Verity Audio Montsalvat DAC/PRE D/A processor Page 2

I was going to use the Verity in DAC mode and connect it to the Pass Labs XP-32 preamplifier that I reviewed in March. However, as its postrepair measured performance in DAC mode was not as good as it had been prerepair (see the Measurements sidebar), I couldn't put that knowledge to one side while listening. I decided, therefore, to audition the DAC/PRE in Preamp mode, connecting it directly to a pair of Parasound Halo JC 1+ monoblocks and adjusting volume with the Apple remote control. (Depending on the music and loudspeakers, the volume control was set between –23.0dB and –13.0dB.)

I encountered one operational glitch: When I was using the Roon app on my Mac mini to select and play music, pressing the central button on the Apple remote control to unmute the Verity sometimes paused playback in Roon.

With two of the D/A processors that I have reviewed in recent issues, the Weiss DAC502 and Okto dac8 Stereo, there was an immediate impression of recorded detail yet without that detail being unnaturally emphasized. The Verity DAC/PRE was different. While recorded detail wasn't immediately apparent, as I continued listening to familiar recordings I realized that nothing was missing. Low-level detail was present in the correct proportion to high-level information.


One of the first multitrack digital recordings I made was Rendezvous (16/44.1 ALAC files, Stereophile STPH013-2, footnote 2) in 1998, which featured a jazz quartet led by bass player Jerome Harris. Although Chad Kassem's Blue Heaven Studio, where I recorded the album, has a beautifully warm reverberation signature, I close-miked the instruments to give me the maximum flexibility in the eventual mixdown. Nevertheless, with the Monsalvat DAC/PRE decoding the bits, enough of the erstwhile church's subtle ambience was audible. For example, it could be heard around and behind the solidly defined image of Billy Drummond's drums and cymbals in his solo in "Followthrough," especially when he drives the beat along with rimshots just before the final restatement of the melody. Similarly, the studio's acoustic could be heard reinforcing the sound of Harris's Taylor acoustic bass guitar in his solo introduction to "Hand By Hand."

I went from a very familiar recording to one I hadn't played in years. Richie Havens's Richard P. Havens, 1983 had been in constant rotation when the LP was first released at the end of 1968. The track "For Haven's Sake" features what back then was a mind-blowing stereo effect. The track starts with Richie's voice and acoustic guitars centered, with a mono piano, then an organ, entering at far right. A reverb-drenched piano appears at the far left of the soundstage in the second verse, with bass guitar in the center, mono drums joining the piano at the far right, and a shaker joining the piano at the far left. This is all normal-if-primitive stereo mixing, but at 4:35 it gets weird. Richie stays centered, but the instruments start circling him, shedding reverberation as they chase each other from left to right in front of him, with the reverb increasing as they pass behind him in the other direction. Playing this track on the 1990 CD reissue (Polydor/Verve 835 212-2), and sending the PCM stream to the DAC/PRE's AES/EBU input, the soundstage depth as reproduced by the Verity was impressive, as were the unambiguously defined paths painted by the circling instruments.


The final tracks on Richard P. Havens, 1983 were recorded live in concert in Santa Monica, and again there was some soundstage weirdness, clearly revealed by the Verity DAC/PRE. With the first live track, "The Parable of Ramon," you're in the audience, facing the band on stage, as expected, this clearly delineated by the Verity. As Havens sings louder, you can clearly hear the sound of his voice lighting up the hall acoustic. Toward the end of the track, Richie wanders offstage, still singing and strumming furiously before returning to center stage for a subdued guitar solo. But with the next track, an ad hoc performance of the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends," it starts to get weird again. The image of Havens's guitar moves to far right and the sound of the hall, the reverb on the guitar, Havens's voice, and the audience's laughter and applause now stretch from the left loudspeaker across the stereo image. However, the second guitarist is still onstage in front, at the far left. There are now two soundstages for the DAC/PRE to decode—you are simultaneously standing at one side of the hall, with the stage and performers on your right, and in the center of the audience with the stage in front of you. With the Verity's unambiguous resolution of the recorded information, the conflicting soundstage presentations do not lead to perceptual conflict.


