Empirical Audio Overdrive DAC
I’ve wanted to review the Overdrive DAC from Empirical Audio for a while now, but have only just got around to it. It’s easiest for me to review the Overdrive DAC by comparing it to the DAC that I have used for a while, the Platinum DAC III from MSB.
Source is either CD transport with SPDIF output to DAC, or computer playing .WAV files with USB output to DAC. CD transport is a Sony 7700 modified by Empirical Audio; still one of the best CD transports I’ve heard. WAV player is JPlay on a Windows 7 machine with solid state drive. No preamp is used. The DAC outputs to an active signal processor (ASP) that is part of the Orion Linkwitz speaker system. Two Emotiva XPA-5 five channel amps power the drivers in the Linkwitz Orion speakers. Speaker cables are Goertz MI-2 (Veracity), and interconnects are from Blue Jeans Cable. These interconnects have excellent shielding and really low capacitance. I’ve tried all sorts of interconnects; for the most part they are poorly shielded with greater hum and higher capacitance numbers, so the Blue Jeans interconnects are a really good deal.
I’ll begin with the conclusion and try to elaborate. The Overdrive DAC is a clear winner. The primary difference between listening to the Overdrive and the MSB DAC is that the Overdrive sounds much more dynamic and “real.” I find myself immediately immersed in the music, with instruments and voices as “real” as I have ever heard. With the MSB, while sound is extremely detailed and resolved, I still feel, in comparison, that I am listening to a really great recording or system. I’ve gone back and forth with many genres of music and a wide range in recording quality. I’m sure I could find some better “review” language to describe this, but I wanted to convey the main, overall impression with the Overdrive. I absolutely forget that I am listening to a system, recording, etc. Everything is the music and I find myself marveling at compositions, solos, voices. The system disappears, only music remains.
The most immediately noticeable quality of the Overdrive DAC is the extreme realism of the dynamics. Acoustic instruments, voices, orchestras, everything sounds real. I cannot exactly quantify what contributes to this realism but I experience it as greater dynamics—which seems to be what real music sounds like—and a more three dimensional rendering of sound, which is especially noticeably with percussion, strings, piano and horns.
The SPDIF performance is amazing, especially when I use the Sony transport, which by the way sounds considerably better than a standard Oppo 93 player. With USB to the DAC this is the best sound I have heard in any system. Part of the overall sound is definitely the Linkwitz Orion ASP and speakers. These speakers in my opinion are more realistic than anything else I have heard, and complement the dynamics of the Overdrive DAC.
The version of the Overdrive I have is still the original version, and I am now considering a few upgrades, including the Turboclock, the new USB module, upgraded regulators and the fanless option. The fan on the Overdrive is definitely a distraction, especially listening late at night. I also plan to upgrade the Linkwitz Orion ASP and the Peerless woofers to the Seas woofers.
I'm listening right now as I write to Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny’s “Under the Missouri Sky,” a really beautiful work.