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POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 7
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Rave On! Further Notes on the Mighty Meitner DAC6 SACD/CD Converter
by David W. Robinson

 

Follow up confessions of one who raves...

Back in Issue 4 of PFO, I announced my intent to rave over the Meitner DAC6 SACD/CD converter. (See http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue4/meitnerdac.htm) Though it was late in the dynamic publication cycle of that issue, I felt I had to share with our readers the quantum leap in audio reproduction that the DAC6 represented. Truly, it would have been unethical not to do so—the results were that important.

Since that time, I have spent months listening very carefully to the Meitner DAC6 and Meitner-modified Philips SACD 1000 transport, in conjunction some excellent gear and accessories (Manley Labs, Joule Electra, WAVAC, the stunning Kharma Grande Ceramique loudspeakers, Linn, deHavilland, JENA Labs, Kimber, Cardas). Several hundred of my favorite SACDs and CDs were used to evaluate the Meitner system over time. Would my initial delight with the Meitner system change over time? (With such a dramatic improvement I was sure that it wouldn't, but only time brings a confident answer to that question.)

This is a concern, because the problem of regret in fine audio is common enough. Initial satisfaction with a new component can pall over time into some pretty serious diminishment. I've learned to be cautious about qualitative appraisals, since I've gone through this experience from time to time.

So? How do I feel now, months later?

On the SACD side of the ledger...

My previous SACD reference was my highly modified Sony SCD-1. (See my "I Don't Drive Stock!" series in the archives of PFO for the details of my step-by-step progression on this long term project.) Possessed of five layers of Richard Kern mods—the Superclock II, Superclock power supply, Black Gate caps, Vishay resistors, and Richard's fine new transport mod, the modded SCD-1 became a superlative playback unit. At the price point, it would be extremely difficult to beat. (Though I must say that I haven't yet heard the Linn Unidisk, which is somewhere in that pricing ballpark. I'm hoping to have a Linn Unidisk in for review in the near future.)

Nevertheless, despite the quality of the SCD-1, continued listening comparisons between the modded SCD-1 and the Meitner DAC6 system have confirmed repeatedly the superiority of the Meitner to my ears... and the difference is not subtle. In all categories of fine audio performance, the Meitner system has pressed beyond all my previous references and standards for playback of the little silver devils!

It hasn't mattered what type of SACD I've used for auditioning; they've all sounded better than via any other player I've heard. Whether analog-sourced, PCM transfers, or pure DSD recordings, the DAC6 has always shone, and has laid bare the quality of the recording and mastering work.

The most spectacular thing about the Meitner is the ravishing transparency and ease of rendition and playback. In a properly optimized system, it effortlessly places the music before you with a crystalline quality that is simply awesome. Never have I heard such clarity, such detail, such a fusion of resolution and musicality. Particularly in tandem with the Linn Komri preamp, the WAVAC HE-833 SETS, the Joule Electra VZN-100's, and the (wondrous) Kharma Grande Ceramiques, the Meitner system has transported me to places that I've never been before...and I've been to some pretty fine audio places over the years.

That isn't all, though. I could drone on about depth that stretches into the next county... of timbral rightness that lets violins be violins, and lets you easily differentiate between a Steinway and a Bosendorfer... of extension that alters the geometry of your listening place even when listening to air... of the real presence and ease that the Meitner DAC6 produces so effortlessly... of listening for hours on end to music, and the joy of getting up feeling refreshed instead of hammered. (Which is why many of us were not listening to CDs for "hours on end," eh?) But why bother? The virtues of the Meitner are supreme and unrivaled in my experience, as well as in the experience of literally everyone who has listened to it here.

Simply put, the Meitner DAC6 does everything better than I've ever heard from any SACD digital source in my listening room. The Richard Kern modified SCD-1 and Dan Wright modified SCD-777/Philips SACD 1000 were fine essays, and do remarkably well at their price point (which is thousands of dollars less than the Meitner system). Nevertheless, Richard and Dan themselves were clearly able to hear the superiority of the Meitner over other digital alternatives that were in my listening room; so were other good audio friends like Jennifer and Michael Crock of JENA Labs and PFO, my good friend and PFO editor Rick Gardner, Mike LaVigne (a NW audiophile of fine sensibilities), and a whole string of visitors who enjoy good audio.

To be blunt: after months of careful and extended listening, this is by far the best SACD playback I've ever heard.

