Recommended Components 2021 Edition Digital Processors

Digital Processors

Editor's Note: The sound of any particular CD transport/digital processor combination will be dependent on the datalink used-see "Bits is Bits?" by Christopher Dunn and Malcolm Omar Hawksford, Stereophile, March 1996, Vol.19 No.3 (WWW). Unless mentioned, processors are limited to 32/44.1/48kHz sample rates. To be included in Class A+, a digital processor must be capable of handling DSD or 24/96 LPCM data.

A+

Benchmark Media Systems DAC3 HGC: $2199 ★
Benchmark's DAC3 HGC—the last three letters designate this as the audiophile version, with a headphone amp and two analog inputs—supports files up to 24/192 and DSD64, the latter as DoP (via USB). Bearing in mind the manufacturer's suggestion that there should be no audible difference between their DAC1 and DAC3, JCA wrote, "In fact, I found the sounds of the two DACs quite different. The DAC1 was brighter . . . the DAC3 was all about depths, in several respects . . . I heard deeper into the music." The concise conclusion to JA's Measurements sidebar: "All I can say is 'Wow!'" In a Follow-Up, JCA wrote of using the Benchmark processor with the same company's AHB2 power amp—a combination of high source output voltage and modest amplifier gain that he describes as "optimal for minimizing noise and distortion"—and reported hearing "richer and more interesting" reproduction of very subtle details. (Vol.40 No.11, Vol.41 No.10 WWW)

Chord Electronics DAVE: $10,900 ★
The DAVE—an acronym for Digital to Analog Veritas in Extremis—derives from the work of Chord designer Rob Watts, whose Watts Transient Aligned (WTA) filter is claimed to eliminate the timing uncertainty associated with conventional DACs of comparatively limited processing power. And the DAVE's processing power is prodigious: As JA explains, "Watts ended up with a 17th-order noise shaper (!) with 350dB dynamic range (!!) in the audioband, equivalent to 50 bits resolution (!!!)." In his system, the DAVE, which is compatible with PCM up to 32 bits/768kHz and DSD up to DSD512, sounded so good that it tore editor JA away from editing: "Darned if I didn't have to go sit in the listening chair, so compelling was the sound produced by the DAVE." In particular, he praised the DAVE's "superb re-creation of soundstage depth, its sense of musical drive, and the clarity with which it presented recorded detail." Reporting from his test bench, JA wrote: "Even if I hadn't auditioned Chord's DAVE, I would have been impressed by this DAC. Its measured performance is beyond reproach." (Vol.40 No.6, Vol.43 No.3 WWW)

Chord Hugo M Scaler: $4795
The Chord Hugo M Scaler is a digital processor but not a digital-to-analog processor, its purpose being the upsampling—referred to in the UK as upscaling—of incoming data. When connected to a Chord DAC via BNC connectors, the M Scaler can upsample up to 705.6kHz or 768kHz, but with non-Chord DACs the upper limits become 176.4kHz and 192kHz. (In all cases, incoming DSD data is converted to PCM, with a 6dB reduction in level.) JA used the M Scaler with Chord's DAVE D/A processor, and with his own PS Audio and Mark Levinson DACs. In all cases, but especially with the DAVE, upsampling via the M Scaler offered such improvements as "more image depth, an increased sense of drive, and even more clarity." That said, owing to the fact that the M Scaler is "relatively expensive," JA recommends auditioning it with your DAC of choice "before getting out the credit card." (Vol.43 No.3 WWW)

dCS Bartok w/headphone amp: $17,250
w/o headphone amp: $14,500

The "perfectly" named dCS Bartók—judged so by JCA for its modernist, single-box sensibility—brings an unprecedented level of thrift to the company's offerings: It is both the company's most affordable D/A processor and the one that offers the highest level of per-chassis functionality, owing to its inclusion of a headphone amplifier (which can be omitted for a $2750 savings) and an onboard version of the dCS Network Bridge streamer, the latter allowing playback from streaming services, network storage devices, and USB-connected flash drives. At the heart of the Bartók remains the manufacturer's patented Ring DAC technology, here supporting native sampling rates up to 24-bit, 384kHz and up to DSD128. According to JCA, the Bartók "consistently and unambiguously revealed the character of the recordings it played, with clarity, pinpoint imaging [and] excellent image depth, fully saturated tonal colors, and no noticeable emphasis on any part of the frequency spectrum." Although neither writer saw the other's work until press time, Jim's conclusion—"the state of the art"—was echoed by JA in his test-bench report: "In this crusty old engineer's view, 'dCS' means 'Digital Done Right!' (Vol.42 No.10 WWW)

