Musical Fidelity V-DAC D/A processor Page 2

Most high-end components' front panels, or faceplates, represent 30% of the build cost, averred Antony. This squares with what another well-known manufacturer told me many years ago, off the record: that he could reduce his retail prices by 40% if he didn't offer them as hi-fi jewelry.

"With the exception of power amps that require big heatsinks and large transformers, every other component does not need to be housed in a big box," Antony continued by phone. "Manufacturers try to fill the box with stuff which looks impressive and powerful, but it's meaningless with low-level signals."

Unstoppable, he proceeded to extol the V series: "You start with a pile of components and you ask yourself, how does that get housed as cheaply and efficiently as possible? You design a custom extrusion that fits around a small PCB—the same extrusion for each of our V products, saving money there.

"With the V series, the signal flow starts at one end and ends at the other end. It doesn't start at the side and wiggle around the middle and cross backwards and forwards across itself and come out on the same side. The very physical configuration of the V components, with the input on one end and the output on the other, means that everything is symmetrical from beginning to end, and works better."

The V components weigh ounces, not pounds (grams, not kilograms). Each black V box measures 6.7" (170mm) long by 3.75" (95mm) wide by 1.7" (40mm) high, including all feet and terminals. Each is powered by a DC wall wart that allows rectification (turning AC into DC) to happen. Although using another wall wart or power supply is expressly forbidden, a V-series power-supply upgrade might be forthcoming.

Each V is small enough to carry in a shirt pocket (stuff the wall wart into a coat pocket). Take any one of them to a friend's place and put it up against the fat-cat stuff he's bought. Practice your evil laugh. Don't expect your pal to admit the superiority of your V gear. Instead, he'll say something like, "Oh, that's very good for the money." Meanwhile, the certainty that he's overspent will gnaw at his innards.

Marina says it's a wonder I have any friends at all. Or a wife.

I received a V-DAC D/A converter, a V-CAN headphone amp, and a V-LPS phono preamp. The V-CAN and V-LPS sell for $199 each; the V-DAC costs $299 because there's more stuff inside. I haven't seen them discounted anywhere. In addition to a V-PSU power supply, there might be other V-series products, but there won't be a V-series power amp. The chassis is too small, and besides, Antony likes digital switching amps even less than I do.

These products share the same sonic signature to such a degree that to ascribe a sound to one is to describe all three: clean, clear, fast, not at all dry or transistory, and slightly soft, on the forgiving side of neutral. The downside is that all three [ahem] accessories strike me as sounding a mite wee. Which, after all, they are.

Musical Fidelity V-DAC D/A converter
Considering that the Musical Fidelity V-DAC sells for $299, the value for money is remarkable. Twenty years ago, MF introduced its first outboard DAC, the Digilog, for $1000. I haven't owned or heard one in a dog's age—or a cat's age, for that matter—but I'm certain the V-DAC surpasses it in every way, except possibly weight and authority.

The People's V-DAC uses a single Burr-Brown DSD1792 chip and an SRC4392 upsampling device to provide the magic bullet: the illusion of digital information that isn't actually there. (Cambridge Audio's DacMagic incorporates the magic bullet, too; see below.) The V-DAC's separate USB input relies on a Texas Instruments TI2706 chip.

"What you don't get, compared to a $5000 DAC, is a huge box and lots of snake oil and bullshit," proclaimed Antony in one of his more expansive moments. I think I caught him at home, after dinner and a glass of wine. Or two. Mid-afternoon, my time. His cat and mine traded transatlantic meows.

What about that tiny wall wart?

"I don't see why you need a monstrous power supply on a DAC. The important considerations with a power supply are that it is very quiet and has very low impedance. There's no reason to have massive transformers and physically enormous capacitors that don't actually do anything. But high-end audio is typically about what it looks like, not what it does. The idea is that the V series should not be on display; they should be hidden behind your CD player or next to the back of your amplifier and not be seen at all."

So what's the idea behind the £7900 Primo and the £19,999 Titan?

I didn't get an answer. Marina says it's a wonder I have any . . . Or a . . .

I did much of my listening through the V-CAN and my pair of Audio-Technica ATH-AD700 headphones, to which I find myself turning more and more for their musicality and lack of overanalytical sound. I've seen them at for $100 plus a few pennies—get a pair while you can.

I changed transports from a Marantz CD63 Special Edition to a Denon DCD-1650AR CD player; the more robustly built Denon delivered better sound with both the V-DAC and the Cambridge Audio DacMagic: more solid, more rhythmically right. I didn't expect the change of CD player to make a dramatic difference, but it did—in terms of bass control, low-level detail, and overall solidity of sound.

The Marantz and Denon players are both long out of production. The Denon originally sold for $1000, about twice the price of the Marantz, and is built like a battleship. I've seen it for about $300 on eBay. Digital cable (S/PDIF) was Analysis Plus Digital Oval—at more than half the price of the V-DAC. Of course, digital cables should make no difference.

The V-DAC sounded extraordinarily quiet, as if I were hearing an absence of digital processing. That's subjective, of course. Like those of the other two V components introduced so far, the V-DAC's midrange was silky smooth, its treble sweetly extended—a very pleasing sonic signature for such inexpensive [ahem] accessories.

The V-DAC begs to be compared to the Cambridge DacMagic, which retails for $449 (actual street price is $400, so the DacMagic effectively costs 1/3 more than the V-DAC). The DacMagic, which I wrote about in March, offers more features, including balanced analog outputs, a phase-reversal setting, variable digital filters—and a larger wall wart, if that makes any difference. It's cool the way the DacMagic can stand vertically on its rubbery isolation base—there's no need to hide it away, and it doesn't flop over. All the V components are so lightweight that our cat can paw them around. And does.

I tried the two DACs using the Denon player as a transport and the V-CAN headphone amp (see below). Back and forth I went, playing a classical work all the way through, or a movement or two of a symphony or concerto. Through the Audio Technica ATH-AD700s I heard more low-level detail with the DacMagic, more ambience, more of the recording venue. The V-DAC was a little airless by comparison, but seemed balanced on the slightly soft side of neutral—no bad thing when it comes to digital recordings and headphone listening. The DacMagic appeared to have a fuller, richer, if not tighter bottom end. The DacMagic bloomed but didn't boom. But, as Bob Deutsch would say, I am less a leveler than a sharpener: I look for differences to overemphasize.

I couldn't establish a clear preference for either DAC; your choice may be determined by features and price. Many customers will turn to mail order—Audio Advisor, for instance, carries both. If you love ambient detail, you won't go wrong with the Cambridge Audio DacMagic. If you lust after a silken, sweet (but not oversweet) sound, you'll marvel at the Musical Fidelity V-DAC. When I'm listening to one, I don't miss the other. Always a good sign.

Musical Fidelity
US distributor: Tempo Sales & Marketing
P.O. Box 541443
Waltham, MA 02454
(617) 314-9296

lreinstein's picture

I am trying to decide whether to purchase a V-DAC or DACMAGIC and would appreciate any comparisons.  


I am not extremely technically savvy.   And, I do not much care about the small difference in price or in physical appearance or features.  What I am interested in is the sound quality for the music I listen to which is mainly classical and jazz.    My source is typically apple lossless formats via either Squeezebox or Airport Express.  THank you for your help.



billmilosz's picture

I own both the original VDAC and the original DACMAGIC. To my ears, they both sound quite good. I feel the VDAC offers a little bit of tube-like sweetness, whereas the DACMAGIC is more neutral. The DACMAGIC has the advantage of balanced outputs as well, which can be useful if you have balanced inputs on your gear.