"Yes, but what about CD playback, David?"

Glad you asked!

This one took more time to assess, because I wanted to be sure of my impressions over time. I also made sure that my SACD 1000 was revised to the latest specification, for best possible Red Book performance. Then I sat down and listened carefully to favorite CDs on my dearly beloved Linn CD-12, my personal reference for supreme CD playback over the past five years, and compared the sound with that of the Meitner system.

For years now, I had not found better CD playback than the CD-12. I have compared it to a number of alternatives from fine companies like Accuphase, dCS, AudioNote, Cal Audio, Theta, Simaudio, Sony, BAT... a lot of them. I had never found anything that was better to my ears than the CD-12, and said so in print and online many times over the years.

Until now.

Long-term listening has made clear to me that even the mighty Linn CD-12 has finally been bested by the Meitner DAC6/Philips SACD 1000 tandem. The Meitner has all the musicality of the CD-12, but it adds detail, transparency, and superior imaging/depth in Red Book playback that the CD-12 cannot match. Frankly, I and my colleagues here have been truly amazed at what the Meitner digs out of standard CDs. The CD-12 is excellent, but the Meitner is simply better at rendering Red Book. Period.

In my experience, those of you who are looking for the very best in CD playback will find it here.

Enough said.

"Does it make CD's sound ‘just as good as SACDs'?"

Nope. In my experience, nothing makes CD's sound "just as good" as SACDs. Zip. Nada. End of story. Ceteris paribus, SACDs are a truly superior format, not subject to a number of the problems of Red Book PCM encoding. Assertions to the contrary (and there are those who say nonsensical things like that, thus eroding their credibility in my mind) are, in my experience, quite incorrect.

Let's keep this simple:

  1. The Meitner makes CDs sound better than I've ever heard them.

  2. The Meitner makes SACDs sound better than I've ever heard them... which means that they have a notable tendency to embarrass Red Book playback of the same title.

Do tweaks matter with the Meitner and SACD?

An interesting question.

The answer is, yes, most definitely.

As a matter of fact, I don't know that we'll ever get a fine audio component or system that cannot be improved by careful tweaking/modification. Brother Clark Johnsen would tell you that we're still trying to figure out what the heck is going on with digital playback in the first place, and how the heck to deal with the vast mysteries still taunting us in this world of deceptively "simple" silver discs.

I should note that the Meitner needs the following to reach its potential (none of which will surprise experienced audiophiles, especially if they've been working with tweaks for very long):

  • If you don't have properly installed, dedicated power to your listening room or area... well, time to get this done!

  • Line conditioning is essential. My new JENA Labs Fundamental Power 6.1 is the best thing I've ever had in my system, and definitely enhances the clarity and transparency of the DAC6.

  • First rate power cables. I've used Cardas, JENA Labs, and Kimber Kables Palladians with great success on the DAC6 and Meitnerized SACD 1000. Don't go with crap here; you'll pay for it in unnecessarily constricted sound, and a lessening of the peerless transparency that the Meitner gear... all Meitner gear!...offers.

  • Ditto on the interconnects between the DAC6 outputs and the preamp inputs. My best results here have been with the JENA Labs Symphony balanced, and the Empirical Audio interconnects. Both offer exceptional detail, allowing the virtues of the Meitner to shine forth.

  • Good equipment stands and vibration isolation are a must.

  • I should also mention that I've found a first-rate SACD/CD cleaning/treatment solution. Record Research Lab Shine Ola is an excellent product, replacing my prior favorite, JENA Labs Esoteric Mist, which has been discontinued. Like Esoteric Mist, Shine Ola increases the apparent clarity of CD and SACD playback, enhancing detail and improving the sound of many of my SACDs. Of great importance is the fact that, according to Record Research Lab, Sonopress has approved Shine Ola for use on its hybrid discs, which is good news for those of us who were hesitant to use cleaning solutions due to chemical reactions between many cleaning solutions and the Sonopress disc formulations. The improvements wrought by Shine Ola are significant, and are very clearly revealed by the Meitner system. (For more information, contact Musical Surroundings at 510-420-0379.)

