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Denon Music Maniac - A Review of Non-Aural Qualities

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 

Hey Head-Fi'ers

 

Decided to do a review of the build quality & design of the new Denon Music Maniac series. I am an industrial designer & enjoy doing aesthetic tear-downs. Please take note that I can not fully speculate the true intentions & rationale designed into this product--I am just reviewing the end product from an informed consumer perspective.

 

I hope you find this type of review interesting and informative, as it is a more detailed analysis of non-aural qualities than those typically present on Head-Fi. If you enjoy this type of content, let me know and I can do more. Please feel free to visit my blog http://1strd.wordpress.com for other similar articles. 

 

Disclaimer: I have not had a chance to do a hands-on analysis of the Denon Music Maniac series, and thusly have contained my analysis to visual properties. Images of Denon Music Maniac sourced from the Head-Fi album.

 

Enjoy

 

 

Denon Music Maniac

 

While the audiophile industry thrives in its purpose to satisfy auditory whims and sensations, it does so while vastly undervaluing visual, tactile, and mechanical qualities.

Many high-end audiophile headphones share cheap, generic OEM parts or poor quality-control in manufacturing. Most products, if designed, are only done so far as to differentiate them from bare OEM products.

What this has done is created a culture that stigmatizes the perceived prioritization of any quality over that of sound.

However, the new Denon Music Maniac Series is a symbol of a shift in values, embracing formerly neglected qualities through product design.

But don’t celebrate just yet. Though the ADH-600 & 710o may be heralds of a new age of designed audiophile headphones, removed from this context their design and production ultimately fall short.

The Good – Car Surfacing

Probably the most successful aspct of this headphone design is the use of car surfacing as the primary stylistic phrasing.

To be clear, this article will refer to it as “car styling” or “car surfacing,” but only because this technique is used most often for cars–Denon designers did not necessarily draw direct inspiration from cars.

The house sound of Denon headphones has often been described as “fun,” or to generalize, emotive rather than cold & analytical. Car styling is extremely emotive, and both the Denon house sound and music in general are as well–so everything makes sense.

In addition, this aesthetic approach was, until now, left unclaimed by consumer-oriented “designer” headphones, such as the Beats by Dre & Soul by Ludacris. So this style is a strategic differentiator.

This image illustrates the use of “filleted” linework present on the armature of the ADH-7100. This technique has become a car styling staple since the introduction of Chris Bangle’s re-constructed BMW language.

 This illustrates how the Denon branding zone is treated in a similar way to contemporary fender wells.

Ultimately, car styling was an appropriate solution to visually translate the emotive qualities of sound and music.

Mechanisms & Materials Mediocrity

This is where the Music Maniac line really fails to bring quality. As a foreword to this section, the Denon ADH-7100 will be compared in terms of its visual, tactile, and mechanical qualities against the far less costly Beats by Dre.

Fit Adjustment

Firstly, the fit adjustment on the new Denon was not thought through.

As was discussed before, the filleted linework present on these armatures is a favorable stylistic decision. However the lack of thought put into the extension mechanism interrupts the flow of those lines, and creates a harsh, jarring transition.

The Beats, on the other hand, look cool using the same mechanism. This is because they have no “moving” linework to be interrupted, and the composition of ( functional) screws communicates a natural visual stopping point. What’s more, the arms themselves are very flat–there is not a large jump in thickness from the band to the extension as in the Denons.

As a bonus, the actual extension is brushed.

Armature Interior

The interior of the Denon armatures is littered with visually unresolved engineering details and part-lines that work together to create visual discomfort.

This detail, intentional or not, communicates an inconsiderate attitude to the consumer. Here is the Beats, considerate as ever.

This interior deserves applause for containing more mechanical functionality than that of the Denon, but actually looking more clean and less intimidating. The material finish has also been given that “soft touch” treatment.

Honesty of Materials

Lately, due in part to the advent of Apple’s popularity, the concept of honest presentation of materials has become good design practice.  Wood and metals are presented without paint or anodization. This is sustainable, looks cool, and promotes the use of higher quality materials.

While the ADH-600 is OK because the plastic armature was molded with black plastic, the ADH-7100 tries to trick consumers with a very cheap-looking metal-flake paint.

