Music Hall dac25.2 D/A processor Page 2

With my venerable Advents connected to the dac25.2's headphone output, I thought the sound of Internet radio was splendid. Same with my Audio-Technica ATH-AD700 headphones: splendid but not stupendous. What can you expect from Internet radio? One thing I didn't like: Turning off the dac25.2 produced a squeak, followed by something between a speak and a pop. Unplug your 'phones first. Turn off your powered speakers. I heard no such transients through the dac25.2's fixed-level analog outputs; this problem seems to affect only the headphone stage.

Art Dudley loves Wavelength Audio's Cosecant USB DAC, which costs "only" $3500. Funny how Artie has become such a liberal (heh-heh) spender, though he does suggest that $100,000 for The Lars is a bit over the top. Still, he's been Fremerized! I haven't heard Gordon Rankin's Cosecant DAC, but I believe Artie when he says it's a honey. I just wonder whether or not I need one for Internet radio. (Much as I like Apple computers, I refuse to buy a laptop and then be chained to it. My Mac mini stays in the office.)

The dac25.2 sounded especially swell with Internet radio. (With Internet radio so readily available, does anyone actually need HD Radio—especially since HDR signals crap out so quickly in the car?) Maybe it's that single 6922 tube—an ElectroHarmonix made in Russia!—in the dac25.2's analog output stage, softening the sound, filling in the harmonics. (The 6922 is similar but not identical to a 6DJ8.)

The competition
I was interested to hear how the dac25.2 would compare with two of my reference separates: the Cambridge Audio DacMagic D/A converter that I reviewed in March and Musical Fidelity's V-CAN headphone amplifier (see my May column). Could I have it all in one box?

Bear in mind that the DacMagic has no headphone output, the V-CAN has no DAC, and neither has tubes. Funny how Roy has warmed to tubes, now that he sells his own tubed products. Funny, too, now Roy is selling tubes, how I'm rediscovering the virtues of solid-state.

Back and forth I went: Cambridge DacMagic or Music Hall dac25.2?

Two jazz recordings brought differences to the fore. I listened to "Lifelight," from Freddie Hubbard's On the Real Side (CD, Times Square). Drummer E.J. Strickland sounds stupendous at the start, and is magnificently recorded—cymbals, brushwork, whatever it is drummers do. The DacMagic presented transients with crystalline clarity: quick, with no smearing. The dac25,2, by contrast, seemed slightly smeared and slower.

I noted much the same with Shirley Horn's Live at the 1994 Monterey Jazz Festival (CD, Monterey Jazz Fest)—I just melted on "The Look of Love." With the DacMagic, Horn's voice and piano, and the work of drummer Steve Williams, grabbed me with an immediacy that the dac25.2 couldn't equal, for all its spacious, euphonic quality: sound touched by tubes. Or tube.

This is why hi-fi is great: It can resurrect performers who are no longer with us, like Hubbard and Horn. This seems far more important with jazz, in which the performance is paramount, than it is with composition-driven classical music. We have on the one hand Monk, Bird, Clifford, Dizzy, and Satchmo, and on the other Wolfgang, Ludwig, Franz, and Dmitri. Someone could come along and blow away all other performances of Beethoven's Violin Concerto, but there will never be another Louis Armstrong or Der Bingle.

I noticed the same thing with well-recorded chamber music, such as the Brahms String Quartets with the Quarteto Casals (CD, Harmonia Mundi HMU 987074). The Cambridge DacMagic imparted more openness, more air. Transients were quicker. The sound was more...magic. I know I'm looking to highlight and magnify differences, but the Magic struck me as the superior DAC.

I also discovered that, like John Atkinson, I now prefer the DacMagic's Minimum Phase filter. Before I changed transports, I couldn't distinguish between the Linear Phase and Minimum Phase filters. My preference became clear when I switched a Marantz CD63SE player for the more robust Denon DCD-1650AR, which is something of a tank.

I thought the dac25.2 sounded at least as resolving and sweet as my trusty but outdated Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista 21 DAC. I don't remember what the Tri-Vista 21 sold for in the US, but it was roughly twice the price of the dac25.2—and it lacks a headphone output and a USB input.

I decided to try the headphone amp. This was easier. I simply attached my Musical Fidelity V-CAN to the dac25.2's RCA analog outputs. I could go back and forth as easily as pulling the plug. For the most part, I used my Audio-Technica ATH-AD700 'phones. Yeah, I know—there are more resolving headphones, but not for the money, and few are as musical.

I thought the V-CAN was superior in terms of bass control: the V-CAN got a grip on the bottom end that the dac25.2 couldn't manage. Switching from the dac25.2 to the Cambridge Audio DacMagic only emphasized the difference. I think this is a problem with many headphone amps: a lack of bottom-end grip—balls, if you will. Ask Hall. The manufacturer specifies "headphone output resistance" (I think they mean output impedance) as 0.3 ohm, which is admirably low, and should drive just about any dynamic headphones. Maybe what the dac25.2 could use is a solid-state output buffer, as in Musical Fidelity's more expensive X-CANV8. But now we're talking about almost as much money as the Music Hall for a headphone amp alone—and no DAC included.

Summing Up
The dac25.2 won me over for the fine way it handled Internet radio via USB, for its combination of features for $599, and for the way it placed tubes—er, tube (the 6922 is a double triode)—in the signal path. Even the LFD Zero Integrated III LE seemed to benefit from the touch of tube.

The dac25.2 might be an excellent choice for your office, and all the hi-fi you may need. You can bypass your computer's soundcard, run a USB cable to the dac25.2, and listen with powered loudspeakers (you may need an adapter) or headphones. I enjoyed sweet, full-bodied, nonfatiguing Internet-radio sound. No product can do it all, especially for $599; the dac25.2 offers a lot.

Music Hall
108 Station Road
Great Neck, NY 11023
(516) 487-3663

texanalog's picture


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