Review: Denon DRA395 Stereo Receiver

Category: Amplifiers

If you’re shopping for a stereo receiver under $1000 - - or even if you’re shopping for an integrated amp in that price range - - you should have a close look at Denon’s DRA395.
In the past ten years, I’ve had receivers from Sony ES, Yamaha, Teac and Pioneer Elite. I’ve also had integrated amps and separates from Rotel, Acurus and Antique Sound Labs. And despite its low price, the Denon DRA395 is the most enjoyable musical product I’ve ever owned. It’s particularly attractive if, like me, you need to conserve space or are simply tired of looking at racks full of components.

At $349, the DRA395 offers 80 watts of power and binding posts for two sets of speakers. It has an excellent tuner, a killer moving magnet phono stage and plenty of inputs and outputs. Best of all, it has a headphone jack that offers performance damn close (but different in character) to that of my Creek OBH-11 headphone amp. Plus, you can control the speaker and headphone volume via remote control, and in terms of convenience, that more than makes up for the Denon’s few shortcomings in headphone performance.


The Denon DRA295 is a nice entry-level receiver with a 50wpc amp section and a remote, but no phono stage. It costs $249, and for your bedroom or office, I can’t imagine a better deal. The top of the range DRA685 will run you $499, and it offers 100 strong watts of power in a substantial chassis with a phono section. Because I have a small condo, I chose the DRA395, which occupies the middle ground.

The DRA395 has multi-room capability, a feature I’ll probably never use, but that might be of interest to people looking for an affordable whole-house entertainment system. If you only need sound in two rooms, the second set of speakers terminals will probably suffice. The DRA395 comes with a flimsy remote, but it controls nearly every feature, even allowing you to switch speakers.

I didn’t open up the DRA395, but a peek through the vents in the case revealed a nice power supply and convincing heat sinks. It looks like op-amps are used liberally, which would explain how Denon can offer a good phono stage and headphone jack at such a low price. Of course, even higher-priced integrateds like the $499 Rotel RA-02, which I also auditioned, use op-amps in their phono sections. (Credit Denon for offering a phono section at all, let alone three models of stereo receivers in this age of home theater.)


After letting the Denon break in for a few hours, I started by listening to CDs. But it wasn’t until I spun some LPs that I got a real sense of appreciation for Denon’s accomplishment with the DRA395. This is easily the best phono section I’ve ever heard on a modern receiver. It’s warm, smooth and detailed. It’s let down only slightly by the amp section which, as you can imagine, doesn’t play music with the conviction and drive of separates or a quality integrated amp. The trade off is that the Denon is easy to listen to for a long time. It’s not a bully, but rather, a warm, fuzzy teddy bear of a receiver.

On my Sheffield Lab direct-to-disc pressing of Prokofiev’s “Romeo & Juliet,” the sound was full, creamy-smooth and nuanced. Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” was zippy and fun, from beginning to end. There was no shrillness, harshness or bitterness to speak of.

I have only two issues with the phono stage, both easily forgivable. First, the Denon tends to emphasize sibilance on recordings with an excess of it, like Peter Gabriel’s “So” and the 180-gram Pope Music pressing of Lori Lieberman’s “House of Whispers.” (Listening to the song “Switzerland” has been an endurance test, no matter which combination of turntable, arm, cartridge, phono stage, amp and speakers I’ve used.) The second problem is that surface noise and imperfections are more forward than with the MM/MC phono section in my Rotel preamp, and also my standalone Rotel phono stage. But the overall performance of the Denon with LPs was so satisfying, I have no desire to add an outboard phono stage.


At first, I was disappointed with the Denon’s sound when playing CDs. Then I realized it wasn’t the Denon so much as my source. My $249 Pioneer DV-563A universal disc player costs 1/3 what my analog rig does. No wonder CDs sounded a bit thin in comparison to CD.

The Denon/Pioneeer combo, however, exhibited a sweet midrange that made it a pleasure listening to the sublimely recorded strings on Nickel Creek’s self-titled debut and their follow-up, “This Side.” The piano notes on Bill Evans’ “The Paris Concert” (volumes one and two) suffered a bit, but remember, these performances were originally recorded for one-time radio broadcast, not LP or CD release. However, the Paavo Jarvi/Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performance of Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique” on Telarc was spectacular.

