Review: Bel Canto Design e One DAC III DA converter

Category: Digital

I’m one of those sorts who has to be shown… but I’m not from Missouri.

I had deliberated over the acquisition of an outboard DAC for some time. Were they truly worthwhile, how will they change the sound, and so on! All the while wondering how to proceed? Should I go with Upsampling, oversampling, non oversampling, solid state, tubed, battery powered, etc. I read reviews and forum threads until my eyes & ears crossed and my mind began running everything together and everything became a blur.

I then watched the online jive about different makers products from the esteemed and well regarded, down to the one off products made to order. All the while trying to settle on something which would be a definite step up for my system in the areas which I hold as my main precepts, natural, musical, balanced bandwidth, and presence. Achieving these ends requires a good amount of resolution, speed, and tonal balance… and usually isn’t had as the rule, in budget components. However, so much of what I had read on the numerous popular DACs pointed to many whose entry fees were most affordable with performance levels surpassing expectations due to their advantageous ticket prices.

I thought too about support and build quality. Longevity and ease of use. My personal preffs necessitate remote control as well wherever possible.

I felt that getting my system to where it was at it’s best level and all else was in order, prior to taking the DAC plunge, was a good idea. There was that wait for the dough part that took longer than expected too. Arriving later than sooner at the sufficient funding level earlier this year I took the plunge on a Lavry Engineering’s 30 day in home trial of their DA 10.

Knowing I’d need a decent digital cable I decided to stick my toe in the waters there and bought a Stereovox XV2 link, and added to that with a Nirvana power cord as well.

I already had on hand one generic coaxial cable I had not used in a few years laying around that works well enough, but is no show stopper, so I felt at least that was a start.

During the DA 10 eval I rented a Nirvana digital cable for still more comparison in that area figuring a cable costing 5 times the price of the XV2 should show itself superior to it. More on the Nirvana digital link later on in this article.

The DA 10 was my first outboard DAC. There’s something about one’s first anything I believe. It’s special. No matter how good or bad in truth it is, it always remains ‘your first’.

The DA 10’s boost of performance to my system impressed me immensely. The Lavry support team also impressed me as well. They were easy to reach out and touch. Incredibly forthcoming and very accommodating. They were polite, professional and generous with their time. Before, after, and during my investigating and usage period, to the point that I was quite confident in going forward with any acquisition of a Lavry product.

The DA 10’s performance level was also right on track and commensurate with the personality and professionalism I got during my calls to them. It was a definite step up in performance too across the board for my system. Musical, very good ambient retrieval and superb mids. Easy enough to use. Small and compact. Thoughtfully laid out, if a bit utilitarian like, and sporting Spartan cosmetics and smallish toggle switches. Were I not engulfed with an immense curiosity level, or had I been scantily funded, I could well have stopped right there and been very well pleased.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, as it were, but it keeps the audio nut in paper jammies, wrist bands, and thorazine.

Following anyone’s first… there needs to be a second. At least. If for no other reason than for the sake of some greater contrast and texture. There too, is the nod of satisfying one’s own ego that a proper selection, had been, or needed to be made.

Enter the Bel Canto e one DAC III.

Volumes have been written on Bel Canto’s DACs. Tons in fact. Please refer to their website for specifications and their measurements of the DAC3. So for myself I had some confidence in both their rep and their products prior to obtaining one of them.

On the support side I’ll say they weren’t as handy as was Lavry Engineering to access or acquire info from. Ultimately though, my pre-purchase questions were answered via current owners and Bel Canto’s support staff followed up shortly thereafter.

By pure coincidence during my info acquisition stage, a DAC 3 came up for sale and I was fortunate enough to acquire it. A barely used one, and for a very reasonable fee.

I paid. It came. I plugged it in. It worked…

It was so new it did not arrive entirely broken in according to it’s sellers comments to me, and true enough it was not. Continued playing time increased coherency and liquidity, and further developed it’s voice all the more.

Go con figure!

Well i’m about giddy with anticipation during the setup recalling the Lavry’s performance increases to my system. I couldn’t wait to hear what a unit costing near triple the DA 10 might well do! So I used what I had on hand to connect up anything digital to the DAC 3. If it had a SPDIF, or TOS output it was getting connected to the Bel Canto. One way, or another!

I have arrived at the notion, following a number of years of buying and selling both commercially and privately, that with any new piece of electronics the conclusions one makes about them is any one of three or four assessments, to some degree, more or less.

There’s the “Wow. Wow, wow, wow, man oh, man, wow!” …wherein the owner is at a loss for words. Eyes gloss over and close down to mere slits, and a slow drool begins at the corner of the mouth. For a time the world and all within it have been erased and only that immediate space in time holds any value.

Then there’s the “Sweet jumpin’ jellyfish! This is great!” where the owner is amazed, but still able to collect his or her thoughts and keep from drooling…. And lives in a coastal area. Those in more remote mountainous climes may utter, “Sweet jumpin’ Sasquach!”, or the like. The explicatives may change, but the feeling remains universal.

There’s the “Hmmm… not bad. Not bad at all.” Wherein the new owner isn’t disgruntled with their latest purchase, but there not speed dialing up friends either.

