Think of Denon and a number of images generally spring to mind: extraordinarily capable AV receivers, excellent stereo separates and maybe even an all-in-one music system. Fewer people, and I’m surmising here, will associate the brand with headphones even though the history goes right back to an era of the Beach Boys Pet Sounds, the Beatles Revolver the Rolling Stones Aftermath, and THAT football final at Wembley.
Fast forward to the present day as Denon looks to make a historical mark with the up-to-the-minute, dinky, Perl Pro earphones. These are far more than just run of the mill in-ears and are therefore definitely worth a whirl. First a bit of commercial context…
Denon has had its fair share of owners over the years, the most recent is Masimo that acquired the brand in 2022. At the time audio writers, bloggers and vloggers across the globe scratched their heads, perplexed as to what a large and very successful “global medical technology company that develops and manufactures innovative non-invasive patient monitoring technologies” would do with a hi-fi brand?
And now we may have the answer. The Denon Perl Pro is the first truly collaborative product using both Denon and Masimo technologies along similar lines that Sennheiser is developing with its owner, hearing specialist Sonova. It’s still early days, but this is exciting territory.
The technology that is being trumpeted as setting the Perl Pros apart from the rest of the crowded earphone market is Masimo’s Adaptive Acoustic Technology (AAT) – an in-earphone technology that can create “a unique hearing profile by playing a range of tones into your ears and measuring very faint sounds called otoacoustic emissions (OAEs), which are produced by the inner ear as a by-product of amplifying sound.”
Using this info, Massimo says that it can determine which frequencies our ears are more or less sensitive to and shape a specific hearing profile by adjusting the sound equalisation levels (bass, mid, and treble in effect) to suit the individual user.
What’s more, you get a choice of three profiles, so you can input from three different people for example – although the thought of swapping earbuds ain’t for me!
All of this is done via the simple, effective Denon Headphone app and takes about a minute for each profile, where you are instructed by a school ma’am voice to ‘sit still and don’t move while the measuring is taking place’ as the sound profiles are formed.
The reality was that I took the three measurements (same conditions each time) and got a different profile each time. In practice, some people may like the profile that ATT is creating for them, others may prefer to ignore this and go for the unadulterated Default option where EQ levels are not fiddled with and remain flat. For me, the success of the ATT profile was music dependant; some tracks sounded great with the profile switched in, on others the flat default setting was preferable but it will all come down to individual taste. The beauty is that you can set up the profiles, then choose to use them or not, so you are not being forced down a route the technology thinks you will like, but it is there as an option.
Each earpod is a little bulkier than some others on the market but that doesn’t affect the fit into the ear and they weigh only a few grams.
The overall sound quality, definition, seamless integration from the low end to the high notes, sound staging and clarity is impressive. This creates a rewarding, non-invasive, effortless listen, a joy in other words, both with the ATT profile in use and on the default mode.
Some tracks sound fabulously full and involving with excellent sound staging and definition with the ATT profile in play, others less so. It would be difficult to ascribe this to a particular genre where it is more apparent, it is more down to the individual recordings.
For example, the dynamic range reproduced by the Perl Pros can be truly revealing; I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here but I’m guessing that Radio 3 In concert listeners are probably not in the target audience for the Perls. Yet the live recordings I experienced were hugely rewarding and revealing in terms of depth, definition and delivery, more so than would be expected from such a tiny pair of transducers.
The same applies to more normal fodder for earphones. Janelle Monae’s Age of Pleasure is a good example, and on a hi-res recording from Tidal and thanks to Hi res Bluetooth with Qualcomm AptX Lossless this is bursting with detail and, erm, pleasure and all the better for listening with the ATT profile.
Having the ‘no processing’ Default setting as an escape route is a blessing at times, however, mainly because I found the amount of low end pushing its way through could be too intrusive. The immersive mode, too, (turning up the bass) also needs a light touch to avoid clobbering the music’s subtleties but, as with all the sound controls, it is a matter of taste. The choice of settings that I enjoyed are pretty irrelevant, the beauty is that there are ample ways of adjusting the sound to suit whatever you want to hear.
I enjoy using these earphones immensely, many aspects are delightful surprises. Sound quality and hi-res definition, noise cancelling, the smooth, uncomplicated operation, impressive connectivity distances, the multipoint connection so you can have two devices connected at the same time, the lengthy play time from a charge, all sit in the “Rewarding” column.
The noise cancelling is nothing short of remarkable. Anyone who travels by air knows what a pain it is to take up half your carry-on luggage with a pair of over-ears (plus case), so I’m delighted to report that for me, a pair of Perles in the pocket did the job every bit as well as the very best over-ears that I’ve tried, leaving wailing infants, engine noise and like for others to endure.
The Perl Pro plus points far outweigh the small niggles that would be so easy to rectify. Comfort is the most notable, exacerbated by the parsimonious choice of ear tips (three pairs of silicon and one pair of foam) – with a £300 price tag for the Perl Pros, Denon should be doing better than that.
To get the best sound, you really need to have the Perls nestled right up against your ear canal and here’s the rub; after a while you feel them, and not in a good way. Better quality tips should nullify this as problem.
I found that there was also an issue with pairing on some equipment. This is extreme, I know – who in reality is going to be listening to wireless earbuds with an amp costing several thousands? But when trying to pair the Perle Pros to the streaming amp via Bluetooth, the volume shot to the max with no control whatsoever. Happily, the Perl Pros worked perfectly well with another, hi-res streamer with excellent results.
We’ll update this point when we get an answer from the amp manufacturer about why this may have happened.
The Denon Perl Pros have so many good features, it seems petty to bring up the less complimentary. But the price tag is £300 so we can’t tuck them away. On the very positive side is the sound quality, ease of use, the provision of hi-res Bluetooth AptX and the ease of tailoring the sound to your taste. Plus, the noise cancelling which really is up there with the best and should not be underestimated for its efficiency.
But the comfort level may be an issue for some and that may be simply fixed by some better, softer ear tips.
Mahler’s Symphony No 3 Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra,
From BBC Radio 3 In concert
This live concert delivered plenty of low-end excitement from this huge, noisy symphony, with excellent placement of the instruments and an overall captivating sound, with just a smidge of “immersive mode” to help things along.
Taylor Swift Is It Over Now? (Taylor's Version)
2023 was quite a year for the billionaire, Time Magazine person of the year. Re-released 1989 (Taylor’s Version) features this extra, multi-layered track that needs ‘Immersion mode’ dialled to ‘low’ to avoid the booming bass dominating the wonderfully expressive lyrics of yet another failed romance
Augusto Pablo Rockers Rock
What a way to kick of 2024, a cracking comp: Soul Jazz Records presents 200% dynamite. No lack of thump and rhythm, great soundstage and even a few corny drifts from right to left ear makes it all the more enjoyable. Not the greatest of recordings but an example of the Perles’ rare ability to deliver a listenable result from almost anything
The excellent noise cancelling facility makes these in-ears a great travelling companion to cut out the noise from the rest of the world. The ability to tailor the sound to suit your ears is appealing as is the exceptionally high level of sound quality and simple, ease of use