Crane Song Avocet with Quantum DAC

QuantumDAC

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!

AvocetIIA

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!

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The Norse Gods Awake – The Hegel HD20 DAC

Hegel HD20 DAC with 2 Coaxial S/PDIF inputs, 1 USB, and 1 Optical input

I am currently listening/evaluating the Hegel HD20 DAC. This DAC from Norway provides a preamp for directly driving power amps, or line level out to a separate input stage. Note: A specially designed coaxial input  claims to corrects impedance issues normally found on digital RCA connectors. Stay tuned for a full review.

Hegel Music Systems

On my last day at T.H.E. Show Newport I walked toward the light.  Literally, the only audio exhibitor who had the beautiful California sun filling the room was Hegel Music Systems of Norway. Hegel electronics paired with Amphion speakers produced a clean modern aesthetic that made me feel welcome. I soon learned that the technology behind Hegel amplifiers was truly unique.

Eileen of Hegel really took her time to demonstrate and explain the technologies contained within their product line. The demonstration focused around using a Hegel CD player, 2 different DACs (digital-to-analog converters), and the H70 integrated amp to power the Amphion speakers. The idea was for a listener to become familiar with a CD music track (converted by the CD player’s onboard DAC) then hear the same track converted through the two different outboard DACs made by Hegel (the HD11 and the HD20). The sonic benefits in jitter reduction and power supply design were readily noticeable. Well Done.

Hegel H70 Integrated Amplifier

The amplifier technology from Hegel was impressive in that it is able to maintain a high damping factor *(greater than 1000) while using a class A/B design. I was told that by eliminating feedback loops associated with other amp designs, the Hegel amps are able to have less distortion. They use what they call a “feed forward” design. I can certainly attest that this little H70 integrated amp (70 watts a channel into 8ohms) was truly a beast! I can imagine that speakers with decent sensitivity will love the H70’s control and articulation. Most importantly though was the fact that the Hegel amplification seemed to get out-of-the-way. It amplified music effortlessly and seemed to sonically disapear. The H70 also provides analog rca inputs and even a balanced pair of inputs. Hegel even gets you set up to receive digital inputs like coaxial/spdif, optical, and even a USB input for computer audio.

While I have not had a chance to fully review these amps with speaker I am familiar with, I have a good sense of the sonic picture since the Amphion speakers were used  – A Finnish company that has ties to Genelec from the professional speaker world.

Below please find some pictures of the Hegel designs:

Hegel H20 amplifier

Hegel H100 integrated amp

*See my post on Green Amplifier Technology

Hegel amps are GREENER *It should also be noted that the Hegel Class A/B amplifier designs use 60-70% less power than traditional Class A/B amplifiers. This is due to Hegel using a lower bias current on the amp’s transistors.

Here is a video about the Hegel design.