Of course, there’s the “That’s it? Perhaps it’s defective?”, this one’s self explanatory.

The Bel Canto DAC III, for myself was the second on the list.

Show & tell me

My first connected digital source, a Verizon FIOS HD cable box proved a disappointing effort. I was thoroughly dismayed at first with the fact my cable box didn’t ‘talk’ to the DAC 3. or, it talked but the e One didn’t listen. Ok. Bummer. Not the end of the world though.

In fact neither did my Oppo DV 980H. At first. The Oppo needed to be reset to it’s defaults to ‘talk’ to the DAC 3. The Bel Canto accepts only PCM info and I had the Oppo set to upsample and output a bit stream via digital out signal to my receiver and analog to my preamp.

Thanks to the Oppo support staff I was directed to a remedy which was just a single button press, to restore defaults, in the Oppo’s setup page. That was all it took and sounds issued forth from the speakers! All is well with the world.

At that point I had three sources to use with the DAC 3. The Oppo 980H, a Sony 400 CD mega changer, & my main CDP, a Sony SCD xa 777es. So the chase continued and I moved ahead to the worst sounding of the lot to see if the DAC 3 could make something more palatable spring forth from it. The Sony mega changer 400 CDP isn’t a true dog of a player, it’s just not one which grabs your attention and holds it indefinitely. The flexibility and variety it gives a user, is it’s true allure. Cataloging is also a plus, and I could do with a couple more to be honest, for this last note alone.

The only digital out on the big CD box is an optical one. Fine. Please let it work, thinking back to the cable box and Oppos concerns…. And it sure did work! No fuss no muss and the sound right off the bat was as if another player were being used in place of it.

Used only with it’s stereo RCA outputs, the 400 CDP needs much by way of power filtering, and a very easally listenable set of interconnects to be attached to it. Isolation too is a key to preventing listener fatigue from setting in. In light of all the additive and complimentary additions I mention here, it’s simply not what one would wish to have as their only source unit forever. Well, perhaps not in it’s stock form. I should say here, that very early on a 50 CD changer was in fact my only source at one time, but that was long ago.

Using the Bel Canto e One the degree of increased ease and natural presentation was remarkable. Again, I checked to see if yet another source was selected. Nope. I had it set properly. A big grin turned in to a broad smile as I continued to listen to the ‘new’ sound of the mega box player. I spent some time moving through the ‘vaults’ collection, renewing old acquaintances and enjoying them as fresh entries… for they sounded new and different.

It mattered not which CD, all of the selections to which I listened to through that night until early morning were presented in a better light. True enough some of the poorer recordings still came off poor, just not quite so unfortunate as they had been previously.

I’ll attribute the benefits being heard now here to the DAC 3s reclocking feature mainly. As my best guess to the big black box’s main character defect is it’s pedestrian clocking device and jittery drive.

To be sure things had greatly improved sonically using the mega box, though perfect, they were not. Still some etch could be noticed in the top range of the bandwidth, here and there, now and again, with some discs. This ‘fault’ was a combination of things as I found out upon further review. Primarily the vaults betterment via the DAc 3 could only be had to a certain point. Some of the recordings too were capable of blame as well. Overall, the big black box had been transformed from the break in all else with it, use it as background low volume music player and great CD filing cabinet, to one of actual musical enjoyment.

I must also add here that due to or in spite of the Bel Canto’s increase in overall resolution, The sound was clearly enhanced. Were the sole digital source to be a mass fi unit such as this, I’d favor a Lavry DA 10 over the DAC 3. However, either choice, DA10 or DAC 3 were significant steps up in overall performance with the low end juke box. I alternated between the Oppo & 400 players as sources over the next week or so before I got on my critical soap box.

Things are looking up!

The 777 had just been refitted with a new sled. Motor, lasers, etc., at a local Sony authorized service center. It was sorely needed and long overdue. That addition took some lengthy period to get back to good playing order as the new workings needed time to run in. “A laser needs to be run in?”, I thought to myself. It sure did. After the replacement sled and lasers were added it took somewhere in the neighborhood of 250+ hours for the old number 7 77es too show it’s strengths and finesse yet again.

Connecting up the xa 777 to the DAC 3 usibng the Sereovox SV2 digital cable and picking out a handful of my favorite silver coasters I got things rolling. Immediately I noticed yet again easily detectable changes and later, boosts here and there to the performance level. At the onset the unmistakable and glaring aspect of change was to the soundstage. It was entirely restructured. All the players were set about differently into and about it. Sometimes subtly, and occasionally with more prominence. The stage itself was apportioned uniquely as well gaining a more solid structure containing it. Walls. Ceiling. Flooring. All became more audibly visible. All of which were additive to the presentations greater presence and naturalness, presenting the listener with a You are there perspective.

Where the DA 10’s statement had been, “Kick back and listen… you’re going to enjoy this, I’ll guarantee it.” The DAC 3’s promise was, “Pay attention, hear what you’ve been missing. Now… Doesn’t that make more sense?”

My answer to both was an overwhelming “Yes. Thanks very much indeed!”

If you never hear the difference, life in audioland is quite inexpensive. Once you do hear the difference the costs may become exponentially increased. Around my house, there’s little chance of exponentially priced items passing through. If a thing contains too much ‘can’taffordium’ or ‘unobtainium’, denoted usually by the price tag on it, I just do not make the effort to hear it. Thst procedure is what I call blissful sonic ignorance.

