Audience Au24 SX Cables

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Audio cables are an interesting product that can bring the best from your stereo components. I have listened to many types that vary in conductor type, dielectric material, and termination method. This time, I have replaced my system with the Audience Au24 SX cables- from wordclock, AES digital, to balanced analog, and their speaker cable. To understand Audience’s approach, we shall first examine their design/construction.

To start, Audience uses Ohno cast copper, 6 nine’s to be exact. The dielectric is a cross-linked polyethylene known as XLPE, made of a better quality than from previous generations. Cryogenics are also used to treat the individual components of the cable, as well as the entire cable after completed construction. As for there geometry, Audience uses a dual concentric coax, perfect lay ribbon wind with opposing angles of the two conductors. This design is said to have a better linear signal transfer with more accurate timing. While no shielding is used around the cable (this may slow dynamics), the angle or relationship between the two conductors is said to balance the electromagnetic field by rejecting noise. The construction of these cables is top notch, without any unnecessary bulk. Their flexibility and low-mass allowed me to easily dress these cables around my various systems.

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Audience dual concentric coax, perfect lay ribbon

My listening was was done with several computer audio systems including a mastering facility, but for the long haul evaluation I chose to use a home system which included the latest DAC design from David Hill of crane song for my source. Every component was connected via balanced Au 24 SX cables. I was even fortunate enough to use a Sony broadcast CD player with word clock input, fed from an Antelope rubidium clock generator via a custom Au 24 SX bnc cable. For speakers, I used the Lipinski (powered), and Green Mountain Audio Eos HX. I also incorporated two passive power distribution centers from Oyaide to separate my analog and digital power circuits. I let these cables play for many days/weeks before attempting any evaluation.

As this is my first experience with Audience cables I will, as I always do, focus on the sound in relation to neutrality. My background as an audio engineer has always led me to better understand live acoustic sound and the way we can capture this with as much preservation and fidelity.

To get things rolling I started with the David Grisman Quintet’s Dawganova release from his own label Acoustic Disc (16/44.1) played through Pure Music via a macbook. This is a childhood favorite of mine, and subsequently got me chopping away on the mandolin. Featuring outstanding musicianship, with Enrique Coria (guitar), Jim Kerwin (bass), Joe Craven (violin, percussion), and Matt Eakle (flute, bass flute), and of course the original Dawg himself Mr. David Grisman. With the Audience Au SX 24 transmitting all the bits to my DAC and subsequent balanced analog to the amplifier and speaker cable, I dug into my chair for a critical listen. Being very familiar with this album, allowed me better insight into how these cables performed. Some cables have a tonal signature, or obvious color- not so here. In fact, I was amazed at the balance and stereo width and depth achieved with the Audience cables. With layers of competing midrange information, the Au24 SX cables allowed me to hear the cohesive group performing, but without blurring each instruments placement in the mix. Mr. Kerwin’s upright bass played full and extended with attack that connected with the musical whole. Speed and was a noticeable attribute, allowing my 2-way speaker’s diaphragm’s to more quickly respond to changing dynamics. Scale and size of instruments was also reproduced with clear  font-to-back and height information intact. I felt these cables brought the performance to my room rather than in the constraints of a stereo system.

I continued listening with a variety of musical material, including Kings of Convenience, Jenny Lewis, Herbie Hancock, and several orchestral performances by the Berlin Philharmonic. In each case I was rewarded with a full mid and low bass, magically clear midrange and extension to the top end frequencies without any harshness. With mastering varying greatly, some with heavier compression and other with a light touch, the Audience cables confirmed that they were not contributing or masking anything the artist intended you to hear.  The Audience Au 24 SX has quality I have only found with few other designs- distortion free transmission, without any congestion or compression.

You won’t find me endorsing many cable designs, simply because I have rarely heard such an improvement and balance to the presentation. With the Audience Au 24 SX, I have found a new friend in reproducing the magic of the original recording. It has been my pleasure to finally find a cable design that I can truly live with. The team at Audience has delivered a easily manageable cable system that extracts the whole performance from your recordings/stereo equipment with balance and grace.

