soon became in the 1930s, taking the first syllables of Denki and Onkyo – has always been at the forefront of ‘Electric Sound’, not only producing the equipment made to reproduce music and movie audio, but also being a key part of the recording process.
First Denon logo end of 1930
LEADING THE REVOLUTIONS
As we’ll see, Denon has been in at the beginning of many revolutions in home entertainment, launching disc recorders for the broadcast industry (which captured many historic events) and a cutting lathe for mastering discs to make it easier to mass-produce records, starting sales of Japan’s first LP records at the beginning of the 1950s, and introducing professional tape recorders for broadcasters soon after.
It has led the way into the LP era, pioneered the digital audio technology behind the CD back in the early 1970s, and launched its first line-up of AV receivers more than 30 years ago. Now, with the launch of the 110 Anniversary series, Denon is not just celebrating this landmark, but also marking its expertise in digital and analogue sound, both stereo and multichannel, with a line-up ranging from the AVC-A110, a 13.2-channel AV receiver, through to a special version of its classic phono cartridge, the DL-A110.
From the beginning Denon set itself on the path of developing the whole sound recording and playback chain. Indeed just two years later it merged with Japan-US Recorders Manufacturing, in the first of a series of co-operations and business moves designed to keep it at the heart of the whole entertainment chain, from joining forces with the American Columbia company to close co-operation with Japan’s national broadcaster, NHK.
Disc Recording Machine DP-17K
It was for broadcasters that Denon launched its first professional disc recording machine, a twin-deck transportable device called the DR-148. Using acetate recording disks, and enabling recordings to be played back immediately, it was delivered to NHK in 1939, ready for the 1940 Tokyo Olympic Games. By now the company had a dedicated plant for making recording machines, developing technologies such as the P-16-A, a sapphire cartridge to play the acetate discs, and a low-vibration synchronous motor to drive the turntable, which would later be at the heart of the company’s hi-fi products.
In 1944 the company officially became Japan Denki Onkyo Co., Ltd., and its recording technology went on to claim its place in history, when a Denon machine, the DP-17K, was used to record a speech by Emperor Hirohito. It was the first time the Japanese public had heard the Imperial voice.
INTO THE ERA OF TAPE AND LPs
In 1946 Denon became a subsidiary of record company Nippon Columbia, and by 1948 its R-23-A disc recorder/player was adopted as a standard by NHK, and installed in the company’s studios across Japan.
However, technology was beginning to change, with the arrival of tape recording technology and the microgroove (LP) record. Denon moved with the times, delivering its first portable tape recorder – much more useful for news reporting and interviews than the disc recorders, which were at best ‘transportable’. The R-28-F was adopted by NHK, and the writing was on the wall – by the late 1950s, its Mitaka plant, originally designed to concentrate on disc recorders, was almost completely switched over to making tape recorders, hastened by the arrival of stereo records and record players in 1958. Disc recorder manufacturing ended completely in 1963.
Denon, however, wasn’t standing still: the next year it delivered its DL-103 phono cartridge, initially to NHK as a professional use device for playing the new stereo records. It went on to become one of the classic hi-fi products of all time, popular with consumers as well as broadcast users. It’s still in production at Denon’s own factory in Shirakawa, Japan, more than 55 years after it first appeared, and its technology and craftsmanship inform the special 110 Anniversary cartridge, the DL-A110. Still with a view to its professional users, Denon launched its first headphones, the SH-31, in 1966, and then in 1970 released its direct-drive turntable for broadcast studios, the DN-302F, However, that year marked another major milestone for the company; for the first time the Denon name began to appear on products aimed at the consumer – and one of the first would be another product whose influence is still seen in the company’s range today: the DP-5000 direct-drive motor unit for record players, to which buyers could add their own plinth, arm and cartridge. It was followed two years later by the best-selling DP-3000 model, and in 1976 by the quartz-lock direct drive DP-7000, and these heavyweight Denon direct-drive turntables are still highly sought-after as previously used buys – if you can find them!
LAUNCHING THE DIGITAL AGE
In 1972, Denon’s first integrated amplifier, the PMA-500, was released, but there was something even more momentous going on behind the scenes in the professional audio world, with the announcement of the world’s first practical PCM digital recorder – DN-023R - developed by Denon, ushering in the digital audio age. An eight-track machine the size of several filing cabinets, the unit was again adopted by broadcaster NHK – and it was for the broadcast industry that Denon would go on to develop the world’s first CD player for professional use, the DN-3000F. Launched in 1981, ahead of the consumer début of CD the following year, the Denon machine was designed for studio use, complete with advanced search facilities and instant start – vital in a broadcast situation. Denon’s first consumer CD player, the DCD-2000, was followed just a year later by the DCD-1800, using the Super Linear Converter created by the Shirakawa Audio Works, north of Tokyo – which is where many Denon products, including the Anniversary 110 series, are still made, at the heart of the company’s audio engineering expertise and craftsmanship.
