Capri S2 Preamp/DAC vs Corus Preamp/Marantz DAC

As a preamble to this report, I have had the Jeff Rowland Capri S2 preamp/dac for 1 year and 2 months now and have been very happy with its performance as both preamp and dac for redbook and hi-res audio. As stated in another thread, I use the Esoteric K-01 player as a transport alone feeding the Capri dac. For hi-res audio, I use the Marantz NA8005 network player solely as a USB thumbdrive transport feeding the Capri's coaxial input. So far, so good.

But this is the time of the year again when I feel like getting something but what?

Should it be a new dac or preamp? The only 2 things incongruous in my system right now are the preamp and dac. Separating the preamp section from the dac should definitely make things better. Besides, the amount of money spent so far on these two components in one box, ca $4k, isn't commensurate with the rest of the components in the system. Am I doing a grave injustice to the other components in the chain by using "only" the Capri to serve both preamp and dac duties?

In the quest for better sound, as audiophiles do in the interest of their hobby, we must soldier on.

For redbook/hi-res dac, I am considering the following based on local availability :-
1. PS Audio DS Dac
2. Berkeley Reference
3. Bricasti M1
4. T+A PDP HV3000(from Germany)
5. Invicta Mirus
6, Wired4Sound DAC2 DSD SE
We have all heard or read about the others but not much about the PDP HV3000 - this also happens to be the costliest and represents an all-out assault combining a CD/SACD transport and dac with separate analogue outputs for redbook/hi-res PCM and DSD data. As I already have my Esoteric K-01 player doing transport duty, it would be a shame to trade that in at a low price. So, I should think of the others first and try if possible, to bring each home for audition before committing.

For the preamp, I am considering the following based on local availablity :-
1. Jeff Rowland Corus
2. ARC Ref 5SE
3. Constellation Audio Inspiration
4. Ayre KXR20

Where to begin - dac or preamp?
My first stop is the friendly JR dealer who is ever willing to let me bring home stuff for audition. I have read RH's glowing review of the Corus preamp but at about 4-5 times the price of the Capri, I am curious to know how much of an improvement it would make going by its price. The in-thing now is the "next best DAC" and I have always wondered whether there is a market for high-end analog preamps which seems to be around for eons and the technology may not be as cutting edge as dac development. I could be wrong and to test this issue, I have the Corus to bring home.

You can read all about the Corus at the TAS website. 2 interesting features of the Corus are an outboard DC power supply with separate cables to the right and left channel, and an external remote sensor to isolate noise from the remote.

I connected the 2 sources as follows ;-
1. Redbook CD : K-01 transport -> Marantz NA 8005 DAC -> RCA analog out(Audioquest Lapis) -> Corus RCA inputs -> Corus balanced out(Kimber Select 1130) -> Bryston 28B SST2 monoblocks -> VA The Musik speakers
2. Hires : USB thumbdrive -> Marantz DAC -> same RCA analog outputs and thereon as above

What I heard when I pressed play on the K-01 as CD transport was nothing short of revelatory. With the Corus preamp in the chain, everything changes - I mean, everything. If the Capri S2 preamp/dac did a good job for specific instruments, the Corus does an excellent job for all instrumnets many times over and more. For the first time in my life, I hear the whole thing - all the instruments playing at the SAME time at the SAME venue. The Corus fills in all the gaps left by the Capri. An analogy would be, if I previously found the internal DAC of the K-01 to smear the bits compared to the Marantz DAC, the Capri is smearing all the notes compared to the Corus.
For hi-res audio, the experience is the same. The interesting thing is that the Corus narrows the gap between redbook CD and hi-res audio performance.

So, the conclusion here is that the analog preamp is the key to everything that makes music reproduction sound real. With the Corus, the Marantz DAC is the BEST DAC I have ever heard in my system. Too often, we are chasing the latest hardware dac chip or FPGA software, and we forget about the analog side of the chain. The Marantz DAC did not get a chance to shine or show what it is truly capable of without a very good analog preamp. Likewise, for ALL the other components in the chain. This is exactly what RH alluded to in the 'law of accelerating returns'. By simply upgrading one component, everything else gets upgraded at the same time.

Does the Corus sound 4-5 times better than the Capri based on its asking price? The answer is a resounding 'Yes' and it alone makes the whole system sound, dare I say it, 10 times better. Right now, I am simply shaking my head in wonder and amazement and with some disappointment that I had not earlier discovered this fact that the analog premap can make such a dramatic change to SQ. I have missed years of enjoyment from my system based on this lapse in judgment. Well, you get what you pay for. That new DAC can certainly wait for now.

Happy listening!