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Positive Feedback ISSUE46
Awards for 2009
This is pretty much a digital year for me as I jump head first into the realm of computer-based audio. I had a fair amount pass through the door here and, well... this is the stuff that really made me sit up and listen. From the great "bang for the buck" to those that are not so much...
The Bel Canto USB Link 24/96
The Bel Canto 24/96 Link ($495) accepts a computer-derived USB input of up to 24 bits and 96 kHz and outputs the signal on a 75 ohm BNC (S/PDIF). The USB Link 24/96 includes a Stereovox XV2 BNC/BNC cable with an RCA adaptor for the S/PDIF connector. The Link is compatible with native drivers on Mac and Windows, features a reference crystal oscillator for low-jitter clock recovery, is self-powered via USB input (which benefits from LC filters and low-noise local regulation and means no added cables and such to get tangled in), and offers galvanic isolation between computer and audio system to prevent high-frequency noise. Easy to use (plug and play) the Link addresses things that some USB connections are unable to… the Bel Canto guys know their stuff and the Link really cleans up the digital signal. And it passes 24/96! The Bel Canto Link is a killer sonically and is an affordable way to get a computer's USB out into a DAC.
Bel Canto www.belcantodesign.com
The Bel Canto e.One DAC3
The e.One's character is more like that of not really having a character, and if that is what you want, as opposed to having more of this and less of that (can you say colorations...?), then the e.One should be on your short list of DACs to audition. The DAC3 simply does so much right and at only $2495… it's a no-brainer. And it is a mighty darn good preamp too! Highly recommended.
Bel Canto www.belcantodesign.com
The Ayre CX-7eMP CD player
Well, with the CX-7eMP CD player it is obvious that the Ayre boys were thinking how to get more for less, like how can we get something that competes musically and sonically with a $6000 player for only $3500? The CX-7eMP really does give the bigger and better players a decent run for their money while only committing the proverbial audio cliché of sins of omission—it offers a bit less of this and that, but then at that price who can really quibble? Unless you got the better players to compare it to, it ain't worth worrying about. Sit back and enjoy and think of the savings. Especially in these dreadful economic times.
All I can say is that the player makes very nice music here and does so for a very reasonable sum. Highly recommended for anyone looking for the best in "affordable" CD players.
The devilsound DAC and the Virtue Two integrated
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 $449.
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.
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. 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.
Virtue Audio http://store.virtueaudio.com
The USB Diverter from Sonicweld
The Diverter just seems to dig a bit deeper in all the areas I so desire. That is the music has just a touch more dimensional realness to it along with a coherence and liquidity that makes vocals and whatnot sound more like what I think they should sound like. The Diverter presents music as being smoother and yet more resolving, with a touch more there-ness to it. Where the Diverter stands out is in overall smoothness (a lack of grain and grit—it just sounds that much cleaner especially with respect to vocals), and presenting the music more righter in terms of dimensionality, overall definition (clarity and presence), and cohesiveness. It is just that much more engaging! A clear winner for anyone wanting one of the best for going USB to a DAC.
The Locus Design Core BNC/RCA digital cable and the Cynosure USB cable ($2849 for up to 3FT, $320/ft thereafter)
The Cynosure is clearly a step up from the Nucleus ($$1149/1-3ft, $120 each additional foot) in all areas: bigger, more resolving, warmer, more real and tonally richer… and way more dimensional. Wow, this USB cable is not only the cat's pajamas but the slippers and lounging robe as well! Simply the best I have heard. As good as I found the Nucleus, the Cynosure moves the SOTA standard well down the road.
Ditto the Core digital cable. Wonderful stuff in all respects. I can find nothing to really fault with this cable when it is passing the bits onto any DAC. Nor when it ain't!
Cryo Parts (Diverter) http://www.cryo-parts.com
Locus Design (Cynosure) http://locus-design.com
Locus Design (Core) http://locus-design.com
The Playback Designs MPS-5
The MPS-5 is a truly wonderful player and is recommended for anyone wanting to hear what the best digital can offer and can afford the price of admission. At the far end of the spectrum, the MPS-5 will present the bass frequencies with all the dynamics, slam, and extension one's speakers and room can produce.
Make it simple and delicate and the MPS-5 gets it all down with a breathtaking touch to the music—light and airy. Oh so sweet and as resolving of the finest details or filigree that one can almost reach out and touch it.
What I hear with the MPS-5 spinning CDs is an enveloping presence that is rich in details, ambiance, and an overall spatiality that is substantially larger than any other digital source I have had in house—and that is in every direction: depth, width, height, and the proverbial palpable 3D presence. The soundstage is cleanly huge extending way beyond the walls of my listening room… but only when allowed for by the recorded event of course. Which means that there is no sonic trickery making any and all recordings something they ain't. If it has it, you will hear it, simple as that. And depending on how one wants to define this—and I find either acceptable—the MPS-5 will either place the listener more 'into' the musical space or it will bring more of the musical space into the room… both in a way that is quite amazingly so
The MPS-5 is pretty spot on where no one sonic thing is presented with any greater importance than any other thing. With the MPS-5 we hear it all; the subtle details that makes whatever sound more real than not, the air and space of the venue, the overall coherence of the sonic tapestry, yadda, yadda, yadda. You get the idea… with the MPS-5 it is all there but not in a way that draws attention to the pieces within the music… no, the MPS-5 simply draws one's attention to the music… as a whole.
And for the analog in mind there is the Furutech's Monza ($495). The Monza is a completely different beast altogether; what else would one expect from the boys at Furutech? No, Furutech likes to really push the envelope. That is they go WAY beyond what anyone else is doing and explores areas that one would never expect to be an issue. Like what they have done with making a record clamp, or as they prefer, a record stabilizer.
Plop it on a record and yeah, things clearly become heavier, weightier… meatier. There is more flesh or fat to them musical bones (one should not have just muscle or flesh, you do need some fat!), and more weight and oomph to the bottom-end. The music now has more tonal heft and fullness with none of those potential tradeoffs—that evil bloat and over-the-top richness that makes things appear to be less resolving or open than they really are in their absence. Cool. With the Monza, we still get the resolution along with a neutral tonal color and all that vinyl goodness… wow, the Monza is nice step in the right direction.
And while I have not formally written these up... the Furutech Fuses ($42). Clearly a fuse that offers a more naturally open, warmer, and richer sound than stock fuses while imparting a way more dimensional perspective. You get the all the resolution times a gazillion with no additional over-analytical-ness that makes things bright, annoying, and hyped. Can you say, "Organic?" More to come on these.