Happy Listening!

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Periodic Audio In-Ear Monitors

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Periodic Audio’s In-Ear Monitors, Mg & Be

Founder and speaker designer Dan Wiggins started Periodic Audio with a focus on portable audio. With a list of credentials that includes transducer design at Sonos and Starke Sound, I was very curious to hear his personally designed single driver IEM (in-ear monitors).

While balanced armature driver IEMs are all the rage (I’ve had a pair for years), Periodic Audio created a simpler design employing a single full-frequency driver without a crossover point. With balanced armature IEMs, you are tuning between multiple drivers for a specific frequency range (think hearing aids), while a dynamic single drivers IEM allow for a more full-frequency response with excellent time-coherence.

These single speaker driver IEMs are available in 3 versions; Mg (magnesium), Ti (titanium), or Be (beryllium). The properties of the speaker drivers, like mass stiffness, and electrical conductivity differ for each metal chosen. In fact a full frequency response chart and specifications for each model can be found on there website. For the sake of this review, I auditioned the magnesium and beryllium driver versions directly connected to an iPhone 6.

Unboxing these IEMs revealed a variety of silicone and memory foam ear-tip size options, adapters for both 1/4 in stereo jacks and an airplane adapter (man those airplanes need updating). I was even told you can experiment with the ear-tips and once you settle on the type/size you like they’ll send you some extra ones- cool customer service. These IEMs are made of polycarbonate with the single driver, port, and hard-wired cable. While I was initially concerned about the build quality with these IEMs, after using them for over 6 months (3 days a week at gym), I am happy to report they are quite sturdy little buds.

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All models include ear tips, 1/4 stereo adapter, & airplane adapter

Mg (magnesium): The entry model ($99) is constructed of 96% magnesium drivers with a N48H neodymium magnet. Everything from the drivers to the volume of the front and rear housing were designed and tooled in-house.

Using the magnesium drivers for some time revealed a favor for mid to higher frequencies, and does so in a way that tips the listener to a revealing top end. The drivers produced an even bass response, but some of the authority and fullness of the deepest bass was bested by the Beryllium drivers. While the mid to higher frequencies are pronounced, I would not call them overtly bright or harsh. Soundstage is decent, but not amazing (yes, I know they are IEM). Articulation of musical attack was good but tighter with the Be driver.

Be (beryllium) ($299): The custom top model from Periodic Audio employs a 100% pure beryllium foil diaphragm with a bonded PEEK surround and N48H neodymium magnets.

Moving onto the beryllium drivers was a major step-up, in every way. Bass became extended and powerful, middle and treble frequencies were better balanced and defined. The control of these drivers allowed for a more intimate sonic view of the mix. The soundstage also had a major benefit from the beryllium driver material- nuanced synth sounds from Herbie Hancock now popped out of hard left and right with piston-like precision.

While headphone amps and DACs will certainly improve these IEM’s sound, I was happy to find they were easily driven by my iPhone 6 heaphone jack/amp.

If I had to knock points to either IEM, it would be the quality and presentation of packaging. While they are supplied with a screw on circular case(cord tangle issues), maybe a zippered pouch would be preferred. A small red dot differentiates right from left ear buds, but man is that dot tiny- can we make it a wee bigger? While it may be obvious I preferred the beryllium driver, let me be clear that the $99 Mg in-ear in no slouch. I recommend taking a listen to each model at the next audio show for your personal preference.

Periodic Audio has managed to bring some thoughtful and musical designs to the in-ear monitor market. This materials based approach offers the consumer options and an education. Real science, real engineers, real transparent.

Anatomy of a Periodic Audio In-Ear Monitor

-happy listening

Toslink Digital Audio & The Lifatec Silflex Optical Cable

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Lifatec Silflex glass optical cable

The transmission of digital audio signals has evolved and improved over the years, resulting in several standard formats for both consumers and professionals. When Sony and Phillips were creating the Red Book CD standard they also included an option for digital audio to be transported between components. While the S/PDIF (Sony Philips Digital Interface) standard was created using coaxial cables (electrical voltages over copper) with RCA connectors, Toshiba proposed a novel solution. Optical light emitted from a red LED was used to create  binary pulses that distinguished digital 1’s and 0’s.