Shirakawa Audio Works, Shirakawa, Japan. 2020
INVENTING HOME CINEMA
Until 1985, all of Denon’s efforts had been focused on music recording and reproduction in stereo, but all that changed with the announcement of its first AV amplifier, the AVC-500. We were still in the age of the VHS video cassette back then but, in addition to audio and video switching for up to three VCRs, the AVC-500 also had what a contemporary review called ‘a surround -sound feature for adding ambience to stereo programs,’ and onboard amplification – 2x25W! – to drive either normal stereo front speakers or rear ambience speakers.
Yes, that seems very simple compared to today’s AV receivers and amplifiers, with their many channels of high-power amplification, processing for multiple surround formats, video switching at up to 8K and even network audio capability, but the AVC-500, selling for ¥59,800 at the time ($375/£200), was the start of something very big indeed – no less than a revolution in home entertainment. Just three years later, the AVC-2000 was released, complete with Dolby Pro-Logic Surround sound, followed just three years later with Denon’s first high-end surround hardware – the VP-5000 processor and POA-5000 multichannel power amplifier.
Meanwhile attention was still being paid to the company’s pro audio roots: 1987 had seen the arrival of the first CD cart machine for fast loading and disc protection in studios, while in 1990 the company launched its DTR-2000G Digital Audio Tape (DAT) deck for pro recording. And the 1990s saw the arrival of some products destined to be the antecedents of classic Denon designs for decades, not least 1991’s Presta mini-component series, which has influenced models all the way through to the latest D-M systems.
A STATEMENT OF THE FUTURE
|DP-S1 & DA-S1||POA-S1|
And just as those early home cinema products and mini-component systems set the style for the future of Denon, so the arrival of the flagship S1 series in 1993 put in place much of the audio technology now found across the company’s range. The S1 models – the ‘S’ stood for ‘sensitive’ – comprised a massively built CD transport and separate digital-to-analogue converter, the DP-S1 and DA-S1, and saw the début of Denon’s Alpha Processing, designed to deliver a more analogue sound from digital audio, while amplification was handled by the two-box PRA-S1 preamplifier and two POA-S1 monobloc power amplifiers.
The Ultra-High Current-MOS Circuit was designed to deliver all of the dynamics and excitement of music, and enhance control of speakers, while Direct Mechanical Ground Construction tackled the problems of vibration, delivering a cleaner sound. Meanwhile the concept of the S1 series as a complete solution was seen in the arrival of essential components to make the most of vinyl replay, in the form of the DL-S1 cartridge and partnering AU-S1 phono transformer.
Building on those platforms, Denon’s engineers have expanded and refined the home entertainment experience: in 1997 Denon gave the world’s first demonstration of five channel surround ambience, and a couple of years later launched the first THX Surround EX Amplifier, the AVC-A10SE, followed by the world’s first consumer product with DTS-ES Discrete 6.1, the AVC-A1SE in the year 2000.
Then, in 2008 came the high-end AVP-A1HD AV processor, and its partnering POA-A1HD power amplifier – this time offering no fewer than ten channels of amplification.
AVP-A1HD // POA-A1HD // DVD-A1UD
And to complete the system, as Blu-ray discs offered even greater sound and vision definition, in 2009 the DVD-A1UD arrived – the world’s first ‘universal’ disc player, supporting BD, SACD, DVD and CD. Whatever came on a disc, it could play it!
CELEBRATING A LEGACY OF FIRSTS: 100 Years Anniversary Models: PMA-A100 // DCD-A100 // DP-A100 // AVR-A100 // DBP-A100
And Denon has continued to innovate, taking the home entertainment experience into a world of uncompressed, three-dimensional audio: drawing on more than a century of experience in high-quality recording and playback, the latest Denon products support high-resolution audio streaming, as well as 3D audio formats including Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Auro 3D – all designed to immerse listeners in their favourite music and movies. Today’s receivers offer up to 13.2-channel audio, and support 8K video, ready for the next generations of sound and vision at home.
FILLING THE HOME WITH SOUND
|Denon Home 150 // Denon Home 350 // Denon Home 250|
However, while Denon believes its entertainment products should bring the whole family together, it doesn’t think all that enjoyment should be confined to one room: its HEOS system can spread the sound throughout the home, with access to music and streaming services via wireless speakers and HEOS-equipped components, all under the control of the slick HEOS App. HEOS can set up wireless surround systems, or share music round the house, with dedicated wireless speakers as well as compatible AV receivers, hi-fi equipment, sound bars and mini systems – you can even add your existing hi-fi to the HEOS system, and control the whole thing with voice commands. It’s truly great Denon entertainment for the whole family – in that 110-year tradition of combining simple, logical operation with state of the art performance.
110 YEARS AND BEYOND
110 Years Anniversary Models: AVC-A110 // DL-A110 // PMA-A110 // DCD-A110
As history has proven decade after decade, Denon’s mission has always been to create products that combine the highest standards of sound quality and reliability to convey the passion and emotion of music and movies, the vision of musicians and creators. The people at Denon continuously pursue innovations that change everything, and they believe there is new excitement ahead. With the spirit of innovation, Denon moves on to the future.