Absolute top tier DAC for standard res Redbook CD

Hi All.

Putting together a reference level system.
My Source is predominantly standard 16/44 played from a MacMini using iTunes and Amarra. Some of my music is purchased from iTunes and the rest is ripped from standard CD's.
For my tastes in music, my high def catalogues are still limited; so Redbook 16/44 will be my primary source for quite some time.

I'm not spending DCS or MSB money. But $15-20k retail is not out of the question.

Upsampling vs non-upsampling?
USB input vs SPDIF?

All opinions welcome.

And I know I need to hear them, but getting these ultra $$$ DAC's into your house for an audition ain't easy.

Looking for musical, emotional, engaging, accurate , with great dimension. Not looking for analytical and sterile.
To much thread with not enough time. So... what dac so far in the shootout sounds the best on 'standard resolution Redbook CD'?
Matt, is this shoot-out over?, where is the Asthetixs Romulas or Pandora signature!
"My PS Audio DirectStream has been returned (still waiting for my refund)."


Did you post any comments on the DS?
Mrd1241 - Empirical Audio ODSE is my current reference.

Audiolabyrinth - I am waiting for a call from John at Audio Connection regarding the Romulus Signature. Looking forward to hearing it, eventually.

Kana813 - Yes, look back. Read my posts starting with "UPDATE" to read the reviews and comparisons. I have been very consistent in how I report.
UPDATE : APL DSD-S in in the house.

Please be aware that I had completed my own personal shootout with the DAC's that I had originally listed to get my ideal Red Book CD quality PCM 16/44 sound.My final choice is the Empirical Audio Over Drive SE with USB Short block adapter. The two additional DAC's that have been brought up again and again and again are the Lampy Big 7 and the Aesthetix Romulus Signature DAC's. I am trying to get both in for audition. Although my budget no longer affords me the ability to purchase any additional DAC's to get them in for audition - it has to be a lend for listen/Audition scenario. That said, the Big 7 and Romulus Signature have HUGE followings who insist that my shootout can not be completed without auditioning both. To them I say that I am trying…

To all new readers, please go back and seek out my posts beginning with "UPDATE" to see my reviews and comparisons. If I just posted to continue a conversation or answer a question I did NOT start the post with "UPDATE". it's an easy way to search through the many pages and get the info and answers you may want. If you start at the beginning you will see my equipment and process of evaluation is consistent and I try to simply say it as I hear it. I can tell you that the input that the forum members has offered has been invaluable and for those truly looking to use this thread as a resource, read the whole thing…

Alex, of APL HiFi, approached me to listen to his DSD-S DAC as it was in my price range. I knew nothing of his line and have learned much about Alex and his product since then. He knows his stuff. I welcomed the audition as he offered to get the DAC to me and give me the time and luxury of enjoying it and posting my honest opinion here. Other then offering to get the DAC to me free of charge, I have not received any financial compensation nor offered a discount to purchase the DAC. As you will see, I will be honest and critical as I always am. So here it goes….

Alex's brother dropped the box off to me at my office, which was very kind of him. I did not get to meet him as I was busy that day, but the box appeared new and unopened when I examined it. It was appropriately thick cardboard and professionally labeled. I would like to have seen a serial # printed on the outside as well as a country of manufacturer. My assumption is that my unit was packaged as a normal production unit would be. If not, I encourage Alex to chime in. I was disappointed to see that the internal packaging was minimal with foam sleeve edges but nothing above or below the DAC. There was no double box, or fabric bag around the DAC itself. There was a think styrofoam sheet sort of pushed around the DAC. I would put it on par with packaging for a $350- Sony receiver. For an $8K'sih DAC, I think he needs to take his packaging to the next level; especially if it's making a transatlantic trip to get to you. That said, it was unscathed and faired the trip perfectly. But I would have been disappointed with the packaging if I just shelled out $8K for this DAC.

Alex told me an instruction manual was not completed yet and would not be included. He emailed me all I needed to know. So I can't comment on it's instructions and how well they are written. His Email was concise, well written, and the unit is easy for anyone familiar with a DAC to use. So no complaints. He also included a power cord and a USB cable which I will hold off on using until I am done with my comparison. I try to keep everything else equal to make comparisons. Then add the extra stuff to see how it sounds different/better. He also gave me some music to listen to, which I will upload this week. He suggested I try Audirvana Software as he felt it sounded better. I will.

Although I was not enthralled with the packaging, the unit was in pristine condition and was clearly brand new. The remote is a small, silver metal rectangle that feels every solid, is very well laid out, has very responsive buttons that feel great under the thumb and worked without issue. I really like it. You need to unscrew the remote to replace the batteries; a hassle but no big deal really.

The unit itself is a black chassis with a silver faceplate. Very nicely put together and looks solid and well built. It doesn't have the heft of the Rowland Aeris but is clearly a solid unit representing its price. A beautiful logo is on top and on the faceplate and the faceplate is nicely shaped and well secured. The LCD is not great the latest and greatest, but it is functional and effective. Volume, DSD settings (DSD64 or DSD128 - to be explained in a bit), source input and bit rate are shown. The buttons on the front are simple and concise. Dimming switch for the LCD, volume up/down, power/standby and a power switch in back above the PC 15 amp socket. I liked the layout and was fine with the LCD. Was it the beautiful screen the Direct Stream had? No. But there's clearly money put into the right places and non wasted; I like that. Similar to my ODSE in theory. K.I.S.S.

The back is well laid out. The XLR, RCA, USB plugs are very secure and the PC socket was far enough from the power switch to allow hefty PC thickness without getting in the way. Overall, the unit reminded me of a Pass Labs pre-amp I had recently seen. I think that's a complement. Build quality is as expected for this level piece of equipment as are the buttons, plugs, feet and design. Nothing to complain about. It's not the jeweled finish, single block aluminum Bugatti that the Rowland Aeris was, but I felt that I paid for bling with the Aeris where the DSD-S makes me feel like the money went to the right place. That said, there is something to be said for the aluminum blocks vibration dampening; but the DSD-S is no light weight and is solidly constructed and well damped. When I tap on my Rowland Criterion pre-amp I hear a solid thud. When I tap on the DSD-S, I do hear a hollow tap. But no vibration or resonance. Take that for what it is. On a solid rack (like mine) I don't think it makes a huge difference. But at this level, tiny differences add up…

When I hooked it up and plugged it all in, it turned on without issue and went into its warm up mode. This took about a minute or so and then it easily and instantly linked to my computer without issue. No software needed for my Mac Mini. I am currently using Amarra and it worked without issue. I immediately got music out and sat down for a quick, initial listen.

The unit came with 300 hours on it. I will burn it in for an additional week for good measure. So final listening impressions next week.

I was impressed on first listen. Without going into any specifics, it did exactly what it is supposed to do for a unit of this caliber. The high frequencies were a but harsh at times (which surprised me) but I think that some burn in will remove that. Soundstage was wide and appropriate, and imaging put it all where it's supposed to be. Lows were low and impactful. I was pulled from review mode to music magic on 4 of the 5 songs I listened to. To me, thats a complement and bodes well for what to expect.

My ODSE should be here any day. Once that's here it will need a few weeks of burn in to really get where it should. Then I will compare and contrast. But next Wednesday will give me time to listen to the DSD-S and give true impressions of it's abilities.

Thats all for now.