AcousticPlan DigiMaster DAC

Device Type: Digital to Analog Converter
Input: S/PDIF BNC, Custom I2S, and an Asynchronous USB input
Output: (1) Pair Unbalanced RCA
Dimensions (H x W x D): 2.75 inches (With tubes, total height is 5 inches) x 4.125 inches x 9 inches (Knobs add 1/2 inches) Rubber feet add 3/8 inches. Power supply: 1.125 inches x 1.75 inches x 3.25 inches
Weight: 3.5 lbs. with power supply
Price: $4,750.00

PowerMaster Supply
Dimensions (H x W x D): 2.75 inches x 4.125 inches x 9 inches
Weight: 4.22 pounds
Price: $2,000.00

Availability: through Authorized Dealers
Website: www.acousticplan.de

DigiMaster
Just the other day, I was reflecting on the number of components I have acquired from local dealers, or purchased after reading a series of reviews that pronounced the component as being state-of-the-art in performance. Upon first listening to the component in my system, I would be in sonic ecstasy for the first thirty minutes noting the exceptional detail or impactful bass I was hearing. But after about an hour of listening, I became disinterested and could no longer concentrate on the music I was playing. Something was clearly missing that the review and my audio store auditions failed to identify. I usually blamed the recordings and found myself playing the same old titles that sounded “good” on my system. Claus Jackle of AcousticPlan feels he has a solution to this issue with his DigiMaster DAC.

Company Background
The DigiMaster is a USB DAC built by the German manufacturer AcousticPlan. AcousticPlan was founded in 1996 by the German music enthusiast Claus Jackle. Claus spent 15 years prior to forming AcousticPlan experimenting and studying music recording and acoustics that lead him to design concepts that were unique in the high end audio industry. AcousticPlan not only builds the DigiMaster, but offers a variety of products including a power amp, integrated amps, CD Player, CD transport, the Mudra music server, and 4 models of speakers. AcousticPlan offers products that are not only visually attractive, but utilize high quality parts and “perfectionist craftsmanship”. The company is proud of their German engineering with components that have specialized transformers built to AcousticPlans specifications and unique hybrid designs that utilize the best of solid state and tube implementations. The company is composed of not only engineers, but musicians dedicated to building products that honor music reproduction.

Design Philosophy
Claus has a unique approach to his designs concerning the voicing of his products. AcousticPlan builds products that not only utilize the highest quality electronic engineering for accurate music reproduction, but take into consideration the fact that neither the acoustic conditions of a concert hall nor the position of the listener’s seat can be reproduced accurately. Multi-mic arrangements do not necessarily reproduce the original concert hall experience. Claus and his associates concentrate on the recreation of the music’s emotional experiences. That is, they are trying to achieve a relaxed emotional experience with less emphasis on the frequency extremes that they feel ultimately detract from the essence of the music. “Therefore AcousticPlan components are geared to the reproduction of the mid frequency range where the human ear is most sensitive and where voices as well as instruments have their highest intensity.”

Physical Description
The DigiMaster is a 24 bit non oversampling DAC that utilizes a 24-bit R-2R resistor ladder network with a PCM1704U-K converter and 4 tube EC 86 triode outputs. AcousticPlan does not utilize upsampling or oversampling in the DigiMaster. Analog filters are used that have custom precision resistors and capacitors.The case is beautifully built of silver aluminum with a blue aluminum faceplate. The fit and finish of the product is first class. The DigiMaster includes an external switching power supply housed in a plastic case. A $2,000 upgrade is available for the PowerMaster external linear regulated power supply. The PowerMaster linear power supply is housed in a silver aluminum case with similar craftsmanship to the DigiMaster unit. This power supply can power up to 2 devices of the Acoustic Plan Master series of components and accepts upgraded AC cords with an IEC 15 amp connector. A mini connector input is utilized for the power supply connection to the DigiMaster.

There are two blue aluminum rotary switches on the front of the unit. The top one is for AC, the lower one selects one of 3 inputs available on the back of the DigiMaster. An asynchronous USB input that supports up to 192KHz/24-bit, a BNC SPDIF transformer coupled I2S that supports 192KHz/24-bit, and a custom I2S input for the DriveMaster CD transport. To avoid ground loops between the computer and the DigiMaster, the USB receiver circuit is powered by the computer, whereas inductive couplers (iCoupler) provide the galvanic separation between the computer and DAC.

