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Digital Source Audition Last Weekend

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  • Digital Source Audition Last Weekend

    Last Saturday I auditioned the Berk Ref2 DAC, ARC DAC9 and ARC Ref CD-9 player head-to-head. The dealer had it set up so I could change instantaneously between digital sources by using the Ref CD-9's transport to spin redbook CDs. The system was Magico S7, ARC Ref 250SE monoblocks and ARC Ref6 preamp. They had the system optimized as well as I've seen. I primarily listened to jazz vocals, jazz piano and small jazz combos.

    The Berk Ref2 is the smoothest sounding and least fatiguing DAC I've ever heard. There is zero digital artifice. It is extremely organic sounding with gorgeous tonality on vocals. It is very neutral in presentation and does little editorializing. Midrange density is extraordinary and bass is tight and impactful.

    Its imaging is pinpoint, placing vocalists and instruments in their appropriate places. However, soundstage width and depth were noticeably less than the ARC digital sources. I also felt that the highs weren't as extended and some of the harmonics or overtones of female vocalists were absent. I wondered if this was a bit of a trade-off in order to attain such an organic sound.

    The DAC9 sounded similar to the Berk Ref2 in tonality but I would give the edge to the Berk Ref2 in both smoothness and refinement. What I preferred about the DAC9 to the Berk was its treble extension and bass texture. I also preferred the warmth, body and bloom it provided, although it didn't have the Berk's amazing midrange density.

    The DAC9 had a noticeably deeper soundstage with superior layering of instruments. There was wonderful space around vocalists and instruments. What I didn't like was on certain tracks, imaging was too forward and sometimes misplaced.

    The Ref CD-9 player had a similar sonic signature to the DAC9 but was superior in a number of ways. Its soundstage was wider and deeper with terrific layering, we're talking 3D! Imaging just sounded right. It also had more refinement, finesse and delicacy, bringing out subtleties of the performance that make music sound live as opposed to reproduced. It also produced wonderful warmth, body and bloom that even exceeded the DAC9. It had the same treble extension and wonderful bass texture as the DAC9.

    What I didn't like about the Ref CD-9 was there was less purity and tonal accuracy in the timbres of the music than the Berk and DAC9. The DAC9 also produced more air around instruments and vocalists. I feel this was due to the Ref CD-9's five-year old DAC chip compared to the others' newer DAC chips. I couldn't help but wonder what combining the Ref CD-9's superior analog gain stage (2 input tubes, 2 output tubes & tube rectification) with the DAC9's superior digital circuitry would yield in sound quality.

    So which did I prefer? Each component had its own strengths and weaknesses and I would be extremely satisfied with each of them in my system.

    Please keep in mind this review is only my opinion and your mileage may vary due to system synergy, music preference and personal taste.

    All the best,
    Ken
    "No summit worth climbing is easily attained."
    --------------------------------------------
    Source: MSB Select II DAC with
    Two Mono Powerbases, Femto 33 Clock,
    Renderer V2 and Roon Nucleus Plus
    Amps: Vandersteen M7-HPA Mono Amps
    Speakers: Vandersteen Model 7 Mk2
    Power: AudioQuest Niagara 7000

  • #2
    Doesn't the fact that none of the three have all the attributes you really want sorta nag you and make you wanna keep looking?
    Magnepan 1.6 QR Loudspeakers, Amherst A-2000 MOSFET 150 WPC Amp, Conrad Johnson PV-10A Modded Tube Line & Phono Stage, Electrocompaniet MC II Class A Head Amp, Audio Technica AT-OC9XML Cart (Stereo) , Graham Engineering 2.2 Tonearm (Stereo) , VPI Aries-1 Turntable (Stereo) , VPI Clamp, Denon DL-102 Cart, (Mono) , Luxman Tonearm (Mono) , Kenwood KD-500 Turntable (Mpmp) , Michell Clamp, Marantz 20B Analog FM Tuner, Pioneer SACD, Onkyo DX-6800 CD Transport, DIY 24B/192K DAC, Sennheiser HD-650 Headphones, Headroom Max Balanced Headphone Amp, DIY Silver Interconnects

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by JCOConnell View Post
      Doesn't the fact that none of the three have all the attributes you really want sorta nag you and make you wanna keep looking?
      What I really want is a new Audio Research Reference DAC with 4 tube analog gain stage and tube rectification in its power supply, dual mono digital circuit with the latest Burr Brown DAC chip, a defeatable analog volume control and ARC's newest coupling capacitors.

      Best,
      Ken
      "No summit worth climbing is easily attained."
      --------------------------------------------
      Source: MSB Select II DAC with
      Two Mono Powerbases, Femto 33 Clock,
      Renderer V2 and Roon Nucleus Plus
      Amps: Vandersteen M7-HPA Mono Amps
      Speakers: Vandersteen Model 7 Mk2
      Power: AudioQuest Niagara 7000

      Comment


      • JCOConnell
        JCOConnell commented
        Editing a comment
        tell ARC

    • #4
      Thanks JC, I definitely will. The ARC digital source components are some of the most underrated on the market. With the ARC approach to their tube analog gain stage, their sound quality rivals the very best DACs on the market in my honest opinion.