dCS Network Bridge: $5625 ★
Designed for use both with the company's top-of-the-line Vivaldi DAC and other DACs, the dCS Network Bridge is a Roon-ready, one-box network player that can serve as a bridge between the user's NAS (or other such file source) and DAC, and can also stream content from Tidal, Spotify, and other services. Ethernet, AirPlay, and USB inputs are offered, as well as BNC inputs for an external clock; outputs are a pair of dCS-compatible AES/EBU XLR sockets and a single S/PDIF RCA jack. Supported formats are PCM to 24/384 and up to double DSD, either native or DoP. (WiFi performance is limited to 24/96.) JVS found that even before the Network Bridge was fully warmed up, it delivered "instrumental textures [that] were far more palpable than before," compared to his own dCS Rossini DAC/player. After extended listening, JVS declared that the dCS's sound was "demonstrably superior to conventional computer-audio playback via USB," and described the Network Bridge as "an invaluable—I'd say indispensable—asset for owners of a Vivaldi or older dCS DAC." (Vol.40 No.12 WWW)

dCS Rossini DAC: $23,999 ★
Were you to discard or disable the disc transport in your dCS Rossini Player, you would essentially have a Rossini D/A processor—which, like the Rossini Player, upsamples to PCM 352.8kHz or 384kHz and supports both DoP and native DSD up to DSD128. That said, if you wish to use the Rossini DAC to enjoy SACDs, you'll need a separate dCS transport, such as the dCS Vivaldi ($41,999). In the January 2017 Stereophile, JVS described using the Rossini DAC in place of his dCS Puccini player: "The Rossini seemed to dive into the center of the music and bring it home in ways the Puccini could not." In the May 2018 Stereophile, Jason reported on using a Rossini DAC that had been upgraded with full MQA compatibility: "The improved sound the Rossini drew from [my] MQA tracks was easily audible, and took recorded sound to another level, viscerally and emotionally." In the June 2019 issue, JVS reported on dCS's Rossini software v2.0, which applies to both this product and the Rossini Player. (Vol.40 No.1, Vol.41 No.5, Vol.42 No.5, Vol.42 No.6 WWW)

EMM Labs DV2: $30,000
EMM Labs' newest product is the first D/A processor to make use of the company's new VControl, a high-resolution volume-control system. Of its seven digital inputs, the DV2's USB Type B input is its most versatile, enabling PCM conversion up to DXD, DSD up to DSD128, and full MQA unfolding. Also provided are two coaxial (RCA) S/PDIF inputs, two optical (TosLink) S/PDIF inputs, one AES/EBU (XLR) input, and one proprietary EMM Optilink for SACD and CD playback. In his listening tests, JVS tried using the DV2 in a variety of configurations; he noted that by the time he'd done so, "it had become clear that the DV2 is one of the finest-sounding DACs with volume control that I've ever heard in my reference system." Indeed, Jason praised the DV2 for delivering, compared to other processors he's enjoyed in that setting, "the smoothest, most naturally warm, most consistently engaging and non-fatiguing reproduction of music." Writing from his test bench, JA noted that the DV2 offers resolution that's "close to the state of the art." Check the EMM Labs website to see if your version needs the no-cost volume-control update. (Vol.42 No.3 WWW)

exaSound s88: $6500
See KR's review elsewhere in this issue.

