Hi fellow audiophiles, hope everyone is doing well given the situation with COVID-19 and all other nuisance around the globe. Anyways, today I wanted to tell you folks about a hidden gem in the crowded field of DACs that I have not heard anyone talk about. But first, I want to let you know that I am not any pro reviewer nor am I a super experienced audiophile. I am simply a music lover who appreciates good sound in music reproduction. So, please don’t expect me to use audiophile or reviewer lingos. I will just say how I feel about this DAC in laymen’s terms.
I am talking about McIntosh D1100 DAC/Digital Pre-Amp. Which McIntosh calls their reference level DAC. I know there are many people who are hard-core McIntosh fans and there are others who can’t stand the brand. I fall in the former group. I have been using McIntosh equipment for many years and absolutely love the brand. I am a firm believer that McIntosh is not a super HiFi brand. However, they provide excellent value in terms of price to performance ratio in almost all products they manufacture. And D1100 DAC is no exception.
Before going too deep into the performance discussion, I want to give you folks some background. I have been using this DAC for the past 3 years and it has been good, served my needs. About a year ago, I went to a dealership and heard dCS Burtok DAC and I was so impressed with the sound that I wanted one also. Then I started to research a new DAC for my rig and went through audition after audition of different DACs including: dCS Burtok, MSB Discrete, Playback Designs MPD-8, Berkeley Audio, Bricasti, etc. Then one day I was talking to my Mc dealer and he suggested I add a good power conditioner in the rig. Then, I spoke to 2 other Mc dealers; one of whom carries dCS and the other carries MSB. They both said, going from D1100 to dCS Burtok or MSB Discrete will not provide a massive improvement provided that these are the two models I have budget for at the moment. So, I added a Shunyata Denali power conditioner feeding the source equipment and I immediately discovered that noise floor became so low that the instrument separation improved to the levels of dCS & MSB Dsicrete. I was so happy with the results that I told my dealer and he was very happy too! He then told me that if I throw in a good pre-amp, it will improve even more. Side note: D1100 can act as a pre-amp but a good analogue active pre-amp will make it shine; he said. I then bought McIntosh’s flagship pre-amp C12000 and I could not believe what I heard. Music reproduction in my rig now has a day-and-night difference compared to what it was before. The sound stage is huge in width and depth; instrument separation is so distinct and layering is obvious in every track I play that I never want to leave my listening room. It’s addictive.
Last week, I was able to borrow a dCS Burtok from a fellow audiophile in my area to compare it in my rig. I can tell you that with all other equipment unchanged, the dCS Burtok was probably 2% better than my D1100. Given that the Burtok is more than double the price, I am impressed how good the D1100 is. So, I am certain that my DAC upgrade project is over. I am very happy with what I have. Just so you folks know……D1100 is an example of a truly well designed delta-sigma DAC in pure dual mono configuration with dual power supply, each one powering left and right channel separately. This is a remarkable implementation of a chip based DAC. An 8-channel SABRE ESS chip is used. Hope this helps future DAC owners with their research.