The "Spoiler" with "Pace Car"

Steve Nugent of Empirical Audio is well known in these pages and I thought it would be worth while to write up a short report here on my listening experience with his latest offering.
The digital side of my rig consists of a Zanden chain as well as DCS gear. All cables are by Stealth, (except for the Spoiler, where I found Steve's cable to be quieter) and on the speaker side I enjoy my good old Quad ESL 63, sitting on top of the Gradient Sub63, whereas on the top of the Quads sits an A Capella ION TW1S tweater serving the high end of the spectrum. For the real low end there is a pair of selfpowered subs. The Quads are driven by Zanden 6500s, the Gradients by Atma M60MkIIIs and the Plasmas by a highly modded Jolida JD 1000 RC. I run the Quads without a X-over, but use the Gradient balanced offering between the subs and the A-capellas. To my ears and those of my friends, the system is coherent,has all the advantages an ELS will bring, plus a carefully blended in high and bottom end. In my 4x5m listening room, more than satisfying LPLs are possible without the Quads shut down protection kicking in.
I used the Spoiler DAC with a Toshiba laptop, which Steve had syncronised with the clock in the "Pace-Car" and listened to all kinds of music from the computer through foobar, windows media player as well as iTunes, prefering foobar at the end. Comparisons were made in the way, that the CDs we wanted to listen to were transferred to foobar, listend to through the Zanden chain, the DCS Verdi Encore, Verona and Elgar combination and then trough the laptop connected to the "Spoiler" with a 5m usb cable run.
Whereas to our amazement the Zanden generally sounded more real than the DCS, which we realy only found pleasing with SACD, which of course the Zanden cannot do, Steve Nugent's "Spoiler" easily held its own with the Zanden. There was the same uncanny black silence, the same amazing presence of instuments and voices....and on certain discs it bettered the Zanden with female voices and violins, which simply sounded more real and more natural. Also, this was another finding which amazed us, in big orchestral music, the Spoiler often came out on top as far as width and depth of the soundstage were concerned. Instruments and voices were rock steady, tghe silence between notes uncanny.
This is just a prelimilary report, but it seems that in imediacy and naturalness in the rendition of instruments and voices the "Spoiler" with Pace Car is hard to beat and if you consider the prices of the gear we compared it with, that certainbly makes you think.
Hey Detlof happy new year!

I have a DAC-1 fully modded by Steve with an Off Ramp I2S. Do you have any thoughts as to whether it would be worth upgrading to your setup?

Whoops, never mind. I just checked the price!
Kubla, nice to hear from you after all those years of my absence! Happy New Year to you too!
Kubla, I don't have any experience with your gear, but hear that it is very good. From what Steve tells me however, the Spoiler cum Space Car seems to be his best presentation so far and amazing it is indeed!
Greetings from Switzerland,
Detlof - It's been a couple of weeks since your initial post regarding the Spoiler with Pace Car. Any additional thoughts or comments? I will admit I found your write-up quite intriguing.
Well in the last weeks or so I've been trying hard to find faults or shortcomings in the sound of the "Spoiler" when comparing it to the "Zanden" or the "Verdi Encore" and as a caveat I feel compelled to mention something which of course we all know, that we all have our preferences and that all hearing is subjective. But I'll try all the same:
You cannot beat the Spoiler - Pace Car - Toshiba laptop combination in the rendering of small groups, female singers or solo violin. Dizzy Gillespies hilarious "Swing Low Sweet Cadillac" comes to mind here, Stacey Kent's "Breakfast on the Morning Tram" CD or Hilary Hahn's rendering of Bach's solo violin sonatas and partitas. the presence and immediacy of the rendering is uncanny with the "Spoiler", with the "Zanden" mind you, coming a very close second. The "dcs" in DSD-mode did not convince me. Hahn's violin and the voice of Stacey Kent lost a tad of its itimacy and naturalness here. Bloated would be too hard a word here, but the sound went into that direction.
With big orchestral classical music now, the "Spoiler" presented a sounstage that was wonderfully deep and wide, again with the Zanden a close second. What the Zanden however seemed to do better here, was the rendering of the richness and warmth say of massed strings, also brass instruments were more natural, the reeds sounded more "right" and it was hard here to hear a difference beween the Jap and the Brit. (dcs) Here I found the "Spoiler" just a tad too dry for my liking. These are minor quibbles, mind you. On the other hand however just let me share another really amazing experience with you, which I made with the "Spoiler": There is this musically outstanding rendering of all the Beethoven symphonies with Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonics on a set of Deutsche Grammophone CDs, the sound of which is just plain terrible. This is something which can drive an audiophile and musiclover to despair: Great music on badly recorded CDs. The other day I found the same music on DVD. I did not know, that all the sessions had been filmed. So I put Beethovens 9th into the CD/DVD player of the Toshiba laptop and listened to the music through the "Spoiler". What a difference. All the congestion of the music in the DG recording was gone, the soundstage huge, the rendering so clear and differentiated, that you almost could hear every single voice within the chorus, not to speak of the indiviual singers who came through wonderfully clear. I did not bother looking at the film, in fact I found it distracting, I was so enthralled by the music. No dryness here I found, so I wonder if the Spoiler is really at fault here and if it is rather to be pinpointed to the CDs I used. So more critical listening is called for, which I don't feel like doing right now. I'd rather just relax and enjoy for the moment.

