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My usual phono preamp references from cheapest to meanest are the Clearaudio Nano, Nagra BPS and Esoteric E03. Compared to the Clearaudio Nano, the Densen's very quiet power supply proved a real asset. Resolution and openness were significantly superior as were staging and imaging. The overall tonal balance of the two preamps was actually very close, overall warm and with a generous but not tremendously well-defined bass. The Densen coupled to the Dynavector did better than the Nano in bass control (although with the Denon DL103 the Nano had quite trounced the Densen).

The Densen also delivered a more brilliant upper midrange—very obvious on sopranos or flutes—but one that at times also was a little harder. All in all the Nano is a rather forgiving phono stage designed for entry-level playback. It does err on the side of eliminating any potentially fatiguing upper frequencies. The Densen plays in a higher league on resolution and although it has a very similar tonal balance does not filter out the upper midrange as strongly.

Switching to the Nagra BPS, one enters what I consider to be one of the finest expressions of a rich and dense sonic world. Of course the battery-powered Nagra ceded nothing to the Densen on silence, black backgrounds or midrange resolution. Then it went much farther on transient fidelity, dynamics, bass control, depth of stage and treble extension. Of course the Nagra is quite a bit more expensive. One would expect these kinds of differences. What I did not expect was that the upper midrange openness the Densen demonstrated over the Nano now turned into a slight harshness or glassiness versus the Nagra. Between these preamps there was a clear difference in tonal treble refinement. This communicated the overall difference in class more clearly than anything else. This difference in upper registers aside, both phono stages aimed at the ‘analogue’ vibe Nagra is so famous for. The Densen simply did not reach the same level of dynamics and transients to sound quite a bit slower. I’ll leave out the Esoteric E03 from this lineup. Its upper midrange finesse, dynamics and bass control (just to name a few attributes) simply operate on a much higher plane. Then so does the price.

In conclusion it should be obvious that despite some really desirable qualities centered on midrange richness, stage width and silence of operation, the Densen did not align too well with my listening biases focused as those are on respect for timing and dynamics over deliberate beautification. At $1.350 the Densen faces stiff competition. On one end there is the Ray Samuel F117 with far more flexibility, similar quietness, greater neutrality and better dynamics for a lot less money; and on the other there is the Nagra BPS being equally quiet and rich in the midband whilst adding dynamics, bass control and depth of stage (admittedly for a substantial $1.000 more).

Yet even closer in price is the now venerable E.A.R 834P which also provides better control plus what I consider to be a more balanced set of sonic attributes. The good news  is that the Densen phono stage can be had for less as a modular phono board in one of their integrated amplifiers. Hopefully Paul on staff will be able to comment on that but I reckon it’ll prove to be a high-quality MC input that should easily out-compete many an onboard solution from other companies as well as affordable standalone efforts. I simply don't think that the extra cost of Densen’s discrete and quality enclosure (where the nature of the power supply bestows no real benefit to a separate power source) truly adds anything commensurate to the higher cost.

In a different system with different listening biases the Densen should have done better than what I could credit it with in this review. The claim of musicality made by the brand is not in vain if you equate that with beautification rather than truthfulness. I simply don't when it comes to timing and dynamics. There the Ray Samuel F117 sets a higher standard for a much lower price.

Densen website
US importer's website