I’ve backslid from that criteria a few times in my life, entering the big room at a dealership, and consequently finding all else thereafter, lack luster and unappealing for a good amount of time.

There are too, those times when a thing is auditioned, however long or short, and found to be less than orgasmic, but still capture some part of you in an exciting, and surprising way. The item which just grabs you as being very right almost immediately. Casts a hold upon you which is inviting you to come closer and listen for it’s errors with greater focus, as no overt sins are being detected.

The effective and affective additions the DAC 3 unveiled were too much for me to ignore and much of which were essential for filling out my systems “now” apparent shortcomings. Consequently the e One out shone the DA10 in sheer strengths, lending much but not all of the liquidity it possessed to my rig as a guiding hand.

Live recordings such as Michael Bolton’s “till the End of Forever” and the tribute album to Jerry Jeff Walker and other Texas troubadours, “Luckenback! Compadres!”, Billy Jo Shavers A Tribute to Billy Jo Shavers, and Mary Stallings “Live at the village Vanguard”, just to name a few, were a real treat through the DAC 3 & the DA10, the former having the edge in ambient retrieval hands down. The greater resolution of the Bel Canto, was additive to the listening event, yet did not dry out the presentation, which was my main concern going in.

Def Leppords’ “Pour some Sugar On Me”, (The Vault), my fav DL track was a transfixing experience, as was much of that album. In fact, many such live rock & roll albums I previewed through each DAC provided completely new sonic scenarios given the fashion with which they made their cases.

Little Feat’s “Waiting for Columbus” re+-released, remastered two disc set had new life breathed into it with each of these two DACs, yet the Bel Canto’s better low end extension and slam lending more texture and pulse to the music.

The remarkably low noise floor of the DAC 3 continued to glean higher reliefs of the performers and the venue. Exposing each element with substance and clarity. More defined in space and with better separation. The common thread throughout was a more noteable natural timber to the instruments being used and played and much improved audible visibility of them all.

Waymon Tisdale’s title cut “Way up” , is simply gripping and totally immersive in the sound field the DAc 3 exudes, as the tracks elements enclose the listener into it’s grandiose scope, hovering about and overhead of the listener. There is sufficient ear candy here even for the most demanding sweet tooth.

Using the DAC 3 with any of the sources proved a lot of fun and at times, impressively so. The initial point of notice was the DAC 3’s bass region. The amount of bass resolution and impact increase over the DA 10 could not be overlooked. It made the Lavry appear severely lacking by comparison. The amount of ambient retrieval provided by the Bel Canto unit too was simply put, alarming. Soundstages were set intelligently, and images were formed well and separated logically. There was depth, width, and substance to the presentation in greater portions than had been there without it.

I had thought along the way to this point my system was delivering a very good to excellent layout of the audio recording, and by many accounts, it was. The differences allowed by both the Lavry and Bel Canto units were fascinating and made me rethink the whole 2 ch. affair.

It was like when you encounter a thing which has an enormous and pleasing impact on you which defies or challenges your belief systems foundations. To be blunt, the addition of either DAC was one of those, “Where have you been all of my life?” satisfying events.

The e one surpassed the DA 10 by sheer alacrity or pace, with it’s timely rendering and placement of the musical cues… and of course it’s authority in the lower spectrum and further lowered noise floor.

The Ferrari F40 like strength of the Bel Canto had it’s finer points as well. No portion of the bandwidth was shown to be strident or overtly resolute, thereby diminishing the musical event through magnification of artifacts or non musical proceedings. The fashion with which the e one presents the recording, as with the DA 10, is fixating indeed.

With whatever musical genre I played through it, the e one clearly developed a listenable, intriguing, and visceral portal to the original event. Where the DA 10’s grip on the listener was that of a more colorful tonal involvement, the e one’s hold is that of a more visceral depiction of it. The DAC 3 has the glitz, the DA 10, the glamour.

Magnetic attraction

Having now achieved some acumen and meager success with my own personal confuser, and the USB interface the DAC 3 offers, it’s no reach to say this benefit too is as captivating as are it’s aplomb with the standard coaxial or SPDIF connections. It’s sole detectable lack therein was a dryer hand, and lesser rear of stage dimension, yet still, quite a good addition.

I listened to the e one’s USB input using several PC music – media players… Winap, iTunes, Fubar, and J River (jukebox & Media Center) using a 16 ft. USB cable from a local super store. Only the J River players were clearly ahead of the pack sonically in my trials. I then settled on J River as my main source for all my Apple lossless PC CD, & AAC file playback

I still use Apple’s iTunes to rip and catalog tracks. Implementing the error correction scheme and a 4x speed from my Sony A800 DVD DL drive. The PC itself is a Dell Optiplex running an XP Pro OS, w/3G hyper threaded CPU, and 2Gig of DDR RAM, with a RAM BUS speed of 800 MHz. I attached a WD 500GB USB 2.0 HDD for storage.

I added on an “ASIO for all” driver ( version 2.8.7) from a German company and PC music is now rivaling my 777’s performance via the e one’s output. Save for some lack of depth in the soundstage the PC/USB presentation is just that formidable.

