by Roy Harris
I have been seeking a second digital source for several months, as a backup for my Audionote CD2. I have reviewed and auditioned several CD players during the last year. Recently, I noticed an inexpensive, non-upsampling dac which was priced under $400, as I perused the web classified ads. I recalled my experiences with 24 bit, up-sampling players as being characterized by an imbalance, favoring the upper frequencies and somewhat subtractive upper bass/lower midrange. Thus, I anticipated the possibility of a more balanced frequency response, using a dac which does not contain a 24 bit chip and does not use up-sampling.
This dac is priced at $310. Since it is shipped from Hong Kong expeditiously, the shipping charges are $38 to the US and $49 to Europe. It features a non-upsampling TD1545A 16-bit chip, no op-amps and .6mV output.
From the very first note of “Deacon Blues”, Steely Dan, AJA, MCAD 37214, I noticed a naturalness of timbre of the cymbals and a slight softening of vocal consonants. The slight lack of focus had little effect upon the clarity of the words. During a tenor sax solo, there seemed to be some thinness, perhaps an indication of a slight dip in the lower midrange.
Sophie Yates’ interpretation of Scarlatti’s Sonata 17, track 1, from the cd SCARLATTI IN IBERIA, Chandos 0635, presents a softening of the attack and release of a harpsichord. The perspective is a bit recessed and emphasizes the body of the instrument relative to the notes. The impression is that of legato, rather than staccato, romantic rather than baroque.
The sibilance one would expect from a close-miked female voice — Holly Cole’s recording, DON’T SMOKE IN BED, track 1, Alert Z2 81020 — was attenuated and less irritating. One could hear the sibilance. However, based upon my experience auditioning this CD in the context of several stereo systems, there was a smoothing effect and reduction in sharpness. The acoustic bass was portrayed in balance between the articulation of the strings and the resonance of the wood body.
Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn arranged the music of Grieg and Tchaikovsky for jazz ensemble. The result of their efforts was released on a Columbia CD CK 46825, titled THREE SUITES. On track 1, “Overture”, there are brief trumpet, clarinet and saxophone solos—an opportunity to assess timbral accuracy of a stereo system. At the onset, a cymbal is heard — its brass composition was evident. The first trumpet solo was gentle rather than aggressive. The tenor sax was full bodied. The second trumpet had a mute. It purred, rather than growled. Overall there was a touch of a veil — a most un-digital presentation.
Wassaenaer’s “Concerti Armonici”, Naxos 8.553884, is a composition for strings and harpsichord, performed on period instruments. The strings produced a rounded tone, less focused than one would expect from such instruments performing in a baroque style. The harmonics of the harpsichord were not obscured, but the fundamental was somewhat understated.
A pattern emerged, characterized by a slight softening of transients, a slight attenuation of treble frequencies and a bit of veiling. What I have described might be expected of a 16 bit dac chip, in comparison to most 24 bit chips. The latter often exhibit excesses of treble energy, forwardness and hyper-resolution. The combination of 16 bit chip and the absence of op amps seem to resemble a rear hall perspective, in contrast to a 24 bit/op amp combination which sounds more like a front to mid-hall presentation. It is not surprising that there is a loss of resolution when some 16 bit chips are used. The trade off may be a “sound” more palatable, or listenable, regardless of the quality of recordings. Let the listener decide when, and if, less is more.
Speakers: Magnepan 1.6
Amplifier: VTL Deluxe 120 Monoblocks
Preamplifier: Mapletree Ultra 4A SE Special Edition
Interconnects: Sunny Cable Technology
Speaker Cable: Sunny Cable Technology
AC Cords: Sunny Cable Technology, Voodoo Cable, and Soundstring
Accessories: PS Audio P300, PS Audio Juice Bar, Enacom Filters, cocobolo wood blocks, Sound Boosters,
Chang 6400, Blue Circle Audio Sound Pillows Mk III , Room Tunes and Nirvana Audio isolation transformer
Manufactured by Sigtone