Toslink, or more accurately EIAJ optical, is the standard for using collimated light in the transmission of digital audio. Optical fibers are used as circular dielectric wave-guides that transport optical energy and information.

Early forms of this technology suffered from jitter (phase noise from inaccurate clocking) and data errors or drop outs from bandwidth-limited optical cables. Using digital audio chips with improved clocking and digital inputs aimed at reducing jitter is a good start, but to ensure those binary pulses of light reach your downstream component (i.e. DAC) without error requires a cable capable of delivering the full bandwidth spec of the Toslink standard.

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                                       Lifatec custom machined Toslink connectors

While I use AES digital connections in much of my professional audio work, Toslink optical interfaces are often the only available digital input/output for many consumer devices. Apple TV, Playstation, Roku, and most flat screen TV’s only provide optical outputs. With mixed results from Toslink cables made of plastic, I began researching Toslink cables made from glass fiber strands.

After some digging, I stumbled upon LiFaTeC® GmbH, and their North American partner Lifatec USA. The American firm specializes in using optical borosilicate fibers in lighting and sensing products for the medical market, and since 2000 Lifatec USA has been manufacturing glass Toslink cables in Elbridge New York – named the Silflex glass cables.

To achieve a bandwidth beyond the Toslink spec, Lifatec uses 470 glass fiber optic strands in the Silflex glass cables. These glass fibers are custom built specifically for audio data applications. Keeping these strands in place is a smooth outer jacket that encases the fine fibers called Optisilk. Before terminating the glass strands, the ends are bonded together and polished to a 1 micron optical finish (including the connector ferrule). Then, a custom machined Toslink connector that is both robust and lightweight ensures a tight connection without light leakage.

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Lifatec glass optical cable with mini Toslink connectors on one end (Apple Laptops)

For my testing, a 10 ft Lifatec Silflex cable was used to link digital audio sources with digital to analog converters. I used my Playstation and a Blu-Ray player’s optical output to send digital audio data to several DACs for testing. All of my DACs quickly locked to the incoming signals without a hiccup. Sonically, the sound of the Silflex glass cable was clear and transparent, imparting no sound of it’s own. The most important difference I found, when compared to other optical cables, was the tight fitting connector in the Lifatec cables. I used one optical cable where the manufacturer thought it was a good idea to machine a Toslink connector with an unnecessary amount of bulk, which added weight. This inferior connector (from a popular audiophile manufacturer) would easily fall out of the female Toslink socket, not so with the Lifatec cable.

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The custom machined Lifatec Toslink connector is both lightweight and tight fitting

After spending some time with these cables in my system, it became clear that the Lifatec cable was a well engineered product for optical audio transmission. Fine borosilicate fibers and smooth outer sleeving allow the cable to flex and fit around components with ease. The finely polished ends ensure a strong optical signal, and the robust/lightweight connectors prevent any light leakage. It is rare to find such a well thought out cable with quality in every part of the build. It’s even less common to find these high-end custom designs at real world prices. Without hesitation, it is my pleasure to recommend the Lifatec Silflex cable for all your optical audio connections.

Happy Listening!

Nanotech Systems Japan

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What happens when you disperse nano sized (1-100 nanometers) particles of conductive copper, silver, and gold in deep-sea shark oil? Well, you get a unique product that aims to fill in any uneven gaps with electrical contact points. Think spades, RCA, XLR pins, and Power plugs.

Nanotech Systems Japan has been developing products to improve audio, video, and even automotive experiences for some years now. Beyond the contact points, This company has also designed speaker and power cables with nano particles in a colloidal liquid, More on that in a minute, but first let’s see how this nanotech can be applied.

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Silver nano, half silver half gold mix, and copper nano particles suspended in shark oil

Well, it can be used for just about any electrical contact point. I started off using the silver nano liquid on my speaker cable spades. I was told this would effectively fill in any gaps between the spade and speaker terminal. I also found a use for the copper nano liquid when building power cables and power distribution centers. These nanoparticles (used sparingly) of precious metal ensure that full power transfer is occurring at contact terminals.

