Core Audio Technology - power supply for Mac Mini

Category: Digital

I've come close to writing audio reviews on various components that I've liked over the years, but this time I'm actually doing it because I think I've stumbled upon something that is really outstanding and which people -- everybody who's into audio, really -- should be aware of -- the power supplies for digital components made by Core Audio Technology, a relatively young company based in Los Angeles.

I must say at the outset - I think this company and its products could be a game-changer for the industry - a company that we all will have heard about in a year or two... more on that later.

After doing a ton of research, a few weeks ago I sat down with the wife and explained to her the advantages of clean power for digital audio -- taking the Mac Mini that we use as a music server off the grid with battery power, for example... Well, I was quickly told me in no uncertain terms that NO WAY IN HELL was I going to introduce a car battery into our living room or anywhere near it, no matter how big a soundstage and black a background we were talking, so that sent me back to the drawing board...

I found a handful of non-battery power supplies for digital, corresponded with a few of them, and was feeling tentative, getting the sense that this was still a somewhat undeveloped niche. Then I somehow found the Core Audio site on a google search, thought there were some intriguing blog postings on the very subject of digital audio, and sent them an email. Within minutes, I got a response from Ryan, the company's owner.

To make a long story short, Ryan's grasp of the issues of digital audio seemed to be anything but undeveloped, and I fairly quickly decided to try the entry-level power supply for my Mac Mini. It's called the Kora (most of their components have names that start with a "K" for some reason) and it's $600, also requiring the installation of an internal power filter for the Mini for a total of $1150 - not chump change, but fairly comparable to the battery option I was considering, and some of the others too.

I should mention that my system lately has included a dB Audio Tranquility SE DAC as well as an Ultra Fi DAC-41, which I've been using to feed an EL84-based Sam Kim Heathkit integrated amp (astonishing piece of gear in its own right), driving a pair of Tonian TL-D1 speakers. I've got a wonderful Sablon Audio Uber Robusto power cord feeding the Tranquility SE, and using various excellent ICs to the amp including KCI Silkworms, Ridge Street Audio Poiema 3s and Audio Magic Liquid Air Illusions.

That's some great gear, to my ears. But I believe that adding this power supply to the Mini was the biggest single improvement my system has ever had. Both of the DACs I've been using have reputations for lending a very analog-like sound, and I've appreciated that aspect in both of them. But it wasn't until I dropped the Kora into the mix that it REALLY started to sound like something I could potentially mistake for vinyl... The soundstage got bigger, far more detailed and with more vivid tonal colors throughout the midrange, Airy, lush highs, etc,. with a far more robust, tight and well-defined bottom end. Above all, things just got more effortless, engaging and enjoyable.

I could go on about the sound, but the bottom line is that everything got better - and by a considerable margin. I can't imagine that anyone using a Mac Mini as their server would not come to the same conclusion. I would encourage anybody in my situation to consider reaching out to Ryan - who by the way has provided the most responsive customer service I've ever experienced for just about any product.

Meanwhile, I just turned another friend of mine on to the Core Audio power supplies who, in addition to powering his Mac Mini, is now also using one to power a relatively inexpensive DAC that Ryan recommended - he said the result is a DAC that completely blows away his DAC-41 in the same configuration, and for less money. According to Ryan, that configuration is good, but nowhere near as good as his amp, which takes a digital feed directly from the Mac Mini and keeps the digital signal intact, amplifying it and reclocking it before it's converted to analog at the output stage. The result, I have been told, is mind-blowing and unprecedented in audio, and I've just ordered one that's slated to arrive next week.

I don't generally like using superlatives, but in this case I think there's a product that deserves such praise, and I'm just at the entry level right now. I think we all will be hearing a lot more about Core Audio and its products before too long. I'm happy to answer any questions, but would also recommend that folks try Ryan, who has some of the most interesting perspective on audio I've ever come across.
Thanks for the review! I'm using a Mac Mini feeding a DAC-41 so naturally this piqued my interest.

I've also had those Tonian speakers and they are magical.

I take it you send the Mini to Core for this internal mod? I'll look them up.

"I found a handful of non-battery power supplies for digital, corresponded with a few of them..."

It is interesting that you corresponded with these power supplies, rather than with their designers or sellers. :)
"According to Ryan, that configuration is good, but nowhere near as good as his amp, which takes a digital feed directly from the Mac Mini and keeps the digital signal intact, amplifying it and reclocking it before it's converted to analog at the output stage."

So, that would be a DAC/amp combo, not an amp.

Color me skeptical that this effort trumps the best DACs around. If it does, it's because he's got one of the best DACs around, not because he built a DAC with a current-capable output stage. There are a couple theoretical advantages to combining a DAC with a power amp but plenty of theoretical negatives too.
Hey Paul,

It's not a DAC/Amp combo. There is no D/A conversion that takes place, it is a truly digital amplifier.

The amplifier inputs a PCM signal either via USB or SPDIF and converts it to a pulse width modulation (PWM). The digital signal is reclocked at the input of the amplifier, converted to a PWM, amplified in the digital domain, reclocked again, and then demodulated in order to drive a speaker.

There are a few reasons it sounds good...
1. Removes a DAC, Preamp, and amp from the signal path -- hundreds or thousands of parts and signal paths removed.
2. High-end power supply and TCXO to prevent amplitude distortion of the digital signal
3. Less conversion, less filtering, and less hands touching the digital signal.