|This is a summary of results comparing the Rega DAC against the W4S 2, Centrance Dacmini, and the Eastern Electric Minimax (First version).|
The Rega has been running a signal since last Saturday, so according to some reports it may be about 150 hours from sounding it's best. The comparison to the W4S was done with a fully broken in Rega from Signature Sound. Powercord is a Pangea AC-14 (nothing fancy). The main sources were a Oppo DV981 and Macbook pro. System is Merlin TSM-MXr on Skylan stands, Manley Stingray II, MJ Acoustics 150 MK2 sub, Cardas wires.
Vs. Centrance DACmini
First of all...this thing is cool! It's perfect for a headphone system and it's form-factor matches the MACmini. Fed by the Oppo it provided fantastic midrange and smooth highs, but bass was less defined and a bit muddy. There seemed to be just a bit more glare from the DACmini as well, but it had a deeper soundstage than the Rega. The Rega had bass well handled and the soundstage was quite wide, especially on live recordings where it did a great job of capturing the scope of the venue. The owner of the DACmini and I agreed that that it had the Rega beat by a small margin in soundstage, but the Rega was the winner with better bass detail and less glare. Any change of cables or speaker or amp could probably swing the results differently.
Vs. Eastern Electric Minimax
I was excited to hear this unit since it's gotten a ton of good reviews. But...wow, my system did not agree with it. Here was (I assume) a good example of poor synergy. The Minimax sounded overly thick in the midrange (less so with the tube switched out) and this quality made it difficult to focus on it's clearly sweet high end. We tried it with some cheaper AQ cables, but this issue did not go away. My friend says it's quite stunning in his system and I don't doubt it, but in my system it was "thick" much like the modified Jolida 100a CDP I once owned.
Vs. W4S DAC 2
This unit was well burned in and it went up against the Demo Rega I auditioned in my system. The W4S 2 had a Signal powercord while the Rega had it's stock cord. I reviewed the Rega DAC in the review section and I have since concluded that the Rega's "less is more" design approach led to it's superior performance with Redbook CDs. It won mainly based on soundstage where it provided a deeper effect, while the W4S 2 floated a image well, but it was less dimensional. The W4S 2 seemed to extract a bit more detail, but also sounded too bright on some tracks. Once again we concluded that they were both doing a fine job and a change of associated gear could skew results differently. The W4S is certainly more versatile.
After listening to these units in my system and playing with some very pricey CDP's in recent months I've concluded that DAC's and CDP's offer the smallest upgrade range. Good DACs and CDP's are very close in performance so be suspicious when someone says one unit blows away another. As others have pointed out we get into some seriously expensive "diminishing returns" with this gear. I feel that the Rega (and I truly love the Centrance as well) offers great performance in the mid priced DAC arena. It bested the Audio Aero prima I tried and has better soundstage that several other units around the 5K mark. How it performs in a given system will be mostly a measure of the synergy with your other components and nothing definitive should be assumed by reading these findings or any other!