Review: Ensemble Dirondo Transport & Hi-dac Transport

Category: Digital

This review was written by myself and my significant other, who does not love equipment but is a professional musician and piano instructor who has a wonderful ear for what real music sounds like. I always appreciate her input even though sometimes I describe things quite differently with the language I use versus her statements that it "just sounds better or more real."

Our front end digital reference for over five years was composed of:
1. Mark Levinson 31.5 Reference Transport
2. DCS Purcell Upsampler
3. Mark Levinson 360 DAC
4. Acoustic Zen E=MC2 Digital Cables

This front end was wonderfully musical and satisfying, however, as we all know, time marches on particularly concerning digital equipment. So we became curious about what some of the new highly acclaimed equipment would sound like in our home system. So began the process of auditioning new DACs, transports, and CDPs.

We assume that everyone will understand that the following remarks are based on how different equipment matched up with our system along with what "flavors" and qualities we are looking for. So please, don't take it personally if you own a piece of equipment that we found quite unacceptable during our auditioning of different pieces in our home system.

Equipment auditioned:
1. Audio Note Level 4 Tube DAC: This piece had a wonderful midrange presence but lacked extension both on the high and low end. We also found it not as transparent or as detailed as our original equipment. We would understand that if someone enjoyed a "typical" warm and euphonic tube sound, they would enjoy this DAC very much.

2. Naim CDP Reference: We found this unbelievably lacking, in every virtue that we think most music lovers would be looking for, in a digital front end. It collapsed the sound stage. It was very one dimensional in its presentation of players with no air around individual instruments or singers. As Amor stated when she sat down to listen, " This is one of the ugliest sounding pieces of equipment you ever brought home. And THIS costs $13,000?? Are they crazy!" This piece received at least three superlative reviews in respected high end journals. We just did not get it!

3. Full Stack DCS equipment: Wonderful sounding and had more transparency and details than our old reference. It was an improvement but more of a quantitative shift versus a qualitative change. Therefore, we believed that how much money it would cost to purchase it would not be money well spent.

4. CEC TL-0 Reference Transport with Meitner Reference DAC: This was not auditioned in our home system, but it was heard in a friend's high reference system and it sounded terrific and I believe it would be competitive to the Ensemble Transport and DAC.

So you can see, we made an attempt to listen to digital front ends that had great reviews and reputations as much as we could in our home system. Would we have loved to have also listened to the Reimyo CDP and other world class pieces? Sure, but besides logistics and pragmatic concerns, we stopped with the Ensemble pieces because we found what we were looking for.

Now that you have a background and a preface to what we were used to listening to, onto the critique of Ensemble dichrono Hi-dac and dirondo transport. Both these pieces are aesthetically pleasing and beautifully built. They come from Switzerland and the quality of build really shows it.

The following evaluation will cover the ultimate sound of this digital front end.
1. The widest-panoramic sound stage that was produced in our home system. This included front to back, side to side, and realistic height in the sound stage. Another wonderful virtue was precise layering of instruments in the sound stage with a three dimensionality / air surrounding each player.

2. Utter transparency / clarity without, in any way, sounding etched, bright, or in your face in any way. Not a euphonic tube sound, but it is a clear and neutral in its overall sound perspective.

3. One of the most important of our personal "flavors" is real and natural timbers. Of all the digital gears that we listened to, the Ensemble front end came the closest to mimicking the timbers of instruments playing live music. The Ensemble pieces will not romanticize a bad recording. However, they are pretty forgiving regarding CDs that are hot or sizzly because of their overall general liquidity and smoothness.

4. The PRAT of the Ensemble pieces is amazing. They deliver the most taut, percussive, and accurate bottom end we have ever experienced in our home system.

5. When the Ensemble duo isolink transformer was added to the mix, it increased the above virtues by at least ten to fifteen percent which we found quite pleasing and amazing. I would also like to mention that the Acoustic Zen E=MC2 digital cable was replaced with Artistic Arts Digital Vacuum Reference cable with BNC connectors. This cable was far superior to the Acoustic Zen and three other digital cables that we auditioned.

I think it is pretty obvious that we are very pleased and satisfied with our new digital front end in our system. In no way are we implying that the Ensemble pieces "are the best" in the world, but it should be ranked among some of the finest digital front ends that are available today. They were far superior to our old reference and gave us virtually everything we are looking for regarding enjoyment of music in our home. We recommend that you at least make an attempt to listen to either the Ensemble CDP or separates if you are audtioning high end digital front ends. Also remember the significant improvement gained by using the Ensemble Duo Isolink which makes it worth the cost and including it in your audition.

Associated gear
1. Digital Front End Transport and DAC both Ensemble.
2. Placette Active Line Stage into a Bryston Electronic Cross Over.
3. Since I bi-amp, the Woofer Amps are Threshold SA1 monoblocks. A Pass Labs X350.5 powers the midrange and ribbon tweeters.
4. The speakers are MG20's.
5. A combo of Acoustic Zen Silver Reference II and Matrix Reference II with a double runof Satori speaker wires.
6. Digital Front End is connected to the Ensemble due isolink transformer along with Richard Grey Power conditioners for the back of the system. All the power cords are Harmonic Studio Masters.

Similar products
1. Audio Note Level 4 Tube DAC
2. Naim Reference CDP
3. Full Stack DCS
4. CEC Reference TL-0 Transport with Reference Meitner DAC
Wow, absolutely incredible review! Very accurate depiction of the Dirondo and amazingly perceptive!
Wow indeed. This is one of the great reviews here in a long time. Well done.
A fine review--thanks and bravo. I am familiar with the older Dichrono digital source units and I recognize the Ensemble sound in your description. I absolutely agree that there cannot be many more natural-sounding units at any price.