There is no getting around the fact, having thousands of songs a few keystrokes away without sacrificing much at all sonically, is a big plus for me. In fact the so called “musicallity” has become the resurgent aspect to file playback implementing the above processes.

Without the ASIO driver in use J River’s decoding and playback ability surpasses itunes sonic output quite handily. With the ASIO driver functioning, it’s a ‘no brainer’!

Shortening the signal path

I used the DAC 3 as a preamp too in conjunction with tube mono blocks, and an Odyssey Stratos SE stereo sand amp. The results with both amps were predictable and without issue. Both were done using RCA interconnects. I experienced no issues with noise, hum, flutter, or the kind throughout. The volume increases and decreases were easy, steady, and glass smooth. Only changing sources posed me any issue as the unit could not be seen from my listening position, and it’s quirky selection process using the supplied remote unit, which requires quick presses of the remote’s source selector button in rapid succession to move through the various feeds.

Subtracting my tube preamp from the signal path lessened the amount of harmonic textures somewhat, though the presentation was still quite involving and either way, as a part only of the signal chain or as it’s primary processor and controller, the DAC 3s influence to the sound was always unmistakably improved…. It’s added bass impact was also very welcome.

South of Heaven

The e one like any other device does have some items wherein change or improvements can and perhaps should, be had. It wrought differences and increase alike, to my setup. Most if not all were received well.

As a matter of course the e One DAc 3 is not without it’s shortcomings. It falls a bit South of Paradise in it’s rendered portrayal of music, ergonomics, and functionality.

As I stated previously, I wasn’t too excited about how one had to change source selection. It requires quick consecutive presses of the source selection button to move laterally through the five source assortment. Simply pressing the source button on the remote as one would normally and steadily continuing so, just won’t do it for me.

The mute button has two settings. A near off and full off control. Again, a rapid double click of the mute button is needed to access the full off mute. I fail to see the advantage of a near mute setting as it only sets the volume to a predetermined 20db lesser level. Listening to higher volumes and using this one press feature, might well not suffice for some occasions.

The e One has good flexibility in outputs possessing both RCA & XLR. It’s outputs however are not systematically laid out becoming repetitive of one another. Facing the rear of the DAC, the XLR outs are at the extreme left of the unit and are immediately followed by the RCA outs just to their right. The channel outputs are R ch first, followed by the Left on the balanced set, and then swapped around for the RCA outs having the Left ch set first followed by the R ch thereafter. I found this layout odd and had some trouble remembering which set of outputs actually had the left ch on the left most connector.

I don’t have enough walk behind space with all my equipment so getting back there for connecting and disconnecting becomes a memory driven occasion, rather than a visual one. Jotting down this array helped out a lot while implementing and subtracting other components for this review.

The DA 10, having only two balanced outputs had no such issues. It did need an internal change of the output jacks wiring to support RCA and that was done by Lavry prior to it’s delivery to me. They also provided the XLR > RCA adapters for a very minor fee.

It is strongly recommended by Bel Canto, that the unit be de-energized while connecting or disconnecting sources or amps. To do this the power cable needs to be unseated completely. Pressing the on/off switch button on either the remote or the unit itself only places the DAC in a Standby mode and does not completely sever the power ties from it.

During all my adding and subtracting of cables, gear, etc., I pulled the plug on it so I can’t say if it’s actually a hot swappable unit. Better to be safe than sorry, IMO.

The singular exception to this instruction, I found out, was inserting and removing the USB cable to & from the PC from time to time. I did this while the DAC 3 was in it’s “stand by” mode only.

The face plate of the e One DAC3 sports a single knob and visual display. Powering up, selecting a source, and changing volume are all accomplished using this one control knob/button, for the majority of operation. There is one other button located on the rear of the unit which allows or disallows volume control for it’s digital inputs. This switch is needed to set the DACs volume to match the systems input levels for use as a nonvariable source device. Bel Canto suggests that the volume be raised to it’s full output and then select the fixed volume position with the rear in or out button.

It takes very little to get familiar with the e One, and the remote provides more intuitive access. The remote too, did not appear restricted by distance or angle very much. Pointing it in the general direction of the IR repeater, from anywhere in the 14 x 20 room was usually enough to operate the DAC. There is one button on the remote however that does nothing whatsoever but it’s appearance on the remote makes for a symmetrical layout.

Listening to the e One DAC 3’s song was always intriguing, revealing, and enjoyable. It’s low noise floor, cat like response, and deft handling of varied musical environs and styles, prompts me to give this unit high marks on it’s performance alone.

Given the tactile constraints, output jack incongruities, decidedly unique manner with which, sources need be selected, lack of full power off, and a stepped mute setting, I see that there is room for some betterment to the Bel Canto e One DAC III.

While my tendencies and tastes in products and sound lean toward rich, full and natural sounding with a very slight tilt to the warmer side of neutral as a rule, add to that my confidence level is reinforced by a tangible & accessible, customer friendly support base. The Lavry DA 10 should have been the first and perhaps last DAC I needed as it definitely covered all these bases.

