Densen Philosophy

Essay by Densen founder Thomas Sillesen

Welcome to the world of Densen.

Throughout the years I have done a lot of demonstrations for Hi-Fi enthusiasts around the world. During the later years I have also done some lectures at colleges and universities. In those lectures I have demoed a Hi-Fi system. In connection with this, it struck me how far away from ordinary people Hi-Fi enthusiasts really are.

The way Hi-Fi is evaluated by Hi-Fi enthusiasts and magazines follows to a large extent the American tradition where you focus on parameters such as stereo image, detail, dynamics, tonal balance etc., to describe what you hear. In the following, I will allow myself to describe this universe as listening to Hi-Fi.

Contrary to this is the English tradition, where everything is about the timing and rhythm in the music. This tradition has especially had support from Linn and, in particular, Naim. In the following, this way of listening will be referred to as listening to music.

In the time before Densen existed, I imported Hi-Fi. It was a long struggle that quickly became a dead-end, because a dealer (that no longer exists) taught me about timing. It was back in 1988, and when I first saw the light, it was a struggle to find a product that actually timed well enough… or played music well enough… I did not succeed in finding such a product, which is why I started Densen. Simply because I did not want to sell something that I considered second best.

Listening to Hi-Fi is a search without a goal. All the terms used are open for subjective evaluations, e.g. whether the stereo image should be 3 or 4 meters wide. Nobody really knows, not even the actual performers or those present when the recording took place!!! They do not know because so many things can happen from the microphone to the finished Compact Disc. And if you try to recreate exactly the same, you just make a new mistake that affects the next record. It is obvious that the new fault will have a negative effect when you are playing another CD, which does not have the same fault as the first one, which you used for reference. Forget the old saying that a positive and a negative neutralize each other (perfect signal); instead you get a double fault.

Conversely, you have people that listen to music. Timing is not, as is written in many reviews, just about listening specifically to the upper bass, and the pace of this. The idea is rather more comprehensive, and is basically like listening with an understanding for the structure in the music. It is the fundament of why the music is put together. If you have ever seen the movie “Amadeus” you will remember a scene in which Mozart takes the legs of his piano, so that he can feel the rhythm through his body, because he has gone deaf. This rhythmical understanding is the reason why our products are named Beat! There is a connection contrary to Hi-Fi. The sound system can be better or worse according to timing and music, and this can be used as an objective parameter for development.

It is an epiphany to learn to listen to music instead of listening to Hi-Fi. Instead of this scientific perspective, where you divide the sound, and are always unhappy with something or other, you can now just dance and be taken into another world.

Hi-Fi and its way of listening are very simple, but listening to timing and music is, on the other hand, very difficult. Not that it is so difficult to hear. The problem is that when Hi-Fi enthusiasts learn to listen to Hi-Fi, they forget how to listen to timing and music. This is shown in many ways, but most Hi-Fi enthusiasts will most likely recognise the following. When their friends, who do not find Hi-Fi interesting, think that their sound system is rather good, but not good enough to spend so much time and money on it. Even when they try to prove the qualities of the sound system, the friends praise it, but they are not overwhelmed. This is because no High End system can play music, they play Hi-Fi. And “normal” people listen to music, not Hi-Fi.

A sound system, which can play music, will get a more noticeable response from your “normal” friends. When I have performed Densen demonstrations, I have several times experienced listeners who burst into tears.

When “normal” people at the same time listen to music and not Hi-Fi, they can very quickly form an opinion of the sound system. A Hi-Fi enthusiast can spend several hours listening to it and evaluating it. His girlfriend, who knows absolutely nothing about Hi-Fi, can within a minute tell whether it is a good system or junk. And it is often the same conclusion that the Hi-Fi enthusiast will draw.