      Best,
      Ken
      "No summit worth climbing is easily attained."
      --------------------------------------------
      Source: MSB Select II DAC with
      Two Mono Powerbases, Femto 33 Clock,
      Renderer V2 and Roon Nucleus Plus
      Amps: Vandersteen M7-HPA Mono Amps
      Speakers: Vandersteen Model 7 Mk2
      Power: AudioQuest Niagara 7000

      Comment


      • #5
        A few thoughts in the digital domain better staging yields better layers but less air as it move the music back a bit to yield staging o hear that happen when I roll recti that give me that change
        musical accuracy is kind of funny none of our stuff is right of one plays a band in front us pick what draws you in and gives you the REAL grand illusion
        may I ask you what source did the dealer use sources is as important as the dac you like
        play music you know well for ques and also both pcm and dsd is closer to real analog sound and for me that is most pleasing
        putting tubes Ina pathay help but keep in mind this coloring or harmonics we like
        I have both pure digital dacs and chipless dacs that to me produce a more analog sound
        Please keep posting and don't get anoyed at anyone's
        views be it yours or others. Always good to read others thoughts.

        Good luck
        analog stuff.
        otari mtr 10 2 track 1/4 made new by soren
        otari mtr 10 2 track 1/4 1/2 combo made new by soren
        sota sapphire used eminent tech ver 2 arm
        new sota nova table has magnetic levitation platter and full speed control and latest motor same arm as above
        thorens td124 sme ver 2 arm
        thorens td125 sme ver 2 arm
        kenwood direct drive sme ver 2 arm
        phono preamp Ml no 25 all re capped
        speakers cust infinity IRS V , new caps and LPS , magnets etc.
        mark levivson pre no 26 amps no 33
        digital three cust servers , win ser 2016 , AO
        Dacs lampi various

        Comment


        • #6
          Originally posted by Alrainbow View Post
          A few thoughts in the digital domain better staging yields better layers but less air as it move the music back a bit to yield staging o hear that happen when I roll recti that give me that change
          musical accuracy is kind of funny none of our stuff is right of one plays a band in front us pick what draws you in and gives you the REAL grand illusion
          may I ask you what source did the dealer use sources is as important as the dac you like
          play music you know well for ques and also both pcm and dsd is closer to real analog sound and for me that is most pleasing
          putting tubes Ina pathay help but keep in mind this coloring or harmonics we like
          I have both pure digital dacs and chipless dacs that to me produce a more analog sound
          Please keep posting and don't get anoyed at anyone's
          views be it yours or others. Always good to read others thoughts.

          Good luck
          Hi Al,

          I brought my favorite red book CDs and played them at their native sampling rate through the ARC Ref CD-9's transport with digital output via AES/EBU to the Berk Ref2 and via BNC to the ARC DAC9.

          I would say the Berk Ref2 was the most tonally accurate with the ARC DAC9 running a close second. The ARC Ref CD-9 was a bit euphonic but not overly so and did it in such a way that its presentation was astonishingly lifelike sounding.

          Some listeners may prefer the accuracy of the Berk Ref2 or ARC DAC9 but for me the ARC Ref CD-9's presentation was just magical.

          Best,
          Ken

          "No summit worth climbing is easily attained."
          --------------------------------------------
          Source: MSB Select II DAC with
          Two Mono Powerbases, Femto 33 Clock,
          Renderer V2 and Roon Nucleus Plus
          Amps: Vandersteen M7-HPA Mono Amps
          Speakers: Vandersteen Model 7 Mk2
          Power: AudioQuest Niagara 7000

          Comment


          • #7
            Magical,is a better choice then accuracy lol.
            Did any of the dacs play dsd ? Even if to was not yours ?
            Thanks for the reply
            analog stuff.
            otari mtr 10 2 track 1/4 made new by soren
            otari mtr 10 2 track 1/4 1/2 combo made new by soren
            sota sapphire used eminent tech ver 2 arm
            new sota nova table has magnetic levitation platter and full speed control and latest motor same arm as above
            thorens td124 sme ver 2 arm
            thorens td125 sme ver 2 arm
            kenwood direct drive sme ver 2 arm
            phono preamp Ml no 25 all re capped
            speakers cust infinity IRS V , new caps and LPS , magnets etc.
            mark levivson pre no 26 amps no 33
            digital three cust servers , win ser 2016 , AO
            Dacs lampi various

            Comment


            • #8
              The ARC DAC9 plays up to DSD 128, as does my Esoteric K-01X. I only own three DSD files but I do own about 60 SACDs.

              Ken
              "No summit worth climbing is easily attained."
              --------------------------------------------
              Source: MSB Select II DAC with
              Two Mono Powerbases, Femto 33 Clock,
              Renderer V2 and Roon Nucleus Plus
              Amps: Vandersteen M7-HPA Mono Amps
              Speakers: Vandersteen Model 7 Mk2
              Power: AudioQuest Niagara 7000

              Comment


              • #9
                Lol see your point. Get them riped and be free to play on any dsd dac with no transport. The reseon I made the comment was some dacs do pcm well and dsd poor
                you want Joe that plays both well. Dsd is closer to analog
                more relaxed
                analog stuff.
                otari mtr 10 2 track 1/4 made new by soren
                otari mtr 10 2 track 1/4 1/2 combo made new by soren
                sota sapphire used eminent tech ver 2 arm
                new sota nova table has magnetic levitation platter and full speed control and latest motor same arm as above
                thorens td124 sme ver 2 arm
                thorens td125 sme ver 2 arm
                kenwood direct drive sme ver 2 arm
                phono preamp Ml no 25 all re capped
                speakers cust infinity IRS V , new caps and LPS , magnets etc.
                mark levivson pre no 26 amps no 33
                digital three cust servers , win ser 2016 , AO
                Dacs lampi various

                Comment

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