Haven't heard the Simaudio, but the Berkeley Alpha DAC 2 is excellent sounding and great value for the money. I could easily live with the Alpha DAC 2.
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No, only the S/PDIF. Very musical, natural sounding. I have heard the Reference is even better and hope to hear it someday. I worked a room at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest last year and this was the DAC we used with the Baetis Revolution II Music Server so had the opportunity to listen to virtually every genre of music over three days and it never ceased to amaze me.
I remember Robert Harley's review of the Berkeley 1. I believe it is still online. This reminds me of Ted Denney (Synergistic Research) when he wrote about the famous Master Coupler -- and a lot of other products. Superlatives are the norm with manufacturers and with the reviewers who do their bidding. Let your ears tell your mind what you are hearing -- not a manufacturer or a seasoned reviewer with an agenda. Can you count the times you were let down by an audio product -- and were left scratching your head about the manufacturer's copywriting or the reviewer's applause?
It does not appear that the Berkeley Audio Reference DAC can do what the PS Audio DirectStream DAC does -- making PCM sound like DSD -- at less than half the price of the Berkeley. The PS Audio DirectStream DAC allows you to listen to ordinary CDs as though they were DSD. After all, most of us listen to CDs.
How many of us could afford to buy more than a handful of hirez recordings? If hirez were available for an entire CD collection, how many of us would be able to afford to replace our collection with hirez files? Let's see 3000 CDs x $40 each -- why that's only $120,000. Count me in.
Sabai, yes, there are two pieces of equipment I bought based on reviews from professional reviewers and from members here at Audiogon and I frankly was very surprised when I experienced it. This is no slam on Pass Lab; Nelson Pass has proved himself to be one of the finest designers in audio and also one of the most generous with his willingness to release his early designs to those that build from scratch, but I bought a brand new 350.5x amplifier to try in my system and it sound dreadful! I allowed it to break in over two months hoping to hear the described Pass musicality and smoothness and it was for me the worst sounding amplifier I had ever purchased in my several year audio passion! I quickly sold it and tried the 100.5 XA, I think the model was, and this provided me with a glimpse of the magic of a Pass Lab amp. The XA is pure class A design and runs hot but sounded very musical. I could have lived with that amp and the reviews on that one were correct. I ended up going back to VAC tube amps and for me, I have never had better sounding amplification and pre amplification in any of my past systems. VAC is musical and effortless and has allowed me to just enjoy music. Again, the Signature 2a line stage from VAC has been reviewed favorably and describes this masterpiece accurately and without any additional hype. So occasionally reviews do hype a product too much. The only other piece I owned that received glowing reviews from professionals and members here that I didn't care for in my system was the Audio Research REF 5! Compared to the VAC Signature 2a it sounded sterile, flat, without much meat and body on the notes. It was clear and had good imaging but to my ears sounded hifi and not very engaging. If you like detail, you might like it, but I want detail that also sounds like music!
I've managed to pick up a used Berkeley Alpha DAC Series 2 that I'm currently trying out in my system, comparing it to my Simaudio 650D and my Meridian MS600.
The 650D and Alpha DAC 2 are fed from the S/PDIF coaxial RCA output of my Meridian MS600. I am using an RCA-BNC converter to connect my MIT Oracle digital cable to the Alpha DAC 2, as it only has an BNC S/PDIF input.
Based on first impressions, the Alpha DAC 2 is a pretty impressive DAC, especially for the price! Very natural, fluid sound with a big soundstage and great imaging. In terms of tonality it's closer to the MS600 than the 650D in terms of its neutrality and rich, full sound. However the soundstage and imaging is significantly better than the MS600, though not quite as good as the 650D. Bass on the Berkeley isn't quite as extended and well defined as the 650D but is still very good and better defined than the MS600. The Berkeley has much smoother high frequencies than the 650D, which can be a little "hyper revealing" in this area, and more articulate than the MS600.
The Alpha DAC 2 definitely doesn't have the dynamic punch of the Simaudio, particularly in the bass. The Sim is pretty spectacular in that regard. The Sim is also pretty special in terms of the soundstage - it is absolutely enormous - deep, wide, tall with an almost 3 dimensional portrayal of the performers within the soundstage. Totally, though, the Alpha DAC 2 seems more natural and neutral which makes instruments sound more lifelike. The Sim can sometimes be a little thin in the lower midrange/upper bass which can "take a little of the meat off the bone" of instruments, so to speak.