A new (huge) R2R high end DAC in town
I have owned the Aries Cerat Kassandra Ref II since February 2018. It was a game changer for me, and I wanted to share my experiences with members here. There seems few posts about this brand on AudioGon.
Like many I would guess, I have spent many years fighting with digital sound, from the very first 18bit DACs at crazy prices, through the upsampling and oversampling years of disappointment, frustration, love and hate of digital sound. I have been through quite a lot of DACs, some bought new, others used, I have assembled kits, modified kits, had kits made for me. Still the search went on. The closest I got in all this was the ancient Audio Note DAC 5, which seemed to do a lot of the things I wanted, but frustratingly not everything. As is the nature of this hobby, the things it DIDN'T do became a bigger and bigger issue for me.
I have owned or had at home:
1. Pink Triange DeCapo with battery supply
Remember this one? A classic and quite radical at the time.
2. Various Meridian DACs circa 1995
3. Various Naim DACs circa 2000
4. A Linn CD12 (borrowed for 4 weeks) (2014)
5. MSB Platinum inc Signature Powerbase (2016)
6. CH Precision C1 (2017)
7. Chord DAVE (2017)
8. Lampizator Golden Gate (2017)
9. Naim CD555 (used item - 2017)
10. Audio Note UK DAC 3.1 (2014)
11. Audio Note UK DAC 4.1 (2014)
12. Audio Note kits 4.1 heavily modded (2015)
13. Audio Note UK DAC 5 (2017)
All of these DACs did somethings extremely well, but fell short in other crucial areas. The C1 for example, initially I was super excited about this DAC, and had it for a full day in my system. But after 3 or 4 hours it began to unravel and I found certain types of music didn't sound good on it, particularly strings and female vocals.
Others such as the Naim had great rhythm and drive but lacked sounstage and transparency. The DAVE had soundstage and transparency but lacked weight and realistic timbre. Others sounded too digital in the true sense, a coldness and lack of three dimensionality, boring even. The Audio Note kit 4.1 when modded was actually very good within it's envelope. In fact I have kept that DAC, partly as it is 'my creation' to an extent. But still not there....
Enter the Kassandra.
I bought this DAC based on PMs with owners and reviews. Crazy? possibly. It had the design traits I had come to respect in the Audio Note and Zanden DACs, such as R2R, no oversampling, no filter and tube gain stage. The classic AD1865N-K chip that some believe is the best sounding chip ever made. But this time 16 of them.
Transformers on the I/V stage, transformers at the output, tube gain stage. All the boxes ticked there then.
Fortunately the Kassandra did not disappoint, in fact it is a fabulous DAC and blew my socks off TBH. It strips away any vestiges of digital sound and IMO sounds more like my TT system as regards timbre, realism and body. It does all this WITHOUT sacrificing transparency, dynamics or drive. Really, it is the only DAC I have heard that can pull this off so convincingly. It's sound is best described as full, dynamic and 3 dimensional. It proves finally that digital can sound as good as vinyl, and the claimed dynamic range of Redbook and higher resolution was always there for the taking.
The Kassandra DAC is huge. 60 kilos and 54cm wide by 520cm deep. It is the way Stavros (designer at Aries Cerat) works, no limits on components or physical size, if it needs a huge power supply, it has to have a huge power supply. I have set my DAC on top of my Granite desk next to my music server. It looks very impressive in the flesh. The chassis is made of thick stainless steel, the curved side cheeks are solid steel, the power supply and capacitor banks are huge. The digital board spans the entire width and half the depth of the DAC and also contains the dual Siemens E280F tube output with I/V transformers next to them. It can output 6v or a powerful 10v as SE or balanced.
This DAC for me has been a game changer, and is my end-game DAC (finally) and I have also ordered the Genus SET integrated as a perfect match to the Kassandra in my system.
If anyone is in Spain and wants to hear the Kassandra or the Genus please PM me. You would be most welcome to hear them in my system.