DAC Reviews

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Michael Lavorgna Posted: Apr 21, 2016 10 comments
NAS/Music Server/Streamer/CD Ripper/DAC/Headphone Amp
I'm sure some will want more, but that's a lot of functionality fit inside one relatively small box. The Bluesound Vault 2 makes computer audio easy—a one box solution for all of your computer audio needs. No need to fret about which NAS to buy, what streamer, which DAC and headphone amp, and there's no need for a computer. You will need a tablet for remote control and a love of music to make it all work as intended.
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Michael Lavorgna Posted: Feb 18, 2016 16 comments
Trickle Down
John Atkinson praised the dCS Vivaldi stack (114,496) in his Measurements section of Michael Fremer's review; "Without any doubt, this was the best digital playback I have experienced." and "When I measured the company's earlier four-box system, the Scarlatti, in 2009, I concluded that it offered 'state-of-the-art measured performance.' The Vivaldi improves on the Scarlatti's performance in almost every way. Wow!" The dCS Rossini DAC inherits a number of things from the Vivaldi including the dCS Digital Processing Platform.
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Michael Lavorgna Posted: Feb 11, 2016 8 comments
Engineering Cred
Ed Meitner, the man behind EMM Labs, has some serious engineering credentials. These include a number of patents and a few decades' worth of product design and innovation including preampfification, amplification, and all things digital (like the Meitner Intelligent Digital Audio Translator (IDAT) digital processor from 1993). I owned and enjoyed the Museatex Meitner STR55 Stereo Amp back in the '90s when I was living the life of an IT guy by day and loft-living painter by night in NYC. I can still remember loving the ST55's design and sound, a nice change from the behemoths populating the floors of high-end shops like immovable metal heat generating odes to speaker design gone awry.
Steven Plaskin Posted: Dec 30, 2015 22 comments
The Ayre Acoustics Codex is the newest DAC to be released from this well known high end manufacturer located in Boulder, Colorado. Some might initially conclude that the Codex is a stripped-down version of the more expensive Ayre QB-9 DSD DAC, but they would be wrong. The Codex was derived from the design of the audio circuitry for the PonoPlayer that utilized Ayre’s best technology that would fit into a battery-operated device. But the Codex goes far beyond just being a DAC; it provides a first-class headphone amplifier that Ayre claims can drive most any headphone on the market. Also present is a front-panel volume control that operates in the digital domain and retains a full 24 bits of resolution (144 dB of dynamic range all the way down to an attenuation level of -60db).
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Michael Lavorgna Posted: Dec 24, 2015 10 comments
Extreme NOS
The Metrum Acoustics Pavane is the company's flagship DAC. Like the recently reviewed and well loved Musette (see review), the Pavane relies on Metrum's own Transient R2R ladder DAC One modules to convert Ds to As. While the Musette uses two, the Pavane employs a total of eight DAC modules, four per channel. Unlike the Musette, the digital data feeding those DAC chips passes through the company's FPGA-resident "forward correction module". What's it correcting?
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Michael Lavorgna Posted: Dec 17, 2015 3 comments
There's More Than One Way To Skin A DAC
PS Audio's new NuWave DSD DAC has taken some engineering cues from the company's much-loved DirectStream DAC (see review). While the NuWave does not house the same FPGA-based processing as found in its larger and more costly sibling, it does house a complex programmable logic device (CPLD), a device that sits between a programmable logic device (PAL) and a field programmable gate array (FPGA) in terms of complexity. The CPLD in the NuWave is tasked with one important job; take the incoming bits from the XMOS-based USB receiver and other digital inputs and pass it along to the 32-bit ESS Hyperstream DAC corrected; "discovers sample rate and format, reclocks all incoming data, reduces jitter, waveshapes data output to the DAC chip, and utilizes high speed/low gate count logic to reduce propagation delay for faster throughput". The CLPD accomplishes this in what the company calls "Native Mode" meaning there's no sample rate conversion employed. After the DAC, a passive filter is applied in the analog output stage.
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Michael Lavorgna Posted: Dec 10, 2015 7 comments
Getting A NOS DAC
Let's agree up front that many Non-Oversampling (NOS) DACs do not perform well under certain test parameters. Aperture effect, which amounts to less than linear frequency response at the extremes, and less than ideal jitter performance (as typically measured) being the more egregious problems, on paper. We have to ask ourselves, why would anyone bother making a NOS DAC? The answer is some people really enjoy the way they sound.