Curiosity got the better of me. For there are far too many items on the market today which excel in the regard the Bel Canto and Lavry Eng. Products do. Consequently I’ll not adorne the Bel Canto unit with wings and a halo just yet.

True Value hardware?

The e One’s sonic attributes alone formulate a substantial argument for it to be included as prospective fare for real world system enhancing digital to analog converters, were one to be in the hunt for such devices having between two and three grand on hand. A better value for the smaller handful of green could seek out a DA 10 and be financially prudent, and probably sonically satiated.

The e one DAC3 will surely open new vistas to your disc playback, bring along resolute and substantive bass, reveal ambience with higher relief, and it does choreograph the stage intuitively, and delineate well the players within it, in a most additive way to that of an existing system. The only less impressive integration of the DAC 3 was when I applied it to my oldest receiver driven bedroom HT set up. Although a noticeable gain was had it was nothing like the impact ascertained when it was set into my main system… albeit, having far greater resolution to begin with.

Add to the mix the support for USB and the remote control functionality, and the e One presented some worthwhile advantages over the DA 10…. As well it should given the price point differences.

System synergy and tastes fuel much of my acquisitions in audio componentry and has been a prudent path these past years at least for me. Going in, I had much on hand of what the DA 10 brings to the table. Full bodied sound. Fine presence. Bandwidth balance… and ‘toe tapping’ involvement. .. less we forget some degree of sonic ignorance.

The Bel Canto supported all of these system attributes and became the stabilizer. It added definition, better image outlines and placement, a more organic tonal rendering, and a much improved bass presence to my all hollow state outfit. It stripped away the system’s and my own, naiveté, replaceing it with a newfound enlightenment.

Considering both units retail price tags, the question remains, Is the Bel Canto e One worth the $1525.00 larger outlay to have it instead of the Lavry DA 10? It sure seems a valid one as well. True, the remote control and USB interface exceed the DA 10s feature set. The Lavry however is a 24/192 DAC instead of the 24/96 Bel Canto, and possesses a volume control too. Both have volume controls and comparable warranties.

The answer then could swing either way. My answer would be predicated on more similar items as a vote for the Lavry edition, given it too had a remote control and USB interface, with all else being as it is with each unit. I can not attest to the Bel Canto’s true value for I’ve no real world experiences with other similarly out fitted units selling for the same price as the DAC 3.

The Bel Canto’s performance level was not two and one half that of the Lavry, nor was it even twice that of the DA10. If I had to hang a number alluding to the noted degree of performance increase of the e One over the DA 10 in sonics alone, I’d call it at best, perhaps a 30-40% gain in the end, and feel that is a generous assessment. I offer that figure primarily due to the added bass slam, greater resolution and balance, yet there is some sacrifices made in timberal presence and color in this deal one should be aware of as well.

I will say this about the e One’s value to me as subjective as it may be, I don’t regret paying the additional amount for it, although I do feel it’s price preowned or new, is on the high end of things thus making it less a value oriented model and more a performance oriented one. I suspect also that point lessens the potential sales of the DAC 3 were it priced at or under $2000.00.

AS with the DAC 3 & DA 10, so too was the run off between the Nirvana digital cable and the Stereovox XV2. the nirvana coming in at $700 and the XV2 at well under $200. The Nirvana is definitely not 3 times as good as the XV 2. No question in my mind there. Do they offer different versions of the same sonic landscape? Yes, indeed they do, though neither falls short of presenting an interesting, intuitive broadcast, which is filled with colorful images, defined boundaries, and an inviting appeal. The Nirvana being akin to the Lavry, and the Stereovox more so the DAC3…. For comparisons sake only and not in truth.

The Nirvana digital link was not beyond my ability to possess, but I put my money on the Bel Canto and XV2, for little more reason than they fit my needs, tastes, and elevated my system in a sensible and unregretable way. I found a better value in the addition of a pair of Nirvana SX Ltd interconnects later to be a still more apt fit for the systems synergy, albeit at a higher cost than the Nirvana digital cable had been..

Last word

I am certain the e one has elevated my systems performance and is therefore a very good fit for my needs in spite of it’s minor tactile infractions and format conversion shortcomings, eg., PCM only. I’m quite happy with it overall.

As with the differences from the DA 10 to the e One, I suspect there are still mo better somewhere out there to be decided upon. That being said, I’m in no hurry to find them out.

For the near $2K price I laid out for it, (preowned) I think it’s a fine unit and does an exemplary job despite its narrowed scope and it’ll remain here for a long time. The hunt for better will wait. Indefinitely.

In fact that ‘hunt’ stoppage is as good a statement as I can come up with for the e one DAC 3…. And a good one to be able to offer regardless the component one has which halts the pursuit for more.

For now, all is well with the world at blindjim’s house of sunburn and sonic curiosities.

Thank you for your time.

