Author Archives: Andrew Quint

DALI Rubicon 6 C Wireless Integrated System

The next time that audiophile catalog lands in your mailbox—you know, the one that’s been coming every month or so ever since you bought a gallon of record cleaning fluid sometime during the second Clinton administration—take a close look at the photos used to show off the equipment to its best advantage. A Spartan turntable sits on a tastefully distressed wood-plank table with three potted cacti looking on admiringly. A top-quality surround-sound system is displayed in a living room on a well-maintained oak floor with glimpses of an expensive-looking Persian rug and a contemporary Italian glass coffee table in the frame. A sleek equipment rack holding thousands of dollars worth of gear sits beneath an abstract watercolor. The presentation is intended to communicate that owning good audio gear demonstrates an appreciation for the finer things in life. But do the hypothetical inhabitants of these refined spaces only look and not listen? I ask because there’s not a cable in sight.

The idea of a wireless audio system has a lot of appeal, and not just because of aesthetic considerations. There’s the chance for a designer to optimally match amplification to a loudspeaker’s drivers and enclosure. There’s all the assets and angst spared by not having to deal with interconnects and speaker cables. Although most active loudspeakers are smaller models intended for desktop or studio use, the product class has been burgeoning lately, and there have been some recent high-profile successes with full-range models aimed at the audiophile market. Bruno Putzeys’ Kii Three, the Gayle Sanders’ Eikon, and several others have joined offerings from trailblazer Meridian Audio. In the loudspeaker game since 1983, Denmark’s Dali—that’s Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries—has decided to commit resources to this approach, as well.

Dali introduced two powered loudspeakers in 2017, the Callisto 2 and Callisto 6. The bookshelf Rubicon 2 C and the Rubicon 6 C floorstander considered here are the first instances of DALI taking an existing product (the Rubicon 6, at $5499 per pair, debuted in 2014) and building in the wireless technology of the Callistos. The Rubicon 6 C, with the DALI Sound Hub that serves as a streaming preamplifier connecting wirelessly to the loudspeakers, retails for a smidge under $8800.

The DALI Rubicon 6 C loudspeakers are handsome, if conventional-appearing rectangular boxes measuring 7.9″ (W) x 39.1″ (H) x 15.0″ (D). Each speaker weighs in at 45.8 pounds. The 6 C is a 2½-way bass-reflex system, with both its hybrid tweeter and two 6.5″ mid/bass drivers built by DALI in Denmark using European-manufactured parts. The high-frequency unit combines a 1″ soft dome, featuring a copper-clad aluminum voice coil, and a wide-dispersion magnetostatic ribbon. The complete tweeter assembly functions from about 2500Hz to beyond 30kHz. The mid/woofer has a wood-fiber diaphragm that’s both light and rigid, possessing an uneven surface that assures more ideal pistonic movement of the membrane. Perhaps the driver’s most significant design element is the Soft Magnetic Compound (SMC) used to replace a key iron part of the magnet structure. As explained to me by DALI CEO Lars Worre, SMC is “a pulverized material consisting of very small iron particles, which are individually coated so that when you press them together into a form, none of the particles will—electrically—be in contact. Consequentially, there will be no electrical conductivity: SMC is around ten thousand times less electrically conductive than iron but has the same excellent abilities to conduct magnetism.” DALI manufactures its mid/bass driver’s pole piece entirely from SMC, enclosing it in a slitted copper cap. A measurable consequence of this design is the virtual elimination of hysteresis, a phenomenon resulting from the asymmetry of the magnetization/demagnetization process that introduces distortion-causing resistance to the voice coil. Despite that, by necessity the SMC pole piece is located close to the magnet gap. Worre said, “We don’t lose energy to the surrounding iron materials, and the result is a dramatic reduction in distortion, particularly with odd-order harmonics.”

The Rubicon’s enclosure is fabricated from MDF, with the drivers attached directly to a one-inch-thick front baffle. Strategic internal bracing is used to reduce standing waves and resonances. There are three available finishes, all priced the same—black and white gloss lacquer and walnut veneer. The mid/bass drivers are situated in two equal-sized internal compartments, each with its own rear-firing port tuned to 36.5Hz. The 6 C employs two identical, 250W, self-oscillating, “Eigentakt” Class D amplifiers; one powers the tweeter unit and the other the two mid/bass drivers. The crossover is a hybrid of active DSP filtering and passive analog topology with hand-off frequencies of 800Hz (bottom to top midrange/bass driver), 2.6kHz (top mid/bass to dome tweeter) and 14kHz (dome to ribbon.) The system’s DAC lives in the loudspeaker, a Burr-Brown 1796 chipset. This is a PCM-only device, so those devoted to native DSD may be disappointed. Lars Worre wasn’t exactly sympathetic. “From a radio transmission point of view, we could have quite easily decided to transfer a DSD stream with oversampling corresponding to the commonly used 2.8MHz version,” he told me. “But it would have called for another platform for D-to-A conversion in the speaker. We decided to stay with the rather good-sounding 24-bit/96kHz basic format, as the use of true DSD sources is so commercially marginalized that we believe it will never, in reality, be an issue for actual customers.”

On the rear of each Rubicon 6 C, where you’d expect to find the binding posts, are an AC connector for the supplied power cord, a rocker-type power switch, a USB service port, and an RCA input to allow the loudspeaker to get line-level input from an external preamp or processor instead of DALI’s wireless Sound Hub. Above these connections is a small screen that illuminates to guide the wireless pairing process, and above that is the critical Link/Connect button. Each 6 C is provided with two metal bars that fit neatly into recesses on the speaker’s bottom to create a stabilizing outrigger structure. Four supplied spikes can be threaded into the bars; rubber bumpers are an alternative. A single grille attaches with plastic pins to cover all the drivers. Like most loudspeaker grilles, it’s not completely transparent sonically, and should be removed for critical listening—though the same party who OK’d the speakers’ admission to a shared living space because of the absence of cables may balk at the prospect of exposed drivers. So, it goes.

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Baetis Audio Revolution X3 Music Server

Building media computers since 2011, Baetis Audio has been run by two classic polymaths. The social entrepreneur Michael Simmons has defined that kind of person as “someone who becomes competent in at least three diverse domains and integrates them into a top one-percent skill set.” Baetis founder John Mingo is a Ph.D. economist who served as a Senior Advisor to the Federal Reserve Board and Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. He’s also a fly-fishing authority, which is why he lives in Livingston, Montana, minutes away from some of the world’s most famous trout streams. Baetis, by the way, is the genus of mayfly that trout like to dine on.

Joe Makkerh, based in Montreal, has been associated with Baetis Audio since 2014, developing the company’s highly regarded customer support program (see sidebar). Born in the UK and educated at Cambridge, Makkerh had a number of previous careers before becoming Baetis’ CEO in late 2017 upon John Mingo’s retirement. He was a research scientist in several biology and medical fields and, for five years, administered McGill University’s graduate neurosciences program. All along, Makkerh has been a devoted videophile with a strong interest in media computers. 

