Nagra DAC D/A processor Page 2

The Nagra's soundstage was very deep, adequately wide, and grippingly immediate. Even though I sit a good 10-12' back from the speakers, the DAC seemed to pull me in, producing a more nearfield perspective than I usually experience. I think a number of things might have contributed to this: first, the dead quietness of the background in relation to the dynamic musical presentation; second, the power and definition of the lower frequencies, which seemed to directly couple the bass drivers to my ears; and third, the very clear, deep soundstage, which focused my attention on the central image.

Engineer Jerry Bruck's marvelous achievement in dealing with the acoustics of the Riverside Church is in his having gotten so much character, detail, and power from Glen Cortese and the Manhattan School of Music Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in their recording of Mahler's Symphony 3 (CD, Titanic Ti-252). These features had never been made so clear as through the Nagra. All in all, it was a very exciting and revealing experience.

The only fly I found in the ointment was Nagra's use of an A/D converter for the analog input. The reasons for this are apparent—the rest of the device is all-digital, and if one upgrades to the full preamp-processor DAP, one would want to make use of its features with all inputs. Nonetheless, high-quality analog sources were just not as grain-free and open when digitized and reconverted as they were when I bypassed the Nagra altogether. It was more than acceptable for FM broadcasts, but I felt that the edges were smoothed when I fed it from my turntable and phono stage. Had Nagra included a digital output so that I could have used it to digitize LPs for storage on my PC's hard drive, I'd have been more than happy with it. The difference was noticeable only in A/B comparisons, but it was there.

The Nagra DAC's residence in my system overlapped only briefly with that of the Weiss Medea; I didn't have the opportunity to compare them after the Nagra had settled in and I had gotten a good feel for its character. Reading the notes I made for my review of the Medea (Stereophile, February 2003), I suspect that the two Swiss DACs share many sonic characteristics, among them a neutral harmonic balance, an extended and transparent treble, and taut, powerful bass. I further suspect that choosing between them might be a matter of features and application rather than sound quality. The Medea is a very fine multiple-input DAC; the Nagra adds volume and balance controls, along with a remote control so that it can function as a system controller in a (nearly) all-digital system. The Nagra also has an A/D stage for an analog input.

A more apt comparison is with the Theta Digital Generation VIII, which so enthralled me in March with its digital and analog performance. Put both in black boxes and feed them digital and analog inputs, and I'll bet you'd have no difficulty telling which is which. The Theta's two analog inputs, which never leave the analog domain, were audibly superior to the Nagra's digitization and reconversion, as good as it was. In addition, the sound each model offered from its digital inputs was complementary. The Nagra conveyed all the music and ambience with honesty, clarity, and power. The Nagra's sound was immediate, with a detailed and firmly deep soundstage, but one that was carefully defined by the left and right speaker positions. In some ways, it was an engineer's or mixer's ideal view of events: all elements were at hand. In direct comparison with the Theta's presentation, there was a sense of precise containment with the Nagra.

The Gen.VIII, on the other hand, was less gripping at the extreme bottom end, but equally detailed through the midrange and treble. Where the Theta scored was in its generously open soundstage, which made the detail, though still present, seem less overt.

Talk about an excess of riches! The Nagra DAC joins the pantheon of truly superb D/A converters that can wrest the best from your associated equipment and extract more than ever from your CDs. Notable for its powerful dynamics and clarity, the Nagra probably will get you as close to the music as the mastering engineer was.

The configuration of the Nagra also distinguishes it from other DACs. Not simply a D/A converter, the DAC is also a fine digital system controller with remote conmtrol of all functions. Although it lacks a digital output, the inclusion of a high-quality 24-bit, 48kHz A/D converter makes it backward-compatible with ad suitable for listening to analog sources. Professional construction, superior sound, and a high degree of programmability make the Nagra DAC a winner.

US distributor: Audiophile Systems & ASL
8709 Castle Park Drive
Indianapolis, IN 46256
(317) 849-5880