So tweaking definitely does help. I note that Ric Schulz of EVS has gone online over at Audio Asylum's " Hi Rez Highway" (http://www.audioasylum.com/forums/hirez/bbs.html) and stated his belief that the Meitner system can be taken much further through additional tweaking. He has announced that he intends to do so later this year. We'll see; it's certainly an intriguing prospect... more power to Ric, and to people like Richard Kern, Dan Wright, and Allen Wright who mod mightily to take SACD to greater heights! Even Ed is a fan of cryogenically treating his components and cabling, which may help to explain some of the really extraordinary results that he's getting in his work.

I should also say that I haven't had a chance to play with one very important variable in the Meitner playback chain: the two fiber optic cables used to handle data and the DAC6 master clock. Would different fiber optic cables make a difference?

Wouldn't surprise me a bit.

But despite the efficacy of the tweaks, what the Meitner gives us is a giant leap forward in the quality of SACD/CD playback over every other alternative that I know of. It has shifted the baseline single-handedly in a most radical way, and has created a new benchmark for what is possible.

This is a really good thing!

If we're going to be confused, let's be confused at the highest possible level... .

Varieties of Meitner

Readers should note that the Meitner system will be available in several different flavors: The 2/6 channel DAC6 reviewed here; and a 2 channel version called the DCC2 will also be available. I have heard that this will include preamp capabilities, but haven't confirmed that. (You'll have to check with Jonathan Tinn, the Meitner USA distributor, for details on the Meitner line if you're interested; see the contact information at the end of this article.)

The new DAC6 (my review model is the original version) will retail for about $10,000; the DCC2 will be somewhere in that range.

Meitner is also planning to release a new transport that is rumored to be quite the exceptional piece of work, replacing the now unavailable Meitnerized SACD-1000 that I own. The engineering involved in this transport is world-class; some of the finest thinkers in DSD are involved in its design and execution. The MSRP is reported to be $5,000, making the cost for a DAC6 and Meitner transport around $15,000 retail.

Not cheap, but also not as expensive as the most expensive digital playback systems, which can range from $20,000 - $60,000 or more.

When the time comes, I hope to review the Meitner transport, in tandem with the new Meitner reference preamp... and another secret component that's going to up the ante a good bit!

Stay tuned, eh?

Conclusion

How do I summarize my response to Ed Meitner's remarkable DAC6/SACD 1000 combination? This is an easy question to answer—certainly one of the simplest calls that I've ever made at either PF or PFO.

In short: the Meitner DAC6 and Meitnerized Philips SACD 1000 is absolutely the finest digital playback system that I've ever heard. And this is true in both SACD and CD playback modes.

I'm not going to pull any punches here. The Meitner system is simply without peer in my experience. There is no other digital playback system that I've heard that rivals what Ed Meitner and company have achieved.

All the way back in 1999 I described SACD as giving us "mic feeds and master tapes for the masses!" And the Meitner DAC6 is all alone in my experience as the current reference standard for the possibilities that this brilliant new format can deliver.

Remember: DSD and SACD are still very young technologies, and showing every sign of having much more to give us as they mature. I believe that first-rate analog sources mastered faithfully in pure DSD can take us right to the reels... and that pure DSD in two or six channel, rightly done, can place the microphone feed and studio experience into our listening rooms. And who doesn't want that?

It's certainly what I've dreamed of for many years now... for only mic feeds and master tapes can give us the profound sense of the frontiers of audio in lives. In this sense, DSD and SACD could fulfill something that fine audio has needed since the sad advent of Red Book CDs some twenty years ago: a grand unification format.

This, in my opinion—and as I've been saying for nearly five years now—is an audio development of supreme importance.

And the Meitner DAC6, to my mind, is absolutely the finest embodiment of this splendid development extant.

Indeed, the Meitner system made such an impression on me over the past few months that I finally made the (painful) decision to sell my modified SCD-1 to a grateful new owner (who couldn't afford a Meitner) back east. I couldn't afford to keep both... and there was simply no question in my mind as to which was superior. It's the best audio decision that I've made in many years.

Therefore, phellow ‘philes, if you can afford it... and you should do anything (legal and moral!) you can to do so... you simply must avail yourself of a Meitner for both SACD and CD playback. The waiting lists are long to purchase them... queue up now, or miss out!

For further information:

Jonathan Tinn
Chambers Audio
2725 S.W. Sherwood Drive
Portland, OR 97201
TEL: 503, 221. 0465
email address: info@chambersaudio.com
web address: http://www.chambersaudio.com

To visit the Meitner website: http://www.emmlabs.com

 

 

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