I encourage experimentation of application to various contact points in your system. It should be noted that these are enhancers, not cleaners. So beginning with a clean contact is a good start. One experiment I did was with a very worn and noisy guitar cable plug. The solder points were all intact, but for some reason the plug made a noisy connection. I applied the gold contact liquid to the plug and the intermittent noise ceased. Excellent, now to try it in my audio/video system.

As for sonic improvements, these products may indeed help in that area. I recommend that you apply and test for yourself.

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After speaking with Nanotech Systems Japan, I was able to test out fully terminated power cable (Golden Strada) that had been treated with nano particles. Gold and silver nano particles are dispersed in a colloidal liquid, then applied to the full length of conductors in this power cable. In addition, an electromagnetic wave absorption material is also applied to this power cable for reduced interference. This nano liquid, when applied to the full length of conductors may prevent signal jumping -which I suspect is one cause of distortion. See my article on solid core copper vs stranded copper cables.

For my application (audiophile systems), I used this cable to provide power to my power distribution bar (Oyaide MT-UB). I also tested it directly connected to my power amplifier.

With the Golden Strada providing power to my entire distribution bar (which I built with nano copper enhancers) I found a sense of ease and flow to the music which seemed to emerge from a blacker (quieter) background. Initial impressions; Taught extended bass with imaging control. When connected directly to my power amp the Golden Strada truly excelled at bass control/extension and quiet backgrounds.

I especially liked the Golden Strada power cable for picture quality in film. When used for powering a Blu-ray player in my system directly, the contrast and depth of picture was easily improved.

While using other power cables to provide power to my Oyaide MT UB, I found the unique abilities of the Power Strada to shine through when directly connected to my system components. Experimentation is encouraged, and using more than one in an audiophile system will provide varied results – build your own or buy terminated.

Nanotech Systems Japan has created a whole line of DIY products, enhancers, and completed products to improve audio/visual systems. These products are also not excessively overpriced.  If you are ever in the Akihabara neighborhood of Tokyo, I recommend finding some shops that carry these unique science-based audiophile products.

Happy Listening!

Channel Islands E•200S Stereo Amplifier

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Channel Islands Audio E-200S Front Panel

The last time I tried out some of Dusty Vawter’s amps I was toting two hefty monoblock amplifiers down the Pacific Coast Hwy. On this journey, my payload was significantly lighter. The E-200S stereo amplifier box fit snugly into the back of my Subaru, and once home, this small unassuming amplifier took center stage powering my 2 way speakers- Green Mountain Audio Eos HX.

Getting it out of the box, was a snap (14.0”W x 2.75”H x 10.0”D). The size and weight of this amplifier made setup and handling a breeze. While the front panel grants access to an on/off button with blue LED surround, the host of usual connections can be found on the amp’s business end. Whether you choose RCA or XLR inputs, the custom differential input stage is used. Then an updated UcD Class D stage drives the output. Speaker binding posts are insulated and accept spades or bananas, and a trigger input is also made available. Power cable plugged in, and we are off.

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200 watts per channel @ 8 ohms/ 400 watts per channel @ 4 ohms

For music, I used a Macbook Pro running iTunes/Pure Music 3. The DAC was my Crane Song Avocet, and the Antelope Audio Zodiac Platinum. With everything connected via balanced cables and several hours of warm up (this amp had already been burned-in) I was ready to start listening to some of my favorite tracks.

I cued up some acoustic music by Kings of ConvenienceThis Norwegian duo offers a great starting point to evaluate the naturalness of the male voice. Listening to “Rule My World” from “Declaration of Dependence” gave me some lovely acoustic guitars with harmonizing male vocals.

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View from above, notice the small footprint

The two part acoustic picking of “Declaration of Dependence” maintained all the midrange richness while allowing the male vocals to almost float above the gentle picking style. The clarity of guitars and male voices were presented in an un-hyped and natural way.

