Review: Concert Fidelity DAC-040 DA converter

Category: Digital

Starting in 2005 I worked myself up the chain of the very fine DACS built by Accustic Arts of Germany, finally ending up with their Reference Tube Hybrid. I have auditioned over six very highly regarded DACS in the last couple of years and found them to be quite good, but none of them exceeded the performance of the AA Reference Tube Hybrid in my system. I do not use high resolution material, only Redbood CDs, so these auditions were only based on this format because my large collection of music is composed totally of this material. Well, I know nothing is the "BEST" in high end audio, there are many fine pieces of gear when you get to a certain level of excellence. However, I thought that maybe the evolution of DACS that play the standard format had got to the point that it could not get really that much better. Each DAC might offer different slight flavors but not a qualitative shift to a much higher level of performance. It has turned out that I was very wrong regarding this assumption after auditioning what has become my new reference, the Concert Fidelity DAC-040.

The designer of the CF DAC-040, Mr. Masa Tsuda believes in very short and clean circuits in all of his designs. The analog section of this DAC is very similar to what he uses in his highly regarded reference LS-080 linestage. They both use 12AU7's and a 6CA4/EZ81 full-wave rectifier tube. It took over two years of on-going listening tests for Mr. Tsuda to find the NOS DAC chips to use in his DAC, there is no over or up sampling and any type of digital filters to be found any were in this piece, that delivered the sonics he was looking for. Which DAC chips he finally decided on are confidential and not disclosed. All the Concert Fidelity and Silicon Arts, same company, pieces are beautifully built to an exemplatory level including the DAC-040.

Why was I taken so aback by the sonic performance of the CF DAC-040, here's the reasons:

1) By far the most natural timbres and harmonic colors I have ever heard coming from a digital front end.

2) The microdynamics and prat of this DAC are amazing, yet it still allows the listener to relax into the music without giving up the punch and kick of the music.

3) What I refer to as image density or a 3D quality, what most would just call palpability, of each player with air around them on a layered soundstage was the best I have ever had in my system.

4) The CF DAC-040 creates a very open and deep soundstage with great layering in a natural way that allows you to have the illusion that your in that acoustic space.

Believe me, the AA Reference Tube Hybrid DAC is no slouch in these sonic qualities, yet, it was no were close to having these special attributes that the CF DAC-040 was providing in my system. To use very subjective terms this DAC has the most musicality/naturalness that I have experienced that just draws you into the music. Dare I say that a lot of listeners could be fooled into thinking that they were hearing an analog front end, instead of a digital source, I think so.

I end all my reviews by sharing that there is no "BEST" piece of any kind of gear, but many terrific ones. Personal taste and system synergy always comes into play. If your looking for one of the best Redbook DACS around today I highly recommend you audition Mr.Tsuda's "baby", you will be in for a sonic treat.

Associated gear
Click to view my Virtual System

I've spent a lot of time looking for the best DAC for my drive MT (I've auditioned top line of DCS, Lavry, Métronome, Emm, MSB, Playback D., Danish Audio D., GTE, Zanden, AN, Kondo, Esoteric and more...); fortunately I've known the Concert Fidelity DAC-040 thanks to TJ's review. As soon as I've had the opportunity to hear it I've taken it and at the same time I've sold my reference SACD/CD Player.

In my opinion with my Métronome Technologie Kalista Référence as transport the CF Vacuum Tube DAC-040 sounds magically and better than all the others gears I've ever listened (combo or not, SACD or only RedBook)!

I've also heard a lot of hi-level analog front ends (included mine) so for my experience I think this DAC in this combo configuration sounds good like the best among them.

In short, I suggest all the audiophiles owned a RedBook collection to listen this DAC before purchase some other one because with a CF DAC-040 (equipped with the tubes you like more) they would be very happy as I'm now.

Who knows how Playback Design would stack up against it?
Hi Branislav,

I can easily answer your question. I and a friend of mine, in the exact same system, compared the Playback Design to the Concert Fidelity on redbook and it was quite clear to both of us that the Concert Fidelity was sonicly on a much higher musical level then the Playback Design piece.

