T3: Denon’s CEOL network music system effectively consigns the concept of traditional hi-fi to history. In both form and function, this mini is transformative. The CEOL (pronounced kee-ohl) comprises the one-piece RCD-N7 network CD receiver and matching SC-N7 standmount speakers. You can grab both for £530-£600, although if you have speakers you wish to stick with, the RCD-N7 can be purchased solo for up to £500.
The RCD-N7 has an easy to accommodate footprint, but is well appointed. The rear of the unit offers two pairs of substantial binding posts, plus FM/AM tuner connections, an optical digital audio and two auxiliary phono stereo inputs and Ethernet. There’s also a subwoofer output, which may be of use of you opt to buy the bundled SC-N7 speakers.
The fascia features a centre-mounted CD tray and 3-line OLED display. While monochromatic, this is bright enough to read across a large room. On the left front is a USB reader, while on the roof is a concealed iPod/iPhone dock.
The CEOL is a snap to use, despite its sophistication. Just select your chosen audio source by cycling through the dedicated button on the front panel or access it direct via the elegant remote. Once online, the system found all my DLNA devices without issue. File support is excellent. In addition to vanilla-flavoured MP3, the unit can play WMA, WAV, AAC, OGG and FLAC files.
Denon Ceol: Features
With integrated Wi-Fi and LAN, the RCD-N7 can be coaxed onto a home network with the minimum of effort. Internet Radio allows you to browse (good luck with that) the thousands of net radio stations available, many of which offer surprisingly good audio quality. There’s also support for Napster and Last.fm, plus an FM/AM radio should you need it. Oh yes, it also plays CDs.
The CEOL’s biggest party trick though is AirPlay. This is the first hi-fi system to support Apple’s wireless replay system, and once upgraded (a meagre £39) you can stream direct from iTunes on your Mac or PC, or via an iPhone 3GS/4, iPad or iPod Touch. AirPlay allows you to simultaneously stream to as many as six pairs of speakers, although you can’t select a different musical output for different speakers.
While there are several of audio alternatives that do very similar things, the simplicity of AirPlay has a lot going for it. Just select a compatible device from the AirPlay icon on iTunes, pick a Playlist and stream it. I fully expected some installation hassles, but had none.
Denon CEOL: Sound quality
The CEOL is a great sounding music system for the price. Beneath the hood, Denon’s engineers have employed a ‘simple & straight’ circuit design for the N7 which uses the shortest possible signal path for the greatest sonic integrity. CD playback has a grace that is immediately appealing, while high resolution FLAC files sound fabulous. The balance is perfect for pop, rock and dance; it’s like listening to ice cream.
There may have been minor delays rolling out AirPlay software for the CEOL but it was worth the wait. Its integration within the iTune ecosystem is seamless and the result is a multi-room audio solution that challenges Sonos for ease of use. CEOL + Airplay = happiness. One day, all hi-fi systems will work this way.
Denon CEOL launch date: Out now
Denon CEOL price: £530-£600 for entire system, £470-£500 RCD N7, £39 for Airplay upgrade