Empirical Audio P-3A DAC mods and Superclock 2
Without question, this is the best DAC I have ever heard. I had posted a while ago on how impressed I was with Empirical's first mods to Perpetual Technology's P-3A DAC. To summarize my previous critique, the sound was crystal clear, well-extended (great bass and highs), very natural, and extremely 3 dimensional.
Well, as many of you who get involved with audio know, it’s very hard to sit still. I guess I’m no exception to that rule. I had recently heard that Steve Nugent had come up with some new mods for the P-3A and that he was now installing Superclocks. Since I started looking into improving my digital front end, I’ve been hearing that jitter is a huge problem that should be minimized. And, replacing the stock clock with an aftermarket stable one is a huge step in that direction. So, I sent the P-3A back to Steve Nugent for the latest mods and the addition of the Superclock 2.
I must say that I was pretty curious as to how much more the sound could improve. As I’ve said before, as far as I was concerned, this little guy sounded pretty amazing. Honestly, my gut feeling was that this latest version would prove only slightly better than what I already had. I feel that there is always room for improvement. But, this thing was so good that I just couldn’t see it becoming significantly better. Even so, I still wanted to get the most out of this DAC that I could. So, off it went again.
I have had the unit back for a few days now. And, my preconceived notions turned out to be wrong. The improvement was significant. I’m sure anyone reading my previous review and this one might say: “What’s this guy talking about. He gave this DAC such rave reviews before. How can it possibly get much better? Either his first review was, or this one is too complimentary. In which case his credibility would be suspect.” At least this is what I would think.
I can only answer by saying that initially it was the best DAC I had ever heard. And that now, Steve has improved it beyond my expectations. I didn’t think this DAC was capable of sounding like this.
Immediately, 2 things are very apparent:
1. The sound is now huge. I don’t know how else to say it. It’s just very big. My speakers seem dwarfed with respect to their output. I feel like this music should be coming from a much larger pair of speakers. This was the most impressive and most unexpected improvement by far.
2. The bass also improved. Before the bass was strong and present – at times a little too present. This was not really bad thing. It’s just that sometimes it could have been a little more laid back. Now it seems to blend wonderfully at all volume levels.
These two improvements are what hit me immediately, and made me feel that these latest upgrades were well worth it for me. All the other areas that I mentioned above and in my first review (background detail, naturalness, tight bass, focus, etc.) seem to have improved as well. I don’t know if these all improved together, thus summing to give this huge dynamic sound. Or, maybe these individual sound characteristics improved independent of one another, and something else has made the music so enveloping. But whatever the cause is, I like it.
I haven’t heard everything out there, and I know this is a dangerous thing to say. But, I doubt that any of today’s DACs could be much better. Some may be close or the same, but not significantly better.
Weather you decide to get one of these or not, I urge anyone who really enjoys a good sound system to make it a point and hear Empirical’s latest full out modded P-3A. It will be a real treat for the ears.