Best Digital Front End Period!

The question is What is the Best Front End Digital Period! Price no object BASED ONLY on what you, have personally listened to, not heard about. Also please give a brief description of your sonic impressions. Ideally you have listened to the piece in YOUR system but sometimes a product is sooooo good that it trancends performance of other products in an unfamiliar system. I have read many threads on specific products but if dough wasn't a criteria and you could own it based on what you've heard which one would you own?
47 labs flat fish w/progression dac. The best I've owned/heard.
Hi Tubegroover; I'm not sure if I have the kind of input you're looking for because I've not heard the most expensive gear, ie Levinson reference, Burmester, etc-- but I want to play. Earlier this summer, I replaced my Muse Two DAC and Sony XA7 CD player with Levinson 37 Transport and 360S DAC. Improvement in music quality/character was dramatic and certainly the best I have ever heard. It is detailed, w/o being analytic, dynamic, non-fatiguing, and musical-- I can listen to this system for hours with pleasure. This front end especially shines with well recorded music, ie on Diana Krall's jazz ballads, her voice is so rich, lush, husky, breathy, and immediate that sometimes I think I actually feel her breath on the side of my face-- needless to say that's pretty exciting. Another great CD on this system is Lucinda Williams "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" (an HDCD recording), trks #7 and #12 are fantastic-- live, immediate, and exciting. The soundstage is wide and deep with percussion and other instruments exploding all over the place-- bass is deep, tight, and pace, rhythm, and timing are excellent. I also love Margo Timmins voice and the Cowboy Junkies through this system (if I can't have her in person). I tried Madrigal's MDC-1 AES/EBU cable with this combo and found it to be tremendously detailed (near analytical), but still relaxed; however it somewhat lacked coherency which decreased PR&T. The Cardas Lightning AES/EBU cable is what really brought this front end together. The Cardas is not quite as detailed as Madrigal's cable, but it is more coherent, with better PR&T, and is overall more musical. The rest of my system: Sonic Frontiers Line 2 pre-amp (BTW, the tubes definitely contribute to a richer, fuller sound), McCormack DNA-2DX amp, Syn. Res. Phase 2 ICs, Syn. Res. Master Couplers on all components, Syn. Res. Sig. No. 2 spkr. cables into Vand. 3Asig. speakers. Also dedicated AC and ground systems, and ASC tubes for room treatment. As of now, I feel that my system has no weaknesses, but eventually I want to try Vand. 5s in this system:). Cheers. Craig.
Thanks Craig. The purpose of this post if you haven't already guessed is that I am looking to upgrade my digital front end which by todays standards and the rest of my system is a dinosaur (JVC 1050 CD Transport; P.S. Audio Ultralink DAC, Cardas Lightning). Problem is I mostly listen to analog and digital, even with all its obvious advantages, always kind of irritated me over long term listening. I have however noticed an improvement with cabling and anti-jitter devices in the system. Now appears to be the time to really consider going all the way. I am really leaning towards a good DVD transport with an upsampling DAC unit, BUT the all in one CD units also have their proponents. Problem is sorting it all out. Unfortunately for me and a big problem is there is no dealer close by to audition these various products. I recently tried an NBS cable and THAT was a dramatic improvement in overall smoothness, really reduced that digital edge. With reference to Diana Krall, I find her voice on her recordings very well done, the instruments however sound electronic especially her piano. Maybe the digital? I thought it sounded more like the recording. Will
Tubegroover, do you actually have a budget for your new digital front end? I heard the Linn Ikemi recently and was very impressed by the performance. The improvement over the lower end Genki was NOT subtle in a moderate $7k (with the Genki, around $9k with the Ikemi) all Linn setup. The Ikemi has a very smooth, refined and neutral sound. Not overly warm, but not fatiquing either. The best I have heard at the price. I think I might have found my next digital upgrade. I decided against auditioning the Sondek CD12, for fear of putting my car and apartment up for sale. :) I also noticed many people dumping their Wadia gear on the classifieds, maybe for fear of the company's financial position. It might be a buyer's market for Wadia gear right now. There are also a following that defend the Resolution Audio CD50 and CD55 like pit bulls.
47 labs best i have heard.