Michael Simmons cites studies suggesting that polymaths are often more innovative and impactful than specialists in many areas of human endeavor. Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Ben Franklin, Steve Jobs—all polymaths. So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that a company led successively by these two men, neither of who had formal EE training, is manufacturing some of the most advanced audiophile servers available.

Baetis has established three product levels, the Prodigy (beginning at $2500 for the LE model), Revolution, and Reference (which tops out at $13,000 for the Reference 3B without any extras.) The original Revolution was the company’s very first server, and I wrote it up enthusiastically in Issue 240, nearly seven years ago. This latest iteration, the Revolution X3, is once again in a mid-sized chassis measuring 13¼” (W) x 4½” (H) x 12″ (D). Black and silver finishes are available. The power button has been moved around to the left side, between the lateral extension of the front faceplate and the first heatsink fin, below a USB 3 Type C port to which one can connect a drive or recharge a mobile device. Functionally, all that’s found on the front side of the Revolution is a rather flimsy disc transport—a laptop drive, which, as Joe Makkerh explained, is all that could fit in the X3’s chassis (plus the availability of more substantial slot-loading drives is rapidly diminishing). This transport will rip 4k Blu-ray Discs, something a slot-loading drive can’t do. In any event, anyone with a large number of silver discs to rip will surely be using an external optical drive, quite possibly an automatic system such as the Acronova Nimbie. Baetis offers a robust external drive. 

Around back is a Neutrik power inlet. The detachable cable connects to an Adapter Technology Company 12V/16A power supply, a 7″ x 1½” x 3″ brick of reassuring heft. Makkerh estimates that ten percent of Revolution owners opt for a more substantial linear power supply, such as the HDPLEX supplied with Baetis’ Reference models. To the right of the DC power inlet are AES/EBU and SPDIF ports, the latter with either a BNC or RCA connector, according to the purchaser’s preference. Next to those outputs is a slot for an optional “audiophile USB” interface that avoids the computer’s noisy PCIe bus. Baetis offers two alternatives sourced from SOtM, with and without a clock card ($1150 and $500 respectively); the review sample came equipped with the former. With both, an iFi low-noise power supply is provided. Besides the galvanically shielded SOtM add-on, there are eight other USB ports, all connected to the Revolution’s motherboard. If you don’t spring for an SOtM USB card, Joe M. strongly advises that you get “some kind of USB regenerator” to go between Revolution and DAC to more effectively employ a standard USB port. If your DAC accepts AES/EBU, you could, of course, depend entirely on that—as below, the sound quality of that interface approaches that of the SOtM option. But you do need USB if you’re going to be listening to DSD without conversion to a PCM codec. Rounding out the rear-panel connectivity is a DVI video port, 2.0 HDMI, and a Gigabit Ethernet connection.

Inside, the heart of the matter is an AMD Ryzen APU—a CPU that features integrated graphics on a single chip. The Windows 10 Pro operating system, stripped down to remove as much “bloatware” as possible without compromising the function of the music organization and playback software, lives on a 250GB solid-state drive, and the Baetis is equipped with 16GB of DDR4 3200MHz RAM. Standard is the same proprietary daughterboard for SPDIF and AES/EBU that’s employed in the Reference models—though with Revelation Audio Labs CuPID copper cabling rather than the cryo-silver wire used with the priciest Baetis machines. 

Makkerh, like Mingo before him, feels strongly that a disk drive with moving parts doesn’t belong inside the computer and a 4TB external USB storage drive is included in the price of the X3. The server is fanless, which saves space and facilitates the use of larger motherboards and the same audio chip implemented in the latest Reference models. There are other à la carte options for a purchaser to consider—a JCAT “audiophile-grade” Ethernet port, additional RAM and external storage, alternative DC cables, etc.—and each computer is built to order. Baetis continues to maintain a hybrid business model: There are a small number of dealers who sell only the Reference models, a larger number of “demonstrators,” plus robust direct-sales activity out of Montreal. The pricing is the same no matter which purchasing channel the consumer uses. 

All these details concerning low-noise USB interfaces, RAM, cabling, power supplies, and all the rest don’t count for anything if the computer hasn’t been set up optimally and the owner isn’t confident operating the machine. Audiophiles who buy a Baetis media computer get something that doesn’t come with any other server, and that’s… Joe Makkerh. The Baetis CEO insists on speaking with potential purchasers about their systems and music collections to assure that the best decisions are made regarding the machine they buy and the way it’s configured. If, for example, a special driver is required for the Revolution to function with the user’s DAC, Makkerh downloads and installs it before the computer is shipped to the purchaser. If the customer wants Roon or Audirvana software in addition to the standard JRiver, Makkerh takes care of it. Then, when the computer has arrived at the customer’s home, the owner schedules a session lasting a couple of hours, more if necessary, to meet virtually with Joe, who gains remote access to the purchaser’s computer. (The icon for the application allowing this is displayed prominently on the desktop when the computer is turned on for the first time.) Makkerh assures that everything is working as it should and shows the user how to operate his server. With the system optimized ahead of time, most new owners learn quickly, thanks to Makkerh’s gifts as a patient and methodical teacher. Theoretically, new customers are entitled to a set number of hours of instruction, after which they are charged $50/hour, but in practice Makkerh takes as long as necessary for people to be comfortable with whatever software they are using—and to assist if a problem arises down the line. This level of personal service is unusual in any setting. 

The Revolution X3 was evaluated in a straightforward setup. The Baetis sent data via USB, AES/EBU, or coaxial SPDIF to a T+A DAC 8 DSD that connected directly to David Berning Quadrature Z monoblocks driving Magico M2 loudspeakers. Digital interconnects from Baetis to T+A were Revelation Audio Labs Reference Cryo-Silver models (USB and AES/EBU—this is the same manufacturer that provides critical internal wiring for Baetis servers) and Apogee Wyde Eye (coaxial/SPDIF). Analog cables were Transparent Audio Generation 5 Ultra.

On the question of the X3’s sound quality, it seems a stretch to speak of a media computer—a device without a digital-to-analog converter or much in the way of actual audio circuitry—as having “good bass” or “impactful dynamics” or “abundant low-level detail.” It’s perhaps more sensible to note that a server doesn’t attenuate bass, constrain dynamics, or obscure detail. The computer must get out of the way to allow the recording and the rest of one’s system to deliver a satisfying listening experience, and this the Revolution X3 does very well. The best indicator for me is listening closely to über-familiar recordings and judging whether or not the fundamental character of those recordings is faithfully represented. So, the luxuriant back-of-the-hall acoustic of Erich Kunzel’s Cincinnati Pops Telarcs, the brilliantly lit forwardness of vintage Mercurys (such as the Dorati Firebird), or the in-your-room immediacy of the late Dave Wilson’s violin and piano recordings were realized with complete faithfulness to the essence of three very different sonic ideals. 

