Rowland Capri S2 Preamp with hi-res DAC option

When I got the Jeff Rowland Capri S2 preamp, it came with the hi-res DAC option preinstalled. I didn't think much about it then until lately after I got the Marantz NA8005 network player reviewed in another thread.

One day, the curiosity bug bit me - how would the Capri DAC option compare with the Marantz NA8005's internal dac?
First off, the Capri dac does hi-res pcm up to 192kHz but no dsd. The Marantz does both, including native dsd and double dsd, instead of dsd over pcm. So, I can only compare hi-res pcm.

The Marantz dac is fully burnt in now while the Capri dac has just been just switched on for the very first time. It is interesting to note the evolution of the Capri dac sound as it breaks in over time. I brought back out the Oyaide single-ended digial cable for connection from the Marantz coax output. All listening comparisons were done only with a usb flash drive plugged into the Marantz front panel usb port.

When first switched on, the sound fron the Capri was thin, reedy and pinched. The Marantz was ahead in tone density, body weight, soundstaging and overall musicality.

After about 100 hours, the soundstage via the Capri is starting to open up but things still sound lean. However, the Capri is now resolving better than the Marantz in terms of transparency and air in the treble frequencies. Bass is still deficient.

At about 150 hours, the sound takes a sudden dramatic turn. I say sudden because when I sat down to listen at the 150 hour mark, having not listened much before this, my ears perked up. Whoa! - tonal density and instrument body have both gained by leaps and bounds, but overall musicality is still inferior to the Marantz.

At the 200 hour mark, that's it! My feet started tapping again and it is all good. I am sure there will still be incremental gains beyond this but I think the Capri is probably already at 90% of its full potential.

In summary, the Capri DAC option at US$400, beats out the Marantz internal dac. The Marantz as a media server, provides the vehicle for use of a usb flash drive and network streaming, together with dsd processing at a little more than 1k. But sonics wise, the Capri dac is worth every extra penny for it where hi-res pcm is concerned.

This has been an unexpected but pleasant discovery of the Capri dac's capabilities.

I hope you are reading this. Would you know if the Capri's dac section is similar in chip design architecture to that of the Aeris dac which you now have in your system? If it is, I can only imagine how much better the Aeris would be with its separate chassis and power supply.
And I can also picture the grin on your face when you finally decide to take the hi-res plunge with the Aeris.

Happy listening.
Hi Jon, for what little I know, the DAC card in Capri S2 might not be a trickle down design from Aeris, but was developed for S2 from the ground up.... I will check/verify with the factory in the next few days.

Meantime, please keep us posted on how the Capri S2 DAC card keeps evolving.... Purely based on past history of Rowland hardware, its sonic evolution might continue for a spell longer. It will be interesting to find out how many hours it takes for it to stabilize completely.

What you have reported this far is extremely promising.... I had heard from several sources that the little card is an unsung great performer, but yours is the first comparative report I have read.

Saluti, Guido
Thanks, Guido.
Will post my updates with more burn-in.
Looking forward to your updates too.
My curiosity is at work again. This time, I wanted to know how the Capri's dac compares to the Esoteric K-01's internal dac. When I did the switch, it was no contest. The Capri left the K-01's dac dead in the water. The best way to describe the difference is that compared to the Capri, the K-01's dac sounds like it is smearing all the bits. Ouch!

after 400-500 hrs, the Capri S2 will be set. This is one fine product via Jeff Rowland. Keep us posted and happy listening!
Hi Jafant,
Yes, the Capri S2 is indeed a landmark product from Jeff Rowland. The preamp section is well settled in while the dac section has about 250 hours now - it is probably 95% there. The incremental improvements are not as dramatic as before but still discernible.
It is truly amazing to discover that a tiny little 'un like this can do so much in both the analog and digital departments.
To those considering purchasing pre-owned Esoteric K-01's, use it as a transport only with a new hi-res dac to go with it. The K-01's internal dac is unfortunately showing its age in a very fast-paced digital audio world.
Many Thanks! Jon

I do like the Esoteric DV-50/60 for my SACD needs. I did not like it on red-book CD performance.

I have been curious about the newer Esoteric spinners.
Did you start w/ the K-01? Have you owned any other Esoteric players?

Which brand(s) of cables/cords are you using?
Happy Listening!
Yes, I started with the K-01, and will most likely end there with it as transport only. The next upgrade path would probably be the Berkeley Ref dac. I am truly in audio heaven now with this K-01 transport/Capri dac combo and will savour this for quite a while yet.
As for cables, I use the Oyaide BNC cable from transport to dac(with bnc adaptors) and Kimber Select 1130 silver interconnects from the Capri to Bryston 28B SST2 monoblocks. For power cords to both the K-01 and Capri S2, I have been using PS Audio AC12. For the Bryston monoblocks, I use Shunyata Cobra. All these go through the Shunyata Triton power coditioner.

Before switching to the Capri S2 dac, there is a sizeable gap between redbook and hi-res. What the Capri dac does is to narrow that gap and at the same time, demonstrate what hi-res material is truly capable of. The gap between redbook and hi-res may be wider with a lesser transport and the K-01 remains a very solid transport for my large collection of physical discs.
Cheers! Jon.
Much Thanks! Jon-

It is always good to read about the different cable/cords used w/ various gear. I have not read much about Rowland and Bryston in the same system. Top it off w/ Kimber cables- sweet!

There are too many Esoteric players in the catalog- I get confused...
Keep me posted & Happy Listening!
The dac section has now reached 300 hrs of burn-in. As I have been too dazzled by the sound of physical cd's spinning in the K-01 transport + the Capri S2 dac combo, I have been listening more to cd's lately. Upon reaching the 300 hr mark, I tried out some hi-res files. Well, the result is simply awesome! The gap between physical cd's and hi-res has widened considerably, with hi-res sprinting leagues ahead of the former.

To summarise, the following is a list of SQ in ascending order of the various combinations I have tried so far :-

1. PC-> usb input of K-01 -> K-01 int dac -> Capri preamp
2. PC -> usb input of Marantz NA8005 -> coax input of K-01 -> Capri preamp
3. PC -> usb input of Marantz -> Marantz int dac -> Capri preamp
4. Usb flashdrive with redbook files -> Marantz usb-a port -> Marantz int dac -> Capri preamp
5. Redbook cd spinning in K-01 transport -> coax input of Marantz int dac -> Capri preamp
6. Redbook cd in K-01 -> coax input of Capri dac/preamp
7. Usb thumbdrive with hi-res file -> Marantz coax output -> Capri dac/preamp

The gap between 6 and 7 is very wide. And so, I am now in 7th heaven, audio-wise!

Happy listening!
Very interesting Jon... I suspect that You might be able to improve sound further by keeping the PC source drive and the USB thumbdrive carefully defragged. Any file system fragmentation is bound to introduce some jitter in the output, as storage sectors become increasingly randomly distributed over the storage medium.

If you ever test my conjecture, let us know your results.

I only use a usb thumbdrive as source - no pc, hard drive or NAS. With only 128G capacity in the thunbdrive, defragmentation may not be necessary. Defragmentation is usually done if one frequently deletes and adds files to a large drive. I hardly do this to my new thumbdrive. I guess I can always do a quick defrag analysis to see if it is needed. Thanks for the heads up.

You should seriously think about starting to listen to hi-res through your JR Aeris dac - it will very likely be a marvellous experience. As the Aeris is capable of hi-res, its full potential has yet to be revealed.
Hi Jon, I have no High Resolution digital source yet... It will come in due time.