It is true that the 7100′s sport Denon’s signature wooden cups, but in addition to being a smaller quantity of wood than the D7000 cups, they are also dwarfed when compared proportionally to the plastic armature.

Although obviously the wooden cups have been engineered for their favorable aural properties, the perceived value and the quality communicated by the “Classics” series like the D7000 has been lost in this Music Maniac line.

This image is of the beats, perfectly honest in its material expression.

The Verdict

While the Denon Music Maniacs retain their value as a symbol that the audiophile industry has begun to accept their responsibility to the other senses, they still pale in comparison to consumer-oriented products.

While the car styling approach is unique and well-considered, other production, design, and manufacturing blunders dominate the overall impression of quality.


Edited by schmarrick - 8/14/12 at 2:58am
post #2 of 22

Im definitely disappointed with denon's new lineup. Their design team are probably ex workers from monster biggrin.gif

post #3 of 22

Wow i find this review refreshing indeed..well done! 

i must go but a pair of BEATs..doesnt matter if it sounds ok..or at all... :P

design-wise its got your professional thumbs-up,

which many on the street intuitively LIKE.....the LOOKS.

 

Ok, i would definitely like to read your review on the fostex900... 

 

 

and the hd800, and its 700 improvement/regression...

 

 

oh and the LCD1/2/3 evolution...

 

 

and your comments on the k702/Q701 superstar color rendition...

 

and....

 

 

think u have enough on your plate...or have u already got them in your files?

beerchug.gif

 

================

 

minor question...designwise do u think the denon logo should be engraved on a piece of wood disc? 


Edited by Lorspeaker - 8/13/12 at 11:15pm
post #4 of 22
Thread Starter 

I'm glad some of you enjoyed it. I try my best to make quality content.

 

Also, to be clear, I didn't write this article with the intention of promoting the Beats. I just wanted to point out that in the wake of the recent boom in popularity of the consumer headphone market, the poor quality design & craftsmanship of many audiophile headphones has really begun to show. 

 

 

@Lorspeaker:

I appreciate your comments. This was my first article on audiophile equipment in particular, but something like the LCD 1-3 evolution or HD 800/700 would be very interesting for me to think about. I am very interested in the way product designs maintain their character through model years.

 

As per the Denon logo zone, I think that a wooden disc rather than plastic, but with the same metallic lettering would add value to the design statement. Although I can't speculate how much more this would cost Denon, I do have some idea that it would cost them considerably more than the plastic disc after post-processes. 

post #5 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by schmarrick View Post

Also, to be clear, I didn't write this article with the intention of promoting the Beats. I just wanted to point out that in the wake of the recent boom in popularity of the consumer headphone market, the poor quality design & craftsmanship of many audiophile headphones has really begun to show. 

I would agree with this in some cases (out of curiosity, have you ever handled or owned a Beyerdynamic or Grado headphone?), and it is rather unfortunate. Very interesting perspective you bring to the table! Hope you stick around. cool.gif

Quote:
As per the Denon logo zone, I think that a wooden disc rather than plastic, but with the same metallic lettering would add value to the design statement. Although I can't speculate how much more this would cost Denon, I do have some idea that it would cost them considerably more than the plastic disc after post-processes. 

I would agree - I didn't know that logo disc was plastic until recently, and I think the wood/metal look of the D7000 and A100 for the logo is VERY sharp compared to the D7100 (not that the D7100 is ugly, but, the A100 and D7000 have a certain unique flare to them that I feel the 7100's lack).
Edited by obobskivich - 8/14/12 at 1:50am
post #6 of 22

May I ask if you actually purchased these headphones and had hands on with them?

 

I'm just asking cause some of the pictures just seem to be pictures that I have seen before making me think they weren't taken by you.

 

 

Thanks for the review nonetheless :)


Edited by Tizzle - 8/14/12 at 2:40am
post #7 of 22
Thread Starter 

@obob:

Yeah, I'm currently running Grado RS1's. They probably need a recabling not for enhancement but for survival, I can see dried woodglue outside of the target area, and the hexagonal pin in circular socket amazes me everyday. 

