Denon Music Maniac Series & The Aural Paradox

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 & 7100 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.

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5 responses to “Denon Music Maniac Series & The Aural Paradox

    • Thanks for reading proving my point about the audiophile crowd, Tristan.

      As a designer in the audiophile headphone market, it is very frustrating for me to see products like the Music Maniac line that obviously have superior sound quality, but can not compete on any other grounds with products in the consumer market. By writing articles like this, I hope to inspire the community to demand better quality than that that is handed to them.

      Also, I watched your review. Maybe you can say a bit more than “they look street” in your next one.

      • Ok, I apologize; this is not a ‘worthless review’ as I originally posted, but I think it’s pretty off-base in some respects. Anyone who has tried on the Beats and also the Denons will know that the Denons are infinitely more comfortable, and comfort needs to play into the design, not only looks and materials as you seem to imply. Function is just as important and the Beats function much worse in most all respects, (while looking better according to you), so how can you resolve that disaccord?

        I also don’t really buy the automobile design analogy; I think that’s a bit of a stretch.

      • Thanks for continuing the discussion. I think it’s important.

        I did not mean to discount comfort as a valuable quality, but I decided to contain my analysis to visual elements and manufacturing. Especially since comfort can be very personal–except Grado’s which are painful for everyone.

        Also, I did not mean to say that the Denon’s were directly inspired by cars. I know this was a miscommunication on my part. That surface treatment can be called “car styling” or “car surfacing” simply because cars use these techniques most often. Ultimately, it is just a surface technique and can be applied to any product, not just cars.

        In the end, its true the Beats underperform aurally. However, I still think they are significant because they got people thinking–“Hey, why should I pay $300 for these AKG-701’s when the whole headband is almost OEM?” “Hey, why should I pay 600$ for these Grado RS1’s when I can see wood glue hanging out, and the headband is blatantly Chinese factory trash?”

        I think the audiophile community deserves to have its cake and eat it too. To me, that means putting in the upfront design & manufacturing effort that’s made for consumer electronics, like Apple or HTC, without compromising the sound engineering of a truly audiophile-oriented approach.

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