Lector Strumenti Audio Digitube S-192 D/A converter Page 2
For all that, the Lector's greatest strengthwhich proved consistently impressive with classical farewas how it allowed voices and instruments to emerge with their timbral colors intact. We can argue all day about the subtle minutiae of the color "correctness" exhibited by this or any other playback devicean argument that holds little interest for me up until deviations from the norm get really hairybut the fact is, in this era of digital and analog playback gear that sounds bleached of all flesh and blood, a product capable of this degree of color saturation is a beautiful thing. So it was when I auditioned the XRCD remastering of Ravel's Pavane for a Dead Princess, recorded in 1957 by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (ripped from CD, JVC JVCXR-0215-2). As with Kaplan's Mahler, the Digitube honored pizzicato strings in a manner that was beyond either the Halide or the somewhat older Wavelength Proton converter. Yet it also did a gorgeous job with massed violinswhich have, in that recording, a sheen that I associate with RCA's orchestral recordings of that eraand it did a spine-tinglingly convincing job with the timbres throughout the woodwind section.
Yet another Mahler recordingmy current favorite version of Symphony 6, by Pierre Boulez and the Vienna Philharmonic (ripped from CD, Deutsche Grammophon 445 835-2)showed the Digitube at its best. The first thing that impressed me, after the believable power and impact of the opening chords, was the richly textured string sound, every voice announcing its presence with rosiny realismor so it seemed. I admit, there were moments when I wondered if the Digitube might have been exaggerating some textures. The side drum, for example, while put across with wonderful impact and color, also sounded very slightly fuzzy during some rolls. I was also a bit puzzled by the way the Lector reproduced the brass in this recording, which, despite the Lector's extended treble, sounded darker than through the Halide; the less expensive converter afforded those instruments their full measure of glow. Go figure.
In spite of its classical sympathies, the Lector Digitube also performed well with rock and pop recordings. The electric bass in "Marrakesh Express," from Crosby, Stills & Nash (192kHz file, Atlantic), sounded deep, colorful, and tight, and the same was true of Paul McCartney's great bass line in "I Am the Walrus," ripped from the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour, from The Beatles in Mono (CD, Apple 5099969945120)although with that remastering and other mono recordings the Lector was again bested by the Halide DAC HD in terms of scale. "Money Becomes King," from Tom Petty's The Last DJ (ripped from CD, Warner Bros. 48396-2), sounded sensationally good. The Lector brought out from this nice if somewhat plasticky recording more impact, detail, color, and involvement than did the superb Halidecompared to which, the Lector also did a superior job of separating the sounds of various instruments during the louder, more cluttered passages.
Still, it never got better than when I used the Digitube converter to play Charles Neidich and the Juilliard String Quartet's recording of the Brahms Clarinet Quintet, Op.115 (ripped from CD, Sony S2K 66285), the Lector delivering a near-analog portrayal of not just the colors and textures of the instruments but also the dramatic shadingsespecially in the clarinet's stormier runs, after the switch back to the home key of B minor; the Halide sounded plasticky by comparison. The Lector went even further, reproducing a perfect and subtle envelopealmost a haloof room sound around the gentle, final B major chord: a delightful and very satisfying moment that, better than anything else, sums up this product's musicality and charm.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Lector Digitube S-192. I liked its distinctive yet non-overcooked appearance, its build quality, its flexibility, and, above all, the manner in which it played music. Its flaws, such as they were, meshed well with my own preferences in music playback, its strengths even more so.
Even at its reasonable price of $3595, the Lector faces strong competition, the most obvious being from the Ayre Acoustics QB-9 ($3250). Experience suggests that the USB-only Ayre offers a shade more clarity and openness, at the expense of far less flexibility in input options; the Lector delivers timbral color and texture in greater abundance, at the expense of many more input options than some enthusiasts wish to pay for. Both are compatible with the highest-resolution digital downloads presently available (footnote 3). A dealer who has both products in stock and is willing to make an overnight loan would be worth seeking out (my attempt at an understatement). Pending such good luck, I can heartily recommend Lector Strumenti Audio's Digitube S-192 for the musicality it displayed in my system, as well as for its attractive casework and its good value for the money.
Footnote 3: But beware: In recent measurements, John Atkinson has noted evidence that some hi-rez downloads are actually derived from the same old 44.1kHz masters. I know: It came as a dreadful shock to me, too.