Yes I do have a budget in mind, but prefer not to reveal it since it really isn’t relevant to the question posed. I am getting a lot of conflicting information on SOTA concerning digital. I am not nearly as enlightened as many are. Adding to my confusion are the many differing opinions over various digital products. Can I reasonably expect that a relatively inexpensive DVD Transport and upsampling DAC unit (Pioneer 525 and Bel Canto for example) is going to approach the current acknowledged SOTA units (Linn Sondek, for example)? I have heard through some industry people that I can get close and one listener in another thread confirmed that. So the question posed is to find out if indeed there is a concensus on a specific unit or units that represent the SOTA or if there are, what appears to me, many differing opinions. If so are the differences subtle or dramatic? I will spend what I need to get what I want if it’s worth it to me. I personally fail to see how a digital front end or a good turntable tonearm combo (not cartridges) is as system dependent as other components, they are either better or not. Am I wrong in my impressions? I hope these questions are answered.
if your budget is really large, check out the Boulder 2020 advance dac, which sounds its very best mated with the Boulder 2010 preamp. you'll need a transport, of course. i'd recommend the Forsell or Burmester if you want cd only; if you want sacd & cd, check out the Accuphase dp100. if you don't feel like spending >$60,000, i'd very seriously consider the 1-box Accuphase 75v @ $11k retail. for my own system, i run an Accuphase dp-90 cd transport into a dc-330 all-digital preamp ; this pre has the same dac built in as the 75v but, IMHO, sounds even better than that unit, due in large measure to the superiority of the separate transport. both the 75v and 330 are upgradeable via plugin curcuit boards to advd and sacd. tho, i've not yet had it confirmed, i've been told the Boulder dac will also be upgradeable to advd and/or sacd. BTW, once you've listened to any of the prducts recommended above, i think you'll forego the dvd route; you won't get even close to the sound quality with dvd except on the handful of advd discs available. if you want to see how dvd is matching up with sacd availability, take a look @ chad kassim's latest catalog (Acoustic Sounds-available online have fun, but watch your feet. it's a minefield out there.
the Ensemble Dac & Transport from switzerland!!
So far its a Forsell MkII going into a Wadia 9 going straight into the amps. The more work on acoutic isolation and power conditioning the better this combo sound. Despite the age of the Wadia 9 it still sounds more like the real thing than anything else I've had in my system.I have not heard the dCS or 75v so I cannot comment on them. Its difficult to audition this type of gear in your own system and thats the only way I'd spend that kind of money. I would appreciate hearing from anyone who has compared the Wadia 9 with any of these new DAC's. I would also love to hear a report on the recent Manley as well as the Sakura 47 system.
Tubegroover, I have read and enjoyed many of your posts, and also am partial to analog. However, six months ago I heard a Steve Huntley modified Wadia 860, and for the first time in my 25+ years of audio was forced to question the absolute superiority of analog to digits. I heard the 860 in Huntley's shop, driving Atmasphere monoblocks and Avalon speakers. Based on that experience, I purchased a Wadia 830 to replace my cheap and dirty JVC player, which was kept around for the rare CD worth owning for musical content alone, (ie., I couldn't find something comparable on LP.) After a month, I had Huntley mod the 830, and this effected the biggest improvement in a component in my system in recent memory (Linn LP12, ARC preamp, Luxman 3045 triode monoblocks--all highly modified, and Spendor speakers). Rather than bore you with the tired cliches, I would like to suggest that you contact Huntley via his website at, and discuss your situation directly. Steve is very knowledgable, having worked for Audio Research and Wadia, and is also a hell of a nice guy to talk to. You can get a good sense of what he's about just visiting his website. Best Wishes...
Crm-linc Thank you. I have indeed spoken with Steve at length concerning his ARC mods, a nice caring guy. I am considering upgrading my SP-8 in the near future, no reason to get rid of that pre-amp for what it would cost to replace it, but then again... who knows? I have heard of his legendary Wadia mods. I am still struggling with digital, just got a new DAC Friday a week ago. I won't mention the name but so far I am not too happy but maybe it hasn't broken in yet, the highs are bleeding my ears it is sooo metallic and forward sounding. Even with my moderate analog front end, the digital just doesn't resolve the music in the same manner. Oh what to do! Thanks for the tip I will probably give Steve a call to see what he offers if this DAC doesn’t work out. I have noticed a big improvement in my Ultralink with a friend's Assemblage Jitter bug in the circuit, it may not be the best out there but it took off most of the edge that the Ultralink alone has and certainly is smoother and listenable, I can’t listen to the new DAC for more than a few minutes at a time and it has been running continuously since I got it. I was assured by the dealer that this was to be expected. It has one more week to "break in" or back it goes. Thanks again Will
I am currently happy with the muse dvd 8 muse 296 dac combo. I have tried the Bel Canto dac which sounds great but can't be used with the Muse dvd. The problem was loud damaging cracks when skipping songs. Both were so much better than Linn Karik and Mumerik.