Verity Audio Montsalvat DAC/PRE D/A processor

I was aware that Canadian company Verity Audio, founded in 1995, made loudspeakers, like the Sarastro II that Fred Kaplan reviewed in May 2009. But when Jason Victor Serinus and I attended the 2018 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, we were both impressed by the sound of an all-Verity system that featured Verity's Monsalvat AMP-60 power amplifier. Jason Victor Serinus favorably reviewed the AMP-60 in May 2019; I didn't have to be asked twice, therefore, if I wanted to review Verity's Montsalvat DAC/PRE (see later).

The DAC/PRE, priced at $25,000, is an example of an increasingly popular product genre: a D/A processor that incorporates a volume control to allow a system's preamplifier to be dispensed with. Although Verity refers to the DAC/PRE as a "DAC/Preamplifier," it doesn't have analog inputs. (The $36,000 Montsalvat PRE-2 does have analog inputs and a DAC.)

With its massive, black-anodized aluminum chassis—the side panels are ¾" thick—and silver-finished upper front panel dominated by a central rectangular display and a black-ringed volume control to its right, the Verity Montsalvat DAC/PRE is an impressive-looking product. Four small buttons between the display and control are for power On/Standby, the setup menu, source selection, and mute. An Apple remote control is included—its large central button operates the mute function, the top and bottom buttons adjust the volume in Preamp mode, the buttons on the sides select the source, and the button marked "Menu" adjusts the display brightness.

Round back of the chassis, there are three digital inputs—one AES/EBU, one coaxial S/PDIF, and one USB Type B—balanced and single-ended output pairs, and the IEC AC power jack. The DAC/PRE's complexity, courtesy of electronics engineer Maxime Julien, lies inside.


The D/A section uses the high-performance, 32-bit ESS Sabre 9018 "HyperStream" chip, one per channel. Each chip has eight individual DAC sections, which are operated in parallel to increase linearity and dynamic range. The digital signal processing, including upsampling PCM data to 384kHz and DSD data to 256Fs (the latter without being converted to PCM), is performed upstream from the DAC chips using an FPGA.

"We adjust some things upstream in the FPGA automatically, depending upon sample rate," said Maxime Julien (footnote 1). "But I don't change from slow to long filter or anything like that. I just adjust what needs to be adjusted; ... people get lost in the settings when you offer a large number of choices for filters. I think you can create more damage than good, because you can find settings that only work well for specific pieces of music. Once you change the music, the filter doesn't work. Playing with filters can allow you to do a lot of things, but if you rebuild the music to your taste, that's something different. ... The less you have to deal with filters and the like, the better your user experience is. ... I built many applications for iPhones and other devices, and I always felt that the best user experience was something that worked automatically."

Each channel has seven independent power supplies. "The construction is designed to eliminate all crosstalk and is extremely immune to all noise that could come from the power supply or the digital portion of the DAC," Julien said, adding that the goal was "to build the perfect device that is immune to noise—[both] digital and analog noise. These two parts of the [DAC/PRE] are on the same printed circuit board, but they are completely separated electrically. Everything is perfectly isolated. The analog section is completely floating with regards to the digital section of the DAC."

"I built my first speakers at age 10, and my first amplifier at 14. I've always built my own equipment," he wrote. "I'm passionate about audio, but I'd never designed professionally until 2015, when I decided to take my hobby to the next level." Verity's president, Bruno Bouchard, is a teenage friend from the same neighborhood. They reconnected because Maxime wanted to hear his electronics on very good speakers.

"My task as a designer is to perfectly reproduce what has been recorded. I always strive to reproduce perfectly what was meant when the piece was recorded. I'm trying to avoid modifying or hurting the sound. I want to hear all the details, the bass if there's bass—if there's no bass, I won't invent bass. I'm not a record producer; I'm an electrical engineer who wants to reproduce perfectly what is on the medium. That means perfect bandwidth, perfect phase, very low noise and distortion."

The Montsalvat DAC/PRE has two modes: Preamp and Pure DAC. The Pure DAC mode disables the volume control, setting the output level to "0.0dB," so that the Verity can be used with a line preamplifier or integrated amplifier. In this mode, the unbalanced output level is 2.0V, the CD Standard. The volume control is functional in Preamp mode, offering settings of –72dB to +12dB in 0.5dB steps. The Setup/Audio menu allows you to switch between the two modes. If you select DAC mode, the top right of the display says in red "Warning changing to DAC mode—Full Volume." If you select Preamp mode, the display says in white "Changing to Preamp mode." The unit keeps the latest mode setting when the DAC/PRE is powered off then on again, so you don't have to select the mode every time you power on the unit.


