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The Densen phono boards differ from their competition in two major ways. The first one is that the circuit is a current not voltage source. The claimed benefit is doing away with impedance matching, hence the DP04 loaner offered no loading option. You can look at it as an asset and one less vinyl nightmare to worry about; or a liability and one less opportunity to fine-tune the sound to your liking. Based on my initial impression with the Denon DL103, I belonged squarely in the second camp. The second difference which really stoked my interest was the LED-powered current source.

In simple terms, rather than relying on a battery or highly regulated power supply for clean and noise-free current—so critical for the micro-volt signals involved in a phono stage—Densen's power source are LED emissions that trigger photo-voltaic chips. Simple and smart, the conversion of electricity to light and back to electricity offers perfectly clean power and with a phono stage the limited current drive of this scheme is not an issue.

Highly regulated conventional transformers as found in my Esoteric E03 are expensive and batteries need to be replaced now and then whilst not being necessarily environmentally friendly. Densen's solution really had the potential to solve both issues and thus grabbed my attention. Unfortunately my first taste of the Densen phono preamp left me with a very conflicted impression. Paired with the Denon DL103 the midrange was gorgeous, resolved, rich and dense but both extremes fared a lot less favorably. The treble was short and hard, the bass boomy and ill defined. Even less forgivable to my tastes was that the superb dynamic capabilities of the DL103 had gone on unauthorized leave. I am not smart enough to comment on whether the circuit of the Densen truly eliminates the usual cartridge loading concerns. To my ears the DL103 simply acted as though it had been loaded far too low (50 ohms) when I know it to sound best loaded between 300 and 500 ohms. There was no doubt that the Densen showed promise and a very quiet and black background, wide staging and a rich and detailed midrange. Yet what I was hearing in general would have been unsatisfactory at any price.

The good news was that my new Dynavector DV20X-2 arrived at about the same time to provide a different perspective. After about fifty hours of break-in on the Dynavector, I returned the Densen DP04 to my system to be greeted by much more satisfactory results. The DV20X-2 (review forthcoming) is a far more refined and subtle cartridge than the DL103, very open and resolved whilst retaining a good dose of the DL103's dynamic prowess. I don't know whether the difference was in the fact that the Dynavector likes to be loaded between 30 and 50 ohms but the overall performance and balance became far more aligned with what I expect of a quality phono preamplifier.

All the qualities I usually hear with the DL103 remained—the very quiet background, the midrange resolution and richness, the wide soundstage (but still fairly flat compared to references in the same price range)—but now the treble was more resolved and less uniform and bass tightened up somewhat while remaining weighty and powerful. Dynamics improved too both micro and macro, albeit without quite reaching the same level as a Nagra BPS for example (let alone an Esoteric E03 but then few phono stages do). A little bit of tweaking actually took the Densen closer on transient fidelity and micro dynamics. I added Isolpads under the chassis and swapped in the ASI LiveLine interconnects for the Zu Varial I initially used. Finally I was in business for a full assessment. I would certainly avoid associating the Densen phono stage with warm or golden cables and cartridges unless you are specifically looking for a very warm and cozy sound.