I asked Claus if he could provide more information on the isolation of the computer from the DAC:

Regarding the USB input: the complete circuit (USB receiver and micro processor) to extract the I2S signal out of the USB stream is powered from the external PC through the USB cable. The I2S signal from the micro controller to the DAC chip is galvanic isolated. We think that the extraction of the I2S signal through a micro controller is part of the PC, so it is better to isolate after the micro controller and not to isolate the USB connection. The clock of a I2S signal (24-bit/192kHz) is about 40 times slower than the USB 2.0 clock, so it is much easier to isolate the slower signal without faults.
I also asked Claus why he chose to use a non-oversampling DAC design:
We decided to use the DAC in non oversampling mode because after many listening hours we found out that the music is most natural without oversampling. Without oversampling and without digital filters the high frequency roll off is earlier, but for us the measurements are secondary.
My Setup
The DigiMaster’s asynchronous USB works flawlessly with native OSX drivers, and has custom drivers for Windows. By utilizing native OSX USB drivers, I was able to use the music player Audirvana Plus Beta 1.3.9.9 with Direct Mode/Integer for OSX Mtn. Lion. The DigiMaster was completely stable with this beta. I also used Pure Music 1.86 for playback. My early 2011 MacBook Pro 2.3GHz Quad Core with 16 GM Ram and an OCZ Vertex 4 for the operating system was used in my listening sessions. The music library ( AIFF) is on a Thunderbolt Promise Pegasus drive connected with a Synergistic Research Active Thunderbolt SE cable. An Audioquest Diamond USB cable connected the MacBook Pro to the DigiMaster. The DigiMaster and Master Power Supply were placed on Synergistic Research’s Tranquility Base with MIG footers for physical isolation and electrical conditioning of the components. The DigiMaster was also listened to with just the MIG footers. The AC cable was a Synergistic Research Tesla Hologram D. My comments will be based on using the DigiMaster with the PowerMaster supply, but I will later comment on the DigiMaster’s sound with the standard switching power supply.

Musical Experiences
I was very surprised with my initial listening sessions with the DigiMaster/PowerMaster. I had expected a warm pleasant sound, but this was not the case. What I did hear was a very neutral, open sound that had a good deal of mid-range presence with an absence of warmth. I observed that the mid bass was less prominent than with other DACs I have listened to helping to eliminate an over-warm sound. Bass was solid, well controlled, and seemed to have good response at the lowest octaves. What really stood out was a beautiful midrange that was very engaging and a joy to listen to. Vocalists just sounded glorious with richness to the presentation that reminded me of what I hear with excellent vinyl playback. The DAC sounded very balanced without emphasis to the bass, midrange, or highs.

Listening to Jane Monheit’s Home 96/24 provided a recreation of the acoustic space with a natural richness to Jane’s voice that just drew me into the music. Jane’s voice was placed slightly forward in the soundstage with good presence.

Similarly, playing Carol Kidd’s Tell Me Once Again 192/24 again recreated the richness of Carol’s voice without the thinness or highly detailed reproduction heard with some DACs. The voice and the guitar interplay were beautifully reproduced with a great sense of neutrality and openness. Carol’s voice and the guitar had excellent focus with a relaxed natural quality with ample liquidity to the sound. The guitar had good detail and was again, well balanced with the voice.

Rachel Podger and the Holland Baroque Society’s album La Cetra 12 Violin Concertos 192/24 was reproduced with very good detail to the violin and strings without any hardness or brightness at the high end. I did feel that there was a slight softening of the sound of the strings. A large ambient acoustic space with good soundstage width and depth was recreated with this excellent recording. Again, there was balance to the sound without emphasis at either frequency extreme.

Deep bass was capably handled by the DigiMaster. Reference Recordings Percy Grainger: Lincolnshire Posey 176.4/24 HRx was able to reproduce the deep drum whacks with good control and power that shook the room. The dynamics of this recording were reproduced with no break-up or hardness to the sound. The wind instruments had a natural presence that sounded very real and reminded me of the first time I head Frederick Fennel with the Eastman Wind Ensemble playing British Band Classics Vol. 2 on an original Mercury Living Presence vinyl recording. The realism of the instruments on this Mercury recording made me an instant Mercury fan back in 1985. The DigiMaster reminded me of this event with the 176.4/24 HRx recording.

All of the titles I played never resulted in fatigue or a loss of interest in the music I was listening to. The realism of good recordings came out with the DigiMaster in a relaxed but revealing manner.

