Compared to other amps, several observations were consistent. The Denon had somewhat higher sibilance, was a bit brighter, and while it had plenty of bass it was noted several times to lack definition found in other amps. At high levels, it did seem to strain a bit more than the other amps, which is expected for an AVR compared to some of the much larger amps. Several times it was noted by multiple reviewers that it had very good detail and presence, as well as revealing ambiance in the recordings.
We actually listened to the Denon more than any other amp, as it was in four of the blind comparisons. It was not reliably identified in general, so one could argue that it held its own quite well, compared to even the most expensive amps. The observations from the blind comparisons that had some common elements either between blind and sighted comparisons or between observers are below. The extra presence and slight lack of bass definition seem to be consistent observations of the Denon AVR, but everyone agreed that the differences were not a definitive advantage to any one amp that would lead us to not want to own or listen to another, so I think we can conclude that the Denon held its own and was a worthy amp to consider. Compared to Behringer - bass on Denon had more impact than Behr, vocals sounded muted on Behr - vocals sounded muted on ML compared to Denon - Denon: crisp highs preferred compared to Behringer which is silky. - Denon is more present, forward in mids and highs than Behringer. Compared to Mark Levinson - Denon seemed to lack low end punch compared to ML. - Denon is smooth, a certain PUSH in the bass notes, cellos & violins sounded distant, hi-hat stood out, distant vocal echo stood out, compared to ML. - Denon bass seemed muddy compared to ML which is tighter. - ML more distant strings than Denon. - Denon is slightly mushy and fat in bass. String bass more defined on ML. - ML seems recessed compared to Denon. Compared to Pass - vocals sounded muffled on Pass compared to Denon - crisp bass on Denon compared to Pass - Denon & Pass both even, accurate, transparent, natural, no difference, like both - Pass seems soft on vocals but very close. - Denon has a bit more punch on bottom, maybe not as much very deep bass, more mid bass. Compared to Van Alstine - bass on Chant track was crisp for VA while Denon was slightly sloppy - sibilance not as pronounced on VA as it was on Denon - VA super clarity & precision, detailed, space around strings, around everything compared to Denon which is not as clear, liked VA better. - sibilanceon Denon, VA has less “air” but more listenable, both very good - Very deep bass more defined on VA, overall more bass on Denon.
In the sighted listening we compared the ST-500 MK II to the Van Alstine Fet Valve 400R. The assessments varied but were generally closer to no difference. The Van Alstine got comments of being fatter on the bottom. The Wyred 4 Sound was noted to have slightly better bass definition but apparently less impact there, and slightly less detail in the extreme highs. Most comments about the midrange were not much, if any difference. An interesting observation here was by Wayne, noting that he did not think he would be able to tell the difference in a blind comparison. Considering the ST-500 MK II is an ICE design and the Fet Valve 400R is a hybrid, we expected this to be one of the comparisons that would yield differences if any. As I am always concerned about expectation bias, this was one that I was particularly concerned with. Van Alstine is a personal favorite for a couple of us so I expected a clear preference for it to be present in the sighted comparison. I felt that the Wyred 4 Sound amp help its own with the much more expensive and likely to be favored VA. In the blind comparisons, we compared the ST-500 MK II to the Emotiva XPA-2 and the Sunfire TGA-7401 in two separate sessions. Of course, in these sessions we had no idea what we were listening to until after all the listening was done. In the comparison to the Emotiva, some notes revealed not much difference and that these were two of the best sounding amps yet. The ST-500 MK II was noted to have the best midrange yet, along with the Emotiva. It was described as having less sibilance than both the Emotiva and Sunfire. Both the Emotiva and the ST-500 MK II were described as unstrained in terms of dynamics. In comparison to the Emotiva it was noted to have solid highs, lively dynamics, rich string tones, and punch in the bass. The overall preference in comparison to the Emo was either no difference to preferring the W4S. In comparison to the Sunfire, comments ranged from preference for the W4S to not much difference to preference for the Sunfire. The Sunfire was described as having more presence in the midrange, while the Wyred was noted to be shrill, lifeless, and hollow by comparison. These comments varied a lot, but the points of convergence were generally around the similarities to three amps that would be expected to be most likely to be different, if we found any differences at all. The objective results is that we failed to identify the amp in ABX comparisons to two other much more expensive amplifiers. I would have to conclude that based on the results, the ST-500 MK II represents one of the best values and certainly should satisfy most listeners.
Onkyo 805, Yamaha YDP2006EQ, Samson Servo 600 amp
3 EV Sentry 500 monitors across the front, 4 Mission 762i's Surrounds, SVS PB13U sub, Panasonic BDT220, Harmony 1100, Nintendo WiiU
Panasonic PT-AE8000 on a 120" 2,35:1 fixed screen
Sherwood/Newcastle R972, Mission 765's, SVS SBS02's, A/D/S MS3u sub, Yamaha YDG2030EQ
Yamaha KX-393 Tape deck, CDC 805 CD changer, Panasonic BD60, Sony turntable PS-T20
Panasonic TC-P50ST60, HD-PVR & WDTV Live, Harmony 900