The Playback Design sounded kinda dry and two dimensional compared to the CF DAC-040. When it came to timbres and harmonics the gap was even larger. This is not an attempt to slam the Playback Design piece, it's quite good and can also handle high rez formats, it just shows that on redbook high wonderful the CF DAC-040 really is.
I hope the Playback Design was fully broken in and warmed up, because it needs it. I actually think one of its strength is 3 dimensionality, so if Concert Fidelity beats it, that would be really something.
Yes Branislav,

The Playback Design was fully broken in. This audition was done at my friend's house who is a retailer dealer for both companies. I'm only interested in redbook CD's, if I was into high rez I would consider the Playback Design DAC and still keep the CF DAC-040 because of its performance on the standard format. If you think the Playback Design DAC is very 3D in it's presentation you would be amazed how much more the CF DAC-040 offers in this area.
Dear Branislav,

I’ve auditioned the MPD-5 at my house in my system and it is an amazing DAC in High Rez (among my favorite) but compared to the CF-040 I confirm Teajay’s evaluations.

Best regards,
I have owned the Playback and do not see what all the hoopla is about. The playback was thin in the lower mids and on the dry side. I could not wait to get rid of it.
Jwm, what do you use now?
Im thinking of getting this DAC but just 1 SPDIF input really is a worry for me. Why no AES ? Why not 2 x SPDIF ?
Hi Badwisdom,

I believe that Mr. Tsuda's philosophy of having the shortest/cleanest circuits possible lead to his decision of only having one input.

I would be curious about what your worries are because of this DAC only having one input. I would love to hear from you if you have a chance to audition and what you thought.

I just got reviewing another DAC for my website that is quite good, but no were close to the musical beauty of the CF-DAC-040. As you know this DAC only does redbook, yet the performance equals alot of high rez formats that I have compared it to.

So, let us know what you think if you do audition it.
Hey tea jay,

well I've been in contact with CF over email and I'm close to trying this thing out.

Im worried because if i want to plug several sources, i.e. a CD transport and a Computer based transport (with a USB/SPIDF Audiophilleo adaptor), then i can't. Ill have to plug and unplug.

A small price to pay i guess for a superior sound, but still it has to be taken into account.

Im also worried with the enjoythemusic review which states that unless you're using state of the art transport, then the CF DAC 040 will sound ordinary.

Ill be mostly using a computer source, MAC base with Audiophilleo adaptor, so i have no idea if this will work out at all.

Maybe this is the wrong equipment and i should be looking to a USB DAC, but I'm a sucker for old ladder DAC tech.

Branislav I am using a Modright modded Oppo 95 cd player with tube outputs. This unit replaced my modright Sony 5400ES unit.

I've heard the DAC with a MAC+Amarra at the dealer and you won't be disappointed.
I know this is a long shot, but any thoughts on how this would fare with my MBL 1531 as the transport, against the PBD5 or a Wadia S7i, or even 1531 + ARC Dac8?

Currently there is no uk importer, though Mr Tsuda is working on this, so a comparison is not possible. I don't think there are any CF 040 in the uk at all.

Any views would be very highly appreciated as 2012 will see my source get an upgrade.

Best Regards and seasons greetings to all..
Hi Ps68,

I used to use the MBL 1531 transport, until I went to its bigger brother the reference 1621a, and the CF DAC-040 performed beautifully with either transport.

I have heard all the other DACS that you mention and on redbook there is still a wide margin between the CF DAC-040 and the other pieces.

Hope you get one to audition I think you would be amazed at it's sonics.
Many thanks for the response.

My only option here is to bite the bullet, as there is no demo option yet. I have been in touch with Mr Tsuda, and respect his professionalism, he seems good to deal with.

Out of interest, have you tried alternative tubes?

Hi Paul,

I know very well how Wadia S7i sounds; it's a wonderful CDP (for me the best made by Wadia Digital) but IMO, without any doubt, the CF DAC-040 together with a good CDT (like MBL or others at the same level or more) is a better sounding solution.

In few words: the sound is more analog, less colored, the instruments body is focused like 7i but smoother and with a better live presentation.

Hi Paul,

Yes, I have tried many NOS 12AU7's in both my CF preamp and DAC. However, my favorite tubes in both pieces are either NOS 5814 or 5963 Sylvania Gold Brand Gold Pin tubes. Just beautiful sounding, better then my long plate Mullards,Amperexs/Mazdas/Telefunkens that are wonderful tubes, but I like the sonics of these Sylvania's more.
Hey Paul,

I forgot to also mention how important it is to change out the stock rectifier tube that the DAC is shipped with and replace it with a NOS tube. The rectifier tube type is a 6CA4/EZ81. I have tried Genelex, RCA, Mullard, Mazda and they all make this DAC sing quite well. This rectifier tube is just as important as the 12AU7 output tubes regarding how to get the most superlative level of sonic performance from the CF DAC-040.
Many thanks for the above thought's chap's, i am giving this unit some consideration over Xmas break. I have a crossover rebuild going on now, so when complete i can introduce some candidates, current gut feeling is the CF will fit well. I don't use sacd, mac or anything other than 16/44.1, for now at least. If i do go mac route, i could add something like an empirical off ramp4 perhaps.