HoloAudio May KTE (Level 3): $4998 as reviewed
This well-constructed, hot-running, R-2R ladder DAC–based, two-box processor costs $3798–$4998 depending on options. It offers seven digital inputs—two coaxial, one optical, an AES/EBU, a USB, and two I2S over HDMI—and balanced (XLR) and single-ended (RCA) analog outputs. The input stage uses op-amps, the output stage discrete transistors biased into class-A. It can be operated as a NOS (Non-OverSampling) DAC or in three different oversampling (OS) modes. (The DSD mode reduces the output level by 6dB.) When HR auditioned the top-of-the-line Level 3 version of the May in NOS mode, the very first album he played "sounded more fundamentally right than any digital reproduction I have experienced in my little bunker," he wrote. "Better than any DAC I know, the May recovers the natural pressure behind musical flow." He found that PCM oversampling added a harsh glare and muddled image specificity, and while the sound was clear with CD data and DSD oversampling, with a nice flow and fine musical textures, the bass was softer and soundstages less precisely drawn. "The May's true-to-life demeanor made recorded music seem infinite and beautiful," he concluded. JA was equally impressed by the transparency and neutrality of the May, though he found that the excellent soundstage depth and sense of musical "drive" in NOS mode had to be set against this mode's tendency to make pianos sound too "clangy." Piano in OS DSD mode remained clean and closer to the true sound of the instrument, he decided. In addition, densely scored climaxes "clogged up" a little in NOS mode while remaining clean in DSD mode. On the test bench, the May offered superb measured performance, including 22-bit resolution, greater even than that offered by the overperforming Weiss DAC502! (Vol.43 Nos.8 & 9 WWW)

Okto dac8 Stereo: €1203 $$$
Almost identical to the multichannel dac8 PRO in appearance, the dac8 Stereo features a 1/4" headphone jack, two pairs of balanced-output XLR jacks, and a plethora of inputs: one AES/EBU (XLR); four S/PDIF (two coaxial RCA, two TosLink optical); USB Type B; two USB Type A; and Ethernet (RJ45). The ESS Sabre DAC chips offer a choice of seven reconstruction filters for PCM data and two ultrasonic low-pass filters for DSD data. Despite its affordable price, the dac8 Stereo was one of the highest-resolution D/A processors JA had experienced—21 bits, rivaled only by the HoloAudio May, the MBL N31, and the Weiss DAC502. The USB input offers lower jitter than the S/PDIF and AES/EBU inputs, he found, and so is preferred. The dac8 Stereo "opened a transparent window into recorded soundstages, unaccompanied by any feeling of fatigue or undue tonal emphasis," JA wrote, adding that he continued to be impressed throughout his auditioning by the Okto processor's combination of upper-bass weight and leading-edge definition. "Not only does the Okto dac8 Stereo offer superb sound quality and state-of-the-art measured performance; its price is a fraction of what you'd pay for competing products," he concluded. Listed price includes a Raspberry Pi 4–based streaming module (€89 when bought separately) and an Apple remote control (€25 when bought separately). (Vol.44 No.2 WWW)

PS Audio PerfectWave DirectStream DAC: $5999 ★
Instead of an off-the-shelf chipset, PS Audio's first DSD processor uses original code written into a field-programmable gate array (FPGA), the result being a system that converts all incoming data to double-rate DSD. In addition to asynchronous USB, the digital inputs include RCA, TosLink, and HDMI, and single-ended and true balanced analog outputs are provided. The DirectStream is built on a cast-alloy chassis with a glossy MDF top and a touchscreen from which all user controls can be worked. Firmware is user-updatable, as AD discovered while reviewing the DirectStream. He noted the DAC's "excellent pacing, flow, correctness of pitch relationships, and the like, as well as a consistently smooth and slightly laid-back sound." With some files, AD found the DirectStream just a little too laid-back—a condition mitigated in part by an early firmware update—but found its musicality beyond reproach. JA observed that the DirectStream "measures superbly well" in many ways, but was troubled by its poor linearity at low frequencies and its "ultimate lack of resolution" with hi-rez files. In a Follow-Up, RD tried the DirectStream DAC with PS Audio's PerfectWave Memory Player transport ($3995) and observed, "listening to familiar recordings . . . I heard more musical detail from them than I previously had." Subsequent to that audition, RD received and installed in the DirectStream DAC a new firmware upgrade, bringing his unit to v.1.2.1; he liked it. Following the firmware update to v.1.2.1, JA re-tested the DirectStream DAC and found evidence of a lower noise floor, increased low-level linearity, and a dramatic reduction in low-frequency distortion. Said JA: "Kudos to PS Audio for designing a product so that its performance can so easily be upgraded by its customers." There have followed three additional, successive firmware upgrades; in 2017, the most recent of these, named Huron, impressed JCA as "a clear improvement over [its immediate predecessor], which was already very good." (Vol.37 No.9; Vol.38 Nos. 2, 3, 5, 11; Vol.39 No.11; Vol.40 No.10 Vol.42 No.6 WWW)