Where I felt the DigiMaster fell somewhat short was with rock music. Remember that lack of mid-range emphasis I mentioned early in this review? Playing R.E.M Murmur 192/24 did not have the punch in the mid bass I have heard with other DACs. It is somewhat subdued and does not deliver that visceral wallop that I have heard with some other DACs. This is not to say that the DigiMaster is not satisfying with rock recordings, but I suspect that some listeners might miss the dynamic power of the bass and drums.

A similar finding was heard with Monty Alexander Calypso Blues 192/24. The mid bass dynamic impact was reduced as well as the shimmer of the cymbals. The high end detail I have previously heard with this recording was slightly softened and just not as prominent with the DigiMaster.

The Hoff Ensenble’s Quiet Winter Night 192/24 sounded gorgeous when played back through the DigiMaster/PowerMaster. I did notice a slight softening of the bite of the trumpet and a slight reduction in the air of the acoustic space. But these deficiencies did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the music with the DigiMaster/PowerMaster.

The Standard Switching Power Supply
While the standard power supply that comes with the DigiMaster sounds quite good, it falls considerably short compared to the $2,000 upgrade PowerMaster linear supply. The PowerMaster provides a much larger and deeper soundstage with better defined bass. Midrange focus and detail are superior with the PowerMaster as well as the resolution of multiple voices and or instruments. I detect a bit more grain and a reduction of midrange richness when using the standard switching power supply.

Misc. Notes
Most DACs I have listened to benefit from some form of acoustical isolation. Given that the DigiMaster has four tubes and has rubber feet, I would recommend that the listener try his or her favorite isolation feet or platform. The Synergistic Research MIG’s (Mechanical Interface Grounding) are recommended. At $150 for a set of 3, they worked well with the DigiMaster when placed directly on my maple rack. I also found that the DigiMaster needs some warm-up time before critical listening. I thought the sound improved and opened up after 20-30 minutes.

Conclusions
The DigiMaster with the PowerMaster is a beautiful sounding DAC that is non-fatiguing and easy to listen to for extended periods of time. Its rich midrange qualities are quite special and a joy to listen to. While it does not present the largest soundstage I have heard, or the most impactful dynamic bass, or the last word in high end resolution, it does provide one of the most musically engaging sonic experiences of any DAC I have yet heard. For those listeners that have previously avoided digital reproduction and especially for those that enjoy classical/acoustic music, the DigiMaster with the PowerMaster might just prove to be your digital solution.



Associated Equipment

COMMENTS
Rob McCance's picture

Sounds to me like a complete wiff for $6750.

A $2000 15V Linear Power Supply. Ok.

All is well in the Audiophile realm. Wonder how many they can sell.

Wow.

 

Steven Plaskin's picture

Hi Rob,

The DigiMaster is a terrific sounding DAC that is beautifully built. My criticisms should not be taken as a condemnation of the product. I tried to identify its strengths and weakness (and these were not major failings). 

Thanks for reading my review.

 

Steve

Rob McCance's picture

Steve,

You did a great job and I appreciate your honesty and I drew my own conclusions.

I did not comment on it's performance, as I have no way to know without listening to it myself. My comments, though shallow and somewhat sarcastic, were more about the product overall, it's price and it's $2k power supply. 

I think even if the linear supply was included in the product, the $4750 price for a NOS DAC is steep these days. But you know, people can, do and will pay whatever they want.

I'm an engineer so I know what goes into making a 15V linear power supply, fortunately (for me)!

I'm waiting for you guys to take a look at the Metrum Octave. I can't find anything to truly beat it yet, at any price. But I keep trying!

 

 

 

 

Regor Ladan's picture

"Just the other day, I was reflecting on the number of components I have acquired from local dealers, or purchased after reading a series of reviews that pronounced the component as being state-of-the-art in performance. Upon first listening to the component in my system, I would be in sonic ecstasy for the first thirty minutes noting the exceptional detail or impactful bass I was hearing. But after about an hour of listening, I became disinterested and could no longer concentrate on the music I was playing."

If this is the case, then I really feel bad for you. This has NEVER happend to me. Ever.

My check book comes out for audio products that will be passed down to my kids, not destined for Audiogon.

Now, for the review..very thorough and thank you very much Steve for your effort.

Nicely written.

Just playing devils advocate, almost $6750  for a DAC with rubber feet???

Anything made in Germany talk on 30% mark up on parts and labor. I know this because I work in manufacturing. There are just SO many other choices out there and DACs with none of thes shortcomings you detailed.  They must be kidding.  You did your job well, no knock on you at all.

This thing makes the Bricasti, dCS, an Berkeley DACs look way, way underpriced.

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