Preamp/DAC Reviews

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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 04, 2015 11 comments
Direct Digital Trickles Down (and Up)
NAD's C 510 inherits its impressive innards from the company's M2 Direct Digital Amp (see Stereophile's review) and M51 DAC (see Stereophile's review). All incoming digital data (up to 24/192 PCM), the C 510 does not offer any analog inputs, is converted to a pulse-width-modulation (PWM) signal at a sampling rate of 844kHz before being converted to analog. Volume control is also handled in the digital domain and the C 510's 35-bit architecture allows for transparency at any level, in theory. Here's more from NAD, "Due to the very high clock speed [108MHz] and mathematical precision of our reconstruction filters, the resulting audio signal is totally free of digital artifacts like ringing." I suppose the only question remaining is—does all this work to make digital sound
Michael Lavorgna Posted: May 07, 2015 6 comments
Built Burson Tough!
The Conductor Virtuoso's 6mm Resonance Free Aluminum (RFA) enclosure, constructed from precision-machined panels, is not used for looks alone. From Burson, "We took great care to ensure the thickness of each wall varied from the others to increase the mechanical damping factor. The RFA enclosures display superior mechanical noise rejection (internal and external) compared to conventionally folded-steel enclosures used by many audio manufacturers."
Michael Lavorgna Posted: Mar 19, 2015 27 comments
Mytek shook up the DSD DAC market with their Stereo192-DSD DAC back in 2011 at RMAF. At that time, there were just a handful of much more expensive DSD capable DACs and most people wondered if this DSD thing was going to catch on. It did. I favorably reviewed the Stereo192-DSD DAC (see review) which I still use daily. Mytek's new consumer offering is the Manhattan and it represents Mytek's "finest achievement" according to the company. Let's see.
Michael Lavorgna Posted: Mar 05, 2015 8 comments
Out Of This Galaxy
Exo (out of this) + gal (galaxy). Exogal came to Earth in 2013, formed by four audio industry veterans, Jim Kinne, Larry Jacoby, Jeff Haagenstad, and Jan Larsen, "who worked for the some of the biggest names in the industry." From Exogal, "Jim Kinne is the technical heart and soul of Exogal. He’s a legendary audio engineer who’s produced countless award-winning products in his career, including the Wadia 27 decoding computer, Wadia 270 CD transport and the Wadia 790 PowerDAC, to name a few." Exogal currently has three products that include the Comet DAC, the Ion Digital Amplifier, and the Comet Upgraded Power Supply. Today we'll be probing the Comet DAC.
Michael Lavorgna Posted: Sep 18, 2014 4 comments
Pro-Ject may be best known for their turntables, but they offer a dizzying array of products through their Box Designs line as well. From CD players to speakers and most everything in between, in multiple lines ranging from the E Line, C Line, S Line, DS Line, and RS Line (in ascending price order). Today's Stream Box is from the RS line, the top of the Pro-Ject digital heap.
Michael Lavorgna Posted: Apr 24, 2014 7 comments
The New Young DSD DAC
The original M2Tech Young DAC was very favorably reviewed by Jon Iverson in Stereophile (see review), "The M2Tech combo's performance had seduced me—where I usually return to the Benchmark once I've done my critical listening to any DAC I'm reviewing, this time I left the Young and Palmer in the system until the morning I had to ship them out. I didn't want to let them go." The Young DSD version adds a number of features to the original including a digital preamplifier with analog volume control, adjustable output level, true balanced output, USB 2.0 compatibility so no drivers are required for Mac users, and of course the ability to play back both 64x and 128x DSD, the latter available via USB.
Steven Plaskin Posted: Feb 20, 2014 18 comments
Wyred 4 Sound is well known to many audiophiles as a company that builds quality high end audio products at reasonable prices. The company was started in in 2007 by E. J. Sarmento who previously worked at Cullen Circuits. The company has grown from its initial offering of the 200s amplifier to a complete line of preamps, power amps, DACs, and music servers. Wyred 4 Sound offers 6 DAC models with 3 versions of the DAC-2: DAC-2, DAC-2 DSD, and the DAC-2 DSDse.
Michael Lavorgna Posted: Dec 24, 2013 1 comments
Did You Say Quad Rate DSD?