T+A DAC8 DSD: $4450 ★
THE DAC8 DSD Was previously deleted in error, so, despite the fact that we haven't reviewed it in a while, we're keeping it on the list. The German-built T+A Elektroakustik DAC 8 DSD incorporates two distinct sets of D/A converters: DSD signals are treated to 1-bit conversion and are never converted to PCM, while PCM signals are treated to four DACs per channel in a double-differentiation configuration that, according to JI, is claimed to "perfectly cancel out converter errors and nonlinearities while increasing dynamic range by 6dB." Also on tap are four user-selectable digital filter options, independently adjustable volume for line and headphone outputs, and separate, user-selectable analog filters for DSD and PCM, the former intended to protect the rest of the user's system from ultrasonic noise. JI praised the DAC 8 DSD for "approach[ing] the performance of cost-no-object designs" and "represent[ing] good relative value." JA gave the DAC 8 DSC a clean bill of health, with particular regard to its "superb rejection of word-clock jitter via its PCM inputs," while noting that "its measured behavior and sound quality [are] so dependent on which of its four digital filters is in use." (Vol.39 No.10 WWW)

Weiss DAC502: $9995
The earlier Weiss D/A processors reviewed in Stereophile offered astonishing resolution coupled with sound quality "to die for." The Roon Ready DAC502 more than equals its predecessors in both aspects of performance and adds an Ethernet port, balanced and single-ended headphone outputs, a volume control, a choice of maximum output levels, and several DSP functions including parametric equalization, room correction, binaural-to-loudspeaker processing, vinyl emulation, loudness normalization, and de-essing. The DAC502's low frequencies "combined clarity with an excellent sense of what the late Art Dudley used to call 'force'," wrote JA, adding that he had never heard the layering of recorded soundstages so clearly delineated as with the DAC502. "The Weiss DAC502 retrieves more information from the digits than any other DAC I have auditioned, with the possible exceptions of the Chord DAVE and dCS Vivaldi," he concluded. JVS was equally impressed: "Would I recommend the Weiss DAC502? In a heartbeat. It doesn't merely sound clear, alive, full, and supremely musical; it also offers a headphone jack and a host of DSP options that can address issues in many rooms, speakers, and equipment configurations . . . if I were willing to forgo MQA playback (whose sound I love), I would be more than content to live with the DAC502 for many years to come." If you don't need the balanced headphone output, the smaller DAC501 ($8750) offers the same performance and feature set as the DAC502. (Vol.43 Nos.8 & 10 WWW)

A

Chord Electronics Qutest: $1695
JA, who regards Chord Electronics' upmarket DAVE ($12,488) as "one of the best-sounding DACs I've had in my system," jumped at the chance to review Chord's far less expensive Qutest, which draws from the same well: It's based on the company's proprietary 10-element Pulse Array Design processor, designed by Rob Watts and implemented in a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) chip. Via its USB port, the compact (6.3" wide by 1.6" high by 2.85" deep) Qutest handles DSD256 (as DoP) and PCM up to 768kHz, but lacks MQA decoding. In his listening observations, JA praised the Qutest for "the excellent sense of motion" it lent to a favored piano-concerto recording, from which he also heard "stably and clearly positioned" stereo images, if not quite the soundstage depth he'd hoped for. JA the measurer uncovered, among other things, the fact that the Chord Qutest "offers almost 21 bits' worth of resolution, which is close to the state of the art." JA the reviewer concluded: "strongly recommended." In a Follow-Up, HR described his own experiences with the Chord Qutest, in which he noted that this DAC "might be doing something unusually right in the time domain." His conclusion: "a must-audition for every serious audiophile." (Vol.42 Nos. 1 & 3 WWW)