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Michael Lavorgna Posted: Oct 30, 2015 6 comments
A Rega Story
Back in the early '90s, I was on the hunt for a new CD player. I was intrigued by the Rega Planet for the same reason everyone else was; Rega built turntables and they waited years before entering the CD market with a player they felt sounded analog. Since CDs never really scratched my musical itch very well, this was music to my ears.
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Michael Lavorgna Posted: Oct 15, 2015 26 comments
Data in, Analog out. What could be simpler.
Our phones have DACs. Our computers have DACs. Digital to Analog converts are a dime a dozen (literally in some cases) so why the hell would we want to spend around $10k on a DAC? The answer—quality of life.
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Michael Lavorgna Posted: Sep 10, 2015 12 comments
"But Grandmother! What big tubes you have," said Little Red Riding Hood
Warsaw Poland's LamizatOr (What is LAMPIZATOR? It is a play on Polish Lampa (vacuum tube) and Terminator) is the brain child of Lukasz Fikus and his DACs have been causing a buzz in the computer audio world for years. What's the buzz? They sound really good. The Lite 7 DSD DAC is a pared down version of LamitzatOr's Big 7 DAC. The Big 7's tube rectifier and chokes are gone and super premium parts like the Big 7's Jupiter Copper Wax output capacitors are replaced with the less costly Jupiter AM series. The idea with the Lite 7 is to deliver The Big 7's directly heated triode sound for roughly half the price of admission.
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Michael Lavorgna Posted: Sep 03, 2015 13 comments
(Rick) Deckard
The main character in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner from Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is named Rick Deckard. Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies so I could not disassociate typing or saying "Deckard" from thinking of the film. Phew. I got that off my mind. Audeze is, for anyone not living on planet headphone, a maker of some very well regarded 'phones. I have a pair of their LCD-X here for use with their Deckard Headphone Amplifier/DAC and I've been living with this combo, on my desktop, for a few months. My first thought when listening through the Deckard was—they should have charged more.
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Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jul 23, 2015 10 comments
Crowds & Power
More than any other audio company, much-much-more, LH Labs has been exceedingly successful in utilizing crowdfunding for product development and sales. This model obviously shirks the traditional hi-fi approach in many ways but most importantly lots of people are buying audio gear without anyone having heard it. Reviews necessarily come after the initial wave of crowdfunding and crowd-designing enthusiasm has ebbed so at best we can create a second wave or tell people what they already know. I find LH Labs overall approach refreshing if a tad fresh.
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Steven Plaskin Posted: Jul 16, 2015 4 comments
The MSB Technology Premium Quad USB2 Module is a new USB input module for the Analog DAC that represents a substantial improvement in the application of USB technology for this highly respected DAC. Both Michael Lavorgna and I have previously reviewed the Analog DAC (see Steve's review and Michael's follow-up) and found it to be an excellent sounding DAC that was characterized by a relaxed natural sound. At the time of my review of the Analog DAC in 2013, MSB sent me the Platinum Data CD IV Transport to be used in the evaluation of the Analog DAC. MSB Technology felt that this transport connected to the MSB Network input module had superior sound to the USB Basic 384 input module and would better demonstrate the capabilities of the Analog DAC. Although I could get somewhat close to the sound of the Platinum Data CD IV Transport with numerous hardware tweaks and software programs, I still found the Transport to be better sounding than using the USB Basic 384 module.
Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jul 09, 2015 13 comments
Cary Audio, Raleigh, NC
I can still remember visiting audio retailer Audio Nexus in Summit, NJ back in the '90s and seeing the lovely Cary CAD-300SEI integrated amp which was at the time outside of my comfort price zone. I was heavily into exploring single-ended tube amps and ended up with my first love, the Sun Audio SV-300BE followed by many a Fi amp (I still own the prototype Fi 45), and finally landing very comfortably in the land of Shindo, albeit outside the SET camp. To say that Cary Audio represents an important part of our hi-fi history is to state the obvious and to say that I was looking forward to spending time with their latest DAC would be an understatement.
Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 25, 2015 0 comments
Cyrus Audio
UK-based Cyrus Audio has been in the Hi-Fi game for 32 years starting out with one of the very first specialist CD players. Fast forward to today, and you're looking at a company that offers roughly 20 products from streamers to preamps, to power amps and a few combinations thereof. We're going to be playing with the Stream XA which combines a UPnP/DLNA network player, the Cadence control app for iOS and Android devices, and DAC all-in-one.

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