Denon has a long tradition of high-end products that set a new direction for mainstream manufacturers to follow. The DVD-2910 set the standard for upscaling DVD players such as Samsung's DVD-HD850 and Toshiba's SD-350E, while the D-M35DAB showed how to do quality digital radio properly. These products are high quality, premium items that aren't bettered by their cheaper counterparts. In an industry that's preoccupied with lowering price, Denon's products can still be good value if you want the products you buy to last.
The S-101 isn't going to damage Denon's stellar reputation. It's more expensive than most 5.1 systems, but this 2.1 DVD system has speakers and features that are good enough to merit the extra investment. The big selling point is its direct iPod integration -- plug anything but a Shuffle in, and the Denon system will hijack the device to play music and photos. With a system that's as stylish and powerful as this, the two products go hand in hand.
The Denon system is gorgeous, with plenty of small touches that you'll want to show off to your friends. Press the Play button and the button itself lights up and then gently fades out, for example. The main DVD player is relatively small, sitting above the table on four rubberised feet. The two speakers must be screwed into stands as they don't stand up on their own, and the subwoofer is large and heavy. The whole package is finished in a silver plastic -- smooth to the touch and likely to go well with most flat-screen displays.
The system ties together beautifully -- apart from a little sweat lifting the subwoofer, we had it set up in under five minutes. Speaker setup can sometimes be fiddly, but the included cables are colour-coded and slot together without needing to tie bared wires around terminals. The subwoofer itself acts as the central amplifier as well as a central hub for connectivity. The power cable goes into the subwoofer and then ties umbilically to the DVD player link-up via a proprietary Denon connector. The two speakers are coded red and white and lead from the sub, which is a nice way of keeping most of the cables out of sight.
AV connectivity is surprisingly good for such a small player. The back of the DVD unit has RGB Scart and component video outputs, which are the best options if you're using a CRT and flat screen, respectively. There are also S-video and composite outputs for sending video to a display, plus a digital optical output on the audio side. There's also a stupidly generous array of video inputs, with two S-video and composite connections and two digital coaxial, plus an optical audio input. This means you can run a games console through the Denon if you've run out of inputs on your TV.
The remote control also deserves mention for being remarkably simple to use. It's the first time we've seen the advanced functionality buttons hidden on the rear of the remote behind a flap. Key buttons on the remote glow in the dark, which is perfect for home cinema use, plus it can control your TV and cable box. It's the classiest remote we've seen for some time.