Rock music sounded a little brittle and compressed sometimes, like Neil Young’s “Greendale” and various Rolling Stones ABCKO SACDs. However, the recent Peter Gabriel SACD reissues (“Us” and “Plays Live” in particular) were very exciting, with heart-thumping dynamics. With a better CD source, I have no doubt the Denon would have sounded even more pleasing.


If the Denon DRA-395 were a tuner alone, I’d be happy with it. I’m not an avid radio listener, but I can’t live without a tuner, either. Though the Denon doesn’t match the sensitivity of my old analog Yamaha and Marantz tuners, it destroys digital units I’ve had from Yamaha (late 80s) and Philips (early 90s). I don’t listen to AM, but on FM, it sounds great, and it locks onto distant stations like a vise. Noise rejection is impressive, too. And there are more presets than available stations, at least in my neighborhood. It should be noted that the Denon does this with the meager FM wire antenna that is supplied free of charge. My expectations were exceeded by a good measure.


You don’t need easy to drive cans with the Denon. The headphone amp in the DRA395 easily drove my 300-ohm Sennheiser HD580 cans with authority. The sound was highly resolved, whether the source as LP, CD or tuner.

My Creek OBH-11 (with OBH-2 power supply) is lean and accurate with a great midrange - - very British in character. The Denon, by comparison, was somewhat soft and less detailed, but more forgiving (only slightly, though). It’s almost tube-like, in fact, putting out euphoric sound. And, after using the Creek for about six months, it was a pleasure to have remote volume control capability with the Denon. Now, I can load up my Philips CD changer and listen for hours without having to get up and adjust the levels when I switch CDs. I enjoy the Denon so much, in fact, I just sold the Creek.


If you’re a purist, you won’t like the Denon. Plus, it doesn’t have the “audiophile” sonic signature (which I interpret as cold and unforgiving). It’s a softie, with slightly rolled-off highs and plump bass. Also, it has tone controls and a loudness feature, which some people abhor (both of which are defeatable, and I found no use for either). But, unlike a high-end integrated amp, the Denon can serve as the heart of a simple two-channel home theater system. That’s how I use it.

It’s a great feeling knowing you got more than you paid for. Sure, the Denon isn’t perfect. But my living room looks a hell of a lot better since I got it. It replaced no less than SIX boxes: amp, preamp, phono stage, tuner, headphone amp and headphone amp power supply.

The Denon also plays music in a way I wasn’t used to. It doesn’t demand your attention, but it appeals to your senses. You can immerse yourself in a book and not feel the need to turn off the music. On the other hand, the Denon’s easy listenability makes long LP marathons an engaging experience. Turn off the lights and turn it up, or close your eyes and put on your headphones, and you’ll be immersed in some very pleasant sounds.

The Denon recreates atmosphere particularly well. (Just listen to Bucky Pizzarelli’s “Swing Live” on SACD, or the Mobile Fidelity LP of Wes Montgomery’s “Bumpin’” to see what I mean. The Denon may not always get the music exactly right, but it’s great at telegraphing the space in which it was originally recorded.) Oh, and by the way, it reproduces movie soundtracks with clarity and authority. It’s all I need as far as home theater goes.

Maybe my hearing is going. But whatever is happening, I like it.

Associated gear
Denon DRA-395 stereo receiver with MM phono section
Rega P2 turntable (with P3 glass platter and None-Felt mat)
Denon DL-160 moving coil cartridge
Pioneer DV-563A universal disc player
Philips CDR-785 CD Recorder
ProAc Tablette 2000 loudspeakers
Radio Shack MegaCable 16-gauge speaker wire (bi-wired)
Various Kimber, Audioquest and MonsterCable interconnects
MonsterPower HTS2500 Power Center
AudioQuest MC cartridge demagnetizer
Record Doctor II record cleaning machine
Sennheiser HD580 Precision headphones
Sony ProAudio MDR-7506 studio monitor headphones

Similar products
Various stereo and HT receivers from Sony ES, Pioneer Elite, Yamaha, Teac and others
Seperates and integrated amps from Rotel, Acurus, Antique Sound Labs and Creek
One doesn't have to be a "purist" or "audiophile" to not like Denon equipment. Just an opinion.

Nice review. I have always been a big fan of receivers and have two vintage Marantz receivers in use in my apartment; one serves as a bedroom receiver and the other is used as a tuner in my main system. I had owned an earlier incarnation of the DRA 295 for years and thought that it was just super. I had wondered how the Denon line fared when production moved from Japan to China (DRA's 295 & 395) and Korea (DRA 685) ... it seems to be OK. I also think that you did very well mating the Denon with Radio Shack mega-cable ... a great product that gets no respect ... just like their mega line of interconnects. Had you considered the Yamaha 396/496/596? They seem like quality receivers as well.

