Review: California Audio Labs Alpha DA converter

Category: Digital

Classical, Jazz, Rock, R&B, some rap and hip hop if it has a good groove. I love acoustic music though and I like to hear people that can really play and/or sing.

The most important aspects of sound are sound staging and imaging, clarity and detail, warmth and weight. I like to be able to close my eyes and visualize the musicians on the stage doing their thing. I don't think the job of hifi gear is to make everything sound like a live recording (I have been to too many live concerts that sounded bad for that.) I think the job of equipment is to give you a you are there rush, convey what the musicians are trying to communicate to you and Capture what the producers, mastering folks etc were trying to convey with the end product. In shour to hear what they intended you to hear.

The worst things a system could do would be to sound hard and etched thin and weightless.

I;ve had this piece 2 years. It was one of the last units they produced and sold.

It replaced the DA converted inside the CALAudio Icon.

Primarily it added warmth to the sound. The ICON sounds great by itself though but I like combining tube pieces with solic state gear to achieve warmth with detail and weight.

Stregths include very good detail, added tube warmth and bloom, More of a you are there presence.

I really can't think of any weaknesses. Perhaps the fact that it doesn't up sample. But everything I have put up against it either sounds worse or no better.

The only other piece I considered against it that I really liked was the Audio Research CD 2 and if money were no object I might have chosen that piece instead but to be honest I thought the Icon Alpha combo was better built and sounded as good so I stuck with it. I have heard the Wadia stuff and I have seen all of the raving about it but I didn't care for the sound. It sounded too digital to me.

Associated gear
Krell KAV 300 Integrated; Musical Fidelty CR A3 Preamp; PS Audio Classic 250 amp; Tara Labs Decade digital interconnect; Cal Audio Icon Transport; PSB stratus Golds speakers

Similar products
Rega Jupiter and Planet; Wadia 850; Krell KAV series cd players; Audio Research CD2;
I totally agree with what you said, my review would have been almost exactly the same, I've owned a Delta transport via an Orchid balanced cable to an Alpha with a pair of Mullard 12AX7's for nearly 6 years, and compared to a lot of others, including believe it or not, the Wadia's and an Audio Research CD-1 !! I still own my Delta-Alpha ! due to the very reasons you mentioned, good ears ! They sound very warm and analogue-like, once you hear it, there's no turning back! Try a couple of Shunyata Black Mambas, V-1(dac), and V-2 (transport) and brace yourself.
I completely agree with the above review. I use a much higher resolution hotrod sony in my main system. For my secondary system however, the DAC is a key piece. I use a phillips cdr 880 as a transport, and pipe it into my hotrodded Cary 300SEI signature 300B SET, then into my silverline sonatina II speakers. The whole thing is TUBE from end to end and you hear it. When I use a solid state front end, the magic is just not quite as vivid. Even a $2000 cd player cannot do what this dac can.

Have any of you tried different transports ? How sensitive is the unit to transports? Is the Delta transport a good unit ?
I also have the Delta/Alpha combination and it's one part of my system that I'm not looking to replace anytime soon. The units sound very good for the price on the used market. I recently wrote a discussion of the Delta/Alpha put head-to-head against the Music Hall CD25. To me, the CAL equipment won the contest. (See the thread entitled "CAL Delta/Alpha vs Music Hall CD25: A comparison".)

It's good to hear other people who are thrilled with their CAL gear!

i have owned the Alph-Delta combo for quite sometime now. I have recently upgraded the tubes to Mullards and have replaced the power cords and interconnect (balanced) with Signal cable. I have always been happy with these but have never really known there capability until amp and pre have been improved. Has anyone ever heard of venting the Delta? Cutting holes in it so tube warmth can escape?
Zar asks: >>Has anyone ever heard of venting the Delta? Cutting holes in it so tube warmth can escape?<<

You mean venting the Alpha? I use mine with the top off for the purpose of venting (and to facilate tube rolling). I suppose if you have a drill with the right bit, you could poke a few holes, but I don't have one. I love the Alpha DAC. Used to run a CAL Sigma II DAC off an Icon II, then moved to a Delta/Alpha combo when the Icon started skipping intolerably. This past month, I began using a Rega Apollo as the transport for the Alpha and am happier than ever. The detail increased, but the warmth and musicality continue.
I've had my Alpha for about 6mo and my Delta transport for about 3 days. Much improvement for so little $$.

Google around on the Alpha...I swear I ran across a site that listed and reviewed almost every possible tube upgrade (NOS U.S., NOS Russia -- at least 12 different tubes).

I also distinctly remember the site advising owners to let the DAC go topless.

It's out there somewhere on the web....I swear.

And here's a little CAL Audio trivia from the previous owner of my Delta transport.

"...However, the designer of the unit, Dan Donnelly, is President of Adcom now. He might have some suggestions if you send him an email (

I use a Cal Delta transport into my Musetex DAC and can attest to the transport being very nice (in response to John above). I have also heard a Theta Pearl transport and would say that this would be a small step-up from the Cal Delta, although I perfer the form, fit and finish of the Cal Delta, as it sits quite nicely beside my DAC and headphone amp on a single component shelf.

Hello All,

I bought an Alpha DA from Ebayer, but it does not power up. The AC fuse is OK. Could you please advise me where and how I can get hold of a schematic?

Your advice and assistance on this matter are greatly appreciated.

Dumb question: But it does not power up after you've:
a. flipped the main switch (Rear) and then
b. hit the Standby switch (Front - Left)
c. waited approx 30 - 45 seconds for full power

You cant get a better DAC for less than 1K$. If you find one on ebay for 500-600$ jump and buy !

I finally vented my Alpha by having four holes drilled across the rear top of the unit. I had too read about taking the top off the unit but was afraid I might drop something on the exposed board. I've been considering upgrading to a Rega or Arcam player but after reading all these reviews, maybe I'm sitting rather pretty with my trusty Cal's.

Thank you very much for your technical support and assistance. I followed your instruction/procedures how to power up the DAC, but nothing happened?

Do you know where I can obtain a schematic diagrams for Alpha DAC or any place that I send it for repair.

Again, a great honor and previllege having your support and assistance on the technical problem of Alpha DAC.

A million thanks.
Dear All,

Finally, I found the power transformer in my Alpha DAC was bad, I need to order a replacement, but do not have the reference part number. Anybody has the part number? will you please help me?

Thank you in advance for your assistance and support.

Hi All,

Thank those of you for technical advices and assistance that I was able to get two Alpha DAC's fixed. Their musical sound is wonderful and excellent.

Again, a million thanks for your support and help.