Denafrips Terminator: $4600
This fully balanced, dual-mono, Chinese-made processor features a discrete-resistor, R-2R converter for PCM decoding and a 6-bit processor for DSD decoding. It offers nine digital inputs: three S/PDIF (one RCA, one BNC, one TOSLink), two AES/EBU (XLR, supporting dual L/R AES/EBU), three I2S (one over HDMI, two over RJ45), and one USB. It can be operated in NOS (Non-OverSampling) mode or in OS (OverSampling) mode with Slow or Fast reconstruction filters. With the Terminator in OS mode with the Slow filter, HR found that "not only did the Terminator up its pace and timing, but it also added focus, texture, and tangible force" compared with NOS mode. However, he felt that in OS mode with the Sharp filter, recorded reverberation was attenuated compared to the Slow filter mode. Tone color was also reduced. HR concluded that "the Denafrips Terminator seemed like an endgame, last-DAC-I'll-need-to-own product. It satisfied all my music-listening desires." JA was less impressed when he got the Terminator on the test bench, finding that the ladder DAC's linearity error was modulated by the signal level, the OS Slow and NOS modes rolled off prematurely in the top audio octave, and the OS filter modes overloaded with full-scale high-frequency signals. Peculiarly, the Terminator's measured performance was bettered in some ways by that of Denafrips's significantly more affordable Ares II. (Vol.43 Nos.9 & 11 WWW)

GeerFab Audio D.BOB: $999
"This unique device is a solution to a problem that previously couldn't be solved," wrote KR. The GeerFab D.BOB digital breakout box takes a universal player's HDMI output and with SACDs, extracts two-channel DSD data from the HDMI audio stream, and outputs DoP (DSD-over-PCM) via RCA and TosLink S/PDIF connectors. GeerFab assures users that this implementation is both legal and compatible with HDMI 1.4b and HDCP 1.4. JA's measurements confirmed that the D.BOB's output was bit-perfect—ie, the bits it outputs via S/PDIF are the same as those sent to it via HDMI. (Vol.43 No.5 WWW)

Gold Note DS-10: $2995
This modest-sized, MQA-capable, Roon Ready, Italian D/A processor includes a volume control, AES/EBU, S/PDIF, Ethernet, USB, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi inputs, and a headphone output. DSP presets allow the DS-10's functionality to be adjusted by an almost infinite amount. The sample reviewed was powered by the optional PSU-10 EVO supply ($1299), and while JVS didn't feel the DS-10 retrieved as much detail as his more expensive reference DACs, he felt its presentation delved deep into the music on his favorite files. The DS-10 "conveyed the smile, warmth, and love behind the notes in ways other DACs miss," he wrote. JVS summed up his time with the Gold Note by saying "This little baby sounded so good—so musical—with its optional, identically dimensioned PS-10 EVO power supply that I'd urge anyone who can shell out $4300 to try them together." (Vol.43 No.8 WWW)

Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital: $499 $$$
This combination D/A processor and headphone amp measures just 4.1" square and 1.4" high and uses dual ESS Sabre Pro ES9038 chips to offer up to 32-bit/768kHz PCM and DSD up to DSD512, plus eight user-selectable PCM reconstruction filters and full unfolding of MQA files. In using the Pre Box S2 Digital to compare MQA files to their non-MQA versions, KM wrote that "the soundstage seemed to grow and surround my head," describing the Pro-Ject DAC's MQA performance as "a revelation." Ken praised the DAC's user-friendliness and concluded, "I can think of no other mini-machine that does so much so well." Writing from his test bench, JA observed very low noise—"extraordinarily good, considering that the Pre Box S2 Digital is powered by a tiny wall-wart supply. Someone at Pro-Ject knows how to optimize a printed-circuit-board layout!" In a Follow-Up report, HR wrote that the Pre Box S2 Digital "preferred sensitive, easy-to-drive headphones" such as his own AudioQuest NightHawks, judging that combination "lively, smooth, and very musical." (Vol.42 Nos. 4 & 5)

Schiit Audio Yggdrasil: $2449
Is high-end audio ready for a company whose all-out statement DAC costs only $2449? Ready or not, Schiit Audio's Yggdrasil is here, offering what Schiit describes as a true "21 bits of resolution" and proprietary digital filtering, implemented on an Analog Devices processor, that retains rather than destroys "all the original samples." Also featured is a hefty regulated power-supply section built around twin transformers: one for the digital supplies, the other for analog. Input signals of resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz are accepted. According to HR, in contrast with the "grainlessness" of the Mytek Brooklyn DAC, "the Schiit's sound was slightly textured, and dynamic contrasts were less evident." That said, Herb also observed that "the Yggdrasil exposed melodic lines . . . and human voices—also better than any DAC I've heard costing less than five grand." JA's measurements comprised a mixed report, with praise for the Schiit's "superbly well designed" analog circuitry set against his impression of "digital circuitry [that] is not fully optimized." In 2018, Schiit introduced their Analog 2 upgrade—two new output cards and a firmware update for the DSP board—available to owners of older Yggdrasils for $550. HR wrote in a Follow-Up that the upgrade, which must be performed by Schiit or by an authorized service center, allowed his Yggdrasil to sound "quieter, more refined, more transparent, more silky, more tactile." (Vol.40 No.2, Vol.41 No.9 WWW)

