Alpha Design Labs Stratos

September 11, 2020 § Leave a comment

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“A CD of string quartets by Alec Roth performed by the Allegri Quartet showcases the delicate fingering of the strings in the pizzicato sections of Dancing (1) from String Quartet No.2. The energetic and lively plucking is believable, superbly clear and the four instruments occupy well-defined locations within the soundstage.

Switching to the USB input with a 16-bit/44kHz file on my PC of Cécile McLorin Salvant singing Nothing Like You, the clarity of the double bass and drums is superb with each instrument in a clearly defined location within the soundstage – as is McLorin Salvant. Connecting the line output of the Stratos to my hi-fi, I am once again bowled over by the clarity of this piece – in particular, the hi-hats, which are crisp and mellifluous. Furthermore, the balance of the piano is absolutely spot on.”


September 8, 2020 § Leave a comment

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“Once again, John and his team (Hey Jude!) did it. Both the DAC and the AMP are amazing for the asking price. Whether you need the stack or a standalone dac/amp, Atom is the answer.
As you can see, I can’t find anything bad about them. Missing optical out perhaps? Anyway, you get a solid bang for your buck. The accurate and neutral presentation of the stack is impressive. It doesn’t color the sound at all. Technical aspects such as PRaT, resolution, imaging punch way above its price tag. Clarity is very, very good.”

Marantz HD-DAC1 Review

September 1, 2020 § Leave a comment

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“In the opening of Kozmic Blues the cymbals sounded like they were out there in the room in front of us, rather than being pumped into our ears by the headphones.

The Beyerdynamic headphones are fairly bright, but not as bright as the Final B3 in-ears. Yet they were somehow an easier listen than usual. We doubt that the amplifier could have done that. Perhaps they are wearing in. Anyway, they have a similar sensitivity – 102dB/mW – to the Beyerdynamic headphones, but they are nominally 19 ohms rather than 250 ohms. No problems. Superb control from the Marantz and, of course, even more power on tap I’m certain, were we prepared to chance it.

We spent most of the time with the Focal Elear headphones. These have a tonal balance closer to what you experience with high-quality loudspeakers. They are also middling in impedance – 80 ohms. Throughout all manner of music from piano to vocals to hard, hard rock, the Marantz delivered perfect control, providing a clear window into the recording.

It’s only those few audiophiles that are experimenting with super-high resolution formats (352.8/384kHz and DSD512 and beyond), or those who use balanced headphones, who may be disappointed that they can’t use these formats or devices.”

Mark Levinson No.36 D/A converter $3995 Review

August 29, 2020 § Leave a comment

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“As to HDCD, the performance of the No.36 remained top-class. Pop an HDCD into the transport, and the letters “HDCD” light up the No.36’s LED display screen. But color me undecided when it comes to HDCD vs standard CD. To date, there’s simply not enough material available in both formats (make that almost none) to make a really intelligent comparison. Sure, the HDCD recordings I’ve heard have been uniformly terrific in sound. But they’ve been excellent with and without decoding. Comparisons between their undecoded or decoded playback are not only invalid—because the coding results in subtle changes to the sound of an undecoded disc over that which might be expected from a conventionally mastered one—but also nearly impossible to make. You can’t shut off the HDCD processing in any HDCD decoder I know of, and comparing the modes using two processors—one HDCD, the other not—requires that the processors be otherwise identical: an impossible condition to meet.”

Boulder 866 Integrated Amplifier DAC/Streamer $14,450 Review

August 26, 2020 § Leave a comment

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“Compared to the 75K worth of separates I use, the only thing I can say the 866 may not quite equal the duo in is density of image, sheer presence, and overall richness. To put that into perspective, richness and body have always been very important to me. What I’m getting from the Boulder’s strengths, its take on the music is so compelling on its own terms, I’m just not missing what’s not there. The 866 succeeds wildly on its own merits.