Of course, as with everything else in high-end audio, a particular server can be better or worse at the above, and I had on hand, for comparison, another Baetis—the Reference 2, which has been my everyday digital-file source-component for the past several years. I did a lot of level-matched comparisons between the X3 and the Ref 2 and, honestly, the differences weren’t enormous. Via AES/EBU, the Reference, with its i7 7700K four-core processor, cryo-silver internal cabling, and 400W HDPLEX external power supply, offered a more spacious and detailed presentation. Using the SOtM USB interfaces installed on both, string textures were a bit more complex and there was better spatial specificity with the Reference. These differences with USB largely disappeared when the source material was PCM rather than DSF files. Perhaps the contrasts would have been greater between the Revolution X3 and the latest Reference servers, the Reference 3B and Reference X3 models. Can’t say.

I can say that the difference between the SOtM USB port and a standard USB port, taken directly off the motherboard, was not subtle. On a movement from a Beethoven string quartet (Op. 18, No. 3 in D major, Andante con moto, played by the Hagen Quartet), the ensemble sound was noticeably coarser, with the first violin sounding less sweet in his solo passages, on the standard USB port. There was definitely a sense of noise riding along with the musical signal. Inserting an Ideon Audio Renaissance USB regenerator (the price for the current Blackstar edition is $450) restored at least 75% of what was lost by not connecting to the SOtM port. I concluded, as well, that SOtM USB was only very slightly ahead of AES/EBU, with subtle differences in dynamic life and openness tilting in the direction of USB. Honestly, if playing DSD files natively isn’t of critical importance and assuming your DAC will accommodate the AES/EBU connection, I’d recommend against purchasing the USB upgrade and just use all those regular USB ports to attach peripheral devices and for file transfer.

For listeners devoted to multichannel music, the performance of the Revolution X3 via HDMI was stunning. With an Anthem D2v serving as the pre/pro driving five channels of Pass Labs amplification (three XA 60.8s and an Aleph 0s for the surrounds) and six Magicos (two M2s, an S3 Mk2 for the center speaker, two S1 Mk2s for surrounds, plus a powered S-Sub), the noise floor was exceptionally low, allowing for the subtlest textural detail and spatial cues to register fully. This was evident both with surround recordings aiming to render a specific venue—Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw with Bernard Haitink’s 2010 performance of the Shostakovich Symphony No. 15 on the RCO Live label, my go-to example—as well as with creatively engineered 5.1 mixes of non-classical material—Roxy Music’s Avalon is an especially successful multichannel treatment of a stereo original.

There is still a sizable group of audiophiles with listening careers that date back to the analog era. For years following the introduction of the compact disc, it was valid for these music-lovers to continue to favor LPs on the basis of sound quality. But with the steady advance of digital recording methodology and silver disc playback, the also-ran status of digital media vanished. The progression to file playback has arguably improved the digital audio experience further—this in addition to the convenience and satisfaction of effectively managing a large music collection curated over many years. Sometimes begrudgingly, most analog types accepted the silver disc but for a not-inconsequential number, “computer audio” has been a bridge too far. The Baetis Revolution X3 is a well-made, customizable, reasonably priced, and superb-sounding component that, thanks to an unmatched level of customer support, makes this burgeoning part of our hobby accessible to even the most technophobic. Whether you are taking the computer-audio plunge for the first time or want to hear the substantial improvement that derives from retiring that laptop as your digital file source, Baetis Audio’s products deserve the strongest consideration. It was true when its servers shipped from Montana and it’s true now that they come from Montreal. 

Specs & Pricing

Inputs/outputs: One proprietary BNC or RCA SPDIF, one proprietary AES/EBU, one HDMI, eight USB ports
Connectivity: One Ethernet, DVI video
Dimensions: 13¼” x 4½” x 12″
Weight: 17 lbs.
Price: $6200 (black or silver) plus $1150 for SOtM interface with clock card, as reviewed. Other add-ons available. (Included: Neutrik DC power cord with Adapter Technology Company 12V/16A power supply, 4 TB USB 3.1 external hard drive for media storage.)

Montreal QC H3G1E2
(888) 357-0035

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Chesky: The Abreu Danzas

Without naming names, David Chesky makes it pretty clear how he feels about “Holy Minimalism” in the liner notes for this new release: “In classical music, we seem to have adopted the idea that slow, cerebral music is the music of today, but it’s absurd because the world moves in rhythm. Art has to reflect time and culture, and I’m not living up in Finland in the snow, looking at the stars.” Indeed, The Abreu Danzas, a five-movement ballet dedicated to the Venezuelan musician, educator, and politician José Antonio Abreu, is saturated with the energy of a big city, the temperature raised further by the composer’s infusion of Afro-Cuban and Brazilian elements. In evidence are Chesky’s characteristic polytonal harmonic language and his extravagant use of orchestral color. The album is filled out with Song of the Amazon—as evocative of that corner of the world as the best Villa Lobos and exquisitely performed by soprano Larisa Martinez—plus the two Descarges for Orchestra, which channel the substance and spirit of a Cuban jam session. The recorded perspective is fairly distant, which provides an atmospheric spaciousness, though some detail and bass definition is sacrificed.

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Classé Audio Delta Pre Preamplifier/Processor and Delta Stereo Amplifier

What do we really want from our electronics, those (usually) necessary boxes between our audio sources and loudspeakers? Of course we need control—which source do we listen to, how loud, etc.—and we want these components to be easy to use and dependable. But, mostly, we want them to disappear. Unlike upgrading a phono cartridge, D-to-A converter, or speaker from which we expect more—more bass, more dynamic range, more dimensionality—with electronics, in the final analysis, we want less. It was with this undeniably difficult-to-define standard in mind that I got to know Classé Audio’s Delta Pre preamplifier/processor and Delta Stereo power amplifier.

The Montreal-based company introduced the third iteration of its Delta series components at High-End Munich in 2019. In addition to the two products considered here, a new single-channel amplifier, the Delta Mono ($10,999 each) also debuted. A five-channel power amp is coming next and there are plans, as well, for a surround processor and integrated stereo amplifier. This considered course of developing products and introducing them to the marketplace is expected from a company like Classé, well regarded by both recording professionals and discerning hobbyists. But, in fact, the brand has been on something of a roller coaster ride in recent years.