B

DSPeaker Anti-Mode X4: $4250
The Anti-Mode X4 is a full-featured two-channel line-level preamplifier plus DAC with multiple inputs—single-ended and balanced analog inputs, plus USB, S/PDIF, and TosLink digital—multiple outputs, and, as KR describes it, "a head-spinning array of digital-signal-processing (DSP) tools." It also comes with a calibrated microphone and stand, for use with its many DSP functions—including room/speaker EQ for full-range speakers and for subwoofers; subwoofer level control; bass and treble tilt controls; infrasonic filtering; and a L–R balance control. A promised EQ function for four subwoofer channels has yet to materialize—but even so, KR found the Anti-Mode X4 in its present state to be useful, effective, and altogether "great just as it is." (Vol.42 No.5 WWW)

Denafrips Ares II: $790 $$$
This affordable D/A processor retained all of the pricier Denafrips Terminator's features, and in OS Slow mode, "a majority portion of the flagship's engaging character," HR wrote, "but the sounds it projected seemed smaller and denser and tighter," while "the sound in OS-Fast was kind of forward, rough, and ringy, with sharpish, sometimes glaring highs." In NOS mode, the Ares II "was relaxed and musical but exhibited a slight diffusion and grainy flatness," he found. HR summed up his time with the Ares II by writing that it "recovered more ambient/reverberant information and generated larger, more precisely mapped soundstages than any DAC I've encountered under $1698 .... I see the Denafrips Ares II as a working person's superDAC." JA's measurements found that the OS filter modes overloaded with full-scale high-frequency signals, and that there was a peculiar modulation of the ladder DAC's linearity error with signal level. Otherwise this inexpensive DAC offers often-superb measured performance, he concluded. (Vol.43 Nos.9 & 11 WWW)

iFi Audio Pro iDSD: $2749
Built around four Burr-Brown DSD DAC chips operated in what iFi calls an "interleaved" array, the Pro iDSD offers up to DSD1024 and 32-bit/768kHz PCM—and more controls and performance options than can be fully described in a review of reasonable length, let alone a little blurb like this. Suffice it to say the iFi contains a three-output, selectable-gain headphone amplifier, has built-in support for streaming from Qobuz and Tidal, performs full unfolding of MQA files, has balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) outputs, offers defeatable upsampling with a variety of user-selectable filters, and, among its many other output options, contains a user-selectable tubed output circuit. HR said of its performance on an especially beloved Sun Ra recording, "the Pro iDSD's DAC did a sterling job of sorting out the countless spatial layerings of this track," and added the iFi to his "short list of DACs that recover an enjoyable illusion of dense bodies playing music." Measuring the iFi proved to be a mammoth task—"With so many output options and operating modes, it's easy to become confused about the iFi Pro iDSD's performance," JA noted—but in the end, despite a couple of puzzling idiosyncrasies, he found "much to admire in its measured performance." (Vol.42 No.1 WWW)

Prism Sound Callia: $1399 $$$ ★
The first domestic product from UK-based pro-audio specialists Prism Sound, the Callia D/A converterheadphone amplifier is based on a dual-mono pair of Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC chips, and accepts DSD data up to DSD128 and PCM to 384kHz, though the former is converted to PCM and the latter is downsampled to 192kHz. Its front panel is graced with two separate volume controls: one for the Callia's line outputs, the other for its front-mounted 1/4" headphone jack, further enhanced with a three-position DIP for optimizing the output for low-, medium-, and high-impedance 'phones. When JA used the Callia to drive his Audeze LCD-X headphones, he described the sound as "richer than I expected," while in his Big Rig—without a preamplifier, and with the Callia's own volume control doing the honors—the sound was "drier," with less soundstage depth than JA gets from his PS Audio PerfectWave DirectStream DAC but no loss of power from drums and electric bass. JA praised the "excellent-sounding" Callia, but described the Mytek Brooklyn's sound as "slightly better"—and noted that the then less expensive Mytek adds MQA compatibility. Apart from some surprising jitter-related (as opposed to power-supply–related) sidebands, the Callia performed respectably on JA's test bench. Significant price reduction as of July 2018. (Vol.41 No.4 WWW)