Regards, Rich
I didn't mean to suggest that purists would automatically reject Denon receivers specifically in some closed-minded way. I was referring to all receivers in general, not just Denon’s, and by extension I suppose, the more full-featured separates from companies like McIntosh. Tone controls, stereo/mono switches and the like just don’t mesh with some peoples’ philosophies on audio design, and that’s fine; their objections are well founded. There’s no absolute right or wrong approach, just whatever enhances your enjoyment of the music. When I said purists wouldn’t necessarily appreciate the Denon, I just wanted to warn anyone with certain sensibilities that they'll be sacrificing a certain amount of resolution and tautness in exchange for the Denon’s convenience and features.

As for the Yamaha receiver line, it was initially near the top of my shopping list. But unfortunately, I don't have a good Yamaha dealer nearby (except for the chain stores, which don't stock the Yamaha two-channel line, only their HT receivers). It should be noted that the Yamahas don’t include a phono stage – surprising, I think, since Kenwood, Harman Kardon, Sony ES and others include phono capability on many of their receivers. HK even touts it in their advertising. So I tend to support companies that remain committed to offering above-average phono capability for two reasons: (a) I still think LPs, in general, offer sound quality that’s equal to or better than CD, and (b) receivers are a good starting point for budding audiophiles, who might be persuaded to try a garage-sale turntable, but only if they don’t have to invest in a separate phono stage – an option they might not even be aware of. Call it a crusade, but I love that Denon still offers above-average turntables and great MC cartridges. Given that I’m also very fond of the Denon house sound, it’s a line I plan to stick with whenever I find myself in the position of needing reasonably priced, full-featured gear.

And a side note for those building their first system: I’ve listened to and purchased Denon gear from two terrific dealers: Sounds & Images in Linwood, NJ and Audio Classics in Vestal, NY. Instead of calling Crutchfield, I suggest that you’d be much better off (if you’re within driving distance) to give either of these guys a call. At both places, you’ll be able to compare Denon products with comparable products (like NAD or Rotel) and also much higher-priced lines to see if the difference in sound quality is worth the added investment. You may walk out the door with a $349 receiver and an ear-to-ear smile. Or, you might instead discover that spending $2,000 or more on separates is perfectly reasonable. I’ve bought at both ends of the spectrum and in my experience, both stores will happily accommodate you and steer you toward the stuff that’s right for you, not necessarily the stuff with the highest price tags.
Hey, I shop at Sounds and Images also. I purchased a 395 for the bedroom/whole house background music system from Brad about a year ago.

Good luck,
I wanted to hook up one of these with the audio output to feed a Klipsch Promedia 2.1 speaker system.

Any details on the stereo outputs? quantity?

A cheap solution to control the volume from the satellite receiver.

Feeding the audio through the TV output sounds terrible.

There are two sets of speaker outputs and a single-channel subwoofer output. There are also two additional sets of stereo outputs strictly for multi-room applications. Because there is no stereo pre-out, this model may not work for you.

You may want to look at the DRA-295 instead, which is $100 cheaper, if you're going to be using it strictly as a preamp to feed a powered speaker system. It has no phono input and lower power output, but does provide a stereo pre-out. Good luck!
I/m having problems with my Denon DRA 395. The sound creeps up to the max all by itself almost blowing out the speakers. I have it hooked up to a Sony muli-disk Cd/DVD changer. HELP!!
I am a music lover first. Here is very close to my bedroom system. It has me starting my usual midnight listening secessions. You know the ones were you start at midnight until dawn. Because you love the music. The grado headphones are purely musical and detailed without listener fatigue.

Last Call System:
I have a denon dcd 1560 & denon dra 35av & grado SR-80’s in my bedroom system

My 1st Martini System:
My main system is Thiel 2.3’s, pass labs x-350, x-2, sony scd-1, theta gen 5a, Harm Tech Pro Silway II, Pro-9

Musically satisfied
I've always believed in seeking value in modest price points. Case in point, I use a Denon DRA295 and a faithful, but beat up pair of PSB Alpha's in my home office. My only source is my PC, for both music files and internet radio. And for it's purpose, it's more than good enough.
Recently a Denon DRA 395 came my way via the trade in route. Customer moving into separates.