That differentiation of detail also applied at low frequencies. The bass guitar and kickdrum on "Mother (Ultimate mix)" from John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band: The Ultimate Collection (24/192 FLAC, Apple/Qobuz) occupy similar frequency ranges, yet the Verity kept them separate. The kickdrum had a little more bite on "Mother (Take 61)," a difference readily revealed by the Verity, as it did on "Instant Karma! (We All Shine On) (Ultimate mix)." The DAC/PRE played this track with an excellent sense of what the late Art Dudley used to call "force," as it did "Won't Get Fooled Again" from Richie Havens's final album, Nobody Left to Crown, from 2008 (16/44.1 ALAC file, from Verve Forecast 001163102).

Those Okto and Weiss processors had long since left my system. However, I still had the Roon Ready version of MBL's N31 DAC/CD player on hand ($16,420), which uses the same ESS Sabre 9018 DAC chip as the Verity DAC/PRE. I connected both to my Roon Nucleus+, the Verity via USB and the MBL via Ethernet. Using the 1kHz warble tone from my Editor's Choice CD (STPH016-2), I matched levels to within 0.23dB—the closest possible with the Verity's 0.5dB volume-control steps and the MBL's 1dB steps in Roon. Both processors were connected to an AudioQuest 1000 power conditioner with AudioQuest Dragon AC cables. My measurements indicated that the MBL's Fast Rolloff reconstruction filter is very similar to the Verity's, so I further leveled the playing field by using that filter for the initial comparisons.


I cued up what is fast becoming my favorite performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.1, with Vladimir Ashkenazy accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Georg Solti (24/48 MQA FLAC file, unfolded to 24/96 by Roon, Decca/Tidal). Listening first to Verity, the orchestral sound was rich and warm, though with somewhat limited soundstage depth, which I assume is characteristic of the mid-1970s recording. The image of Ashkenazy's piano was fairly wide, and its sound was a touch forward in the upper midrange. Changing to the MBL, the image of the orchestra acquired a little more depth, while the piano moved slightly forward and offered a little more spatial definition. The sound lost some of its warmth, however.

In A/B comparisons, there is always a tendency to prefer the second presentation, so I changed back to the DAC/PRE. When Ashkenazy pounds the keyboard at the start of his cadenza in the Concerto's first movement, the instrument moved slightly farther back in the soundstage than it had been with the N31. The orchestra's lower-midrange warmth also returned, though the overall presentation was less filigreed than it had been with the MBL.


For the next comparison, I played the Jerome Harris Quartet's performance of Duke Ellington's "The Mooche" from Editor's Choice, with levels again matched to within 0.23dB. I listened first with the MBL, then with the Verity. The differences were more difficult to identify than they had been with the Beethoven concerto. But after repeating the comparison, though the stereo imaging of both D/A processors was equally well-defined, the MBL sounded a touch more transparent, with slightly more soundstage depth. The DAC/PRE again sounded warmer in the lower midrange than the N31, though repeating the comparison with the MBL's Min reconstruction filter reduced this difference.

Was this slight preference for the MBL due to my using the Verity's USB input? With some other processors, I have found that USB does not sound as transparent as an AES/EBU connection. I therefore loaded the Editor's Choice CD into the N31's disc slot and connected its AES/EBU output to the DAC/PRE's AES/EBU input. Playing "The Mooche" again, if there was a difference between the Verity's USB and AES/EBU inputs, I couldn't hear it.


It is fair to note that the manufacturing issues that JVS and I found would have been specific to this sample. Other than the dCS Vivaldi DAC ($35,999), which I haven't listened to for a few years, at $25,000 the Verity DAC/PRE is the most expensive D/A processor I have used in my system. At this price level—and speaking personally—while I appreciated the DAC/PRE having a volume control, I would have also liked Ethernet connectivity and full integration with Roon. And while I respect Maxime Julien's reason for not offering a choice of reconstruction filters, I have found that different filters can be optimal for different kinds of music.

Those minor quibbles aside, both the Verity's sound quality and its performance on the test bench are up there with the best I have experienced.

Footnote 2: The Rendezvous CD is long out of print, though one track, "The Mooche," is included on the Editor's Choice CD (Stereophile STPH016-2), which is still available. However, Rendezvous can be downloaded or streamed from
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.