David Reich, an amplifier designer, and Mike Viglas, an audiophile who had the means to invest in the enterprise and who eventually became its sole owner, founded Classé Audio in 1980. (Viglas became wealthy as a hugely successful Ford heavy truck dealer. Dave Nauber, an audio industry lifer with Classé for 18 years and now the Brand Director, loves recycling an old joke when he tells the story of the company’s beginnings: “How do you make a small fortune in the audio business? Start with a big one.”) Nearing retirement age, Viglas instituted a distribution agreement with Bowers & Wilkins in 2001 and sold Classé to the venerable British speaker manufacturer in 2010. Then in 2016, rather unexpectedly, B&W was purchased by a Silicon Valley start-up, Eva Automation, which was looking for an established product in which to implement its cutting-edge wireless technology. “It’s arguable that, when they bought B&W, they didn’t even know they’d bought Classé,” recalled Nauber, sounding a little hurt. It was clear that Eva’s plans “had nothing to do with Classé” and operations in Montreal were shut down the following year.

Fortunately, salvation came in 2018 when Sound United acquired Classé, adding it to a roster of successful audio manufacturers that includes Denon, Marantz, Definitive Technology, Boston Acoustics, Polk, and HEOS. Nauber is in charge of the brand and the design team remains in Québec. The products are built at Sound United’s state-of-the-art Shirakawa Audio Works factory in northern Japan.

This history informs some of the design features of the latest Delta components, especially the amplifiers. Both the monoblock and the stereo models had to be unflinchingly powerful because they were developed with B&W loudspeakers in mind. “If you look at the impedance of a B&W 800 or 802,” Nauber told me, “you’ll see that between 70Hz and 1000Hz it’s below 4 ohms. That was one of the elements that figured into our design goals. We wanted an amplifier that could drive a lower impedance load and do so effortlessly yet still have enough power at 8 ohms. Essentially, whatever you connect to it, you’ve got plenty of power.” The Delta Stereo ($12,999) is a brute, weighing in at 102.3 pounds, though it registers as surprisingly compact on casual inspection; it’s just not as formidable-looking as your typical 250-watt (into 8 ohms) stereo power amplifier. The latest Delta components maintain the distinctive chassis “wrap” of earlier models—a single piece of 3.18mm-thick extruded aluminum begins at one back corner and sweeps around the front to the other back corner. The first 12.5 watts of those 250 are Class A, so there’s got to be some serious heat generated, right? Where are the massive heat sinks? How do these things breathe? The answer is that Classé amplifiers continue to employ an active cooling mechanism. There’s an utterly silent thermostatically-activated fan inside, with blades thicker than those in the previous Delta generation. It scoops more air in with each revolution and thus doesn’t need to go faster to dissipate more heat. Air from the environment enters the Delta Stereo through a louvered intake vent on the front panel and moves though the “Intelligent Cool Tunnel” to exit through the rear of the enclosure. Even with the amplifier on for several days and playing demanding material, the top of the chassis doesn’t get warm to the touch, though the rear exhaust port certainly does. The cooling system allows for Classé amplifiers to be stacked vertically, so long as there’s adequate ventilation behind them. It’s a reason why Classé amps have been popular with recording studios (London’s Abbey Road, for instance) and movie theaters, as well as with audiophiles who can confidently situate them in an equipment rack or cabinet without fear of overheating. The designers were keen to control internal temperatures for the usual reasons: The amps’ carefully chosen parts will perform as intended and last longer.

A good portion of the aforementioned 102.3 pounds is accounted for by a hefty toroidal transformer, hand-wound with roughly a third of a mile of copper wire, with separate secondary windings for each channel. A total of 22 top-grade Mundorf capacitors assure ample energy-storage capacity. The circuit boards for the Delta Stereo’s right and left channels are exactly the same, unlike many other high-end stereo amplifiers that boast separate boards for each channel but actually employ mirror image circuits, with signal paths that are not truly identical. The new output stage employs lateral MOSFETs, less efficient than their vertical brethren, but more linear in their behavior. The front panel sports a pair of elegant VU meters, which some may see as merely decorative—they can be turned off if the bouncing needle gets on your nerves. Nauber says, “It’s kind of like having a candle on the dinner table. You don’t need the candle for light but it adds a certain ambiance. From the standpoint of sales training, we talk about the meter because it helps people understand where the Class A operating range is. With most of the listening you do, the amplifier will be in Class A.”

On the rear panel of the Delta Stereo are two sets of rhodium-plated-copper 5-way binding posts and both RCA and XLR inputs. There are connections to support an IR remote control, DC trigger inputs/outputs, and a port that allows for network connections. Additional connectivity includes a USB port for updating firmware, an Ethernet port, and an RS-232 control port. The amplifier is supplied with a very substantial detachable power cord, designed specifically for the Delta Stereo by DR Acoustics. It’s claimed to be immune to temperature increases than can impede the flow of current. To aid in controlling unwanted vibration—the shape of the chassis also plays a role—both the amplifier and the Delta Pre sit on Navcom footers that are tuned to the weight of the component. As it’s considerably heavier, the amplifier has much stiffer feet than the preamplifier.

The front panel of the Delta Pre ($9999) is remarkably spare, given the ambitious functionality of the unit. There’s a power button that takes the device from standby to active status, a large rotary volume knob, a headphone jack, and a USB input that facilitates the use of Apple portable media devices. Mostly, though, the center of attention is a 3½” x 2″ touchscreen used for operating the preamp, setup, and display. A nearby Menu button changes the Home screen to the main page of the Menu, and you’re off to the races. Classé was the first audio manufacturer to use a touchscreen, three years before the original iPhone revolutionized the mobile device world. Dave Nauber observed that although the touchscreen utilized in Classé Audio products was expensive to develop, it ultimately saved money, as every control product can employ the same screen. It’s the software that varies from device to device. “It allows us to reuse a piece of engineering over and over without having to reinvent the wheel.”

A blow-by-blow account of all the preamp’s operational capabilities would be both pointless and tedious but, as you’d anticipate, one can readily access inputs, label and configure them (say, set input offset or pick a cartridge loading value), and address network requirements. When it’s not being programmed or used to make Menu choices, the touchscreen serves as a display that indicates the gain setting in large numbers easily read across a dark room as well as in broad daylight. Other information, such as the source playing and file format, is shown in smaller characters. The hefty aluminum remote control can do everything the touchscreen does, though programming/setup is more readily accomplished by utilizing the screen. The remote does have eight “Function” keys that can be programmed to serve as shortcuts to favorite commands.

The analog-domain stepped attenuator features an exceptionally large number of steps, allowing for very precise volume setting. Adjustments can be made in increments of just 0.25dB from -93dB to the 0dB reference point and in 0.5dB advances for 14dB above it. That’s 400 steps. The ability to set the turn-on level for each source is a big plus, as you’d be spinning the volume knob (or pressing the equivalent button on the remote) forever, if you had to start from -93dB. The factory default is -30dB.

