CEntrance DACmini CX D/A converter Page 2

Dear Mr. Lichte:
Recently I acquired, through unnamed sources, high-resolution versions of my favorite music: Sheffield Lab's
The Sheffield Track & Drum Record (CD, Sheffield Lab SL10081) and the channel-identification track from John Atkinson's Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2). (The sound of JA playing Fender bass out of phase gives me shivers.) I want to hear this beautiful music in all its 24-bit glory. Could you recommend a DAC that could realize the potential of hi-rez audio.—Music Lover

Dear Music Hater:
You need to get out more.

The CEntrance DACmini CX is a good example of a product that doesn't cost a whole lot but is able to get folks into the world of high-resolution digital sound via computer. I hooked up my Sony Vaio laptop to the DACmini via a Cardas USB cable and played hi-rez files using J. River's Media Center. I really love Media Center—it gives me the most control I've ever had of getting the data from my computer to a DAC. I don't totally love Media Center's format for the logical organization of music files (why anyone would lay out their media program in any way other than what iTunes does is beyond me), but it lets me use multiple types of outputs from my PC (wave out, Kernel streaming, ASIO drivers, etc.) to best mate my computer to external hardware. I can even configure Media Center to play all of my files from my laptop's memory rather than from its hard drive. The J. River software has easily given me the best sound I've heard from my laptop, with far more resolution than files played through iTunes, or even my Sony Soundforge editing suite with dedicated ASIO driver.

Played through Media Center and the DACmini CX, 24-bit/88.2kHz files of pianist Robert Silverman's upcoming release of works by Brahms and Schumann (recorded by John Atkinson and produced by moi) sounded big, bold, and clearly romantic. The 16/44.1 files I created from the 24/88.2 master files sounded noticeably less focused and natural. The DACmini allowed the 24/88.2 files to easily draw the outlines of the piano's direct sound, delineating it from the surrounding acoustic of Goshen College's Sauder Hall. In high resolution, I felt I could hear the interaction of each string on the piano. I could more easily hear the beating in the chords of a piano tuned with equal temperament. The DACmini retained its big, bold character with every kind of file it played, and even made MP3s sound a little less crappy. Clearly, the DACmini CX was able to realize the potential of hi-rez files.

Been lovin' your writing, man. You're no Corey Greenberg—heck, you're not even Stephen Mejias—but at least you aren't some deaf geezer. I'm wondering if you could recommend a DAC with an analog input so I can still play vinyl while I drink my PBR tallboys.
Rock on—Youngstihl Knottold

Dear Youngstihl:
Thanks, I think. Many DACs these days include analog inputs so that hipsters like you can rock out to vinyl or cassettes or whatever the cool kids are listening to these days. While I don't currently have a vinyl setup, I've recently been spending time with the dCS Debussy DAC ($10,900) that Michael Fremer reviewed in January 2011. So far, the Debussy is as close to a state-of-the-art DAC as I've heard in my home. I've even used it to test the analog inputs of the CEntrance DACmini CX. I wondered how much of the dCS's glory the inexpensive CEntrance could preserve.

I listened to the dCS-CEntrance combo playing Fleet Foxes' latest album, Helplessness Blues (CD, Sub Pop 888). Playing "Bedouin Dress," the DACmini CX preserved a good deal of the dCS's sound. Though the CEntrance added a slight pinch to the treble sound, narrowed and flattened the soundstage, added a touch of its fullish midbass, but lacked the stygian bass wallop of the Debussy, I could still hear much of what the dCS does well. To be sure, the DACmini, fed by the dCS through the former's analog inputs, sounded better than the DACmini's own DAC fed via its coaxial input. I think it's important to note that the distortions the DACmini added to the dCS's signal were generally euphonic, even as it robbed the Debussy of much of its staggering resolution. At $795, the DACmini had no right sounding as good as it did when fed by a $10,900 DAC. Hooked up to a phono stage, I'm sure the CEntrance will do a fine job of playing vinyl.

A word of caution: Each time I switched between inputs on the DACmini CX, a horrendous electrical crack and pop was sent through my system. This really needs to be addressed by CEntrance.