The source in use, the display color—white on black or black on white, with the Mute indication in red—and the display brightness are all remembered when you turn the Verity on again after powering it down. The volume in Preamp mode resets to "–40.0dB" and the polarity resets to positive, however.

The DAC/PRE is not Roon certified. However, it will work with Roon as the USB port conforms to the ALSA (Advanced Linux Sound Architecture) standard, which is recognized by Roon. The DAC/PRE doesn't decode MQA-encoded datastreams.

Jason Victor Serinus was originally scheduled to review the Verity Montsalvat DAC/PRE but encountered what he thought might be incompatibility issues with his system. In particular, he was bothered by what sounded like intermittent distortion in DAC mode. As I was going to measure the DAC/PRE, Editor Jim Austin asked me to take over the review from Jason. Before it arrived at my place, the review sample was shipped to Maxime Julien for him to check that it was performing correctly. (The review sample was from the first production run, in March 2019.) After I received the DAC/PRE, I found that its measured performance was initially superb, with very low distortion and noise. However, just before I started auditioning the Verity, I repeated some of the measurements. To my dismay, the right channel now featured 4.3% distortion at both the balanced and the unbalanced outputs, in both DAC and Preamp modes, regardless of the volume control setting in Preamp mode.

I shipped the DAC/PRE back to Maxime Julien so he could investigate what was wrong. A week or so later, he emailed me: "I was able to quickly identify the faulty component which was a cold solder [joint] on a surface-mount resistor." Maxime returned the repaired DAC/PRE to me, and I returned to the review.

Once it had been repaired, I connected the DAC/PRE to my Roon Nucleus+ server via USB. Roon identified it as an ALSA device called "Combo384 Amanero." (Amanero Technologies is an Italian company that manufactures USB and other OEM interface modules. The Combo384 module has been used in products from ATC and Métronome that have been reviewed in Stereophile.) I used Roon's Settings/Audio menu to set the Verity to fixed volume, no MQA support, and to send DSD data as "DSD over PCM v1.0 (DoP)." To play CDs, I connected my Ayre player's AES/EBU output to the Verity with a 1m DH Labs cable. Verity offers a matching isolation base for the DAC/PRE ($5000), but it was not supplied for this review. Loudspeakers were initially the Diamond Edition Marten Parker Trios that had so impressed me in the June issue.

Footnote 1: My thanks to Jason Victor Serinus for sharing with me an unpublished interview he conducted with Maxime Julien.
Verity Audio
US distributor: High Fidelity Services
2 Keith Way, Suite 4
Hingham, MA 02043
(781) 987-3434

Long-time listener's picture

Wow! A $25,000 DAC that keeps breaking, and after it's sent back for repair it doesn't measure the same. I've gotta go out and get me one of those!

Umm, maybe not. Maybe I'll just stick with my $700 Topping D90SE, the best-measuring DAC on the planet, which also has a pre-amp function. Cheers

MhtLion's picture

Just a personal opinon. To my knowledge, ESS 9018 chip is among the easier to work with DACs. ESS 9038 Pro, on the other hand, is known to require a lot more experience working with a DAC. The fact they got a lower noise floor - I think Verity surely knows how to engineer good audio equipment. But, the fact there were those issues and that they are using the old 9018 chip - Verity's experience with a DAC may fall short compared to other companies like Okto. What I'm really trying to say is that the high price may have nothing to do with the engineering pedigree of the designer behind it. Electrical engineering is a vast field. The fact an engineer knows how to design an analog preamp/power amp may or may not have much to do with how to work with a DAC. An engineer who worked on high-end audio for 30 years may know shit compared to a recent PhD graduate when it comes to DAC. Also, some high-end audio companies do not even have a single person with the proper engineering background. I'm not saying at all that Verity is one of those companies, but I'm saying that the high cost may attribute to quality material used and an awesome-looking case, and perhaps extensive outsourcing of various processes, which sometimes include the designing of the core architecture itself. I believe a $25,000 DAC/Pre must sound good to many ears, but I also believe people may get the same or even better fulfilling experience with a $2,000 DAC nowadays because DAC is relatively a new field.

Axiom05's picture

Someone making and selling a $25K component doesn't know how to solder. Probably the worst advertisement that they could have.

John Atkinson's picture
Axiom05 wrote:
Someone making and selling a $25K component doesn't know how to solder.

Surface-mount components are not hand-soldered. Instead, the populated printed-circuit board is flow-soldered in one pass by machine, most likely at a subcontractor's facility. Generally, soldered boards are then soak-tested to find "infant mortalities" and the survivors proceed to assembly.