The Delta Pre’s rear panel reflects the unit’s robust connectivity. Digital audio inputs include USB (PCM up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD up to 256), AES/EBU (PCM up to 32/192), and three (each) coaxial and optical connections (both PCM up to 32/192). The USB input does support native DSD—the Delta Pre utilizes a pair of AKM 4497 DAC chips, implemented in dual-differential mode—but this necessitates downloading and installing a Windows Thesycon/Classé USB driver into your server. Without the driver, you’ll get DoP—not exactly the end of the world. For analog sources, Classé provides two sets of balanced inputs and two sets of RCAs, in addition to a pair of RCA connectors specifically for phono. Classé provides a total of five outputs, all with balanced and single-ended options. There are outputs for the main left and right channel and a subwoofer; the other two outputs (Aux 1 and Aux 2) can be configured to mirror the main stereo channels for bi-amping, or one can send signal to a second sub.

There’s also an input for an IR repeater, just in case the remote can’t “see” the Delta Pre reliably (say, because it’s in a cabinet), an Ethernet connection, the main power on/off switch, and an IEC outlet for the supplied power cord, a much more modest one than the ophidian number supplied with the Delta Stereo. Owners can choose to order the preamp with an HDMI input for an extra $500. Dave Nauber estimates that 20% of Delta Pre customers get the HDMI interface, which means that the other 80% are saving $500.

When setting up the preamp for each source, the user indicates if Digital Bypass should be employed. If it is, the volume control is active but DSP features aren’t. With Digital Bypass off, an analog signal is converted to PCM and functions such as bass management can be engaged. Speaking of which, a bass-management menu appears if a subwoofer has been detected for a given source. The crossover frequency between the main speakers and sub can be specified, as well as the crossover slope. In the Phono set-up menu (selecting that input automatically bypasses digital processing) the user indicates if the cartridge-du-jour is a moving magnet, low-output moving coil, or high-out moving coil. An impedance loading option is then selected—50-450pF in nine 50pF steps for mm, eight choices for low-output mc, ranging from 7.5 to 1000 ohms, and one choice only for high-output mc, 47k ohms.

Unlike some other sophisticated preamp/processors, Classé’s Delta Pre doesn’t offer automated DSP room correction. Dave Nauber has some fairly negative views on this technology, feeling that the algorithms over-promise and under-deliver—a viewpoint that, obviously, many satisfied users of Dirac, Audyssey, Anthem, Lyngdorf, and several other software packages would take issue with. “These systems are all based on assumptions about average rooms or reflective surfaces,” Nauber maintains. “They’re approximations of what should be done. They will rarely get the exact same result twice—each time you do the measurements and then see how the filters are actually set, the automated system will choose different values.” 

What the Delta Pre does have are advanced parametric equalization capabilities that permit “very precise digital audio filters to help compensate for fixed sonic irregularities defined by the location and characteristics of your speakers, your room, and your listening position in the room,” to cite the owner’s manual. For each loudspeaker, including the subwoofer(s), as many as five filters can be implemented with the user picking the center frequencies of each band and then adjusting the level and Q. Powerful stuff. But there can be no doubt that Classé means to discourage consumers from attempting EQ calibrations on their own, the manual urging them to have measurements and adjustments made by “a well-qualified acoustical engineer.” Dave Nauber guesses that roughly half the Delta Pre customers don’t use EQ at all and, of the half that do, 20% bring in a pro, 30% ask the dealer to have a go at it, and 50% actually do it themselves. It’s not just the capacity to make room measurements, Nauber maintains. “You need human judgment. Some anomalies need to be fixed and others don’t.”

Mostly, I listened to the Delta components as a pair, though I did try using the Pre with alternative amplification and the Stereo with a different DAC. Two pairs of loudspeakers saw service, Sonus faber Olympica Nova IIIs (bi-wired with T+A Speaker Hex cables) and Magico S1 Mk2s (connected to the amplifier with a single pair of Transparent Gen 5 Ultra speaker cables). The interconnects between the Delta Pre and the amplifier were a 15-foot run of balanced Transparent Gen 5 Ultra. Digital sources included Baetis Reference and MusiCHI SRV-1 servers; an Oppo BDP-103 was used as a transport. The analog front end was a VPI Scoutmaster equipped with a JMW Memorial tonearm and the high-output version of Sumiko’s Blue Point Special EVO III cartridge.

I used the Classé Delta components as my primary control and amplification electronics for a month, the amp intermittently for several weeks longer. When the preamplifier was first installed, the sound of my system became soft-edged and billowy—“polite” in a way that wasn’t terribly involving. This phase was short-lived, no more than 20–30 hours, and from then on the Delta Pre and Stereo were a pleasure to operate and, more importantly, to listen to.

There are two Pre functions not mentioned above that could be of at least occasional utility to some users. The first is Apple AirPlay: The preamp can readily deliver content from an iOS device that’s connected to the same network. When you choose the Delta Pre from your phone/tablet/computer’s list of network devices, the preamplifier automatically switches to Network as the source and you’re good to go. What could be more ideal for a get-together of audiophiles? The group could take turns playing their reference material through the host’s system with a minimum of fuss.

The second feature involves the Delta Pre’s tone controls—two words that are anathema to some audiophiles. These can be used in the usual fashion to provide a boost or cut of as much as 6dB to frequencies below or above values chosen by the user. Of special interest, though, is the Pre’s “Tilt Control” option. This adjusts frequencies above and below user-specified inflection points—the default settings are 200Hz and 2000Hz—so that a dull-sounding recording can “tilt” towards a more lively tonal balance and an overly bright one can be tamed. I have a 24/96 file of Linda Ronstadt’s Greatest Hits that is difficult for me to listen to, as much as I like the music. The singer’s voice is harsh and peaky, guitars are tinny, strings sound wiry, and drums are dimensionless. Applying 2dB of downward “tilt” raised the low frequencies and attenuated the highs to make this particular mastering listenable. More than listenable, actually—enjoyable.

Back to flat tone settings and sources that don’t fit in a pocket. I listened to dozens of familiar recordings to determine if their fundamental character came through unadulterated. From the standpoint of tonality, the Delta components together were neutral, not editorializing in the least. Singers had their voices reproduced in a way I understood as “correct” from years of hearing these recordings through many good audio systems, and, in some instances, the occasional live concert. All of them sounded like themselves. The same could be said for instrumental voices, say the unique timbres of great tenor sax players—Dexter Gordon vs. Lester Young, Joe Henderson vs. Sonny Rollins. Accuracy in the midband usually gets the credit for this kind of neutrality, but getting the overtone structure right all the way up is also crucial, and it’s apparent that the Delta gear does this well.

What’s interesting to me is that I thought of my reference XA 60.8 Pass amps as quite neutral, and I still do. It’s apparent, though, that there can be different versions of “neutral.” The Classé’s’ presentation is forward and vivid without egregious distortion of the engineer’s intent. This was more evident with the Magico speakers than the Sonus fabers. Both amps make music utterly engaging, but it comes down to personal preference, as it usually does. When I compared the Delta Pre to my day-in/day-out DAC, the T+A DAC 8 DSD, which has a volume control that allows direct connection to the amplifiers, there were differences, but they seemed less important. Bass was slightly more focused through the T+A; drum sound was punchier with the Classé in the path. I couldn’t hear any musically meaningful differences in tonality or spatial parameters. That’s saying something, given how smitten I’ve been with the T+A DAC over the past couple of years. 

