Review: Prism Sound CALLIA USB Audiophile DAC and Pre-Amplifier

Device Type: DAC/Preamplifier
Full Specifications
Availability: Direct Online
Price: $2,750.00

I reported on my positive impressions of the Prism Sound Callia DAC from RMAF and the the New York Audio Show which is unusual as I typically refrain from making comments on sound at shows. But the Callia intrigued me into it. If you look at the dates of those reports, you'll see it's taken some time to get a Callia here. It was worth the wait.

Organic is the word that kept coming to mind as I listened to the Callia over a number of weeks. I tried to make "organic" go away but it persisted. What organic means to me is a presentation that is timbrally rich, not too hot up top, not overly resolute, somewhat fat (in a good way), and very easy to listen to and like. This matches my show impressions pretty well and I'm happy about that since I liked what I heard and I got to hear much more of it, in barn.

The Callia DAC can also function as a preamp since it offers a volume control for both the analog outputs and a separate one for the headphone out, and a number of digital inputs including USB, S/PDIF, and Toslink. As is typically the case, if you want to play back resolutions greater than 192kHz and DSD64, the USB input is your choice. I focused on the USB input for the entirety of this review because it's my bet that's how most users will use the Callia.

Using the Callia is very straight forward—connect her up (she is a she, right?), plug her in, select the input or choose "Auto", set the volume and enjoy. Since I do not use a Windows machine, I don't have to fuss with loading drivers but I have to say the USB stick which houses said drivers that is supplied by Prism Sound is the most tactical looking and feeling USB stick I've ever seen or held. I like tactical.

The Callia mainly moved into my regular system during its stay, connected to the Leben CS600 integrated amp via Tellurium Q Black interconnects, while the Leben drove my DeVore Fidelity gibbon Xs (to distraction). My Sonore microRendu (see review) fed the Callia via lengths of Tellurium Q Black USB cable and the review sample totaldac USB GIGAFILTER.

For comparison purposes, I moved the Mytek Brooklyn DAC/Pre from my desktop to the rack since they are fairly similarly priced, the Brooklyn is $1,995, while the companies are also similar in that they both have their roots in the pro audio world.

Compared to the Brooklyn, the Callia sounds less detailed, less resolute, while having more impact (think more grunt) and a richer sound in terms of overall body and saturation. I have to say how interesting I find difference; interesting because we have two companies working toward the same end, the enjoyment of music, taking different paths to get there. If you are inclined to believe that all hi-fi has another other goal like fidelity to the source, or some other mythical beast, reality breaks the chains of Plato's cave (the allegory not the nightclub) every time we compare and hear difference.

As I said year's ago, "Let's redefine high fidelity as being faithful to the passion for and discovery of music. This means that the best hi-fi is the one that perpetually fans the flame of this passion." If you prefer fidelity to the source be prepared to be disappointed, perpetually.

I very much enjoyed my time listening through the Callia DAC as I was consistently able to hear through the mechanics of reproduction into the music. This held true regardless of source file type and resolution as everything from CD-quality The Minutemen, lots of Minutemen, to Morton Feldman, to Cat Stevens in DVD, top Cat Power, to PARADISO by Chino Amobi, to 24/88 Ēriks Ešenvalds fell into the same category—goodness.

Here's where 'organic' comes back into the conversation—,music, all music, sounded natural and rich and full, as the recording allowed. I listened to a ton of new music, as is my wont, lots of familiar music, as is my job but I also love the music I listen to for comparison purposes, and the Callia made me think more about the music than the Callia. I want my hi-fi to be unassuming in terms of the sound signature it stamps on my music, they all do more or less, and the Callia floated that boat. There were no untoward edges, no calling attention to insignificant details, the Callia sounded like it loves music, too.

For those so inclined, the Callia can also serve as an excellent preamp. I ran it into the Leben's "Pre In" which bypasses all the stuff inside the CS600 except the volume control, and while there was some loss in richness and realness, system dependencies and personal preferences may very well null those out for you. I preferred to let the Leben handle the pre-bits so if you own a Leben CS600, you may find yourself agreeing with me. Or not.

Stepping back into the Mytek comparison one more time, I preferred the Callia in my main system and the Mytek on my desktop. The Brooklyn DAC/Pre mates very well with my ADAM A3X speakers and I've grown very fond of the pristine picture they reproduce. Here, on my desktop, the Callia was a bit less exciting, a bit more laid back.

Seeing as MQA is such a hot topic, I will mention that the Mytek is MQA-enabled, so if that means something to you one way or another take note. I prefer picking the DAC I enjoy listening to the most on all of my music which is why I own the totaldac (which does not decode MQA). It does, however, sound luscious.

Since I'm working on a review of the totaldac USB GIGAFILTER, I switched it into the mix, replacing my Tellurium Q Black USB cable. While I don't imagine anyone will buy a roughly $1900 USB cable/filter to mate with their $2,750 DAC, the GIGAFILTER made my system sound markedly better. Improvements were all related to what I've come to expect from what I perceive to be a lowering of the noise floor and includes a more dimensional sound image, greater separation, and generally a more relaxed sound. More on the GIGAFILTER in its review but I think it's important to keep in mind that I'm reporting on the Callia, or any other piece of gear, within my system which sits within my room. Every bit matters, some more than others.

The under $3k DAC market is hot, hot, hot. There are many fine products out there that do a wonderful job at their job of recreating music. The Mytek Brooklyn is one, the HoloAudio Spring DAC LEVEL 3 "Kitsune Tuned Edition" ($2,499.00) is another, and I'd add the Prism Sound Callia DAC to this short list of serious contenders. Since each has its own sonic flavor, which is best for you is a matter of which you like best.

Also in-use during the Prism Sound Callia review: Mytek Brooklyn

Associated Equipment