 

But they are really good for shoegaze...

 

#TheAuralParadox

post #8 of 22
Thread Starter 

@Tizzle:

I have not had a chance to interact with this product first hand yet, and I'm sure Denon would not have sent me a sample to do this kind of review. However you are right that I should credit the photos I edited sourced from the Head-Fi unboxing on the home page. 

post #9 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by schmarrick View Post

@Tizzle:

I have not had a chance to interact with this product first hand yet, and I'm sure Denon would not have sent me a sample to do this kind of review. However you are right that I should credit the photos I edited sourced from the Head-Fi unboxing on the home page. 

 

 

And maybe also edit your original post to say that you have not had hand on experience with the headphones.  I understand that you're an industrial designer, but reviewing something based upon pictures isn't something that I'm too fond of and I'm not sure that other people will also be fond of as well.

post #10 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tizzle View Post

 

 

And maybe also edit your original post to say that you have not had hand on experience with the headphones.  I understand that you're an industrial designer, but reviewing something based upon pictures isn't something that I'm too fond of and I'm not sure that other people will also be fond of as well.

 

I agree with you that having had hands-on experience would have added credibility to this review, and that I should add a disclaimer.

 

However, I did restrain my comments to visual properties encompassed by photos. I refrained from commenting on any ergonomics or perception of quality based on weight or finish. 

post #11 of 22

yes yes....disclaimers...credits...hands-on.....all adds to the integrity of such reviews. 

 

i wonder how expensive it is to custom mould such modern designs...

there is always an economic consideration, when is the breakeven...

how many cans u can expect to sell, at what price. 

The temptation is there to tap the younger crowd ...n with a bass-er sound.

 

grado has so far resisted, and stuck to its DIY-able style, i wonder if they would ever come out with a more modern look,

that would be interesting.

post #12 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lorspeaker View Post

i wonder how expensive it is to custom mould such modern designs...

I vaguely remember hearing/reading somewhere that the molds for a headphone can run upwards of $25,000 if you're doing mass production. I'm sure size and materials change that price - for example I would assume it's cheaper to injection mold the plastic frame you see on a Beats headphone versus the magnesium alloy frame you see on some of the older Sony headphones. But that may not be the case. But regardless of that, there is certainly a case for commonality throughout a product line, because it means less unique parts - if you can change the design with color or logos it can reduce the unit cost. That said, I would not be surprised at all if Denon's cost on the 7100 is under $400 (that doesn't mean "Denon should/could sell them for $401").
post #13 of 22
Thread Starter 

@Lorspeaker:

I think Grado's ultimate stubbornness to change their design has actually worked in their favor--Grados are iconic. I think the big opportunity in a redesign would be in the band & articulating joints (essentially OEM), and engineering a driver that sounds good with more ergonomic foam pads.

 

@Obob:

Yeah, it's too hard to guess overhead for a product. Part costs are amortized, so more parts is cheaper, but tooling cost is relative to your number of parts if you are in high volumes. There are too many factors we can not know for certain.

 

I think what Lorspeaker is getting at though, for example with his comment about a wooden branding zone, is that Denon could have taken extra measures to differentiate the 7100's. If someone is paying a premium, they should really feel like their getting their money's worth. Obviously the 7100's have better drivers, but the product still would have benefitted from more luxurious differentiators.

post #14 of 22

I am not sure that simply because the outside of the earcup has a circle on it that it means it is inspired by a car wheel but otherwise it was interesting to read. Seems like Denon are being cheapskates and overcharging for the latest headphones. At least the Dx000 range had magnesium and wood. The Phllips fidelio L1 is made entirely of metal and wood and is £230 yet the D7100 is mainly plastic and costs almost £1000....


Edited by nicholars - 8/14/12 at 11:19am
post #15 of 22
Thread Starter 

@Nicholars:

I appreciate the feedback, and it's true that not all audiophile equipment is neglecting of product design values.

 

Also to be clear, I was told prior that this was confusing, but I actually meant to describe a surface treatment often used on cars, but not limited to them. So I didn't mean to say that the branding zone was inspired by a wheel. This is helpful to me though, and I will be more clear when I write new content.

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