I have listened to and auditioned everyone of the pieces you mention, with the exception of the Ayon CD-55, and still have not heard a better sounding DAC then the Accustic Arts Tube Hybrid reference DAC.
Now there might be "two monkey wrenchs" for you: 1) the AA Tube Hybrid does not have a volume control, so you will still have to use a preamp. 2) I only care about redbook CD not high res material, and with no doubt the AA DAC is much more musical/natural sounding then the others on your list for me. This DAC can be setup so you can run high res material through it and I still thinks it sounds better then the other DACS, even when the bit rate has been taken down/back to redbook standard. The last piece I auditioned was the Playback Design and reminded very much of Meitner gear, which I still find very transparent/detailed but not as musical as I like.
Finally, you might want to take a look at my thread here on the GON on reference DACS that has a great amuont of information about what your asking about.
Sorry forgot to include this information for you. I recommend you E-mail Gon member Ted Brady, he has just got throught with an amazing six month auditioning process of some of the highest regarded DACS that do red book and high res material and picked as his new reference the Antelope Gold with its upgraded power supply and it has a built in preamp section which he believes sounds better in his system direct then with his very highly regarded preamp. This DAC might be just what you are looking for. Tell Ted I say hi, when you E-mail him.
I am considering two of the DACs on your list and recommend adding the Bel Canto DAC 3.5 with the VBS1 power supply. Computeraudiophile has reviewed both the Weiss and the Berkeley and is also a good resource for user feedback. AVguide reviewed both the Berkeley (Robert Harley) and the Weiss (Steven Stone). The Weiss was also reviewed by Ultraudio. I am leaning towards the Bel Canto based on price, several professional reviews, as well as user experience including one that had the Perfect Wave DAC and bought the Bel Canto. In the Positive Feedback review, Robert Lerner put the Bel Canto ahead of the Berkeley. It also had a glowing review from Stereophile. It has a volume control and can run direct to amp which Bel Canto recommends.
I had a similar objective to use the DAC to eliminate the preamp but did not because I still enjoy multichannel audio from concert DVDs, DVD Audio and SACD. My plan is to run a computer based server, an Oppo player, and Cable TV into the DAC to improve the sound from those sources, and then run the multichannel analog output from the Oppo and the two channel output from the DAC into a multichannel preamp.
All the DACs on your list are top notch. I think your decision may come down to personal preference and synergy with your system components.
My local dealer has been really pitching the new AMR DP 777 Dac and he describes at as a design with the musicality of Audio Note as it is also tube base but with a state of the art design/implementation on the input end to ensure detail/data are optimized.
I was intrigue at their split desing to handle redbook and hi-rez through two different chip/circuit paths. Seems extravagant but also logical base on their reasons.
I've started to browse their website and was impress with their design concept and have noticed recent shows, other vendors have been using more AMR gear in their demo setups.
I would love to learn if anyone has experience with this latest AMR Dac and if they can speak on how it compares to other reference caliber Dacs (AA, BADA, DCS,Audio Note, etc...)
Teajay: With all due respect, the Playback Designs sounds nothing like the Meitner gear. I am quite shocked that you would say that after you say you heard both. I am not trying to minimize your report, I am just really surprised.
What was the associated equipment you used when you auditioned the Playback Designs? Also, which model was it?
Well I'm quite "shocked" that your "shocked" that the Playback design Dac reminded me of the latest Meitner gear. If you have ever read my thread on how I experience and group different DACS sonicly, what I call type 1 or type 2 groups, you would understand why your playback very much reminded me on redbook CD's of the Meitner gear. They are both excellent type 1, very transparent/detailed/dynamic, yet compared to the best in type 2 DACS like the AA Tube Hybrid or the CF reference DAC's they don't give you as much as the body of the harmonic and the timbres to me don't sound as rich and natural as the best tubed based DACS. I'm not talking about DACs like the Zanden or Audio Note which to me sound euphonic and somewhat rolled off both on the high and low ends.
The Playback Designs that I auditioned was your latest generation. I would rather not get into what the associated gear was that I heard the Playback DAC in for my reasons, believe me it was all reference level, on this thread. However, if you want to discuss this with me these details just E-mail me your phone number and it would be a pleasure to talk to you.