Dear Mr. Lichte:
My wife doesn't know I'm writing this letter. She is a very particular woman, and very particular about what we allow in her—I mean our—home. I haven't owned a pair of speakers since before we got engaged (in our freshman year of college), and do all of my listening through headphones. I'm looking for a DAC and headphone amplifier that would sound nice and won't cost lots of money. My wife hates it when I spend her—I mean our—money.
Thank you for your time.—Schewers DePantz

Mr. DePantz:
I, too, do a good deal of headphone listening, though not for the same reasons as you. I've been spending a decent amount of time listening to my Sennheiser HD600 headphones plugged into the CEntrance DACmini CX, which I thought did a great job of driving these 'phones. Like its sister product, the CEntrance DACport, which JA and I reviewed in June and October 2010, the DACmini CX had a very lovely, tubey quality through my HD600s, with a roundness to the sound that was always inviting and easy. Compared to the DACport, the DACmini had better sound at the frequency extremes: better low-bass control and weight, and greater extension in the treble.

The sound of the DACmini CX couldn't have been more different from that of the Benchmark DAC1 HDR. Whereas the DACmini was all round and supple, the Benchmark was cool and calculating. Via the Benchmark instruments had great solidity, the treble was slightly more extended and forward, and the sound was, overall, drier. The Benchmark let me hear further into the music I was playing—like a good bra, it lifted and separated sounds and instruments from one another. I also heard a finer delineation of treble sounds from the Benchmark DAC1 HDR—which is, in short, a more revealing source than the CEntrance DACmini CX.

However, the DACmini had a sort of grace in music making. If I were mixing or editing music, I would much rather use the Benchmark DAC1 HDR. But when I wanted to kick back with a beer and listen to some tunes, especially ones that might not have been recorded or mastered very well, I can't deny that the CEntrance made for enjoyable listens. Based on your letter, Mr. DePantz, I assume you might like the Benchmark's more controlling nature. I enjoyed choosing a headphone amp based on the music I wanted to hear and how I felt at that moment.

Dear Erick:
I have a bunch of girlfriends who love to eat meatloaf and party hard in dirty Jersey. Could you recommend a nice-sounding, inexpensive DAC with a volume control that they could hook up to their computers and CD players? Oh, and it MUST also be able to handle an analog input, because I've spent the last few years teaching these girls that vinyl is the only thing that truly matters in this world.—Anonymous

Dear Stephen Mejias:
I recommend the CEntrance DACmini CX. It's cute, easy to set up and use, and has a rich, enjoyable sonic fingerprint. Fed an analog signal, it will do a nice job, and it makes listening to USB/computer-based audio a pleasurable experience.

8817 Mango Avenue
Morton Grove, IL 60053
(847) 581-0500

WillWeber's picture

Did you make those emails up? Or juice'd the names to protect the guilty?

Had fun reading your article, and it was informative too. It's hard to keep up with all the new digital/computer audio developments. Please stay busy!



MikeMercer's picture

Eric wrote all the parts there Will!  A nice diversion from the typical audio review.  There's plenty of reasons why I went to work for CEntrance - they make terrific products, and not only are all the design engineers musicians, they're a GREAT group of guys...

Erranti's picture

Hi there Erik,

I really enjoyed your original Dacmini review and had some pretty good laughs :D.

I recently acquired a pair of Beyerdynamic Tesla1s to upgrade my old AKG K702s, and I'm looking for a good Amp or DAC/Amp to power these 600Ohm monsters. Beyerdynamic's own A1 Amp with 100 Ohm output impedance(?!!) is completely out of the question.

I did some research and came up with 3 good candidates, and I would of course want to know if there's any chance they could be reviewed in the near future.

The Amps and DAC/Amps I came up with are:
 - German made Violectric V100 and V200 (both can be obtained with incorporated 16/48 and 24/96 USB DACs), and Violectric's standalone V800 DAC, which features some pretty serious specs and versatility. 
 - HeadAmp GS-1. An all American and extremely well built Amp and PreAmp with very respectable specs.
 - Anedio D2 DAC and Amp, which features some great looks, solid build and fantastic specs.

If there's no plans to review these Amps and DAC/Amps, I would still very much appreciate any impressions you could have on them.

Thanks in advance,