Associated gear
Thor Audio TA 1000 MK II Tube preamp
2 Dodd Audio 1 0 MK II Tube amp
Odyssey Audio Stratos SE stereo Amplifier

Bel Canto e one DAC III DA converter

Silverline Audio Sonata III Speaker
Silverline Audio SR 15s
Silverline Audio Center Stage
Phase Tech PC 10.5 towers
Phase Tech PC 6.5 floor standing two ways
Canton 220 boodshelfs

Velodyne DD 15 THX Ultra Subwoofer
Velodyne CT 10 subwoofer

Sony SCD- XA 777es CD Player
Sony combo DVD/VCR player
Oppo DV 980H universal player

Running Springs Audio Halley AC filter
2 PS Audio Duet AC filter
PS Audio UPC 00 AC filter

Sound Anchor 6 shelf Stand
2 Sound Anchor amp stands
2 Sound Anchor Tall Monitor spkr std. Stand

Synergistic Research Tesla Acoustic Ref IC RCA 1M
Synergistic Research Resolution Refference X Activve RCA 1M
Nirvana SX Ltd 1m RCA IC
Harmonic Tech Magic II 1m RCA
MIT Shotgun S2 1.5m RCA IC
Audio Art IC 3 Interconnect RCA 1.5M
Alpha Core Micro Pearl Interconnect RCA 1.5M

Elrod Power Systems Signature 3 Power cord 6 ft 0A
Shunyata Research Taipan helix Alpha Power cord 6ft. 15A
Shunyata Python VX Power cord 6 ft 15A
VooDoo cable Tesla Power cord 5ft 0A
2 VooDoo Cable Gold Dragon Power cord 6 ft 15A
VooDoo Cable Black Dragon Power cord 6 ft 15A
Nirvana power cable
Virtual Dynamics power III

Synergistic Research Signature 10 X2 active Bi wire Speaker cable 21ft.
Synergistic Research Alpha Quad X series Active Speaker cable 15 ft
Synergistic Research Alpha Quad X 2 10ft.
Canare 4S11

Bright Star iso nodes
6 Herbie's Audio Lab Iso Cups Tweak
Herbie's Audio Lab Peak Tube Damper Rings Tweak
Mother Nature Wood block footers Tweak
2 VooDoo Cable IEC power 0A > 15A adapter

Onkyo TX SR 805 Multi ch receiver
Sony 444es 5.1 AV receiver

BenQ PE 7700 Video
Sony TV model s 30 Rear Pro. 61 inch

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Lavry DA 10
Thank you for a great read. I read it twice and have a question. I was pining for the Bel Canto since I love the M300 amps that I have and admire their commitment to quality, but settled on the PS Audio DAC III because it was cheaper. Did you find much difference when using the Oppo 980 vs the other transports? The re-clocking of the PS Audio and I assume the Bel Canto, makes a huge difference in the clarity and tempo of the music. You obviously enjoyed the re-worked Sony, but how did it compare to the Oppo? I ask because I have not found a great difference between the 980 and my Jolida JD-100A and wonder about changing transports. Do you think it is true to state that reliable transports are much the same, or do you detect a difference? I dream of an all Bel Canto system with the Pre-3/DAC/Monos, but need to win the lottery first! Thanks again for an excellent review. The journey is the destination.

Thank you.

Short answer? Yes. Better drives provided better results given those I had on hand to listen to….

I don't recall if I made this point clear before, but as the level of the player/drive improved, the degree of noticeable increased signal refinement and delineation diminished by comparison. In other words, the level to which my old mega changer was improved was substantially more than the performance level increase of the newly refitted drive on the xa777.

In each instance regardless the digital source being used, the new choreography of the SS was always bettered and made more the intuitive presentation…. Things made more sense in their layouts and were more well defined, along with becoming more timberaly accurate.

There were significant increases across the board using the Oppo as the feed to the DAC 3… though I’d be hard pressed to buy a DAC 3 solely for that singular application. I might be more inclined to simply have the Oppo modded, or better still, seek out a dedicated drive… but that’s a tuff call either way for me to say for you.

I’m an all digital, all the time sort. So the BC D3 gives me more bang for the buck as I utilize all it’s available functionality… save that of the balanced (AES) input… as does your Link III for you.

I guess the answer lays in the area of desired performance or sonic fingerprint, as much as the multiple applications the D3 offers… and of course, the price you find it for.

I find the Oppo DV 980H to be quite close to the Sony XA777 by comparison. Since the sled replacement was done to the Sony, the two aren’t now, quite as close. IMO. Overall I’d say there’s perhaps a difference of 30%, give or take a bit, on the xa777’s favor.

It’s been a while since I played them head to head… but I do recall it being close enough for me to remark the value of the 980 was substantial indeed. There are other considerations than the general, first take, assessments of course. Only when the Oppo was set to upsample the red book signal to 24/192 did it actually begin to compete with the Sony. Straight up, sampling and outputting the 16 bit word length, and 44.1K rate, it was out of the running altogether against the xa777. (this note points to use with analog outputs) …and the build quality of the Sony far outruns the Oppo’s.

I’ll put it another way… when I want to play one disc… I’ll use the XA777… not the Oppo…. The drive being used certainly is a key factor, despite the DACs ability to massage or reinterpret the signal.

With the DAC3 and a good drive, the xa being one of the better drives too, you have arrived at the point of diminishing returns. From that point on, better is going to come at a much higher price… and then, albeit, the ‘beter’ may well be marginal and vastly disproportionate to the money being spent to attain it. I feel that aspect has to be addressed objectively, to preserve both sanity, and finances.

