My apologies I wasnt able to post this yesterday like I stated in my e-mail to you on Thursday, I had a few things to take care of before the snow came in today. Anyway back to the question at hand.
So youre considering the DAC Ultra, just doing the numbers in dollars make cents (pun intended) with the average price for the DAC-1 plus upgrade you talking $2100 easy add to that shipping and youve already saved over $600.
Now the question on sound quality, you can never go wrong starting with the best sound quality you can obtain, the further up the chain you start the better your chances of success in the end because you can only make it worse as it goes down the line. Can you tell Im in a punny mood today.
What do I think of the SMc Audio DAC Ultra, well let me state my bias up front. I am a McCormack Fan, not only because its a very synergetic match for the Vandersteen system that I use, but also because you get some of the best bang for the buck in the equipment along with some of the best support any company can offer. Now off the soap box.
The DAC Ultra is one awesome CD playback DAC, by that I mean it will only reproduce 16/44.1 files. But redbook CDs sound so good thru this thing, it is better than my almost twice as expensive tube modified Sony 9000es that was supposed to be a very good CD player on the market (I let you do the research to see which one use the external tubed power supply and tubed outputs). The DAC was so good I order $400 worth of cryogenically treated tubes for the Sony just in case the tubes that originally came with the Sony were going bad, which by the way brought the total cost of the player to twice the price of the DAC Ultra.
I could not believe my ears when I got it hooked up and started playing music through it. My first thought was so this is what Redbook CDs are supposed to sound like; it sounded that good right out of the box. So I let it burn in for 24 hours a day for an entire week. I sat down to listen that Sunday; I spent the next 8 hours listening to my CD collection. I could not believe my ears, this was a revelation for me because I have never been able to sit and listen to CDs for more than and hour or so without getting up and finding something else to do. Everything sounds just so right and theres clarity to the sound that has never been there before. Take for example the Opus 3 SACD Showcase track 4 Talk of the town there is a piano thats outside of the left speaker, with the Sony it was always there to the outside but vague and not clearly focused. With the DAC Ultra this piano is not only clearly focused but also clearly placed within the soundstage, its actually diagonally behind the left corner of the left speaker in its own space. In my listening room that is a wall but when the recording permits that wall now disappears. That was something I had never noticed before because it just wasnt that well focused before. This clarity isnt bright and harsh at all just clear, take for instance when a triangle is struck it just rings true with a decay that is just unreal, just like you would hear in real life.
Something else I noticed was drums; if you pay close attention to a large bass drum, you can actually hear the thwack of the skin as the drum is struck. Ive never been able to hear this before and the first time I heard it through my system I had to back up the track and listen to it again to make sure what I had heard. This is something that I dont usually listen for, have heard before in real life but never heard it in my system. By the way that happened several times that Sunday, backing up to see if I had heard something correctly, I knew then that this DAC was doing something right. There are several other areas that I could go into but then this would get long winded and turn into the review Im planning to write.
Just so that you have a comparison the new tubes for the Sony improved everything and brought the player to a new level but the SMc Audio DAC Ultra is still better when playing redbook CDs. I can only listen to the Sony for a little while before finding something else to do. The Ultra DAC is the equal and sometimes better than the Sony when paying SACDs, using the DAC output on the Sony for the DAC Ultra. I only own a large handful of SACDs but no longer need to worry about them because the Ultra DAC is that good.
I wish I had the vernacular to wax lyrically about the SMc Audio Ultra DAC but theres a reason Im an aircraft mechanic and not an audio literary artist, I just do not have the words to paint with. But you can rest assured of one thing the SMc Audio is a new benchmark for me, if Redbook CDs can sound this right and this good then I expect that the higher bit rate music should be out of this world if done correctly. With that said there is one other player Ive been using and that is my Denon DVD 3800 BDCi as a transport to compare BluRay Audio to the Ultra DAC. BluRay Audio through the Denon is still my reference for sound quality, but only the 2 channel LPCM mix. The Ultra DAC is not the equal to this but not real far off. Theres a lot more subtle information in the BluRay sound. If only there was some way to get all those bits into a DAC with this kind of quality I would consider myself in heaven. I wonder if a UDP-1 Deluxe could have a coaxial or optical input added to it?
Well I hope this has given you something to think about. In my view the DAC Ultra is a worthwhile investment if you have quite a few CD because there are a lot of good CDs on the market with very good music on them. Hope this helps.
Sorry this got so long winded, just wanted to make sure you got a pretty good picture.