All things considered this is one of the finest modern contemporary receivers on the market today. With that being said construction,build quality and overall sonics, the Denon DRA 395 falls far short of the receivers built from 1975 to 1985, during the so-called stereo wars of that era.

A few days later did a side by side evaluation with the Denon DRA 395 to one of audios great receivers the NAD 7080, and was later evaluated with a Rotel RX 803 receiver.

Although these vintage units are 28 to 24 years in service now. The differences were astounding. These vintage receivers are all descrete topolgy, no opamps or chips were used in the construction of the vintage units. Sonically that is where the vintage units have a clear edge over the DRA 395. The phono section of the DRA 395, was no match for the vintage units.

I totally agree with Ed on his initial observations on the Denon DRA 395 and this follow up is not to disparage his evaluation.

It is heartwarming to see a decent new 2 channel receiver, such as the Denon DRA 395 today. And at its price point is a serious contender in the 2 channel receiver category and should be on anyones short list,looking for a new receiver.It is hard to fault the Denon with its caveats taken into consideration.

Price wise may not have been a fair comparison as the NAD 7080 sold for $649.00 in 1978 and the Rotel RX 803 sold for $550.00 in 1982. So when adjusted for inflation the price differential is substantial over the DRA 395.

However after the shoot out here, the Denon DRA 395 cannot contend with the vintage units in overall sonic siganture,build,construction and parts used. For as far as we have come since the vintage units were new, it seems that current 2 channel receivers are not on par the golden oldies. Part of the reason is that the competition in the 2 channel category is not as intense today as it was during the stereo wars.

Several fellow audiophiles that came over during this evaluation all commented on the sonic excellence of the NAD 7080 and Rotel RX 803, plus the fit, finish, and construction. In all honesty was expecting a better performance from the DRA 395. As I am a fan of Denon products, in fact using their DMD 1300 Mini Disc Deck, now which I am more than impressed with.

No doubt the DRA 395 will more than fit the need of budding audiophiles or those looking for a cost efficient second system where space is of prime importance.

I agree with Ed on the DRA 395, however when compared to the vintage units in the market place, it does fall short of expectations.
I have to say the evaluation of the DRA-395 is spot on. This review brought back fond memories for me as my first foray into better sounding, audiophile oriented amplification was the 395's predecessor the DRA-375. Up until that time I had never had the money for a better system and had used mass market minisystems (yuck!).
I knew there was better equipment, but the prices I saw in the audio magazines kept me away from those fancy hi-fi salons. So, while checking out minisystems at a big box store, I came across a Denon minisystem that included Mission speakers -- the sound was soooo much better than anything else on display that it stuck with me.
Spurred on by the sound of the Denon/Mission minisystem, I was able to find the DRA-375 online at a really low price. I mated it with Mission 701 speakers and a Harman/Kardon CD player (also cheap online purchases). Pretty darn good sound for a very cheap - sub $400 - system (about half what the Denon minisystem would have cost me at the box store). Listening to HDCD's through that system is what really turned me into an audiophile - god help me!
I have had the DRA-375 in pretty much constant use since then (more than six years) in a variety of settings, and it has never disappointed me. Currently, it serves as the heart of my 2-channel "home theater" system which includes the Mission 701's, a Pioneer DVD/SACD player, and Sennheiser HD495 headphones (for late-night movie watching). I still greatly enjoy this system on a regular basis -- it stomps all the HTIB systems my non-audiophile friends are always so eager to show off just after purchase and then gradually stop listening to in six months (Gee, wonder why that is? Yeah man, that DSP mode really does make it sound like we're watching Harry Potter in a church! Yahoooo! ;).
If you're looking for a convenient, flexible, reliable stereo receiver that features good sound at a very fair price, you'd be hard-pressed to do better than a Denon.
I purchased this unit used so I assume it is thoroughly broken it.

I find the sound compressed, struggling to opening up, and lacking subtle detail that adds to a refined sound, but it is a dynamic and punchy amplifier. FM listening lacks the involvement compared to CD playback, probably because of the budget tuner pack that is installed in it. I assume this sound quality is what you can expect from a budget receiver. Its sound reminds me of the Pioneer Elite A35R integrated amp.

For its price it is a nice product for a budget TV, DVD, CD playback system, and I have it mated with the Denon DVD-1930ci which is quite good source for the money.

I'd like here others impressions of this product compared to NAD and Rotels comparable receiver.