The Fifth Element Page 3

I also briefly used Ayre's CX-7eMP CD player ($3500) for its AES/EBU output, but I did not have an AES/EBU cable anywhere near as good as the Silver Shadow S/PDIF cable. (Nordost does make an AES/EBU version of the Silver Shadow, but I didn't request it.) That said, the Ayre CD player, used as a transport with a $30 Canare 110-ohm AES/EBU cable, was truly excellent. The Silver Shadow shone brightest—a Miltonian oxymoron, that—with the Sooloos, which has only an S/PDIF output. That the Silver Shadow shone less brightly with the $1500 Musical Fidelity CD player might say more about the Sooloos's and the Ayre's superiority as transports than anything else. I also listened, again, briefly, with a borrowed pair of Harbeth's P3ESR shoebox-sized British monitors, which remain both impressive and old-shoe comfortable, and actually represent a bargain at $1995/pair. The M1 made the P3ESRs sing as never before, with the best bass ever.

Listening: "Not to have is the beginning of desire."
On substituting the Bricasti M1 for the excellent Luxman D-05 SACD/CD player ($5000), my immediate impression was that the Bricasti produced a larger soundstage and slightly lighter timbres but substantially faster articulation. And this was pretty much stone cold, through a $20 S/PDIF cable (the Nordost Silver Shadow arrived the next afternoon). After listening to a few tracks, Brian Zolner and I left the M1 powered up and drove over to Pawtucket to have an excellent Indian lunch at Rasoi, as JA mentioned in the February issue.

Upon my return, I ran the 300-second sweep from Ayre Acoustics' Irrational, But Efficacious! System Enhancement CD, and yes, it made a difference. Timbres took on slightly more weight and centeredness.

Once the Nordost Silver Shadow cable arrived, I did all my listening with it and with the Vivid B-1s, except for brief comparisons for the benefit of guests. The result was among the handful of the best systems I have heard, and most likely the best sound I have heard in a private home. Breathtaking.

A few favorite-track examples: Julie London's voice in "Cry Me a River," from Time for Love: The Best of Julie London (CD, Rhino R2 70737), was plangent and very well centered. The sound of London's breath escaping as she sang rode along with, on top of, and was clearly distinct from her singing voice, as never before—as was the added echo at the end of the track.

Next up was a track I have been listening to in one format or another for 40 years: "If You Could Read My Mind," from Gordon Lightfoot's album of that title (CD, Reprise 7599-27451-2). With the Bricasti/Nordost combination, for the first time ever I heard a very quiet intake of breath before Lightfoot started singing. Wow. Bravo.

Violinist Arturo Delmoni's debut recording, Songs My Mother Taught Me, on the aluminum-CD edition remastered by Bob Ludwig (John Marks JMR 1), has never sounded better—sweet, yet realistically resiny. This was one of the albums I relied on as I scrolled through the M1's digital-filter options. I thought that Filter 0 (the off-the-shelf choice) was forgettable—flat and uninvolving. It didn't take me long to decide that my favorite was Filter 4—except in the rare case when a recording was too close-in, or tended toward a brittle sound. Then I preferred Filter 6, because it sounded more as if I were sitting in the audience, less as if I were onstage.

It turns out that Filters 4 and 6 are identical, except that Filter 4's inflection point is 20kHz and Filter 6's is 18kHz. From a rational standpoint, I don't think I should be able to hear that difference. But I did hear it—as did others. And is anyone surprised to learn that the filter I clearly preferred was the one that measures worst?

One track that revealed the simply amazing differences among the other components I had on hand (including Musical Fidelity's $699 M1 DAC, which JA had sent down for comparison) was the title track of Jane Monheit's Taking a Chance on Love (CD, Sony Classical SK 92495). I had never heard the drumstrokes jump with such energy. Fast, fast, fast transients—and criminy, what startling dynamics! (footnote 2) In a totally unfair comparison that includes a >10:1 ratio of retail prices, the Musical Fidelity M1 DAC ended up sounding veiled, muffled, and slow.

Perhaps the track that best showed what an achievement Bricasti's M1 DAC is was David Stanhope's performance of his own solo-piano transcription of Sibelius's orchestral tone poem Maiden's Tryst (CD, Tall Poppies 184). Over and above hearing Stanhope's mind-boggling pianism with preternatural clarity, this close-in recording had more bass and dynamic punch than ever before. Amazing bass. Playing this at realistically loud volume through the also-amazing Vivid B-1s, I experienced something I had never experienced before.

Consider this: A concert grand piano's soundboard has an area of at least 15 square feet, and usually ranges in thickness from about 3/8" to about ¼". Therefore, one should expect it to flex. With the Bricasti M1, when Stanhope crashed through his climactic chords, I felt I was feeling gusts of air from the B-1s' ports as his Steinway's entire soundboard flexed, pressurizing the recording venue.

Here's the short list of audio products that have floored me the way Bricasti's M1 DAC did: Wilson Benesch's original ACT One loudspeaker, darTZeel's NHB-108 stereo power amplifier, Cardas's Clear speaker cables, Vivid's B-1 loudspeaker, and Sooloos's Control:15 music server. I can't recall any others.

To sum up
Bricasti Design's M1 Dual-Mono D/A Converter: Cons: Expensive. No remote control. No volume control. No headphone jack. No phase inversion. No USB input. Can't handle 352.8 or 384kHz, or DSD.

Pros: Fast, detailed, effortlessly powerful, musically revealing. Fatigue-free listening. The best digital playback I have heard.

Verdict: Class A+. If you're shopping in this price tier, you should hear it.

Questions or comments.

Footnote 2: The M1's digital-over logger recorded 26 digital overs (clipped samples) in this track. That really shouldn't happen with a commercial release, especially on a major label.