The ability to adjust the gain in such small increments with the Pre is a strong selling point. For classical music in particular, there’s a correct playback level determined by the recorded perspective. Playing a recording with a mid-hall perspective too loudly in an effort to force an immediacy that isn’t there is a mistake; setting the volume too low for a recording made with the conductor’s aural viewpoint is likewise a recipe for failure. How many times has the “correct” gain setting been between two clicks on a stepped attenuator? That’s unlikely to happen with the Delta Pre.

Although, admittedly, neither of the loudspeakers used to evaluate the Classé components was an especially challenging load, there was nonetheless a sense of ample dynamic headroom. The orchestral climax halfway through the opening movement of Bernard Haitink’s Concertgebouw recording of the Shostakovich Symphony No. 15 crested gracefully, better than I expected with the modest two-way Magico S1 Mk2s sans subwoofer, played at a healthy volume. Same thing with well-recorded drums—the snare on “Ghetto of My Mind” from Rickie Lee Jones’s Flying Cowboy CD had the “sock” you’d associate with bigger speakers playing full out. Spatially, the Delta Stereo performed as well as any other two-channel solid-state amplifier I’ve heard with symphonic recordings that excel with this parameter—the Haitink Shostakovich performance, for example. The representation of the musicians as they sat on stage and the air of the great Dutch hall were not as effectively reproduced as when my usual XA 60.8 Pass monoblocks drove the Magicos. All things being equal, or close to equal, it’s probably a fact of life that mono amps will always surpass a stereo model when it comes to soundstaging and imaging. If this particular audio metric is of prime importance, you should perhaps consider a pair of the Delta MONOs, assuming you have the space (and the additional nine large) to go that route.

The Pre phonostage was very quiet, even though it was necessary to turn up the gain a good deal to achieve satisfactory volume levels with orchestral recordings. All of vinyl’s glories were evident. With my prized copy of the M+K direct-to-disc For Duke, the sound was tangible. Especially for those who listen only occasionally to LPs, the Pre provides all the phono- stage you’ll ever need. 

Regarding my earlier concerns that the Pre’s parametric EQ might be underutilized by a sizable percentage of owners: I should say that I didn’t feel a powerful need for any adjustments myself. I do use DSP room correction (Anthem’s ARC) for surround listening but don’t find a compelling need for it with stereo. Dave Nauber commented, inscrutably, that Classé’s imminent surround processor “may or may not contain some sort of automated system. If it does, it’s likely to be because we caved.”

Classé’s Delta Pre and Stereo are impeccably designed and manufactured products that offer impressive operational flexibility and dependability. The amplifier provides enough power to handle just about any loudspeaker you’d care to send its way. These two components are visually appealing and practical to install in a domestic setting. And they “sound good,” meaning that they get out of the way and let the fundamental character of a recording be determined by the engineers involved. The Delta Pre and Stereo have nothing to say on the matter, and that’s exactly as it should be.

Specs & Pricing

Delta PRE Preamplifier
Type: Two-channel solid-state preamplifier with DAC and phonostage
Analog inputs: Two balanced, three RCA, (one designated as phono)
Digital inputs: Coaxial (3), optical (3), AES/EBU, USB, HDMI optional
Phono inputs: Two supported (one XLR, one RCA) configurable for moving magnet, low-output moving coil, and high-output moving coil
Formats supported: USB input: 32-bit/384kHz PCM and DSD2.2/5.6/11.3MHz, coaxial, optical, and AES/EBU inputs up to 32-bit/192kHz PCM
Outputs: Balanced and RCA right and left, subwoofer, two aux (one can be assigned to a second sub)
Dimensions: 17.5″ x 4.75″ x 17.5″
Weight: 29.8 lbs.
Price: $9999

Delta STEREO Amplifier
Type: Solid-state Class AB stereo amplifier (Class A to 12.5W/8 ohms)
Output power: 250W into 8 ohms, 500W into 4 ohms
Inputs: One pair XLR, one pair RCA
Input impedance: 82k ohms (balanced and RCA)
Outputs: Two pairs of 5-way binding posts
Dimensions: 17.50″ x 8.74″ x 19.37″
Weight: 102.3 lbs.
Price: $12,999

380, rue McArthur
Saint-Laurent, Québec
H4T 1X8

The post Classé Audio Delta Pre Preamplifier/Processor and Delta Stereo Amplifier appeared first on The Absolute Sound.

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Ideon Audio Absolute Digital-to-Analog Converter

What does it really mean to say that a luxury consumer good is a “no compromise” product? Sometimes, it means you’re getting the top-of-the-line model with as many bells and whistles as possible. You drive home in a loaded Cadillac Escalade—the Sport Platinum version with plenty of extras, including 22″ 12-spoke chrome-alloy wheels and a polished exhaust tip. The same paradigm can hold with an audio purchase. You go for the preamplifier with the optional phonostage, the server with the standard USB card replaced by one with more impressive specifications, the high-gloss paint finish (in a custom color) that added several thousand dollars to the cost of those already expensive loudspeakers. But other times, “no compromise” refers strictly to basic performance: Nothing is included that could possibly degrade sonic quality. Less is more. This was very much an issue on the table as I got to know Ideon Audio’s $34,900 Absolute digital-to-analog converter.

Ideon is based in Athens, the locus of Greece’s small but vital audiophile community. It’s been operating since 2016, co-founded by the company’s chief engineer Vasilis Tounas and its CEO George Ligerakis, an IT professional. Other principals include Angelos Gallis, representing Novatron SA (a firm assisting with logistics, importing, and accounting) and Greg Mitsacopoulos, the Operations Director and marketing maven. The four are close friends and, while all are highly qualified for their roles in this endeavor, Ideon Audio is also clearly a labor of love. Ideon’s first product was the Ayazi DAC, now in its Mk 2 iteration, which garnered considerable attention for its level of performance at its original price point of around $1200. Soon thereafter came the diminutive USB Renaissance 3R “reclocker,” reviewed in TAS 278. Ideon’s current offerings also includes two other reclocking devices of greater complexity and cost, a streamer, a stand-alone linear power supply, and its flagship Absolute DAC, in development for over three years. In late 2019, Ideon’s product line was taken on by North American distributor Audio Skies of Los Angeles, which carries a number of other top-drawer brands including Larsen loudspeakers, GamuT electronics, and Pear Audio turntables. It seemed an appropriate time for us to have a serious listen to a serious product.

