Spectral Transport + Audio Note 3.1 Dac- WOW
Years of searching for the best 16/44 I can find are over. Spectral SDR 3000SL reference transport and the new Audio Note 3.1 'Balanced' model transformer-coupled dac- what a combo. Digital cable is Kharma Grand Ref.
I've had the Sim Audio Eclipse (excellent detail retrieval & amazing bass, but mids weren't as liquid as I would like); Audio Aero Capitole MK I for a year and a half (great midrange and liquidity at the expense of detail retrieval and somewhat loose bass- the MK II was better in the bass dept., but detail still missing); DCS gear; EMC; etc.
The detail retrieval from the Spectral transport is incredible. Bass is tight; tuneful; and impactful. Mids/highs are grainless; pure; and natural sounding ESPECIALLY when combined with the Audio Note dac. PraT is great too- basically, its all there- soundstaging is spot on, but not 'too' large (years ago had the Sim Eclipse with an Audio Research preamp and King Cobra PC- I know this sounds strange, but soundstage was too big!!). With the Spectral transport in place, instruments are clearly delineated in space.
This transport replaced the highly touted (but ultimately 'lightweight' sounding) Audio Note CDT II. I love my Audio Note Dac, and wouldn't trade it for anything, but the Spectral transport walks all over the Audio Note transport. The Audio Note weighs like 12-15 lbs max if that, and when I unpacked the Spectral I could't believe it- a 45-lb beast with tank-like build quality!! The impact from the Spectral vs. the 'less weightier' sounding Audio Note was night and day (in my system anyways). The Audio Note does have good resolution though, and a quite low noise floor I will assume partly due to the use of Black Gates throughout.
Accompanying equipment- Coincident speakers; IC's, and spkr cables; Virtual Dynamics Nite Cryo'd PC's; Ensemble Isolink digital isolation transformer. Amps are a pair of rebuilt/highly modifed Altec 1570B tube monoblocks (165 wpc in triode- 'the battleships' as my audio guru Israel Blume at Coincident calls them- he built and restored them personally for his reference amps). No preamp- amps have volume control (will be trialing a Bent Audio transformer-coupled pre soon though...).
Anyways, perhaps I should have listed this in the 'reviews' section, although it pertains to TWO products together, not one alone- its the SYNERGY of this combo that really makes it work. This is not a cheap combo (the Spectral SDR 3000 lists at $8k, and the AN Dac 3.1 Balanced at $6k), however I am so impressed I feel it would be remiss not to comment on it. For me, this is THE 16/44 redbook digital answer for now, and probably will be for quite some time...