Finally, I know that you are a gentleman and are only standing up for your excellent DAC, it's quite good but just not my sonic cup of tea, and when I experienced it compared to other DACs it would not be the one I would purchase. Just my opinion, not an attack on your piece.
Have you considered these excellent over achievers:
1. Yamamoto YDA01 and YDA01B
2. Bow Technologies ZZ8 DAC
3. Lampizator Level4
The Perfect Wave is perhaps not the best choice if you are committed to losing the pre, esp. if you listen at low volumes, where it sheds bits. Mine sounds better with a very inexpensive pre.
With 10-12k to spend, here is enough to add Firewire if required by your new DAC...
I am not sure this will get posted here but I will post it on other sites.Here is an interesting and enlightening read on J.Tinn and Emmlabs.
to Teajay; and the other responders, many thanks for your suggestions and research.
I do need a dac to process the high res downloads; and prefer a volume control and remote control to allow switching sources, which seems to eliminate the AA tubed dac.
I'd like to have one integrated unit if possible; but a quality dac and transport are always possible if priced right.
Might also want to add an addtional new dac to the list;
Meitner MA-1 DAC; listed by Perrota consulting in Ct; description sounds interesting; and it's a bit less than dCs, and Playback Design...anyone heard or played with this unit?
picking up the Ayon tomorrow; more after a brief audition...thanks again for the comments.
Feel free to ping me about all the DACS I've demo'd. The Antelope Gold is quite amazing, really (after 800 hrs). As is the Metric Halo LIO-8/ULN-8. But the Gold is a direct-to-amp champ with the right synergy (as always), and I was in the "no way it replaces a world class preamp" camp.
Got the Antelope Gold + Voltikus running off a mach2music server into my Wavac EC300B. It replaces my AudioAero Capitole SE with discrete output stage. World class resolution and musical flow!! I am after 300h truly over the moon and will never listen to a cd player again. The clarity and impulse speed as well as inner coherence of complex performances doesn't even compare and even on Vinyl there is a marked improvement in the preamp performance.
Reviving this thread. I also currently use a perfectwave dac + bridge. Quite happy with the sonics but always on the lookout for improvement. I am particularly intruiged by the Antilope Gold + Voltikus, not least because it would allow me to take out my preamp (which will pay for the DAC), and run my multi channel system throught the analog input on the DAC in bypass mode (by setting to unity gain level). Any updates on the quest for a better DAC than the perfectwave?
have you ever listened to an audionote cd2 or the first lector cd player ?
there are others, such as the amr and an expensive dac beginning with the letter t ?
the point is there are many other tubed dacs that are outstanding and tube dependent. one or more of them may be more musical than the acustic arts.
Forget cd players: the ability to read music into memory with error correction rather than having to directly read off the cd makes the whole process much cleaner. The combination of a Zodiac Gold + Voltikus running of a Macmini on Puremusic or Almarro defeats even top notch players. I can't overstate the way it stumped my Audioaero
I will soon be able to add an additional datapoint to this discussion. Zodiac Gold + Voltikus will be arriving this week (on trial), Mac Mini is in the house. Only difference is I my shootout is against perfectwave DAC + Bridge, which also buffers data in memory.
the orginal zanden is my favorite dac. it is pricey, and probably hard to find. if you go with the zanden,i doubt it has usb, so you need to find a transport other than a computer. if you have the bread, zanden makes a decent transport.
i found the later zanden dacs lost some of the tube magic which the first has.
Make sure you break in the Gold/Voltikus. It's a PITA but it come into its own at 500 hrs and sounds its best over 700 hours. anything less than 300 you;'ll want to return it. Let the flames begin.
I have it on 3 week trial so I will burn in for about 300 hours before serious listening. While on the subject, do I need to connect the DAC/Pre to a poweramp and if so does it need to be turned on? I would think without a downstream load there is no current - just voltage, so I do need to play music for burn in. Am i wrong?
Connect the DAC to an amp or preamp, but no need to turn on. If just breaking in (i.e no music to listen to) then I run a series of break-in tones via XLO or Ayre or whatever demo test disc you might have.