A failure of a solder joint this late in use is rare but not unknown.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Axiom05's picture

Whatever the exact process is it certainly does not inspire confidence. Maybe this is just an unfortunate one-off but the fact that the "fixed" unit still had issues with measurements is, again, not confidence inducing. I certainly do appreciate the detail with which you described the whole process. Everyone can make up their own minds.

Anton's picture

This brings to mind a famous Hi Fi axiom:

If that thing functioned any worse, it would cost 90,000 dollars. (Got that one from my wife, she said it about a pair of speakers she heard at CES back in the day.)


That being said, JVS could hear a problem, which puts him ahead of some reviews of broken gear that were pretty glowing.

Kudos to JVS, who aim was true!

tonykaz's picture


This thing is a prototype that you lads are Beta Testing for them.

Tony in Venice Florida

Axiom05's picture

S/N 001, yes, very amusing.

John Atkinson's picture
tonykaz wrote:
This thing is a prototype that you lads are Beta Testing for them.

I asked Verity, who assured me that this sample was from the first production batch.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

tonykaz's picture

it probably is the first production unit, first of 10 ? ( maybe )

I'm not trying for sarcasm or anger nor am I anxious about any of this.

I think that Stereophile was wonderfully generous to help a promising venture get a bit of traction.

The Company and designers work hard to get a working product out to Dealers. I continue to be proud of Stereophile for helping or trying to help.

Good on All'yall.

Tony in Venice Florida

ps. those Abyss lads seem to approve of the Sonic Quality of Apple's New MQA Streaming. Abyss approving of Streaming is say'n a whole lot !! isn't it?

jmsent's picture

.....where did you come up with that?

tonykaz's picture

Mr.J.Austin reports about Industry in this most recent 'Print' Issue of Stereophile. This happened to be revealed by Apple, last month!

Apple iTunes is now 100% high resolution with MQA and a few other important bits. Apple MP3 is lonnnnnnggggggg gone .

I noticed that the Owners of JPS: the manufacturer of the AB1266 Abyss headphones ( and Diana ) did a YouTube comparison between Tidal and the New iTunes Apple MQA with Apple iTunes now surpassing the previous Streaming leader. ( who isn't surprised ?? )

RIAA now reports Streaming dominates the Music Formats $ Pie with 83% of all collected Format monies. ( in USA ).
Physical ( CD & 33.3 ) split 50/50 about 6% of the format $ Pie.

I did not come up with that! Mr.JA2 did!

Brace yourself, here it comes, it's real .

Tony in Venice Florida

Axiom05's picture

Are you confusing ATMOS with MQA?

tonykaz's picture

I did not observe the Apple Event

and certainly, I could've extrapolated in error.

Overall, Apple promises higher performance from iTunes which should result in all of us changing to some extent.

I feel certain that Stereophile's Editors will be pounding out abundant responses to the Apple changes.

Tony in Venice Florida

jmsent's picture

Perhaps this is just you playing "fast and loose" with terminology? MQA is a very specific encoding scheme (that has been discussed to death in these pages and elsewhere) that delivers a folded and compressed digital file in a FLAC envelope. Apple has never even used fact, they've never supplied MP3 audio either. It's been out for a while that Apple, along with Spotify, will now offer lossless streaming, with Apple adding to this Spatial Audio, and Dolby Atmos files . It's all explained here: My question is specifically about Apple adopting "MQA". I don't see it mentioned anywhere in the Apple news releases, or anywhere else, for that matter.

tonykaz's picture

Once again,

this is mentioned in the Editor's Industrial Report , in the Stereophile Print Magazine that arrived around July 6th, 2021.

additionally, the ABYSS design team discuss the Apple Streaming with the unfolding of MQA.

At this point, Confusion and perhaps Shock abounds.

Still, I am not inventing any of this although Mr.Austin reporting could be inaccurate.

Time will tell.

I'm watching as is Everyone else.

Tony in Venice Florida

Archimago's picture

Don't know what this is about Apple and MQA. Apple Music lossless is streaming with ALAC, and as far as I've heard, no MQA in the Apple data unless somehow that's the only version available (might have to watch out for labels that are strong proponents like 2L).

Note that MQA encoding can be distributed with ALAC, any lossless compression will do, not just FLAC.

Apple is putting quite a bit of press into "Spatial Audio" however which is a lossy EAC3-Atmos stream that can be decoded with virtualization into "3D" headphone playback or multichannel streaming with the Apple TV (and to some extent MacOS Big Sur) to your receiver as discussed recently on my blog.

