Denon CEOL Piccolo review

Denon's CEOL Piccolo is quite unlike anything else the company offers. It throws out the CD drive to save on size and a lot of the conventional connectivity that you find on bigger AV receivers. 

Instead what you get is a thoroughly modern way of powering your hi-fi. The CEOL has a 30-pin iPhone dock on the top, full Spotify, Last.fm and AirPlay connectivity and the ability to playback even the highest quality of audio formats.

Design

Denon is well known for its micro systems. The company tends to keep it simple in the looks department, yet turns out very well refined and nice looking products. The Piccolo is definitely no exception. It's small,  really small. Think of it like a stack of about five DVD cases and you get the idea. Because the Piccolo lives up to its Italian name it can fit pretty much anywhere. Sizing up at 180 x 90 x 234mm and weighing just 2.4kg, makes it very easy to move about. Despite being designed to take up as little space as possible, it looks so good in gloss black, with an iPhone stuck in the top, that we really wanted to put it in pride of place in our listening room.

The front of the Piccolo lacks any actual buttons, with the majority of controls sitting on top of the receiver and on the remote. To get the iPhone dock open you need simply to tap the top of the Picollo, a bit like how you might open an old tape player. Then you can slot your phone straight in. It was nice to see as well that the Piccolo doesn't have any issues with the iPhone 5 and its Lightning adapter, seating the phone perfectly in the dock.

The LCD display on the front is nice and bright and easy to read. It's also fairly well laid out, boasting detailed graphics that go beyond the usual AV receiver look. The same can be said for the remote, which is nicely put together and simple to use. We like that Denon has done something different with the LCD display, especially on a less-premium product like the Piccolo, which is less of a talking point than a big old AV receiver.

Connections on the back are easy to access and the Piccolo never froze or had issues with connecting to our iPhone, firing up the moment we dropped it into the connecter. The Piccolo easily lives up to Denon's design heritage.

The App

The main reason for the Piccolo's size is that most of its functionality is controlled via Denon's own remote app, or by the remote itself. The Denon Remote App isn't without its problems. Functionality is good, but stability can be an issue. One look at both Google Play and iTunes and you can see plenty of complaints about battery issues and the app forgetting settings and locking up. We didn't experience these problems, but clearly others have. That said, Denon has pushed out an update for the app fairly recently, which might mean the bugs have been fixed. 

Issues aside, Denon's remote app is very good. It allows you to control the Piccolo's functions pretty much entirely from your iPhone. Once paired, you can just push tracks from your music app straight to the receiver. You can also control things like volume, and even different zones and Blu-ray players, should you have other Denon devices paired to the app. Simple but effective and a nice way to justify the Piccolo's otherwise stripped-back approach to physical controls.

Sound quality

For such a small receiver, the Piccolo can pack quite a punch. A pair of 65W channels is more than enough to power a small set of bookshelf speakers, but don't expect the Denon to drive a serious hi-fi system.

The Piccolo gets brownie points for the different formats it supports. The device can playback MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC 192/24, WAV 192/24 and ALAC all direct from USB. For iPod and iPhone lovers this is a serious bonus and if you happen to have a meaty USB key hanging around, can be handy also, especially if you like FLAC files.

The receiver puts out 320kbps tracks from Spotify. The result is a nice and balanced sound, which isn't going to stun audiophiles but makes total sense when paired with online music-streaming services. It's ease of use and the near-instant playback that the Piccolo is all about, yet still it can turn out decent sound despite being so small.

Verdict

The Piccolo strikes us as the perfect alternative to the Apple TV. Think of it like a beefed up version of conventional media streamers, with decent sound quality and a highly reasonable price tag.

Denon's decision to include decent audio quality is merely a bonus and we like the UI that the Piccolo itself uses. It would be nice to see some of the reportedapp issues fixed, although we didn't experience any. And ideal audio streaming solution for those who want a subtle separates system that doesn't take up too much room.