Cheers and thanks for your interest,
Can you tell us what is the difference between the Spoiler and a more conventional DAC? And what does the Pace Car do? Is it a sort of reclocking device or memory buffer like the old Genesis Digital Lens?

Hello Chris,

The Spoiler is designed as an USB DAC to be used with music files stored on your PC. If you want to use the Pace-Car with it, which is indeed a reclocker, the clock inside your computer has to be synchronised with it. So you cannot just use any computer but only the one which the pace car has been set to. You can read more about that and the Spoiler per se at Just click on "Spoiler" or "Pace Car " on the left hand side of the page.

By the way, the Pace Car seems to make a big difference to the sound. Six Moons did a review of the Spoiler sens Pace Car a while back and the reviewer found fault with the low end of its musical offering. Not with the unit I have though, where the bass is defined, punchy and goes down low, thankfully without overloading the room.
Detlof -

Do you have experience with the "lesser" empirical audio setups, or did you jump straight in at the top? I'd be curious, too, in a comparison between your setup and the I2S / Benchmark DAC setup.

Thanks, Kirk
Kirk, no, I took the risk and jumped. All I had before was a Perpetual DAC modded by Steve, bought here at A. I liked it and so got interested in his offerings.
Here finally is a review for the Spoiler plus Pacecar:
I have to agree with most of the reviewer's findings, except that I found the unit to be more dynamic in my system than he found in his.
Thanks for that link, Detlof. After reading the article I'm left wondering if it will help or hurt Spoiler sales. What do you think?
Good point Kubla! I feel the jab at the ability to render dynamics or the lack thereof could be quite a grave issue. I find that the Spoiler renders large orchestral music beautifully with the right kind of software on the laptop. You can do better than foobar, I've found. So the reviewer's criticism could well be system dependent. I myself, very familiar with live classical music, heard no such thing. But then your question was if the review could hurt. Possibly, though Steve did not seem to think so. He pointed me to it and I suppose he would not have, had he been unhappy.
I have been delving a little in computer-based data stream + external dac systems and my little experience confirms what Detlof put very aptly above:
...the (dac) renders large orchestral music beautifully with the right kind of SOFTWARE on the laptop (my emphasis).
Operating software is an integral part of the system now, we cannot limit ourselves to hardware alone as we have been doing until now.
Additionally, Detlof's system is very good and Detlof is good at tuning his system. Hence a comment worthy of note
(I, being) very familiar with live classical music, heard no such thing.
(IMO, YMMV, no offence to the reviewer, no wish to embarass, etc etc :)) Regards
I run a music server I built using the Empirical Audio Off Ramp Turbo 2 to export the digital data into a MSB Platinum III DAC/digital preamp.

I have tried a number of methods of ecporting the digital signal from the music server (it even has it's own digital out on the motherboard), and I can say the Off Ramp Turbo 2, is by far the best method I have ever tried.

I have yet to try the Pace Car or Spoiler, but I am very much looking forward to trying those products. I met Steve Nugent at CES 4 or so years ago, and his room was comprised of equipment that in its out of the box state (in my mind) could not have sounded good together. But the room sounded GREAT! Steve had modded every piece of gear, and it was remarkable at the performance he got out of that system.