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Well, I didn't listen to the Wadia or the AA, but when I listened to the dCS (Verdi, Purcell, Delius) I that that is what I was looking for. of course one must consider the while route. i.e. cables, amps, speakers, and finally the room.
I use the dCS gear with Sonic Frontiers Power 3 mono tube amps and Genesis 350 speakers. That and a mix of Transparent XL and Synergistic Research Resolution Reference cabling, I really feel very satisfied now and should be for some time to come. (OK, may be upgrading all my cabling to Transparent XL).
I guess after many years of upgrade, changes, and so on, I realized that one must start with the best front-end that one can afford. I find the dCS gear to be very musical and yes I confirm that they are very detailed, with perfect space recreation and untamed dynamics.
There is a game where children sit in a circle. One person whispers a story into the ear of the person to their right. That person then whispers the story to the person to their right. The last person in the circle tells aloud the story as he heard it, and everyone has a good laugh at how the story changed from their version as it was passed around the circle. There is a danger to digging through the threads for "generalizations" about these units.
Are you running these units all through a preamp or direct?
My experience with all of them, which has been quite extensive, is that the Audio Aero was the only digital front-end that I could listen to continuously in place of my vinyl setup.
As a dealer for Audio Aero I have had the opportunity to do the comparisons prior to committing to the line. The Wadia was never a factor at all. I was about to take on dCS, but when I put them head to head with the Capitole, I could no longer enjoy listening to the dCS gear. It is like a choice between Roseanne Barr and Shannon Elizabeth. :)
The Muse Thalia Nine I believe would compare favorably to the Audio Aero Capitole which I am sure is a very strong contender for a single box solution.
It seems it might be wise to choose a player that you can not only live with but be sure to get a decent return on in case of a future desire to upgrade; aquireing a unit that is ready for future fomat decoding may also be a consideration. The Muse is fully modular, offers dual differential DAC's, is fully balanced and includes seperate circuitry for cd and video playback. This unit was built with the capability of decoding any future format that comes along.
Personally, I have not used the Thalia Nine for anything other than redbook cd playback which is all I intend on using it for, at least for now. Former Muse Products have achieved Stereophile Class A+ lists for quite some time. The new Muse MAP digital products exceed the performance of previous Muse digital products and retain the musicality that Muse is known for. You should hear the highs on this player, they are a sonic treat - extended and non-fatigueing. Overall, the Thalia Nine is wonderful on every type of music I have played through it, the detail this player extracts from a silver disk is impressive to say the least.
For the final decision in selecting your digital gear, listen first to it at your home, in your system with your cables, ect.... Then narrow down the choices, I think you would be more content after careful personal evaluation than you would making a choice solely on the grounds of any audiophiles suggestion written in a forum on the vast World Wide Web.
There is no such thing as THE BEST.
It always depends not only on your system (cables, pre-yes/no, amp-tube/ss) but also on your room(!) and first of all on your preferences in listening to music. Like in a concert hall - as the late Glenn Gould stated there are only up to 5 seats where he could reach the listener in a way he wanted to and subsequently stopped playing in public - all the mentioned solutions have their pros and cons and they all are sure AMONG the best available. Beware of the hype around so called "new" solutions, though. Some of thenm are pretty old yet still valid. So if you listen to one of the mentioned units and feel: "that's it"! then stop looking further and be happy ever after. I have listened to all these units extensively and my real "high end" choice is the Wadia 270/27ix.
I would suggest you also give the Sim Audio Eclipse a listen.
I had originally decided on the Wadia 861 and placed an order with my local dealer. While I was waiting for the Wadia to arrive, I came across a number of strong reviews for the Sim Audio player and decided to give it a listen (also carried by the same dealer).
The Sim Audio player has stunning resolution and rhythm and also has an attractive industrial design. It is about 50% less expensive than the Wadia and would appear to be very upgradeable as future technology develops. It also has the same transport as the Oracle.
While I have not heard either the dcs or AA Capitole, I bought the Sim Audio last month and have been very pleased with it.
There continue to be threads about the very best digital. I have heard everything mentioned above plus the EMC 1 with 24/192, and I have the latest future version of the EMC 1 now which will available in several months. The AudioMeca Mephisto 2, the Accuphase 75, the Sim Eclipse, the Levinson 39S, the Audio Aero, Wadia 861. We have done comparisons with all of them.
