Audio Alchemy DDP-1 Preamp/DAC/Headphone Amp, DPA-1 Stereo Power Amp, and DPA-1M Monoblock Power Amp

Value City

Equipment report
Categories:
Solid-state power amplifiers,
Solid-state preamplifiers,
Digital-to-analog converters
|
Products:
Audio Alchemy DDP-1,
Audio Alchemy DPA-1,
Audio Alchemy DPA-1M
Audio Alchemy DDP-1 Preamp/DAC/Headphone Amp, DPA-1 Stereo Power Amp, and DPA-1M Monoblock Power Amp

The DAC’s sound could be improved by engaging the resolution enhancement feature described earlier (and in the sidebar). Turning on resolution enhancement seemed to make the overall perspective a little less immediate and upfront, as though the entire stage moved back slightly. Put another way, engaging resolution enhancement was like moving from Row G to Row M. Resolution enhancement better resolved the space around individual instruments, and soundstage width and depth expanded. Reverberation tails were longer and better defined. On the 44.1kHz/16-bit recording Aras by the band Curandero, the first track begins with some sharp percussion work. Engaging resolution enhancement not only expanded the space around the percussion, but I could hear more detail and texture in the drumhead’s decay, and more resonance of the air within the bodies of the drums. On the track “Switchback” from Jesse Cook’s Free Fall, the multiple rhythm acoustic guitars behind the lead guitar were more clearly distinguishable as individual instruments, and they had a more immersive sound. That is, the soundstage was more continuous horizontally, with less impression of sound coming from two loudspeakers. The background guitars were also farther back in the mix, increasing soundstage depth. The intricate horn and woodwind lines in the contemporary big-band music of Gordon Goodwin were more clearly resolved. Resolution enhancement also benefited the Alchemy’s rendering of timbre, which was a little smoother, particularly in the upper midrange. Overall, resolution enhancement contributed significantly to my view that the DDP-1’s DAC section is not only terrific in an absolute sense, but nothing short of amazing in a $1999 full-featured preamplifier.

Finally, I’ll comment on the PS-5 power supply and the differences between the stereo and mono amplifiers. Compared with the stock power supply, the PS-5 vaults the DDP-1 into a different league. The sound with the PS-5 is more refined, spacious, and detailed. Instrumental textures are more liquid and natural. The upgraded supply also gives the sound much greater dimensionality, with a heightened sense of layering and depth, along with more air between instrumental images. I auditioned the DDP-1 only briefly with the stock supply because the sound was so much better with the PS-5. My description of the DDP-1’s sound is with the PS-5. It’s a worthwhile upgrade.

The DPA-1 stereo amp gives up nothing in sound quality to the monoblocks, except output power. The DPA-1’s 200W into 4 ohms was plenty of power for the 94dB-sensitive Magico Q7 Mk.II. In fact, I never saw the clipping LEDs illuminate, even at high listening levels. Of course, if you’re driving loudspeakers of lower sensitivity the additional power provided by the monoblocks will come in handy, but don’t jump to the conclusion that you need the monoblocks. The cost difference between the complete package (a DDP-1 with its power supply) with the stereo and mono amps is $4600 vs. $6600—quite a jump. The best way to tell if the DPA-1’s output power is enough for your loudspeakers, room size, and listening levels is to borrow one from your dealer and try it. There’s simply no substitute for auditioning an amplifier in your own system.

Conclusion
These new products are a far cry from the Alchemy of yore, with much more advanced engineering, upscale casework, and a superb user interface. The DDP-1 and DPA-1 bring terrific sound and stunning value to the category. As a linestage, the DDP-1 is amazingly clean and transparent. Unlike most electronics of this price, the DDP-1 doesn’t add a patina of electronic hardness over instrumental timbres. Nor does it add opacity to the soundstage or compress dynamics. The DDP-1’s DAC section is simply sensational; this level of sound quality would be outstanding in a $4000 stand-alone DAC. Clarity, openness, detail, and exceptional dynamics define the DAC’s performance.

The DPA-1 stereo amplifier and DPA-1M mono amplifiers are no less impressive. Their wide dynamics, terrific grip in the bass, and upbeat sonics made them a joy to listen to. Moreover, the amplifiers possess the same level of clarity and resolution as the DDP-1. Significantly, the amplifiers don’t exhibit the shortcomings I’ve heard in previous Class D designs. Even in the context of reference-quality sources and loudspeakers, it was easy to forget that I was listening to electronics that aren’t stratospherically priced.

The return of Audio Alchemy is welcome news for those seeking the highest possible price-to-performance ratio in electronics today.

SPECS & PRICING

DDP-1 Linestage Preamplifier/DAC and Headphone Amplifier
Analog inputs: One balanced, two unbalanced
Analog outputs: Balanced on XLR jacks, unbalanced on RCA jacks, 1/8" headphone jack (plus 12V trigger)
Digital inputs: Coaxial (x2), TosLink (x2), USB, I2S (additional micro-USB for software updates only)
Digital format supported: Up to 192kHz/24-bit on all inputs, plus DSD64 on USB input
Digital filtering: Custom, with four user-selectable filters
Outputs: Balanced and unbalanced
Headphone amplifier power: 1W into 32 ohms
Input impedance: 50k ohms
Output impedance: 75 ohms
Channel separation: 100dB (digital input), 130dB (analog input)
Dimensions: 10.5" x 3" x 11.6"
Weight: 8 lbs.
Price: $1995

PS-5 Power Station (for DDP-1)
Dimensions: 5.5" x 3.5" x 11.6"
Weight: 9 lbs.
Price: $595

DPA-1 Stereo Amplifier
Output power: 125Wpc into 8 ohms, 200Wpc into 4 ohms
THD: 0.05%, 1W into 8 ohms
Input impedance: 100k ohms
Output impedance: 0.06 ohms
Gain: 20dB or 26dB (switchable)
Channel separation: 80dB
Dimensions: 10.5" x 3" x 11.6"
Weight: 16 lbs.
Price: $1995

DPA-1M Monaural Power Amplifier
Output power: 325W into 8 ohms, 400W into 4 ohms
THD: 0.05%, 1W into 8 ohms
Input impedance: 100k ohms
Output impedance: 0.06 ohms
Gain: 20dB or 26dB (switchable)
Dimensions: 10.5" x 3" x 11.6"
Weight: 16 lbs. each
Price: $1995 each

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