Moving onto more complex works, I began listening to Herbie Hancock’s “Steppin’ in It.” This groove laden funk from Mr. Hancock’s “Man-Child” album features rich synth leads, a tight bass lines from Paul Jackson, and a stellar harmonica solo by Stevie Wonder. Allowing all that musical articulation to shine through requires some control over loudspeaker movement. The E200-S gripped My Eos HX and allowed each and every bass note to come through with precision and depth. While everyone in the band holds down the groove, Herbie takes the Rhodes for a stroll… and before you know it Stevie Wonder is syncopating a harmonica unlike I’ve ever heard. With each breath, a new note even funkier than the last is pumped out. All these counter rhythms and complex instruments can be demanding on an audio amplifier, and the CI Audio E-200S never slowed down. In fact, the intricate stereo soundstage was expansive. To top it off, the tonality of instruments (even the squeaky high harmonica) never sounded dull or harsh.

To verify the neutrality, I relied on several orchestral and vocal ensemble recordings I made for NPR, all at the same performance hall. While less capable amplifiers have shown some distortions or break-up, I’m happy to report that the CI Audio amp had none of those shortcomings. Localizing mic placement, hall width/depth, and reverb decay were all amplified without coloration. This provided a sonic portal to the original recorded events, an immersive experience indeed.

Spending time with the E-200S was revealing in so many ways. From black quiet backgrounds to fully erupting orchestral performances, this little beast was in control. Most of all, this CI Audio amplifier proves that green design and audiophile sound need not be mutually exclusive.

Happy Listening

Oyaide Electric Company; A Materials Science Approach to Power Distribution 

Power Distribution Parts by Oyaide Elec & Acrolink Japan

The Japanese hi-fi market exists alongside a healthy DIY audiophile scene. The Akihabara neighborhood of Tokyo is a great example. One step off the Sobu line and a world of electronics specialty stores become available for professionals and hobbyists alike. One of my favorites, Oyaide Electric shop provides cables, connectors, and parts for building your own audio, video, and power cables/distributors.

Oyaide is a long established electrical wire company that  has been in business since 1952. Over the last 30 years they have grown to develop products for the audiophile and pro audio markets. Materials for Oyaide Elect. are developed and produced in Japan with a combination of technological innovation and traditional craftsmanship.

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 P-004 Beryllium Copper no plating hand polished by traditional Japanese craftsmen

Oyaide power distribution materials are carefully auditioned and produced to provide tonal options for audio enthusiasts and professional musicians. Both the AC wall outlets and power plugs from Oyaide have been developed with several different base alloys and platings.

Their standard 15 amp Power plug and IEC connections (P-004/C-004) have become available with and without the plating of platinum and palladium. This has allowed me to listen to various power cables (Acrolink, Oyaide) and hear how they interact with different plugs and outlets- giving me a better understanding of what the AC conductors sound, which inludes: dielectric materials, shielding, plugs and ultimately the outlets they interface with.

After investigating several brass alloys, I have come to appreciate the sonic qualities of the Beryllium Copper alloy when used for AC power in highly resolving audio systems. Beryllium Copper is used for its spring like qualities combined with electrical conductivity. This alloy has corrosion resistance and maintains its original shape due to its ductile properties.

The Oyaide R0 AC duplex is made of beryllium copper for the contacts and PBT (with 30% glass) for the thermoplastic outlet face. Mechanically, the Oyaide duplexes provides excellent AC blade retention, and the PBT and glass filled body helps dissipate unwanted vibration. The R1 employs the same construction but adds a plating of platinum and palladium to the AC receptacles base alloy.

Homemade Power distribution with Oyaide MT UB Power tap case, R0 & R1 outlets

To satisfy my curiosity, I built a passive power distributor from Oyaide called the MT UB. This 2 mm thick brass and nickel/chrome plated 2 duplex box exemplifies Japanese craftsmanship. Four separate mounting poles with special washers allow each duplex to be well isolated from each other. I wired it with high-purity Japanese solid core copper and used one R0 un-plated beryllium copper duplex and one R1 plated with the platinum and palladium. I will try and describe the sonic differences of each outlet below.