Here is a summary. The Audio Aero and the EMC 1 sound more alike than any of these players. The difference is that the EMC 1 has better bottom end. But then the EMC 1 has better bottom end control than any player mentioned. With the new future upgrade it exceeds the Audio Aero but then a new Audio Aero is about to be released which I have not heard. My guess is those 2 players will stay comparable. The EMC 1 having the edge in looks and bottom end the Audio Aero having the volume control. How good is the volume control? It is good as long as you don't compare it to a really great preamp like a First Sound, Red Rose, Joule Electra etc. We of course did all our comparisons using the same preamp, powercords, etc.
I am a dealer for the EMC 1 and the Audio Meca Mephisto 2. the Mephisto 2 is my favorite player because it is the most seductive and delicate of all the players mentioned. If I was going to purchase one player that would be the player for me but not everyone. None of these players is. There is no bests. Once you have reached the level of these players you cannot go wrong. These are so good that while you are listening to any of these players at that moment that is as good as it gets. You can almost just choose the one you like the looks of the best and you will be pleased.
My personal feeling about separates is that one box players have gotten so good that you will spent as much in cabling alone to get as good a sound out of separates as it would costs you for a new one box player. When we tried the Audio Meca dac and transport against the one box Mephisto 2 we had to put a Vahalla digital cable $2000, plus a Genghis Khan powercord $4500 on Dac and Transport to have it sound just a touch better than the Mephisto 2 and the Khan. So we had already put in thousands more in separates of the same brand and then another $6500 for a subtle improvement. Why?
Had a Wadia 861, tried the 270/27ix combo at home, considered and researched (alternative to audition at home which could'nt do) the DCS and Linn gear, tried the Audiomeca, Electrocompaniet and Capitole. Making a desicion like this unavoidably involves certain compromises which should be greatly influenced by musical preferences and budget among other factors. In my case I wanted the most musical and analoglike presentation with the most controlable budget. Settled with the Capitole and since it's price was half or less of it's closest competitors, I cheated and send the unit to Steve Huntley of GNS for a modification package including dissabling the volume control and substituing it with a Placette pasive unit. I still was way under the competition in cost and sonicaly IMO way ahead. This was my experience which I present as and alternative that may help you forget about front end digital changes and new formats for a very long time, yikes! it may even may you forget vinyl front end (God forbid).
The definitive answer to your question from the people who Know is the EMM Labs DAC-6 and modified Philips SACD-1000 transport. I have heard this in close proximity to the Capitole Mk II (which I love dearly) and it is sigificant step higher in resolution and musicality, as opposed to a mere change in voicing.
You don't say what version of the DCS gear you are using, but because of your "cold and analytical" comments, I assume it is the non-DSD version. I have heard this comment about the older versions of the DCS gear, and can agree that in some systems it might be. But the 1394 DSD version changes all of that. This is a MAJOR upgrade. I have owned the EMC 1, Accuphase DP75V, Wadia (I do think that Wadia gear has an upfront sonic signature), Audiomeca, Camelot, Northstar, and many others not mentioned here. I also have experience with the Audio Aero. The latest DCS components are simply in another class. The detail, soundstaging, natural tonal balance, and liquidity are unmatched in my experience. The latest Stereophile review is right on the money.
Given recent experiences with the Lindemann and its sensitivity to power cords and isolation (both electrical and mechanical), I have real qualms with respect to comparisons of top notch units unless the comparisons are done in the same system over a protracted period with time spent optimizing each combination. I find myself attracted by one box solutions as they seem to be an excellent method of eliminating additional variables and of minimizing jitter. In that context, I can highly recommend the Lindemann but would caution that it requires care with respect to isolation inorder to achieve its rather considerable best.
i've had the Meitner emmlabs DAC6 and modified Philips SACD 1000 for the last 4 months. it replaced the 24-bit Linn CD-12 and the Marantz SA-1 in my system. i have heard all the digital sources mentioned in this thread either in my room or at CES.
the Meitner easily betters them all in redbook (including the Linn CD-12) and sacd.....and it is not close. what is amazing is that the Meitner actually does many things much closer to vinyl than i previously thought possible (on both redbook and sacd). vinyl (in my system) is still much better but for the first time digital is competing for my listening time and not just a less-complicated but inferior alternative.