Stay with the Cal, one of which I have and still enjoy. I have other players, hi end Sony (5800) and Oppo (105), but still feel the Cal has great sound and a warmth, which current DAC's miss. I suggest upgrade of the tubes of the CAL might be a better step.
Agree with Buconero. Hard to beat in your budget unless you are prepared to have a SS DAC. The type of tubes you use in this unit can produce a wide range of tonal response. If you like 'warm' try some JJ ECC 83's. Since there are only 2 of them, splurge on the 'gold pin' edition. FWIW, if you are up to ss sound the Marantz 8004 is not only very good it is also a CDP and has input from other digital sources. It has gotten good reviews.
"The type of tubes you use in this unit can produce a wide range of tonal response."
The bias is set for the original tube and is not user adjustable. The original tube will usually give the most neutral sound. If my memory serves me well the Delta, in its original form, is already on the warm side. The transport makes a big difference on this one.
Rrog, What was the 'original' tube? Mine came with X brand 12AX7A's which is essentially the same tube I recommended is it not? The manual did not designate which brand of tube to use.
FWIW, while I agree with you regarding the warmth of the Delta (an ideal transport for the Alpha I think) I used a different transport for a number of years and in my system then a little added warmth was a good thing. Perhaps IF the OP is using a Delta he might not need more warmth, but I inferred from his post that he did not use a Delta.
Thanks for the responses.
I use a rotel player as a transport. And I use 5751 for the tubes, I think they're Mullards or Sylvanias.
I was hoping the current crop of DACs might sound more analog, since this Cal originated in the 90's.
I've read some positive reviews on PS nuwave, Schitt,
do they lack the warmth of the tubed Cal?
IMHO rarely does the SS equivalent of any tubed component, including DAC's, equal the latter in fluidity and, potentially, warmth. Warmth is however an additive usually depending on tube selection. Some tubed stuff is not warm at all. Usually, if you are fortunate enough to have very resolving speakers etc and are willing to pay the price you can find some SS components that can be both fluid and revealing, but rarely warmish in tone. To make the equasion more complex you must add into the mix the synergy between your DAC and transport, which as in the case of the Cal Alpha/Delta vs other transports is very important.
In your place, I would find a Delta to replace your transport before I would just buy a new DAC in your budget, especially if warmth of tone is a big priority. Actually, I would do neither, I would buy the Marantz I mentioned. I have its big brother in my system along with another tubed CDP and it is, in many respects, better than the tubed unit, and I easily live with it (but the tubed unit is still connected and is used for 'relaxed' listening sessions). Don't discount the value of having a transport matched by the manufacturer in the same unit. It can make a huge difference. The principle reason I believe for the current promotion of DAC's is the demand for something that can use other imputs by folks who no longer rely so much, if at all, on CD's for sources.
So while your Alpha can be improved in resolution etc, it is IMHO unlikely to be found in your budget range without some serious compromises you may not be able to accept.
How about the Scott Nixon tubed dac?
any current tubed dacs? Minimax, Eastern Electric?
I can stretch budget to a $1000
Newbee, Correction on my previous post. The Alpha was warm sounding. The Delta was a really good transport. In my opinion everything from CAL back then sounded good. The only product I had reservations about was the Tercet. It was bright compared to the rest of their products. Most of my listening at that time was through the CAL Aria. Then I used the Delta transport with a Proceed PDP DAC until I got a PDT transport which turned out to be and excellent combination with the right cable. After that I went back to a single box unit the Kinergetics KCD40 and I still use a single box Audio Research CD3 MKII which is terrific. I have also been listening to some of the early Philips based 1541 and 1543 dual DAC players with interesting results.
Rrog, almost a parallel experience. I really started digital with a Cal Aria - it was wonderous compared to my previous CDP's and finally got me interested in digital. I then moved on to a Sigma and Proceed PTD, then an Alpha/Delta combo. I tried the Proceed in place of the Delta and found the combo a bit bright for my system and reinserted the Delta. I tried other CDP's with digital outputs and had a similar result, so when you said the Delta had a warmth you reflected my experience.
The PDT was an excellent transport but I was never fond of their DAC. I now use the Alpha/Delta in a headphone system using Senn 650's and a Woo W3. I replaced it with a BAT CDP, and then acquired a Raysonic 128, Wadia 302, and a Marantz 11SA3. They all bring something very different to the mix and it is nice to be able to choose to match music and mood. The BAT has been retired.
Excelit, I have no experience with any of those DAC's. EE/Mini Max gets good reviews and might work for you. Might! Ditto Scott. I don't know about 'analogue sound', but what you might find is that any of them may be more transparent than the Alpha if your system is sufficiently resolved to make a difference meaningful and you ears are sufficiently trained to hear these differences. Certainly you should be able to hear some tonal differences but which you might like may be more dependent on synergy with the rest of your system than anything else. May I suggest that it might be better to take a long range view and wait until you can afford to purchase a digital system, i.e. a CDP, or DAC/Transport combo, that will meet your needs. As
it is now your sound is wedded to your Rotel transport section of your CDP and the digital cable you use (although the latter should not be a big deal).
Newbee, I found the Proceed PDT/PDP very sensitive to the digital cable. This combination was very neutral, but some body could be added with the right cable. I used the Proceed separates with ESP Concert Grand speakers, Quicksilver Silver monos and Quicksilver Full Function preamp. With most recordings the sound was excellent. However, my next CD player was selected to have more warmth.
I miss my Alpha DAC, nice sounding unit that I regret selling......
Oddiofyl, I have said the same thing about many items I have owned in the past, but I always wonder if I would like it as much now as I did then.
Listening to my vintage 1995 (non-24 bit, Sovteks, updated footers, etc) Alpha RIGHT NOW. Will run it for another 18 years if it doesn't die first. Nothing in its price range then or now comes close. BTW, using a Pioneer bluray player as a transport with a piece of crap Monster Cable SPDIF plastic digital cable. Nirvana for less than the cost of some amp stands out there.