Teajay, if there is any time when you have the top off of the 040, would you be able to take a photo and email it to me, I'm often more interested in the innards than the case on these things. Only if it's no trouble though!

Best Regards to all,

Hope this good enough, the DAC has the same analog circuit design as the CF-080 linestage. If you go the website Positive Feedback Online-Issue 41 has a review by Mike Wechsberg on the CF-080 linestage with detailed pictures of its internal circuit layout. I know it's not the DAC, but close enough that it will give information on how short the total circuit really is.
Thanks Teajay, yes it helps enough, i'll read the review in full tomorrow when i have more time but it sounds like the pre is also very musical..

Hope you are enjoying yours..

Best regards,
Teajay, Where is the best place to buy the extra tubes that you recommend for the CF 040 dac.
Hi Husk01,

Congrets on your new CF DAC-040, I'm sure you will be delighted with how it will sound in your system.

The tubes that it is shipped with at best are nothing to write home about and do not let this DAC really sing as it can with the right NOS tubes.

For the 6CA4/EZ81 rectifier tube I recommend any NOS Mullard, RCA, Volvo, or Mazda, and yes this tube makes a great difference in the performance of the DAC.

For the pair of 12AU7's my favorite Choice is either a NOS 5814 or 6189 Sylvania Gold Brand Gold pin or a Mazda 5814 chrome plate. I have over 25 types of 12AU7's and these sound the best in the DAC in my system.

These tubes came from Brent Jesse Audio who is a great guy and his tubes are first rate. Have Fun!
Teajay, Thanks for the info.
Teajay, What power cord are you using with the 040?
Hi Husk01,

I use a Harmonix Studio Master on this DAC with great results.
Hi Husk01,

also my congratulations for your new CF DAC-040!

For your information (hoping this can help you) as power cord I use a Prana Wire Samadhi with amazing results too.

I have dac 040 on order too, looking forward to installing it now the crossovers are settled.. I'll update with some thoughts in due course!
Hi Paul,

great news! 

I'm waiting for your thought about it.

Best regards,
I have the Concert Fidelity CF-080 preamp, so I know about the quality and sound of CF gear. In short, it is SOTA. But, keep in mind you need a world class transport with the 040 and it's one input.
Looking forward to the 040's arrival soon, and will partner it with my MBL, though i do have access to a PS Audio Perfectwave Transport which i may test, any comments on this piece?

It seems that CF is gaining the recognition they deserve, though many still have not heard of them.
I know a well respected Concert Fidelity dealer and for audio shows he uses Concert Fidelity preamp, Venture Speakers, Hegel amp and Weiss DAC with modded Esoteric transport.

I use a Métronome Technologie Kalista Référence with my CF DAC-040 and the result is incredible; it's the best sound I've ever heard!

I can believe that Prawax, I've been running the metronome today at a show in the uk, it proved better than the cd8 considerably, though I understand you use the transport not the cdp.. Pricey, but excellent.
Hi Paul,

thanks for your feedback; what kind of MT have you been running today, is it the brand new series MT CD8? I ask you this because I heard it last week thanks to my MT french friend and it impressed me.

Best regards,

It was the Kallista integrated CD player, the cd8 i was referring to was the ARC, i just noticed that MT do a CD 'Eight' also, but no, the one we were using was the Kallista with the external PSU. A very very good sound was achieved via ARC ref5se and 150, with both Wilson Sophia3 and Sonus Faber Amati Futura, utterly gorgeous looking speakers. We also ran it from AES out to the Devialet, and into the Amati, not quite the Arc's, but still impressive. The Devialet is a remarkable feat of electronic engineering.

I'm expecting the 040 in the next week or two, so will update, very keen to hear this baby!
Hi Paul,

I understood that you made the comparison with ARC CD8, but I thought that you could do it with a MT CD8 as this is a new brand.
The Kalista Integré is a stunning CDP but not at the same level as Kalista CDT with a good DAC.
If possible, I suggest you to try a MT T2A Signature; It’s a beautiful transport with the same CDM PRO Philips of Kalista and an excellent external PSU.
Take note: the best production of this gear is the last one, before its stop.

