Sorry for taking so long to get back to you. I wanted to think about things before posting.
Let me start off by saying that the Millennium II that i had is now back at Ric's. For some reason, it had a low level hum in it that i could not get rid of. This was noticeable with two "high resolution" preamps ( one moreso than the other ) but NOT with an active / passive unit that was once touted as being "the best preamp for the money". After trying everything that i and Ric could think of, we pretty much gave up. I sent it back to him to check out and see what he could find. He did say that he had one other unit that had a hum in it, but it turned out to be a bad transformer. Other than that problem, i really like the Millennium II and hope that Ric can figure out what the problem is.
For a little background in case someone else is interested in one of these units, I had pretty much abandoned SS DAC's and moved over to tubed models. Needless to say, i was reluctant to try another SS model. Ric assured me that if i wasn't happy with his product, he had no qualms about taking it back. After waiting almost a year, it finally showed up. When it did, the two transformers were quite loose. Obviously, UPS had beaten the unit up in transit and that may have caused my hum problem. I notified him of the damage and took the necessary steps to make the unit "solid".
Upon firing the unit up, i was quite impressed with it right away. I instantly knew that this was no ordinary SS piece. It was quite apparent that this unit had all the liquidity of my tube DAC's in the past. Vocals had such a warm, lush sound to them. This was one of the things that i really liked about tubes whereas SS pieces typically came across as sounding somewhat thin and "sterile". Female vocalists like Diana Krall and Loreena McKennittcame across as sounding effortless and sweet. At the same time, "rockers" could be understood even with a "full frontal assault" while still retaining the "edge" to their "snarling". Were vocals more easily discerned because the DAC was "forward" sounding ??? My answer is a resounding "NO" and i'll get to why i say that later.
The next thing that i noticed was the extended bass output. Low bass was THERE unlike never before. Of the other SS DAC's that i had tried, none of them really had GOOD bass to them. While they would go low, it was very "tight & dry" sounding and they just didn't have "oomph" like i thought they should. On the other hand, the tube pieces had bass, but it wasn't nearly as extended or quite as well defined. You know the sound, kind of a "wet" or "musical" bass. Works GREAT for jazz, blues, classic rock, most classical and chamber music, etc... but was NOT the best for metal. "Metal bass" has to be very quick with great impact and minimal overhang for best results. SS pieces were quick enough but lacked the overall quantity and impact of bass that i wanted. Tube pieces had the quantity of bass that i was looking for but lacked some of the speed and impact. I was finally getting all that i was looking for in one package. Finesse with speed AND power. The Millennium II had "SLAM" !!!
After the initial characteristics of the DAC had settled in for a bit, i began noticing the treble response. Much sharper and detailed than my tubed pieces but completely lacking the "etched" quality of many SS DAC's. This is NOT to say that the Mill II is lacking "SS detail" in any way. It has it but just presents it with a LOT more refinement. Bells and triangles still had the soft shimmer of the tubes but also seemed to harmonic up to a much higher frequency. There was more extension on top and it gave you that WITHOUT smearing or sibilance. Kind of the best of both worlds. The detail and resolution of SS but with the smoothness and delicacy of tubes.
So far, so good. Great tonal balance, speed and detail, impact, warmth, liquidity, extension on BOTH ends of the spectrum, etc... What more could you ask for ???
Well, what about spacial characteristics ? This is what REALLY blew me away. When i went from a SS DAC to tubed units, i was literally amazed at the difference in soundstage. While SS had always sounded "good", the tubed DAC's were AMAZING. The difference was like going from a REALLY good hi-fi to "music". I know of no other way to describe it. Not only did you have all of the details and information there, you also had great depth, height and "passion"!!! While i had mucho experience with a lateral soundstage moving across the width and slightly beyond the sides of the speakers, i had never really heard something coming from well off to the sides, behind or above the speakers. Not only did i now have "soundstage and imaging" like before, i now had "DEPTH" or "music in 3D" !!! Instead of "listening" to music, i was now "ENGULFED" in it. I was INSTANTLY sold on tube DAC's at that point. Keep in mind that i was using this with speakers that have a 360* radiation pattern and still had never experienced it up until i had popped that first tubed DAC into the system. Losing this "spaciousness" was the one thing that i feared most about going back to a SS DAC. How would the Millennium II stack up ???
Well, let's just say it has all of the spaciousness of my tubed DAC's and more. My brothers' first comment after hearing this DAC in my system was "AWESOME". He specifically noted the soundstage and how liquid everything sounded. All this within the first minute of listening !!!
Not only is the soundstage "3D", it also offers far more precise placement of notes and instruments within it. Quite honestly, i am now hearing parts of the recording "projected" well out into the room and above the speakers besides keeping the soundstage just as wide and deep.
Part of why i think that this unit has better "placement" in the soundstage may be due to the amount of seperation between notes and instruments. I can now literally listen to each instrument one at a time or as a group. The funny thing about this is that every time i've found a piece of gear that had massive "seperation" of instruments, the system always took a hit in the nose in terms of harmonic structure and overtones. Sure, you might be able to pick something out easier now, but that was only because there was less information there to "clutter your view". I found this to be the case on some specific speaker wires one time. While they had a great "wow" factor because everything sounded so "etched" "detailed" and "hi-fi", the "music" seemed to disappear from the system due to lack of harmonic structure. Notes came and went with no natural overtones. The Mill II was not like this. Even though every note had its' own time and space, there was no loss of musicality or overtones. I was finally hearing "air" with "separation" AND "harmonic structure".
Because of the excellent sense of "air" and "separation" between various instruments, musical notes, vocals, etc.. it was MUCH easier to pick things out. This is what i would call "clarity without forwardness". Could someone confuse this as being forward ? Sure. While nothing was being thrust in your face, it might appear as such due to the lack of "smearing" or "bunching". On top of this, if the Millennium II was put into a system that lacked extension on both the extreme top and bottom ends as can be found in some bandwidth limited designs, the focus of everything would already be based in the midrange frequencies. Adding even more "clarity" to the mids might give you a slight over-emphasis of those frequencies.
If you think that i "like" this piece, you're absolutely right. Ric said that he thought that i would find my tubed DAC's "slow and veiled" even though they were "well respected pieces". He was right. Besides that, the Millennium II did all of that while still sounding "musical" and "spacious" while also throwing "impact" in for good measure. I think that the unit does such a good job, i'm "upgrading" my transport to make sure that there are no weaknesses in the digital chain.
Other than all of that, the only thing that i can say that is "bad" about the Millennium II was the power cord that Ric supplied. Even he admits that it is lacking. But, in order to minimize costs and due to the fact that some people would end up replacing the supplied cord with one of their choice, Ric decided to include a standard 18 gauge "computer grade" power cord. While it is not the cord that one would have hoped for, it will work and does the job. Besides, not everyone "believes" in fancy power cords, so why foist something on someone that doesn't want to pay for it ? Like anything else in audio, Ric left the power cord issue up to personal taste and ended up saving us money on something that someone might not have liked / used anyhow. Sean