Computer audio is an area that often goes overlooked with a lot of us making do with poor desktop speakers or the built-in speakers of our laptops. These speakers can often deliver weak sound quality and the problem is further compounded by poor soundcards and DACs on most motherboards.
The Denon CEOL Carino is a computer audio system that aims to tackle this problem by working as a USB digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) to take the audio processing away from the system. It uses asynchronous USB that is superior to regular USB data transfer for audio as the timing is controlled by the Carino’s DAC, meaning data is ‘pulled’ rather than ‘pushed’ from the system. This means the Carino has full control over processing timing, reducing output jitter and distortion.
The CEOL Carino consists of a main control unit and two small speakers. It comes in a choice of either black or white, and the white model we reviewed looks smart and classy. The main control unit is about the size of a hardback book and can be stood either horizontally or vertically if you’re short on desk space. It comes with a stand that can be used in either orientation.
The two speakers are cube shaped with a large black grille on the front and these also come with stands that angle the speakers upwards, helping to open up the sound. These are wired to the central unit with speaker wires that come pre-attached to the speakers. There’s an integrated cable winder in the base of the speaker stands that can help take care excess wiring. You use push terminals on the control unit to connect the other end of speaker wires and these will be familiar to anyone who has set up loudspeakers or surround sound speakers and a nod to Denon’s audiophile heritage.
The front of the control unit has touch sensitive buttons for swapping audio sources, turning on the wide soundstage mode and the normalised volume mode. There’s a circular touch-based volume control wheel that uses small LEDs to indicate volume and the lights follow your finger as you circle the touch sensitive area with your finger. It’s an incredibly fun and stylish-looking effect. There’s a small display that indicates the volume in numbers that changes as you rotate. The display also shows you what mode the speaker is in. Thoughtfully, the display rotates based on the unit’s orientation.
You’re also able to connect to the speaker through Bluetooth and it uses the less-lossy aptX codec for superior sound quality. There’s also a handy NFC contact point on the front of the control unit for quick pairing and a headphone port on the front for when you need to keep the noise down.
On the back of the unit are the four terminals for connecting the speakers and a USB-A connection for connecting to your computer. A USB-A to regular USB cable is included. There’s also a subwoofer out connection for connecting a subwoofer if you find the bass lacking, more on this later. Finally, there’s an auxiliary 3.5mm connection for connecting your wired audio devices. As the CEOL Carino uses conventional speaker terminals, you could connect your own loudspeakers and the built-in amplifier supports speakers between 6-16 ohms. There’s a ‘Speaker Optimization’ switch that should be set to ‘On’ when standard speakers are connected, as this puts the amplifier in a specially calibrated mode customised to the speakers. Set it to off if you connect your own.
Remote and Sound Quality
Denon provides a convenient small form factor remote control that lets you adjust volume, change source and turn on some of the features such as the wide soundstage mode. The remote was a useful and convenient inclusion. It comes in black regardless of which model you opt for, however.
We were disappointed by the speaker’s production of lower frequencies, with the bass particularly lacking any presence or delivery. It sounded particularly weak during our hip hop test tracks and this transferred across to other genres of music as well. If you want any real bass impact you’ll want to connect a separate subwoofer.
Mids and trebles at least fared better but overall sound was still somewhat muddy. During our instrumental test tracks, in particular, the sound lacked the crispness we were expecting of speakers at this price point. We found the wide soundstage mode did enhance the width of the sound but we also felt it made the audio sound flatter as a side effect. The maximum volume was respectably loud.
The CEOL Carino has a beautiful design and as an entire package it’s very well put together. The controls are a delight to use and it has thoughtful design features like the integrated cable tidy. The main control unit is easy to use and we loved the touch controls. Being able to use the speakers with your Bluetooth devices is also handy. We were just a little disappointed by the sound quality that we felt should have been better considering the Carino’s high price tag and Denon’s reputation.