C

BorderPatrol Digital to Analogue Converter SE: $1075–$1925
In BorderPatrol's Digital to Analogue Converter SE the processor of choice is the same Philips TDA1543 16-bit chip found in playback gear from the 1980s and '90s, implemented without a digital reconstruction filter, energized by analog power supply with twin mains transformers and a tube rectifier. It has two inputs—USB and S/PDIF—and is built with a copper chassis, upgraded signal and power-supply capacitors; non-SE versions with a single input, more modest caps, and no rectifier tube are also available. HR wrote that the DAC SE "delivers refined, human-sounding musical pleasures—at a very reasonable price." Writing from his testing lab, JA noted a severe channel imbalance with data sampled at rates higher than 96kHz, channel-specific anomalies in linearity error, a higher-than-expected noise floor, and disappointing performance in its rejection or word-clock jitter. In a Follow-Up that proved controversial, JI described comparing the Border Patrol DAC SE with his Benchmark DAC2 HGC, concluding that the BorderPatrol "purred like a sweet, sultry voice . . . even as it lied to me." (Vol.41 Nos. 9 & 11 WWW)

Deletions
exaSound e38 Mk.II, exaSound e38 Mk.II (balanced), miniDSP UDAC-8, Mytek Brooklyn DAC+, discontinued. AVM Ovation MP 8.2, Mytek Brooklyn Bridge, Mytek Liberty, Mytek Manhattan II, replaced by newer model not yet reviewed. Ayre Acoustics QX-5 Twenty, not auditioned in a long time.

COMMENTS
grymiephone's picture

The Linton Heritage is not an audiophile speaker, and I will stop there, it's hard to find music it plays well

Glotz's picture

And it sounded fantastic with 'entry'-level Hegel components.

Everyone is different, and especially when one levels generalist comments.

grymiephone's picture

I had a response with more details but it was deleted.

Glotz's picture

Sorry man. I think the site had some issues a week back as well. Anything that was edited sometimes got deleted.

grymiephone's picture

Oh, well. for what's it's worth:
I tested the Linton with 5 other speakers. When I ordered it, the sales person said: be warned, it's NOT an audiophile speaker. And it didn't compare well. I wanted to love them but my 23 year old Celestions had more image and punch than the Lintons. I am sure they can sound good in a different system

MatthewT's picture

I agree with the "not an audiophile speaker" remark. I wish we could know what Art Dudley thought of them. I love them, FWIW.

Glotz's picture

I appreciate both of your insights here.

It helps me come closer to the truth. Or that's not right- The perceptions of each person lend us insights into how each person feels in their system.

I know a lot of times it's hard to speak to one's system for fear of others being critical.

Nonetheless, it does tell me what possible variances there are. I thought the double Linton's were impressive, if expensive. The dealer had them in a pseudo-d'appolito configuration, with the top speakers upside down and on top of the bottom pair.

liguorid42's picture

I agree everyone's opinion of what he or she likes is valid, and an opinion that you shouldn't like something because it's not an audiophile product is invalid. That being said, if you're a wine connoisseur you wouldn't necessarily make a buying decision on a pricey Cabernet based on the opinion of someone whose beverage of choice is Mountain Dew. And "not an audiophile speaker" can just mean your favorite reviewer has not made the sign of the cross before it, and is pretty useless without some description of what you perceive its sonic flaws to be.

Glotz's picture

I think all stereo products can have a home, but you are right it's all about context.

I was impressed with the Denton's midrange, but perhaps that's not fair given I was listening to the collective output of 2 pairs of speakers working in tandem.

mememe2's picture

PLease put this in the "useless phrases" section of your mag. Can we have good pace but lack timing -no. can we have good rhythm but lack pace - no. Can we have good timing but lack rhythm - no. This description seems to be aimed at audio prats (in the original meaning of the word).