Recently, I was in Singapore to do a demonstration. Amongst the guests was a female artist, who obviously only made an appearance out of an obligation to the distributor, who had bought a lot of art from her. During the demo I demonstrated the difference between a Densen B-300 and B-300XS power amplifier. The guests were not certain as to which of the products were the best. Some of the guests were discussing whether the side drum was more precise with the B-300XS. The female artist began laughing really loudly and asking how they could not hear the difference, because it was rather big.

And she was right. The two products differ greatly, but the difference is to be found in an ability to reproduce music, and she could hear this difference right away, because she listened with her feelings not her mind.

You do not have to spend an entire day just to make up your mind which product is the best. Personally, I can tell if the product is great in 5 seconds top. This is very convenient when I am visiting fairs. I just have to take a walk down the aisle, and I can tell where the great products are. Unfortunately, it is very rare that there is just a single product, which can be useful.

This is because during the process of developing High-End a lot of producers move away from the music, just focusing on other parameters. And that is why only a few companies in the world are able to develop Hi-Fi that can play music. And why the cheapest product from the High-End often is the best in the range.

Companies, which produce products that can play music, have a clear philosophy. The quality of the product climbs with the price of the components. Because they have been objective in the development of their products.

We have probably all tried it. We have a product that we think is totally great, but we cannot tell exactly why it is so great. When this happens for a Hi-Fi enthusiast, it is a signal that he or she is reacting unconsciously to the music, not the Hi-Fi. This experience has given Densen some very loyal costumers. It is not because they all listen to music instead of Hi-Fi, but because they just listen when they e.g. do the dishes or read the paper. They experience these eye-opening moments, when they just have to put everything to one side and just listen, because it sounds great for no reason. It is in these moments when they listen with their sub-conscious that their reaction is precise and spontaneous.

A couple of years ago I had a costumer, who kept calling about the B-400, which was not on the market yet. One day I asked him: “Henrik, you have Densen DM-20/30 costing DKK 25.000 and a CD-player from “X” costing DKK 80.000. Why are you inquiring about our B-400 (costing DKK 13.800) when the obvious move would be to replace the DM-20/30.” He answered me: “No, I will never replace those, but I would like to hear the B-400.” He actually replaced his CD-player with the B-400. Later on the DM-20/30 was also replaced, and now he is waiting for our launch of the new pre-amplifier costing DKK 25-30.000 and our mono blocks costing 50-60.000. This is not an unusual story for us. I often check the papers for used stuff to check if there is a lot of Densen, but fortunately there is not. That shows us that people are happy with Densen and hold on to them.

When all this is said, there will probably be a lot of people who lean back and say to themselves: “I can hear music. Densen is way out of line.” That is why we focus on demonstrating our product and philosophy as often as possible. It is very easy to say, that our products are the best in the world, but people are not convinced before we demonstrate it. And then they ARE convinced.

The lucky ones, who already have heard a demo by us, will acknowledge that I focus a lot on the music. And I ask the listeners how they would feel if they were musicians. But I do not split up the listeners as markedly as I described earlier. I do not want people think of it as a fight or a war. I want to move the listener’s boundaries. And that is the reason why we hand out questionnaires at our demonstrations. In Aarhus Hi-Fi Club we handed out one before and one after. Before the demonstration, only 15% would consider buying Densen, while after the demonstration 95% would consider it. I am positive that the listeners that evening would agree with me when I say that the demonstration was pretty convincing. We did the demonstration in something like an auditorium with bad facilities. We compared our products with a homemade class d amplifier and a Linn CD-player, and both got their asses kicked. The Linn CD-player belonged to Jonas Bojer, member of Aarhus Hi-Fi Club. It is the only time I have had the pleasure of meeting him and I must say that he can listen to music. And I pay my respects to him as he admitted that the B-400 was better than his Linn in every aspect, even though his Linn costs twice as much as the B-400.

When all this is said, most readers probably have a feeling that Densen is all about timing and music, but that is not all. We care just as much for Hi-Fi, but 99 % of the readers are already familiar with these terms. And most have just heard about timing and music, and never looked into it any further.

