FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 41
Audio Ramblings - Getting your bang for the buck in
these troubling times... the devilsound DAC and the Virtue Two integrated
In these troubling times it is a breath of fresh air to find audio components that make music without one having to break the bank. After all, as we proceed into a downward spiral of the recession leading into a depression, listening to a system comprised of the devilsound DAC and the Virtue Two integrated is way too much fun and rewarding.…Rewarding not only musically but as well not having to dig deep into the savings to get there. This stuff is simply way cool—small in size but big on sound and musical fun.
The devilsound DAC ($279) is of the NOS variety based on Analog Devices' AD1851s ran in non-oversampled mode, the Burr-Brown PCM2706 USB receiver chip utilizing SpAct, and a single-stage op-amp output which integrates a current to voltage (I/V) converter with a gentle low-pass filter. (I would recommend that everyone visit the devilsound site and check out the links to the sites that explain what they are doing and why.)
The Virtue Two (at 40-watts per channel with the standard 30v/90w power supply or 55-watts per channel with the optional 30v/130w power supply; which is how I used it here) is based on the Tripath chip and features AuriCap input capacitors and Cryo-treated Auric hookup wire along with other 'audiophile-type' upgrades all for $369 (standard supply). Enhancements for the forthcoming TWO.2 will include a soft-start for use with high-current battery or linear supplies, stepped attenuator, and high-pass filter. The TWO.2 will start at $479.
What you can do is couple this with the 'entry' cables from either Kubala-Sosna (the Anticipation at $350 a meter) or Audience (the Conductor at $387 per 2.5 meters) like I did, along with, say, speakers from Audio Epilog (or even on a fanciful whim when harking back to earlier days of audiophile-ish-ness, speakers from either DCM with the proverbial Time Windows, or Chario with the over-achieving Hyper Reference 2000s …like I did here)… and well the music rocks! This stuff offers the listener so much for so little that it is scary funny. Scary funny in how you get to wipe that shit-eating grin that slowly turns into one of stupefaction and bewilderment when it starts to think about how something so little can do so much …and so well. Yeah, you may find yourself second guessing how you have spent so much more and yet aren't getting all that much more….
See, neither piece is the least bit edgy, hard, glassy, lean, washed-out, bright, angry, out-of-balance, wobbly, wiggly, or fatiguing. Nah, they are evenly-balanced, clean, smooth, happy, refreshing, and even-handed in how they portray the music. Nothing jumps out at you, nothing is done to draw one's attention to something that is jarringly amiss… or away from something that ain't …they just play music …simple and neat.
But yeah, the two pieces do suffer from the laws of omission (to varying degrees on their own), after all that would be expected from anything that is bucking the trend of being "it can't be affordable and be good!" But, neither unit suffers from the laws of commission, in that they do not do anything really wrong. Yeah, there is less of this and that, and perhaps they could offer more of that and this that, but man, they are like what… a little over $600 for the pair?! Come on… you got to be kidding me! As paired with either of the cables mentioned above, along with my main speakers things just sounded so crazily good that one too many visiting listeners thought that they were listening to the main system …not these two Lilliputian wonders. (As a side note I decide to review these two as a 'one piece' since they are a natural fit for each other. Additionally I was unable to audition the DAC as a stand-alone since its too-short RCA connections would not reach across the Cary SLP-05's mono-like configuration.)
Sure, they do not go as low in the bass or with the same dynamic slam as my usual stuff does. Nor do they offer a 3D soundstage with air and palpable presence that gets the music into the room …as opposed to taking you there, but they do come mighty close. They are not as resolving nor as refined… yeah, well they do give up a bit in that …in that je ne se quoi aspect of resolution, refinement, and overall musical nuance that the bigger boys deliver.
Case in point is the track "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" from Radiohead's In Rainbows. At a certain point in the track Thom York's vocals ride upon a distorted guitar in the right speaker. With the devilsound DAC and Virtue Two, his vocals take on some of the distortion; that is the two elements seem to merge a bit with the guitar masking his vocals. With something way more costly (say either the Cary 306 and my regular system or even the Bel Canto e.One DAC3 and Red Wine Isabellina DAC combined with the Virtue Two—meaning this is more an issue of the DAC than that of the Virtue Two) the vocals retain their purity and the two elements exist as separate and distinct parts of the track. The words are more easily discerned and the guitar does its thing. On the track Muslims of China from the Musilmgauze's United States of Islam, the bells, cymbals, and drums lack that final degree of air and naturalness that makes one suspend a disbelief that one is listening to a recording. The drumming lacks that last whack or dynamics as well. Not quite as big and thunderous as heard from my regular set-up. In terms of bass extension and control on the Bodega release by DJ Olive the track "Ally Way" has a very deep subterranean rumble running here and there throughout the cut. As portrayed by the devilsound DAC and the Virtue Two it is quite wonderful, but it neither offers quite the control, extension, or overall visceral-ness as heard from the components in the regular system. While it is very well done, neither have that vice-grip control that the cut needs to make it really come alive (this being more reflective of the Virtue Two's power and control than that of the DAC, though yes, the DAC does have to accept a degree of blame here as well). And yet, none of this is all that big of a deal. The truth is that if one was unable to make an actual comparison between the various components, as I have done here, well … it would be a "Who really cares… it sounds killer!" sort of thing.
But yeah, they do, to varying degrees, give up a bit sonically and musically to the bigger boys. Specifically in all those little audiophile-like qualities that we strive and hope to attain by spending WAY, way more money than either of these stellar units… sure, spend more to get more, we all know that drill. But so what?! The devilsound DAC and Virtue Two cost like $300 each… what are you expecting, giant killers that will replace your $5 - $10k components? No and, well... maybe yes. No they won't quite do that, but yes, they will get you really close to thinking that just maybe one should, one could, one would do that… but nah, they ain't perfect so I'll keep the $$$ stuff for sure. At the very least, they will get you to think of these two components as being the first thing to recommend to anyone wanting to get a taste of the high-end sound—without the need or to spend the high-end dollars.
What they will give you is a clean musical presentation that has plenty of life and spunk; one that competes sonically and musically with the big boys in so many ways …though ultimately yeah, they are not quite their equals. The devilsound DAC is a marvel in how close it comes to the bigger more expensive components. Music via the DAC is very, very nice indeed. Same for the Virtue Two as it is simply amazing the amount of music this little thing can pump out with no hint of strain or pain. Either unit gets you 90% of the way there for like 20% of the cost… now that is a good deal in today's economic climate.
Virtue Audio http://store.virtueaudio.com