The Absolute is one hefty piece of equipment—bend your knees if you pick it up!—thanks to a 22kg CNC-machined chassis. The enclosure measures 19¼” x 4¼” x 13¾”, the height parameter including four sturdy aluminum pillars. Rounded corners make the box look less severe, and the concentric rectangles cut into its top surface are a nice aesthetic touch. On the front panel are only two functional elements, the 4½” x 2½” LED display and a single large knob that does everything. It turns the unit and off, adjusts volume in the digital domain (if you actually want to—stand by), and changes the input filter or other settings. It’s a little tricky to use at first: You need to remember when to push the knob and when to turn it in order to navigate the menus as intended, but it quickly becomes intuitive. On the rear panel, to the right, is an IEC receptacle (BYO power cord) and an associated rocker-style main-power switch. In the middle are the three digital inputs, one each for coaxial, USB, and AES/EBU connections. Lastly, to their left, are balanced and single-ended analog outputs, one set of each.

Inside the box, students of digital design will find evidence of the innovations and meticulous execution that reflect Vasilis Tounas’ engineering choices. The DAC chipset is ESS Technology’s Sabre ES9038PRO, the most salient feature of which is a dynamic range specification of 140dB. Other manufacturers have utilized this device, but George Ligerakis emphasizes, “If you don’t make sure the whole design of the DAC is appropriate and state-of-the-art, you will never get that impressive result. What we have done, more than most of the others, is to develop many different ultra-low-noise local linear power supplies and a sophisticated analog stage.” The Sabre chip is a 32-bit, 8-channel converter—computations are occurring simultaneously in multiple pathways. Sounding like the computer expert he really is, Ligerakis continues: “We don’t use the classic way of parallelizing the channels of the DAC chip, an area where most manufacturers fail. We do a simple but sophisticated and highly effective parallelization to utilize the high current of these channels. I don’t want to say more, as this is one of the proprietary design elements that we have thought of and implemented!”


DSD decoding is done via DoP rather than natively, something I’m increasingly agnostic about. Most of today’s DACs rely on DoP (DSD over PCM), an interface that formats DSD data as a PCM signal, which then is “unpacked” back to DSD in the DAC.

Though the Absolute allows for both XLR and single-ended analog connections, the signal path within is balanced from start to finish. With his designs, Tounas is clearly obsessed with providing sufficient power, noiselessly, to wherever it’s required. There are independent power supplies serving each stage of the circuit that bypass the main power boards. Ideon describes a “massive multistage power reservoir” comprising 17 low-noise power-supply rails and individual regulation stages. To assure “phase fidelity,” the DAC incorporates three femto, low-jitter/low-phase-noise clock oscillators, each with its own dedicated power line. Additionally, the Absolute’s USB input employs a proprietary three-stage noise-eradication circuit. The output stage is direct coupled, with no capacitors in the signal path.

In the user interface there are just three menu screens that provide all the functionality one needs to operate the Absolute. The main screen allows you to select the digital input, and displays the active source name, upsampling filter identity, audio data frequency, and the gain level, if you’re using the Absolute’s volume control. On the Input Settings screen, the user makes a choice regarding the filter employed. There are seven options that I won’t list here but after listening to each with the same music—an hour or two of my life I’ll never get back—I settled on “slow roll-off linear phase.” Other parameters requiring a decision include settings for an IIR filter (47.44kHz is the default), lock speed (the number of audio samples the machine must see before the digital phase-locked loop, and the Sabre chip’s jitter-reduction algorithm kick in), as well as dithering, jitter elimination, and de-emphasis, for which the options are enabled or not. Finally, on the General Settings screen, one chooses either fixed or variable output for the Absolute, a default volume setting, and how bright you’d like the display to be.

There was no remote control, unlike most of the competition. Why should that be? Read on.

As I usually do with my T+A DAC 8 DSD, I connected the Absolute directly to the power amplifiers, a pair of David Berning Quadrature Z monoblocks. Loudspeakers were either Magico S1 Mk2s (usually deployed here as the surrounds in a multichannel system) or my new references, Magico M2s. Magico’s S-Sub saw some action from time to time, providing support below 40Hz. The digital sources were my long-in-the-tooth Oppo 103 used as a transport, and a MusiCHI SRV-1 server to play files stored on a Synology NAS. Analog cabling was mostly Transparent Ultra, and digital wires included Revelation Audio USB and Apogee Wyde Eye coaxial cables. Ideon encourages experimentation with anti-vibration devices, and I heard improvement with four Ariamateria decoupling feet placed underneath the Absolute’s aluminum pillars.

For my first few weeks with the Absolute, I listened only sporadically as I finished up other projects. There was an obvious “jump factor” going on—plenty of dynamic immediacy—and good detail. My interest grew as I heard the component improve with break-in. (The User Instructions maintain that the Absolute needs “a little over 300 hours to come fully into its own.”) But then the noises started—papery, scratchy noises that sounded like a damaged speaker driver (though the speakers were fine) or a failing capacitor. I checked in with the Ideon folks and their response was consternation. “Even the DAC chip manufacturers recommend that an analog volume control is better than a digital domain control,” replied George Ligerakis. “They recommend that, for critical listening, an analog preamp or analog attenuator should be used in order not to lose the resolution of the bits—meaning, in order not to lose the pure digital playback that is the essence of a good DAC.” This is why there was no remote: Ligerakis tells me that 100% of Absolute owners send output from the DAC to a preamp, which, of course, has its own volume control. Chastened, I started playing the Absolute though one of two preamplifiers on hand with analog volume controls—the Classé Delta PRE, the review of which I’d just finished, and a GamuT D3i on loan from Audio Skies. With both, the extraneous noises disappeared completely and I found myself reveling in the best digital sound I’d ever heard from my system, by a wide margin. As we were about to go to press, Ideon provided a considerably expanded User’s Guide that, among other things, details the benefits of using a quality preamp between the DAC and the power amplifier(s). It mentions the rare possibility that the design of some power amps could result in an impedance mismatch with the Absolute; this was responsible for the spurious sounds I heard when attempting to drive the Berning amplifiers directly with the Absolute.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Absolute DAC’s rendering of recordings, the one that’s most redolent of a real performance, is its representation of the dynamic life of music. To be sure, this has plenty to do with the wide dynamic range (and the associated high signal-to-noise ratio) of the Sabre chip and its implementation by Ideon—the Absolute plays loudly with authority and is wonderfully intelligible with the quietest material. A vanishing low noise floor gives intimately recorded music emotional acuity—Christy Moore singing “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” from his 2009 album Listen—and live recordings a captivating sense of occasion—Leonard Cohen’s autumnal Live in Dublin set. An even bigger payoff comes with the recreation of subtle dynamic inflections by vocalists and instrumentalists. You can hear this when Kevyn Lettau modulates the volume of a long-held note in “Everything She (He) Does Is Magic” (Songs of the Police) or in the way the woodwind soloists shape their phrases in the opening Allegretto of Bernard Haitink’s 2010 recording of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15. The mid-movement crescendo climax of that same selection crests gracefully, with a sense of ample headroom.

