YBA Design WD202 D/A headphone amplifier Page 2

I'd love to tell you about the digital filter used in the WD202, since I've found that I can easily hear differences among the filter settings of products that let you adjust them. But YBA isn't talking, and there are no settings to mess around with. When I asked Michel Rousseau, of YBA Design, about the filter, he said that designer "Jérôme [Schonfeld] tells me that he can't remember what filter was used (!!??) or he just won't tell me." I didn't like this answer, but thought, Okay, maybe it's better to go into the listening tests with no preconceived ideas.

Listening was done in two batches. The first go-round focused on S/PDIF connections from my Meridian Sooloos music server to the YBA, a Musical Fidelity V-DAC, powered by its wallwart supply ($299), and a Cambridge Audio Azur DacMagic ($449). For Round 2, which included more expensive DACs, I zeroed in on a USB source. I also did a little headphone listening.

Now that the Sooloos's new 2.2 update lets me sort everything by original release date, I set a focus for 1970–1975, which gave me 499 albums in chronological order from which to choose. Over the next several days, using the Breithaupts' Precious and Few as my guide, I cycled through dozens of classics. The best-sounding included David Essex's "Rock On" (1973), The Guess Who's "American Woman" (1970), Sugarloaf's "Green Eyed Lady" (1970), and a handful of tracks from the recent Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab remasterings of the Doobie Brothers' The Captain and Me and Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On (both 1973).

The DACs quickly sorted themselves, the YBA WD202 consistently shining with overall better control and clarity when I tried to listen deep into a mix. The Cambridge was the closest of the other two, with a sense of being a little looser around the edges, but the V-DAC had a relatively distinct sound. These were very minor differences in the overall scheme of a system, but I was in "sharpening" mode, so they came to the fore.

For those who remember the early-'70s version of the TV sitcom The Odd Couple (1970–1975), the V-DAC was the Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman) of the three DACs: the sound was a little messy and rough around the edges, but lovable. The YBA and DacMagic were different degrees of Felix Unger (Tony Randall): neat and well-mannered, but minus the pout. The YBA was a more pleasant Felix—always on his best behavior, and with that slightly sweet smile Randall had when he cocked his head to the side.

As I had with the T+A Music Player media streamer, which I reviewed in the August 2009 issue, I invited my neighbor Matt over to see what he thought—he's always quick to identify what he hears, so I enjoy getting his perspective. We stuck with the early '70s once again, and warmed up with "Le Grange," from ZZ Top's second album, Tres Hombres (1973). The 2006 Rhino remastering is an amazing example of the visceral power of a rock trio—through a big system, it simply explodes into a living room. We agreed that with the YBA, everything was there and under control—especially the impact when the band kicks in after the stick-tapping intro, which brought the amps and drums right into the room with us. Switching to the V-DAC compressed the glorious sense of dynamics all around, and toned down the snarling guitars a tad. The DacMagic opened things back up again, but still fell a nanotad short of the YBA's precise control—just enough to notice.

We needed to be sure, so next we cued up the 1999 remaster of Robin Trower's Bridge of Sighs, from 1974 (Capitol 20811), and skipped to the title track, which begins with some varispeeded metal chimes before the Hendrix-ian guitar riffs take over. As we switched from DAC to DAC, those chimes proved quite telling. Once again, the YBA kept everything under control, while the DacMagic almost kept up. The V-DAC slightly flattened the dynamic contrasts, however, and while its sound was somewhat more euphonic, it also made us want to switch back to the YBA so we could hear all those details again.

Bottom line: I could live with the DacMagic but not the V-DAC, though I can see where some folks might want what the Musical Fidelity offers in terms of sound for price ($299). The DacMagic vs YBA was a closer call; I encourage you to listen yourself, especially since the DacMagic costs $439 less than the YBA. But I'm going with the YBA.

More DACs!
Getting those three DACs sorted was too easy, I suppose, so JA and assistant editor Stephen Mejias decided to throw a couple higher-priced DACs my way: the Benchmark DAC1 USB ($1295) and the Ayre Acoustics QB-9 ($2500). The stack was now one Brady short of a complete Bunch: five DACs, from toddler to teen, in assorted sizes at various prices. The question now was where the two new DACs would sit, and whether a USB source (the Ayre has only a USB input) might resort the pecking order.

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