Charles E Flynn's picture

"captures the emotion"

liguorid42's picture

Back when founding father Gordon Holt started Stereophile he tried to develop a lexicon to describe how things actually sounded--things like "liquid", "transparent", "grainy", "warm"--as opposed to how things emotionally affected him personally. Theoretically you could go to a hi fi emporium, listen to KLH Nines driven by Audio Research electronics and hear for yourself what he meant. Though he did open the door with his "goosebump test". These days terms such as you describe have made subjective audio reviewing so subjective as not to be very useful to anyone else.

Charles E Flynn's picture

Thanks for your reply.

I have always wondered how one could determine that a playback chain captured the emotion of the performers when the only evidence we have about their emotions is what is provided by the playback chain.

The reproduced sound may convey or provoke emotion, but whether what it conveys is what the performer felt is something we can never determine on the basis of only the reproduced sound.

liguorid42's picture

..in the Firesign Theater album said, "That's metapheesically absurd, mun, how can I know what you hear?"

Heck, you can't know if what you're feeling is the same as what the performer is feeling even at a live performance. Not even close would be my guess. What I'm feeling when I play the piano in private is very different from when I get conned into playing for someone. What the composer felt when setting the notes to the page, different still. I doubt a loudspeaker, let alone a piece of loudspeaker cable, has anything to do with any of this.

George Tn's picture

the Schiit Sol made it on to the list in such a high spot for its price. I've been rooting for that product and it's finally being seen for how great it is.

PTG's picture

Yup.. So happy to see Sol finally get some recognition. SOL had a very rough launch but they owned up to it and made it right ! I would love to get one but am worried about how much tinkering is needed to make it right.. Still thinking about it.... It LOOKS amazing !!!

georgehifi's picture

Same for the Aegir, a A20w Class-A stereo in Class-A Stereophile. I can only think of one similar that could/would do that, and that's the mighty 20w Mark Levison ML2 monoblocks.
https://i.pinimg.com/736x/d6/6a/cc/d66acc2c1d4fa7ea17f5a9bb9345e912.jpg

Cheers George

Glotz's picture

Yes, these components are great to see classified, but it's one person's ranking for a component. The classes also cut a large swath in performance of any one category- and within each class.

That being said, I do think the Sol is pretty-well-reviewed for the money and if my rig broke suddenly... I'd get this one to tie me over.

PTG's picture

Did I miss it or was Bluesound family of products (Node2i, Vault2i ??) totally dropped off the RC2021 list ? If yes, I wonder why...

Jim Austin's picture

On previous lists, when several Bluesound products were listed together, we put them under "Complete Audio Systems." We dropped most of them simply because they haven't been auditioned in years--indeed, no Stereophile reviewer ever tried a gen-2 version of any of the products except the Node2i, which I bought a few months back and use daily. Dropping products that haven't been auditioned in a long time is longstanding RecComp policy.

With only the Node2i on the list, it no longer makes sense to list it under Complete Audio Systems; it should be moved to Digital Processors. But I overlooked that fact when preparing the 2021 edition.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

C_Hoefer's picture

I just navigated to this page intending to point out the error in location of the Bluesound Node 2i - glad to see you already caught it! It belongs in digital players.
--CH

prerich45's picture

I'd like to see some of the other offerings tested by Stereophile. The Gustard dacs have measured well by another site. I've actually purchased one to see how it fairs to my ears - as I've already seen its numbers. SMSL,Gustard, and Topping are making some possible world beaters, it would be interesting to see this publication put them on the bench.

Fstein's picture

Lirpasound announces $79 amplifier, states previous price of $159,000 a joke no reasonable person would believe

Tweak48's picture

I'm confused by the Editor's Note: "There are no Class D integrated amplifiers listed". It looks like the Marantz 30, the NAD, and the Rogue Sphinx are using Class D output sections, among others. What am I missing here??

John Atkinson's picture
Tweak48 wrote:
I'm confused by the Editor's Note: "There are no Class D integrated amplifiers listed". It looks like the Marantz 30, the NAD, and the Rogue Sphinx are using Class D output sections, among others. What am I missing here??

Not amplifiers that have class-D output stage stages but amplifiers that are rated in Class D in this Recommended Components category.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

X