If we were discussing movies, it would be like enjoying the movie for the message, while Hi-Fi is the technical aspects like picture, colours etc. I like all aspects, both the technical and the message.

It is the fewest who care about making everything perfect. In England Naim has been the market leader for Hi-Fi with timing and music, but during the last 3-4 years we have beaten the English on their own turf. We have taken over several of Naim’s dealers, who refer to Densen, when the topic is Hi-Fi with timing and musical qualities. This pleases us, but the fact that distributors who we share with the big High-End producers, mention us before far more expensive brands, pleases us even more.

Then we have attained our goal; to satisfy the wishes of both Hi-Fi and music lovers. Our products bring happiness to everyone. And that is the essence of making Hi-Fi.

I ask you not to form an opinion yet. Do yourselves a favour and come by one of our demonstrations at a club, dealer etc.

Densen does not focus on either Hi-Fi or music. We focus on everything. I do not know which products, you have heard or which reviews you have read, but basically I do not trust reviews. Reporters are not educated by the magazines to have a company opinion about music. You always have to notice, who the reporter of the review is, and then compare his and your basic music philosophy. I really do not care what Hi-Fi reporters write. I do not make Hi-Fi to please them…

And that goes for all reporters. Even the ones at Stereophile, who awarded Densen the best affordable sound at CES, and the reporters at The Independent, who named Densen as one of the most important things in the new century (as the only audio product and the only Danish one). Hi-Fi reporters are good reporters, who happen to have Hi-Fi as their hobby. That does not make their opinion better than yours or even Jonas Bojer’s. They are professional writers and you have to think about that, just as you should bear in mind that I represent Densen. That is also why I recommend that you visit a demonstration to form your own opinion about our products.

At Densen we would never even think about subduing the signal or manipulating it. Therefore we would not put less energy in the frequency areas. Anyone who has ever experienced a demonstration will know that Densen is not lacking energy in any areas.

My general opinion is, that it is too narrow minded to say that a single component is vital for the sound. It is like saying that valves sound the way they do because of the distortion. Or that a specific CD-player sounds the way it does because the converter is a PCM1702 etc. I think it is more complex. It is my belief that technology is not the most important element, the developer is. Just as the ingredients are less important than the chef.

There is no doubt that the ability to play rhythmically precise music with accurate timing is a parameter, which can be used objectively in audio designs. Because you cannot get a band to play better, as a group, than they did during the recording. Therefore each time the group gets better than it was before, it is a fact that the audio system is better. As written earlier this does not exclude the usual Hi-Fi parameters. These are also very important, and we try just as hard to optimize these parameters.

The endless comments that recordings are more manipulated today are far from the truth. There has always been manipulation in music starting with The Beatles and continuing until today. Sound philosophy has changed a lot and music has gone in many directions with many artistic expressions. If you follow for example the history of Dire Straits, you will see that their sound philosophy has changed drastically.

A few record companies make simple recordings, but even in these cases some of the music, which went into the microphone, gets lost in the recording. This fault can only be repaired by giving the sound system an opposite fault. And I cannot see any reason to have a sound system, which makes your ordinary cd’s sound terrible. I understand that you want to have your audiophile recordings sounding perfect, but why does this have to exclude you from listening to normal records.

Basically, Hi-Fi is a weird business. Could you name just one business where you buy a product just to see how it works in perfect conditions? Imagine, your car can only drive on the motorway. Your watch is only accurate at 2100 Celsius. Your expensive outfit does not fit your normal body. Apparently, the Hi-Fi business is the only business, where it is okay to be limited. You have a sound system worth 1 million DDK, which can only play Jazz at the Pawnshop. Everything else gives you the creeps listening to it.

Just as well as I want a car that can drive everywhere, I want a sound system that can play all kinds of music. And I want to enjoy it while I am doing it.

Life is too short for boring Hi-Fi.