Music Hall dac25.2 D/A processor
Cambridge Audio has been manufacturing in China for more than a decade. Its parent company, The Audio Partnership, also manufactures Mordaunt-Short. I recall the days, not long ago, when British hi-fi manufacturers plastered Union Jacks all over their boxes, and sometimes tagged a knob on the front panel for good measure. I haven't seen any Chinese flags on "British" gear.
Roy Hall started out manufacturing turntables in Slovakia. He still does. Then he linked up with Shanling.
According to its rear panel, the Music Hall dac25.2 is "Designed and developed in the USA." I couldn't find "Made in China" on the chassis, but perhaps my review sample was a prototype. Cambridge Audio used to put this in tiny type: "Made in PRC."
I know exactly where the dac25.2 was "designed and developed": in Roy "Music" Hall's office at 108 Station Road, in Great Neck, Long Island, New York. I hadn't thought of scruffy Roy as a designer and developer, but why not? He knows a thing or two about sound quality and offering value for money. And Shanling, in Shen Zen, has years of experience building CD players. So if Hall wasn't on the ball, Shanling's Mr. Li would [ahem] re-educate him.
"I want to f--- the competition," Roy told me, in his best native Glaswegian. Which is a swell attitude, and far better than "f--- the consumer," a sentiment I've heard from more than one manufacturer.
The dac25.2 is available worldwide only from Music Hall. It is not a rebadged Shanling product, and there is no Shanling version of it floating around in Chinatown, or elsewhere on the gray market. The dac25.2 is Roy Hall's product; it sells for $599.
"It's amazing how you've made yourself a brand," I said to Roy the other day. He knows what he wants to offer and what he wants to charge. He approached the dac25.2 the same way he does Music Hall turntables: by borrowing and then combining bits and pieces of what's worked here and there. Pick four from Column A and two from Column B. Just like the Golden Garden Chinese restaurant in Great Neck. That's a nifty name for Music Hall's next product.
The dac25.2 is a combination digital-to-analog processor and headphone amplifier. And it's tubed. It retails for $599, even though Roy, playing to the hilt the role of thrifty Scot, claims it's worth hundreds more.
Four from Column A: S/PDIF coaxial, XLR, TosLink optical, and USB inputs. And two analog outputs from Column B: RCA single-ended or balanced XLR. There are no analog inputs and there is no iPod dock. But there is a ¼" headphone jack, along with its own volume knob (which can also be used to drive a pair of powered speakers in your office). There's no remote control, but there's a lot on offer here. And remember, even Creek is now made in Chinajust like your GE toaster or your Proctor Silex coffeemaker.
A Texas Instruments (formerly Burr-Brown) 24-bit/192kHz chip, provides the dac25.2's 8x-oversampling digital filter. Upstream, a Texas Instruments SRC4192 takes care of reclocking, jitter control, and sample-rate conversion. I preferred the 192kHz setting for the most airy, open, relaxed sound. Roy says he prefers no upsampling.
The dac25.2 is a substantial component: 10 lbs shipping weightbut what about net? I used the same technique we use to weigh Maksik, our cat. First, I stand on the scale. Then I stand on the scale holding Maksik...or the dac25.2. The dac25.2 weighs 7.8 lbs.about 2 lbs less than Maksik. It (not he) measures 8.5" (220mm) W by 3.75" (95mm) H by 13.5" (345mm) D. Only a mains cable is supplied; as I discovered, the USB cable is on you.
Roy was incredulous. "You bought a USB cable?"
Yeah, I felt I should have that particular cable on hand, so I ran down to RadioShack. Cost me 20 bucks. I cursed under my breath.
I put the dac25.2 on my office desktop and attached it to my Mac mini via USB. I used the ¼" headphone output with mini-adapter to drive my ancient Advent powered speakers. I ran iTunes and listened to Internet radiomainly KCSM, the Bay Area jazz station, and some classical from Cleveland's WCLV. When I find stations I like, I stick with them. Ask me about crashes near Dead Man's Curve (in Cleveland).