The exaSound e20 MK III DAC can handle PCM, DXD, and DSD up to 12.288 MHz (256Fs) on Windows PCs. Mac users max out at the more or less typical DSD 128. While you'd be hard pressed to find any DSD downloads at DSD 256 (or even DSD 128), you can rest assured that the e20 can handle just about any file format you care to throw at it. The e20 also throws in on-DAC-chip volume control, single ended and balanced outputs, asynchronous USB, Coax, and Toslink inputs, and a headphone amp making it one all-around amenable DAC package.
Steven Plaskin Posted: Dec 04, 2013 10 comments
The Benchmark Media Systems DAC2 HGC represents Benchmark’s most advanced and feature laden DAC offering. Despite its diminutive size, the DAC2 HGC is a full featured DAC with an asynchronous USB input that supports PCM up to 24/192 and native DSD 64 using the DoP 1.1 format. A remote controlled preamp is included with Benchmark’s Hybrid Gain Control system that utilizes a servo-driven volume control and 2 headphone jacks with a switch that automatically mutes the XLR and RCA outputs when using the headphone amplifier. A metal remote is included that controls the power, volume, polarity, input selection, mute, and dim controls of the DAC. Other features include a 12V Trigger I/O and Home Theatre Bypass.
Michael Lavorgna Posted: Nov 14, 2013 2 comments
The Conductor
The Burson Audio Conductor packs a bunch of full features into a very solid 6mm thick precision machined aluminum chassis. There's a full function preamp with two line level RCA inputs, a host of 24/192-capable digital inputs, and a headphone amp. A threefer.
Michael Lavorgna Posted: Oct 10, 2013 4 comments
SOtM "Soul Of the Music"
The battery-powered SOtM sDP-1000 DAC and Pre-Amplifier has a host of digital and analog inputs, it can handle up to 32-bit/192kHz PCM files as well as single rate 64x DSD, while offering both RCA and XLR outputs. It can, therefore, act as the heart of a hi-fi system handling a number of sources including a turntable as long as you add a phono pre into the mix. It wraps all of these functions into a very nicely designed aluminum-wrapped form.
Michael Lavorgna Posted: Oct 08, 2013 5 comments
The Little Asus That Could
I was impressed with the Asus Xonar Essence One MUSES Edition that I reviewed back in November of last year (see review) finding it fun and engaging to listen to. The new Essence STU due to be released later this month is the Essence One's little brother offering much of the same functionality of its bigger brother minus the latter's XLR outputs. Inside the STU we've got the Texas Instruments (TI) PCM1792A DAC, the 32-bit/192kHz-capable Cmedia CM 6631A asynchronous USB receiver, the TI PCM9211 S/PDIF receiver, and the TI TPA6120A headphone amp. The STU wraps all of this tech into a slender iPad-sized dark gray chassis with an analog volume control for the RCA outs and a separate volume control for the heapdhone out. Add in a two-position Headphone Gain switch and you've got yourself one fulsome package for a hair under four hundred bucks. Nice!
Steven Plaskin Posted: Apr 25, 2013 25 comments
General Description of The Analog DAC
The Analog DAC is MSB Technology’s newest DAC model that was designed to offer audiophiles a DAC that is analog-like in sound quality, but without the limitations of dynamics and distortion. As it just so happens, The Analog DAC is the least expensive of the DACs offered by MSB Technology, but offers a number of features found in their more expensive models.
Michael Lavorgna Posted: Apr 18, 2013 3 comments
DSD via DoP and SDHC
Before going to press with this review, I figured I'd give it one last lap around the 'net to see if I could locate some information regarding when (or if) the Fostex HP-A8C would be able to play back DSD over PCM/USB. I stumbled on a post by 'AnakChan' on HeadFi that pointed to the Fostex Japan website and lo and behold there was firmware version 2.01B with DoP (you can get it here). Once I downloaded and updated, all I had to do was navigate to the USB over PCM menu option, enable it, and I was streaming DSD over USB in no time. Lovely. Why this firmware revision from November 2012 is not yet available on the Fostex International (English) website is anyone's guess. The latest version to be found there is 1.31 which does not include the DSD over USB option so you are stuck playing back only DSF formatted DSD files through the HP-A8C's SD (or SDHC) card reader. And that's kind of a drag.


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