The Boulder 866 makes an incredibly compelling overall case. I had a feeling it would be good, but not this good. Like the surprise delivered by Boulder’s diminutive 508 phono stage, I was not prepared for how good the 866 would be, and to an even greater degree than the surprise delivered by the 508. No matter how you cut it this integrated amplifier DAC/streamer is a triumph of audio design and engineering. Do not skip over this piece if you are shopping any where near the price. And please, do not let the relatively compact stature fool you—this thing is a beast. It is truly cutting edge in sonics, capabilities, and construction. In 25 years of sampling audio gear, the Boulder 866 is one of the best audio components I’ve ever reviewed.”

dCS Bartók Digital-to-Analog Converter $14,500 Review

August 14, 2020 § Leave a comment

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“These days, $2000-$2500 buys most audiophiles a near-state-of-the-art DAC. Whether an FPGA design from PS Audio or Chord Electronics, a multibit model from Schiit Audio, or a delta-sigma from Benchmark or Mytek, to name just a few, there’s no shortage of excellent options. In fact, you could buy a Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ ($2195) just like mine, plug it into your high-dollar system, and I’m confident you’d be shocked at how clean and resolving its sound is. And you’d be right. My extensive praise for the dCS Bartók might have given the impression that a substantial chasm in sound quality yawns between it and, say, the more proletarian Mytek that hails from Poland. That chasm is narrower than you might think.

With the Bach Partita, Viktoria Mullova’s delicious violin sounded about as transparent through the Mytek as it had through the more-than-six-times-as-costly dCS. That alone is a huge achievement. Still, the Bartók’s re-creation of the Allemanda was distinct in some subtle ways. The soundstage was a touch more compressed through the Mytek — Mullova’s instrument sounded slightly more two-dimensional. Gone was the dCS’s analog-like ease and liquidity, replaced by a more urgent and vivid sound with a more mechanical, stereotypically “digital” feel. I actually enjoy that sort of well-articulated sound, but it’s inherently unnatural, and ultimately, I preferred the Bartók’s version.”

Weiss Engineering DAC502 D/A processor Review

August 12, 2020 § Leave a comment

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“The DAC502’s Room Equalizer comprises five filters that can be set to peak/cut or high shelf for left and right speakers individually or together. To make use of this function, you download a FLAC or WAV file from the Weiss website that sweeps down from 200Hz to 20Hz. While playing this file, you note the time when the loudness is at a maximum. The Weiss processor’s manual includes a table that correlates the time with the frequency of the sinewave. You then manually create up to five correction filters, a complex process that would be more user-friendly if integrated with an app like Room Equalization Wizard.”


August 11, 2020 § Leave a comment

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“The PS Audio GainCell preamp/DAC is a winner in every respect. It is an excellently built versatile preamplifier that can handle both the analog and digital signal switching equally well. Not only that, but it can also serve as a very capable headphone amplifier. Its audiophile quality is obvious in every aspect of its sonic performance. Transparent, great tonal balance, and good dynamics are some of the nice traits of the sonic characteristics of the GCD. As a DAC, it is capable of handling both PCM and DSD high-resolution music signals, which adds to its repertoire of capabilities. Considering that this versatile great-sounding product can be had for only $1699, the GainCell preamp/DAC truly represents a great bargain in the hi-fi world. Moreover, with 30 days home-trial offer and generous trade-in policy, this is a must audition product for someone looking for modern affordable preamp/DAC. The GCD easily earns my highest recommendation!”

Gold Note DS-10 D/A processor Review

August 10, 2020 § Leave a comment

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“For comparisons, I planned to use the Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ ($2195) and dCS Rossini DAC/Clock ($31,499 total plus three additional cables). While the Brooklyn DAC+ contains a headphone amp, which I compared to the DS-10’s, it does not accept Ethernet—for that, you need the Brooklyn Bridge streaming DAC ($2995), which I do not have here. Hence all comparisons between these two units were performed using the USB input on the two DACs. I also connected them to the MBL N11 preamp ($14,600) and attempted to answer the questions: (a) Does this preamp noticeably improve the sound of the DS-10, and (b) does its addition make more or less difference to the sound of the DS-10 than it does to the far more expensive dCS Rossini DAC/Clock combo? I also compared the DS-10/PSU-10 EVO to the Rossini DAC/Clock, both with and without the N11 preamp in the chain.”


August 3, 2020 § Leave a comment

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“The traditional digital brightness and thinness that people associate with streaming begins to go away here. Interestingly, the more components you build into the AURALiC G2 stack, the more those criticisms of streaming became outdated and unfair. The graunch of guitars in the Puscifer track showed this in stark relief; the tone of the track takes on a truly malevolent disposition here, something it rarely does through Tidal.

Is there a downside? Sonically, I don’t think so. However, to get the best from the SIRIUS G2 does involve some fairly complex app-wrangling, matching the upsampler to your DAC’s performance and if you get technofear, terms like ‘Parallelize Sigma-Delta Modulator’ might send chills along your heatsinks. Everything is explained in multiple places, however, but you might feel the need to hand setting up over to an expert. That being said, it’s not complexity for its own sake, but digital matchmaking… almost like Tinder for DACs. ”

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