Best wishes for your expecting baby ;-)

Wow, i cant imagine how the 040 and MT Kalista reference T would sound, it must be truly truly stunning..
I may well try out the MT Transports, is the current version the T3a? I see that they use the CD pro 12 mech, whereas the MBL uses the costly higher spec pro2M, so it could be an interesting test. I can get a loan sample to try when the CF040 arrives. I spoke with Masa today, shipment imminent ;-))
Hi Paul,

the MT 3A is a very good CDT but, excluding the Kalista, the best MT drives are the T2A or the T2i used as transport:

Best regards,

Hi Paul,

I hope you are well.

Are there news about it?

We are waiting for your feedback.


Hello Piermauro,

The Dac 040 has arrived at uk customs, awaiting release which should be in the next 2 days. I will hopefully receive it mid week, and will install it asap!

Also, many thanks for the info on the Metronome transports, i may look into a T2a, in the future. Do you know when MT stopped making them?

I have been testing a PS Audio P5 in the system for the last 2 weeks, it is a very good addition, and i will most likely order the P10 this week, as i need the extra outlets.

Best Regards,
Hello Paul,

good news, wonderful!

There are just few pcs of MT T2A CDT sold because it was a model essentially custom-made and the last one unit was made in 2011; anyway the best realizations born beginning from 2009.
It’s not easy to find the T2A so you can also consider the T2i (it’s like the T2A but with an internal DAC and there are more quantities sold in the market) and use it only as transport.

Best Regards,

Well, the CF dac 040 arrived middle of last week, and was installed into the system straight away. After just a few hrs of warming up/settling etc, i didn't need to sit down and listen for the difference, it was clear. The internal dac section of the already excellent MBL 1531 was totally outclassed by the new CF 040. Separation, texture, impact, space, while already very good were just getting better. I had to be away for 3 days over the weekend, so listening didn't resume until last night, when i had 5 hrs non stop. I swapped tubes to nos Sylvania 12au7, and was rewarded with more body and depth of instruments. The bass clarinet played on Anouar Brahems 'The astounding Eyes of Rita' was simply the best i have ever heard, totally convincing that it was being played in front of me, (i often listen in darkness). Again 30 mins before work this morning after leaving a cd on all night, wonderful.

So, i can wholeheartedly concur and offer many thanks to all of you who have enlightened me to this piece.

Happy Listening,
I wonder how much different this DAC is than the Zanden 5000 series. It seems that they share quite a bit of the same design philosophy and, basically, the same DAC chip, (although the Zanden's chip is supposedly the creme de la creme of the breed). I find this DAC intriguing based on comments made here but can't help but ponder whether a preowned Zanden might deliver as much or even more of the good stuff. The C-040 is now $12000, I believe, so the Zanden could now be "accessible" pricewise, by comparison.

Anyone heard both enough to offer an assessment?
Hi Paul,

I'm very happy for you!

Enjoy your CF DAC-040.

Best regards,

Hi Acresverde,

I've compared both DACs in the same system (a long time) and IMHO the Zanden is a good dac but the CF DAC-040 is light years better...

Best regards,

Hi Prawax,

I am considering what to do next in digital...i have the Zanden now...can you provide more specifics as to how/why the Concert Fidelity is superior to the Zanden? Thanks for your guidance!
Hi Lloydelee21

thank you for your interesting answer.

The first sensation is that the sense of rhythm (more in general PRAT) is slower in the Zanden than in the CF.
This is evident especially playing songs with a lot of groove. Another big difference is that the 5000S seems to lack the deep side of low, low frequency.
The instruments body is lighter with less definition and the notes decay is shorter (notes seem almost to cut off) compared to the CF.
The voices (female/male) are less lifelike with less harmonic extension; it’s the same thing about instruments that have a lower sense of physique presence
and a timbre less close to reality.
About ambient feedback (echo back from recording location) the Zanden lacks some information VS the CF.
I think that Zanden Audio intention was to make a different converter from the last generation of hyper analytic DACs and actually it obtained a converter
sweet and musical but, if compared to the CF or to a very good analog front end, also rather aseptic with less PRAT and lifelike emotion. IMHO. IME. YMMV. FWIW.

I hope this help.

About further questions, don't hesitate to ask me.


Thanks for own view of Zanden compared to today's SOTA digital that i have heard is: Zanden tonality is still wonderful and the flow of music excellent. Still SOTA. The detail, decay, extension and noise floor are still great but not SOTA. There are units that have definitively surpassed it (imho)...but some of those units still not get the flow/tonality right for me.

Thus, i have stayed where i am...but am only now starting to think someone out there must have been able to achieve both to a degree that is a major step up. Sounds like your CF is one...i think having heard an earlier generation...that Stahl Tek may be another. Thanks for your comments!