Also apparent with the Absolute was a resolution of musical detail and texture that never seemed unnaturally exaggerated. A receptive listener can make sense of simultaneous musical events in a way that’s typically much easier with flesh-and-blood performers. There’s not just the ability to discern the sound of a tiny triangle over the din of a full orchestra, but a world of subtly variegated tonal color is revealed, if it’s there on the recording. For many, the singing voice of the late Walter Becker, half of Steely Dan, was an unknown, at least until he released a solo album in 1994. Becker often sang background vocal parts on early SD albums, but his contribution was mixed with other singers in a way that obscured its individuality. Occasionally, however, Becker would sing in unison with his partner and Steely Dan frontman Donald Fagen. With the Ideon in the playback chain, he’s audible as his own man. Check out “Any Major Dude” from Pretzel Logic—for years, I thought I was listening to Fagen overdubbed with himself.

Two additional strengths of the Absolute DAC are clarity and speed; again, the kind that’s evident at a live concert, rather than an artifact of an overzealous recording or mastering process. Pianist Marc-André Hamelin is known for his superhuman technique and his 2001 CD Kaleidoscope, recorded for Hyperion in 2001 by Tony Faulkner, programs short, challenging pieces by 17 composer-pianists, including Hamelin himself. Hamelin’s Etude No. 6: Essercizio per pianoforte (Omaggio a Domenico Scarlatti) is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the Italian baroque composer, and the blisteringly difficult passagework can blur with lesser digital playback. With the Absolute, not only is every note clear, but it’s evident that a machine is not responsible for what you’re hearing—each note is not exactly like the one before or after.

After another month with the Absolute in my system, it was apparent this is a product in the same league as the most ambitious gear from Berkeley, dCS, MSB, T+A, Meitner, and others. I’ve heard these DACs at shows, dealers, and in friends’ systems but, aural memory being what it is, I hankered for a more immediate comparison. I borrowed one of these top-of-the-heap components and devoted some hours to playing the same music through both machines, using the same source components and cabling, matching playback levels within 1dB with an SPL meter. I won’t name which one, as it would be highly irresponsible to declare a “winner” when two such complex devices were being compared for what was still a relatively short period of time. But, given my personal listening biases, I know which DAC I’d choose. The Ideon seemed subjectively louder, with more vital dynamics, and musically relevant details registered more clearly. On the Kaleidoscope selection noted above, there was a little less smearing of that demonically difficult passagework with the Greek DAC. Not night and day, but enough to make a difference. Listening to the competitor, you knew you were hearing an outstanding piano recording. With the Ideon, you could believe you were hearing a piano.

Negatives or compromises, if you will? No MQA, if you happen to be a fan. Even if you’re using an external preamp or attenuator, a remote would still be appreciated for switching sources and to make filter choices from the listening position.

But the fact remains that this is a world-class digital-to-analog converter, and even something of a bargain compared to its most elite competitors. There may be no sunroof or heated front seats, but Ideon’s Absolute DAC is a no-compromise piece of audio gear. In a good way, which is why I’m buying one.

Specs & Pricing

Inputs: USB, AES/EBU, coaxial
Formats supported: 44.1kHz–384kHz/32-bit PCM; DSD via DoP
Outputs: One pair each, balanced or unbalanced, fixed and variable
Dimensions: 19.25″ x 4.25″ x 13.75″
Weight: 57.2 lbs,
Price: $34,900

Parren 6, Neo Phychiko, 11525
Athens, Greece
+30 210 6199887

AUDIO SKIES (North American distributer)
(310) 975-7099
[email protected]

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Preview: Sonus faber Maxima Amator Loudspeaker

Preview: Sonus faber Maxima Amator Loudspeaker

Sonus faber's Minima Amator, designed for use as either a bookshelf or stand-mounted loudspeaker, debuted back in 1992. Early in 2020, an updated version joined the company's Heritage line with a "II" appended to its name, priced at $4000 per pair or $5500 with stands. Now, as 2020 (finally!) starts to wind down, the Italian high-end manufacturer is introducing an entirely new speaker, the floorstanding Maxima Amator. TAS has been loaned one of the first production pairs—serial number 0003, to be exact—and although they've been in my system for only a few days, accruing the recommended 80 to100 hours of ...

Original Resource is The Absolute Sound Articles

Sonus faber Olympica Nova III Loudspeaker

Sonus faber Olympica Nova III Loudspeaker

It’s a ritual that plays out every time loudspeakers arrive here for review. After they’ve been unboxed, roughly positioned, and are breaking in with Flim & the BB’s set to infinite repeat, I’ll ask my wife for an opinion regarding their appearance. For 40 years, she’s been the arbiter of what’s attractive and what isn’t in all save one room of our home—the one with the audio system. Though there have been a few exceptions—the JWM Alyson AML IIs, fashioned from mango hardwood and reviewed back in Issue 282, or the sleek granite SRC-1s from Acora Acoustics covered more recently—mostly, ...

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Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia

Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia

For many critical listeners, and not just readers of this magazine, the absolute sound—the sound of live, unamplified music in a real space—is a touchstone of the audiophile pursuit. Jazz recorded at a repurposed pawnshop in Stockholm, chamber music from a 19th-century bank auditorium in upstate New York, the Cowboy Junkies at a Toronto church, or any number of “Golden Age” orchestral tapings from London, Boston, and Chicago—what these productions have in common is a strong sense of place. The venue chosen for performance or recording can support an understanding of music’s meaning in a powerful way. There is, however, ...

Original Resource is The Absolute Sound Articles

Acora Acoustics SRC-1 Loudspeaker

Acora Acoustics SRC-1 Loudspeaker

Valerio Cora is singularly qualified to be designing and manufacturing his Acora Acoustics loudspeakers. Cora is passionate about music—he’ll listen six or seven hours a day, if he can—built amplifiers as a kid, and sold audio gear in the past. For 30 years, Cora has run successful computer hardware and IT service businesses. So far, this is hardly a unique resumé for someone founding an audio company: There are plenty of music-loving computer nerds with retail experience who mastered the use of a soldering iron at an early age. But there’s one item on Valerio Cora’s CV that it’s safe ...

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Fantasy: Lark, Yang

Fantasy: Lark, Yang

With several competition prizes and career grants under her belt, the young violinist Tessa Lark has been in demand as a concerto soloist, recitalist, and chamber musician. Lark was born in Richmond, Kentucky, and her earliest influences were Bluegrass and American roots music; her career, she says, has been informed by her “fiddler’s soul.” For her first solo recording, Lark has collected several free-form, quasi-improvisational works—fantasies—that seem to the performer to have a “folk-like freedom.” She plays three of Telemann’s unaccompanied Fantasies and, also for violin alone, her own Appalachian Fantasy, a four-minute gem that feels very authentic in musical ...

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