Isn't Abyss a headphone manufacturer? What do they have to do with Apple Music?

tonykaz's picture

Mr. Joe and his two Sons do manufacture the Abyss 1266 headphone and the Diana headphone. They have a YouTube Channel ( like Shiit and others ). In May of this year they discussion-analized and reviewed the New Apple iTunes system.

So, Jim Austin and the Abyss lads are my two sources of info.

I will continue to monitor these Streaming developments but will not be a Manufacturing participant in any Audio related products.

I'm just a curious bystander.

Tony in Venice Florida

ps. I consider Mr.Jim Austin our leading authority on this matter. ( so far )

Jim Austin's picture

No MQA at Apple Music.

Jim Austin, Editor

tonykaz's picture

Still, everyone wins big.

Apple streaming high-res lets regular citizens see a benefit from higher performance Audio Gear, even in their Cars and at no extra $ subscription cost .

Stereophile's Subscription Base should increase by measurable percentages as Citizens look for reliable advice on better Gear & Music Reviewing.

I got the MQA wrong but I'm in no way sorry about this long overdue development.

What took so dam long?

Tony in Venice Florida

Jim Austin's picture

... and I've talked to Apple people about this (with no real resolution): How do you get Apple Music into your hifi? Airplay 2 is a poor choice due to sample-rate limitations. For now, Apple insists on using its own software platform (Apple Music) for accessing the stream, which many will refused to do (preferring Roon, etc), and which only runs on a full-function computer and can't be controlled remotely (or not conveniently). Plus, it's worrying that Apple is downplaying the significance of the move to lossless, choosing instead to emphasize the more dramatic contrast of Dolby Atmos (which as implemented is lossy).

Pluses and minuses.

Jim Austin, Editor

tonykaz's picture

Thank you for peering into this development.

I feel that we all have good reason to be pleased that the lower resolution formats are finally being obsoleted.

Personal Audio Players are amazing , Music is increasingly available at reasonable prices, Transducers are continuing to improve.

It seems a month hasn't gone by without someone raising the Sound Quality Bar another notch.

Stereophile remains the informative Portal into all these exciting things. Each month brings another series of interesting Audio Industry reads to my Mail Box!

Thank You,

Tony in Venice Florida

Mark’s toys's picture

I have immense respect for the Verity owners, they build heirloom quality loudspeakers.

But taking in a buddy with some knowledge of electronics and putting your name on that product takes some nerve. So Verity all of a sudden want’s to play amplification, digital with the Bentley’s of the upper crust audio world? They are up there with their loudspeakers no question. But their line of electronics does not have the maturity and pedigree to play at those price levels. And kilobuck high-end digital machines should be QUADRUPLE tested to avoid embarrassment. All the more if you are sending a product in for a review! Here’s an idea. Stick to speakers, to what you know best, boys, please.

PeterG's picture

It's a shame that the reviewer's full disclosure on a manufacturing issue with a single item seems to have prevented many commenters from a holistic understanding. It's silly to hold this against Verity in a purchase decision. Paradoxically, maybe less disclosure or less discussion of the issue/resolution would have been better?

Jim Austin's picture

Everyone is free to draw their own conclusions--as you have done here.

Best Wishes,

Jim Austin, Editor

Anton's picture

When I see something like this, I do admit to wondering…..

When did it get broken? Did the factory fail to adequately check out an item of this price before they shipped?

If it were mine, would I simply tell reviewers to ship a piece of gear of this magnitude along to the next reviewer so casually? “It was shipped many times to many people” doesn’t seem to exemplify an eye for detail, either. It seems to me that a Stereophile review might be a big deal. I’d have my local dealer make sure delivery and set up were done properly. If a manufacturer can’t get a fully intact unit to Stereophile, then good luck to consumers buying serial #2-10.

MauriceRon's picture

many good points made in this review of the very expensiv veriti amp & yet most comenters have chosen to get obsessive over a broken solder joint that could've easily been causes by a careless courier worker...

canonken's picture

Not a defense of this piece, but when I read this I thought back a few issues (do not recall the exact brand, model) to a speaker I believe had an improper part or construction in the crossover which caused a noticeable but not immediately obvious issue in the sound. That example, along with this are scary as unless you really knew what you were hearing, should hear, or especially measure might just think that was the sound, and you trusted it.

I do applaud Stereophile calling these issues out, if they wanted to just suck up to the industry they would conveniently forget to mention it in the review.

This is a good example of the importance of not only having good engineering and QC, but also knowing how to build things that can stand up to shipping and years of real world use. Think of brands like Bryston, McIntosh, Pass Labs that have a reputation for consistent, reliable performance. That is worth a lot for the average person who buys something and keeps it.