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Denon Ceol Carino review - Hands on with the PC-friendly Bluetooth micro system

Tom Morgan
3 Jun 2014
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Denon's latest micro system is built specifically for desktop PCs, but the Ceol Carino is a capable performer by itself thanks to aptX Bluetooth and NFC pairing

Denon's roots may be firmly in AV Receivers, but the company's latest mini system is aimed at the home office rather than the home cinema. The Ceol Carino is a stereo micro system designed specifically for PCs, with a dedicated USB DAC and all the wired and wireless connections you would want for music, film and games. Denon revealed the system at its annual press and dealer showcase earlier today, giving us the chance to listen to it ahead of launch in order to bring you some first impressions.

Taking design inspiration from Denon's existing Ceol mini systems, the Carino looks stylishly minimal in both its black and white colour options. Both are finished in glossy plastic, which is usually a magnet for fingerprints, although the models we saw looked relatively fingerprint-free after a morning of demonstrations. The front-facing control panel is finished in black on both models, with a contrasting white OLED display which illuminates the touch-sensitive volume dial when you raise or lower the volume. There are also toggles for the Wide Sound virtual surround and Auto Volume Adjust normalisation, giving balance when watching YouTube videos with wildly contrasting volumes.

Denon Ceol Carino

Able to sit either vertically or horizontally, the Ceol Carino should easily fit on a computer desk - either underneath or to the side of your monitor. It's a shame the interface icons are labelled for horizontal use, as they look slightly odd when turned on their side, but the OLED display and circular volume dial correctly orient themselves should you decide to rotate the system. Taking up roughly the same amount of space as a DVD box, even the smallest desks should be able to make room for it.

Denon Ceol Carino

Around the back of the system, push-pin speaker connections make it easy to connect or swap out speakers should you want to upgrade to a different stereo pair. A switch tuns the DSP presets on or off; Denon told us it should be used with the bundled speakers, but switched off if you're using your own speakers. As well as a single 3.5mm audio input, the Carino also has a USB-B input for direct connection to a computer. Whether you plug the system into a PC or Mac, you won't need any drivers; the Ceol Carino works natively with both Windows and OS X. There's also a headphone output on the front of the system, should you want to use the USB DAC without waking up the rest of the house - ideal for late night gaming sessions.

Denon Ceol Carino

You won't need to worry about wires when listening to music from a smartphone or tablet, as the Carino has aptX Bluetooth streaming support. Pairing is simple too thanks to Near Field Communications (NFC) connectivity.

The compact stereo speakers have dual-angle stands that let you tilt the drivers towards you when sat at a desk, or pointing straight outwards to pump sound into a room, but the difference isn't huge so we aren't convinced it will make any major impact on the listening experience. Built-in cable management lets you keep wires under control too. Each one as a 25w full-range speaker driver and passive bass radiator, which is refreshingly powerful for a mini system designed primarily for PC users. Denon has sensibly included a subwoofer pre-out on the back of the system in case you want more bass than the bundled speakers can provide.

Denon Ceol Carino

We were able to put the Carino to the test using a few of our reference tracks from a paired smartphone, and walked away impressed by its volume and clarity. Vocal and acoustic tracks were clear and precise, while bass-heavy tracks had a suitably meaty sound. We're confident it will cope well with action sequences in games and films. We'll have to wait until we get a system into the office to see how the virtual surround sound mode works, although we doubt it will take the place of a pair of headphones for gamers looking to get the drop on their enemies.

The Ceol Carino is set to launch later this month in the UK for £299, in a choice of black or white colours. Considering most PC speakers cost less than £100 you'll have to insist on high quality sound in order to justify the price, but we think it could be worth it based on our early first impressions. We're hoping to get one into the office for more in-depth testing in the coming weeks, but in the meantime if you're looking for a new PC speaker system, you can find more information on the official Denon website.

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