I would have liked very much to been able to A – B the Link III and The DAC3. Such was not the case… only the DA10 had been here.
Thanks for your thorough reply. I know I can better the Oppo as a transport for Redbook. As you say, it is a question of how much for the money spent. It seems to me now that getting a high quality, reliable transport will provide less jitter and therefore a truer more life-like sound. A dealer I trust has explained that the jitter-reduction can be additive, and used in series, thereby reducing the jitter to almost unmeasurable levels. This seems a desirable and obtainable goal.
Until that time when another 'mo betta' drive is had... I'd say if it hasn't already been done to place some tube rings onto the tubes in your system, and seek out some isolation footers. The latter for both CDP & DAC.

I've had great success with the Bright Star iso nodes under the DAC3, and I've tried other compliant pods, discs, cups, etc. I have not tried the 'roller ball + cup' gizmos aside from herbies Audio Labs iso cups, as I simply can't justify the costs of the high $$$ ones enough, to begin testing them all.

I'd think the Link III would be as receptive... and they're not pricey at all yet provide better focus and layering.
Thanks! It's always fun to try these different things. You just never know what is going to work and what isn't.

Tube damping, and component isolation, for the investment has a remarkable return.
I think I will sell my Jolida 100A because there is so little difference between it and the Oppo, as a transport. However, I am intrigued by using a solid older transport such as the Sony or a Denon, if it would be better. Is there a transport that would exceed the Jolida, still using the PS Audio DAC III? And, if I am hijacking your thread, I apologize. Please PM me if that is more appropriate.
As good as the DAC3 is, it is bettered by the Cullen PS Audio DLC III Stage 3 or 4, which is less money.

I have both, and the Cullen has more detail and clarity and pulls information out from deep in the soundstage that the Bel Canto cannot do. It does not have the slightly bloated bass or extra added warmth of the Bel Canto, or the slight haze and texture of the Bel Canto.

It is not as "sexy" as the Bel Canto in appearance. However, as a resolving device, it is superior to the Bel Canto to the point I don't want to listen to the Bel Canto anymore. I will write a review on it after a full burn in has occurred.
Thanks for the kind words.

What you heard given your description of the Bel Canto D3's sonics, in your system, was simply not my experience at all.

I plugged it into several systems I own, which are at varying levels of sonic finesse and value, comprised of 3 differing amps, two receivers, five pairs of speakers (from 3 different brand names), and a world class preamp.

Was the Bel Canto, like this other unit, not yet run in completely, when you came to these conclusions, for that would make sense to me. Otherwise I'd say it wasn't a good fit in your setup.

Not everything made by everyone, in the high end audio industry is the best or even a good fit, in every system.

though, after it's run in, it performed admirably in all 3 of mine doing exactly what I related in my previous discourse.

I'm looking forward to reading your recitation on that other DAC.

...and thanks again for the insightful and thoughtful remarks.

As always, your reviews are impressively honest and comprehensive, covering all angles sonically and otherwise.

Thank you,

I just found this thread. I have a Lavry and have a Bel Canto on the way. I'll come back and share my feelings about the comparison. And I'm also curious about the PS Audio, modded or not, as well as the new Bryston DAC, which seems to offer just about everything. Wish I had the funds to try them all (and there are a bunch more on my "short list").
You're welcome, and too kind.

There are more dimensions to a system's piece than mere performance.... and for some, those areas are important.

My pick of the two... D10 or DAC3 came down to a 'systems needs' situation for me.

That being said, I did feel in terms of actual performance, the DAC 3 does out run the D10 too. the way or fashion in which each piece runs the race is more the reason why one will choose though. IMHO. Well, that and/or sheer cost.

I felt it a no brainer that the D10 had the more alluring song... the DAC3 came off by comparison, dryer. Cabling and isolation amended much if not all of that deficit. Add to that I've a compliment of tube power in the signal path, again, the DAC3 was the Rosetta stone for my rig.

Additionally, the DAC 3's bottom end performance helped move me off the D10. That and the better clocking aspect which provided for greater speed and ambient retreval. True enough too the USB facet was a bonus, or so I thought at the time, and likely still is. yet I'm trying another path to get pc audio into the DAC3.... and/or system in general.

it's looking promising too. Soon as I get a decent KVM switch things will move along much faster.
My early impressions of the DAC3 support Blindjim's findings. It is dry (not sure I could define that, however), and the bass is superb. What I am enjoying about it, as I try to decide which direction to pursue in terms of music server solutions, is the ability to use its remote to switch between (1) Mac Mini via Toslink, (2) transport via coax and, once I get it together, (3) Squeezebox via coax. I can have them all playing the same piece of music, so the comparison is effective. And the Bel Canto's soft fade in/fade out makes it a pleasant experience. I can also compare the Mac Mini via USB into the DAC3, but that requires me change settings on the Mac, so that comparison takes a bit more time. Also, JA in Stereophile warns that the USB input on the DAC3 is jittery, as most are.
USB jittery?

I hadn't noticed.... and I use a fairly lengthy USB cable too. Nope. I'm not getting that with mine.

Like yourself I'm also looking into using another input rather than USB.

Time will tell.
Try Toslink, but get a good cable. I'm using the WireWorld and it sounds pretty darn good. Van den Hul makes one with mini Toslink on one end, though I think you can only get that in lengths under 2M. I'm using an adapter at the mac end, which I imagine compromises performance some.

