Musical Fidelity X-DACV8 Digital/Analog Processor

How do I get myself into these things? Knowing that I use a Musical Fidelity X-DACV3 D/A processor in my office system and had just auditioned the Bel Canto e.One DAC3 that he'd reviewed in November, John Atkinson asked me to give Musical Fidelity's X-DACV8 a try. I say "asked," but the man does authorize my paychecks, so I acceded, knowing I was painting a giant bull's-eye on my back.

My first thought: V8? What happened to Vs 4 through 7?

I did some searching on the Internet and discovered that, despite Musical Fidelity's constant product churn, I hadn't missed four generations of DAC —they'd just skipped from V3 to V8. Must be shorthand for big-block hemi power, thought I.

"Well, that, and the fact that the number four is considered extremely inauspicious in Asia," conceded Musical Fidelity's head honcho, Antony Michaelson. "And it is supercharged—it has a switchable tube buffer and an extra –heavy-duty power supply that can power an X-RayV8 or X-PloraV8 radio tuner."

Ahhh. As Steven Sondheim observed, You've gotta have a gimmick if you wanna have a chance!

Once I was a Schleppa / Now I'm Miss Mazzeppa
Michaelson says the casework of the X-DACV8 ($1500) is bare bones, but its 9-lb heft (undoubtedly the result of moving the power supply inside rather than using a wall wart à la the V3) and finish don't scream short cut.

The X-DACV8 features Musical Fidelity's traditional extruded-aluminum chassis and a handsome, satin-finished faceplate with a power button, pushbuttons for source and tube/solid-state selection, and six LEDs (four inputs, plus one each indicating tube or solid-state operation). The rear panel has a USB 1.1 input (computer only), three S/PDIF RCA inputs, an S/PDIF RCA output, stereo RCA output, and four- and five-pin XLR power-supply sockets for the X-RayV8 and X-PloraV8. A modular IEC socket accommodates the AC power cord of your choice.

The X-DACV8's remote control can switch among inputs, but the tube buffer must be switched in and out using the switch on the front panel.

The switchable tube section, which buffers the DAC's solid-state output, boasts two 6922 triodes. "People want this feature," Michaelson explained. "Why bother with the solid-state when you've got the tube? We put it there so that people would have one less thing to whinge about."

The V8 uses a Burr-Brown SRC4392 asynchronous sample-rate conversion chip to convert the input signal to 192kHz, then uses a Burr-Brown DSD 1792 24-bit DAC to process it. "The V8's linearity and jitter have extremely low levels. Imagine there's no target price, imagine there's no need for a case, imagine there's no brand image to support —just look at the components of the DAC itself. The components we're using are the same as those in extremely expensive machines. We kept the package cost as low as it reasonably can be and we spent the money on the electronics. That's how we've done it —there's no great secret to this."

But I do it with a switch / I'm electrifying / And I ain't even trying
Perhaps so, but I wondered about the usefulness of the X-DACV8's overbuilt power supply. Are users who buy the X-DACV8, but not the X-RayV8 and/or X-PloraV8, paying for functions they won't use —or does the X-DACV8 require a massive power supply? "You can make a super CD player by using the V8 with it," said Michaelson. "The X-DACV8 itself doesn't require that massive an internal transformer to achieve its quality —that's not really affected by the transformer, but it's a bonus for people who have the other V8 components."

I can't say one way or another —I had neither of the other V8 components to audition —but many Stereophile Forum members, as well as Sam Tellig, felt the X-DACV3 benefited from its chunky, external X-PSU power supply.

You can pull all the stops out / Till they call the cops out
I auditioned the X-DACV8 in my dedicated small listening room, connecting it to an Ayre AX-7e integrated amplifier with Stereovox HDSE interconnect. Identical lengths of HDSE also connected the X-DACV3 and Bel Canto e.One DAC3. All three were connected to an Onkyo DX-7555 CD player used as a transport with identical runs of Stereovox XV2 digital cable. The Usher Be-718 speakers were biwired to the Ayre with Stereovox Firebird cables.

Later, I inserted the V8 in my office system, where the V3 normally presides, connecting it to my Apple PowerMac G5 via the V8's USB input (with the V3 I use TosLink, which the V8 lacks). This was interesting for reasons other than sonic (more on that later): my PowerMac recognizes the USB connection and lists it in its Preferences section, under the Sound toolbox.

I ran in the X-DACV8 in my small listening room for a few days, not because I felt it needed to "wear in," but because a few components I've reviewed recently —especially the Conrad-Johnson Act Two Series 2 preamplifier —have sounded spectacularly better after having music played through their capacitors for a few hundred hours. It makes no sense to me, but it's not exactly hard work to set a CD player on Repeat and let it cook for a while, so why not?

If you wanna make it / Twinkle while you shake it
My first impressions of the V8 were that it sounded uncommonly natural and assertive. The bell overtones of Creator Alme Siderum, from Angelica's Sing We Nowell CD, decayed within the hall acoustic over a satisfyingly long interval. Was the decay the full three seconds I would have experienced in the recording venue, South Presbyterian Church, in Dobbs Ferry, New York? Probably not, but it surely seemed like a close approximation. (This disc is available directly from Angelica, 765 N. Broadway #2E, Hastings-on-Hudson, NY 10706.)

Musical Fidelity Ltd.
US distributor: KEF America, Inc.
10 Timber Lane
Marlboro, NJ 07746
(732) 683-2356