Oyaide R0 duplex: This un-plated Beryllium Copper AC outlet provides an un-hyped and natural soundstage when used on analog and digital equipment. Compared to several other outlets with various metal platings, the R0 has provided me with the most neutral sonic presentation, a robust and taut distribution of power without any accent in the audio band. The R0 excels at dynamic sound with full energy at all octaves.

Oyaide R1 duplex: Beryllium Copper plated with platinum(0.5 μ) + palladium (0.3 μ). This outlet helps create a sound of focused and refined sonic presentation. While the un-plated R0 maintains an organic flow to the music, the R1 also adds a sense of lowered noise floor with some equipment, and I found that digital gear and video (improved contrast and blacks) benefited most from the R1 outlet. While I still hear a neutral presentation (Sonically), the R1 has a highlighting or spotlighting ability, albiet subtle.

Over the last decade I have been experimenting with various aftermarket power cables and power conditioners. Sometimes with fair results, and sometimes the cables or conditioners have effected the sound negatively. Starting with a materials based approach, I have been able to better understand how different conductors, dialectics, plugs, and  AC receptacles will effect the sound quality of professional and audiophile sound systems. Oyaide Electric company has provided a basis for AC materials to be judged in audio systems, see for yourself.

-Happy Listening

Caution: AC power distributors and cables are serious and should only be built/worked on by trained/licensed professional electricians.

Crane Song Avocet with Quantum DAC

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David Hill of Crane Song LTD builds some genius pro audio equipment. His mic pre amps and compressor designs have always held a special place in my sonic memory. I’ve been lucky enough to use his gear in broadcast studios and through my own personal music recordings.

The Crane Song Avocet is a Class A monitor controller with a built-in DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter). Having undergone 5 iterations, the current  Quantum DAC boasts impressive jitter specs and uses a proprietary reconstruction filter for accurate time domain response. Operating asynchronously with a 32 bit architecture, the reference clock is less than 1pS and all digital inputs are up-sampled to 211Khz.

Upgrade Note: If you are sending in your Avocet for the Quantum DAC upgrade, you will receive an optical input that replaces the original dual wire AES input. Cool, now you have AES, S/PDIF, and Optical.

The design is utilitarian and solid- sporting a modern industrial build with primary colored buttons and center volume knob. This might sound strange, but it always reminded me of Jacque Tati and his modernist take in films like Playtime (go to 23 sec). Monsieur Hulot would surely get lost in the maze of colored square buttons ;). The Avocet proves smart modern design can improve the future for all…err, yeah that is… for Audio Engineers!

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Talking with David Hill at AES last year revealed his excitement about this new Quantum DAC design. In particular, David felt that the combination of filters being analog and some digital help provide a more realistic impact of sound. His words, if I remember correctly were, “a snare hit now sounds more like the real snare.” Now that I had Mr. Hill’s new Quantum DAC in hand, it was time to test it out.

To listen, I brought the upgraded Avocet down to a studio with Lipinski speakers and amps. There, we also had a previous generation Avocet to listen to and compare. A good hour of warm up was given, and a couple more listening to various digital audio sources from the SADiE DAW. Quantum entanglement aside, we began listening to this latest generation DAC design from Crane Song.

Using some familiar music tracks, we fed the Quantum DAC via AES/EBU, then out to the Lipinski speaker system with amps. It certainly sounded good right off the bat, but only after spending a little time did all the new sonic upgrades become clear. Switching to the previous generation Avocet DAC proved that this new design provided a more robust or dimensional envelopment to sounds. David was right about the snare sound. Even more, the guttural impact of kick drum was solid and more 3D. Instruments achieved a more realistic timbre and acoustic space with this Quantum DAC upgrade. While the previous generation DAC is no slouch, this new design allows a more fleshed out roundness to the instruments in the stereo image. remoteThe user-interface offers simple and functional controls that allow you to smartly and intuitively work. With the precise relay based volume control (with offsets for level matching) and brilliant class A output stage, the 5th generation Quantum DAC furthers audio resolution while maintaining full control of your audio sources. The Crane Song Avocet maintains its place as the hidden gem of my audio experiences. My highest recommendation.

-Happy Listening!