I find the USB input of the DAC3 less than ideal for my tastes. For one -- and I suspect this is a minority opinion -- it has a soundstage that is too large. When the music is really wide and really tall, it sounds wrong to me. Also, I find the tonality off -- everything seems devoid of tonal color a bit plasticky. Just my $.02, subject to change.
Hmmmm. Which USB driver and setup are you using now?

In other words, how does the signal get out of the personal confuser and then to the speakers...??

I'm simply not getting the things you mention just now.

My sound stage is appropriate laterally and vertically... the depth is not what I'd like, but even that's acceptable for the time being.

have you tried any other power cords on the DAC3? I'm using my VooDoo Tesla II there now.
You're on a Windows machine, so I'm not sure what your options are. The newer Mac Minis (all Macs, I think, as well as the Airport Express router) have a miniplug headphone jack which also provides Toslink digital audio out. You need a miniplug to Toslink adapter or a Toslink cable that has a miniplug on one end. I run the Toslink cable into the DAC 3 (or Lavry) and that's about it. On the Mac, in an application called Audio Midi, you can make some adjustments to the audio going out in this manner (does not apply to sending audio out via USB). You can adjust sampling frequency and word length, up to 96/24. To my surprise, I found that setting it at 44/16 sounds better than 96/24.

I hope I'm making sense.
yes, yuou are.

yes, I have a PC. Two desktops and one Vista laptop.

Waht I was wondering was what sort of power cord you had on your DAC (s). The thinking was perhaps that might be accounting for the 'plasticy' sound... beats me. I just found that odd, as we've both used the same DACs at one point or another, and I've not had that scenario.

I use the ASIO driver from Germany, and have another one, USB for All, installed too. The German driver is the best of those two.

I also use J River Media Player 12... and found a Direct Show plug in for the ALAC CODEC Quicktime supports instead of using Quicktime. I think that is about a push and discern no clear winner there. In fact iTune 8 comes close to MC 12, and the PC oriented issues of skipping, and herky jerky mousing, seem to have disappeared with this newest version... so far.

I bought a M Audio Audiophile 192 2 ch PCI card and have installed it in the PC I'm converting to a server. The AP 192 uses either it's own internal clock or an external one, depending on which way the signal is going, and the application. It can go out RCA line out or in, and SPDIF. in & out too.

MC 12 allows for upsampling via a DSP plug in from 16/44, 16/48 - 16/96 - 24/96, 24/192, to 32/105.. the M audio also suports those outputs & inputs... and has two line ins as well.

I'm about to see if that upsampling has much of an eefect, and if so, a positive one or what...???

I got little or no improvement using a Creative Labs USB card with 24/96, and the better USB DRIVER VIA THE cl spdif output and a Stereovox xv2 digital link into the BC D3 and Onkyo 805 + my office two ways. Iv'e not yet gone whole hog and run it all into my tube gear thus far as I've not gotten my preamp's remote sensor down out of the insides yet... that should be remidied real soon though.
I'm using a Lessloss PC on the DAC. Man, you sure have a lot of options in the PC world. From what I hear, the Lynx AES16 PCI card is the hot ticket. Can also be used in the large desktop Mac, but I don't have one of those.
I thought about the Lynx ... just not very long. $700 - $1000 is a waste if I've got a DAC worth over twice that amount... and it does more for me than would a sound card.

A couple hundred or less? Well, I can justify that more easily... and I needed one anyhow as ALL my PC operations depend on me hearing it talk... well, mostly anyhow.

I'll be adding a multi ch card to my main pc soon enough so if there's no company, I don't have to run the HT - PJ rig to watch a flick.

RE options... and I'm betting the path with the least stuff in it will be best in the end..

Does that Lessloss cord work on stuff other than digital any good? I use the VooDoo Tesla II as I said for the BC D3 off a Haley plc.... but the main CDP uses either a Python VX or a Nirvana digital pc... depends on my mood. The Sony xa 777 turns into a different animal whena diff pc is on it... the DAC does too.
The way people are using the Lynx is to take its AES/EBU out into their DAC of choice.
I sort of figured that actually. I feel however, unless their DAC is one which upsamples, or over samples, perhaps that path is redundant and serving little or no purpose.

I'm hard pressed to believe the clock within the Lynx or another sound card is going to outperform (be more accurate) than a dedicated DAC. Especially one which is touted to be meausredd as accurate as is the BC D3.

Which is not to say the 'sound' itself out of the card isn't good or in some respects maybe even better. that is exactly why I wanted to at least see how that upsapling route to and past, 24/96 and on to 192 does to the sound.

I'm getting only 'different' and not by much using the digital out of my CL USB SOUND CARD INTO THE BC D3. The M audio 192 will afford more flexibility than it though... so I'll see for myself.


Please forgive my statement in the review itself for quoting the BCD3 as only accepting up to 24/96 PCM feeds. Via the SPDIF; BNC; and aES inputs it handles from 16/44 to 24/192. Via USB 16/44 to 24/96; via TOS well Hell, I don't remember now... so look it up. The TOS input is the most jittery interface going, so mine see's little use now, save for the Megga changer from time to time.