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Soulution 760 DAC

Soulution 760 DAC

Unlike analog source components, which tend to be seasoned to taste by design, DACs generally sound more alike than different. The majority of them share the same sonic signature, with more or less the same strengths and weaknesses mixed in different proportions. On the plus side, whether being fed by streaming or physical media they are generally neutral rather than top-down or bottom-up in tonal balance. They are also uniformly high in resolution, very tightly focused in imaging (though flat in aspect), broad and layered in soundstaging (without much space or air between the layers), fast and hard-hitting on transients, and simply outstanding in bass-range extension, pitch definition, and impact. Indeed, if the bottom octaves were all that interested you (and you could do without a bit of lifelike body and bloom), there would be little reason to consider analog alternatives to any DAC, as the bass range is not where digital sources have their Big Issues. It is their reproduction of the upper midrange and treble—where all that speed, resolution, focus, and power seem to run headlong into a brick wall (quite literally in early-gen CD players)—that is and has always been problematical. I’m not engineer enough to explain why DACs have tended to sound airless, flat, thin, overly bright, edge-enhanced, and shouty in the upper-mid to top octaves (compared to analog or the real thing), though I’m audiophile enough to know that the treble is where DACs must cope with the filtration that sharply limits their passbands—and that coming up hard against such electronic stop signs exacts a price in naturalness that can (and does) ripple all the way down into the midrange. The Soulution 760, which I’m about to review, is an exception.

Soulution High-Tech Digital

As most of you already know, Soulution is the Swiss high-end-audio company that made its bones with a solid-state amplifier, the 711, which measured (and sounded) better than most of the transistor gear that had come before it. For Soulution’s owner Cyrill Hammer (as he says in the sidebar printed below), the key was to lower distortion to previously unachievable levels—and with it the usual colorations (the graininess, the edginess, the harshness, the flatness of aspect, and thinness of timbre and texture) of solid-state components. To bring this trick off, Hammer and Co. turned, in part, to what is probably the most widely discredited of all distortion-lowering strategies—negative feedback.

The trouble with applying a massive amount of negative feedback, as some of the Japanese majors proved to everyone’s dismay back in the 60s and 70s, is that while it does lower harmonic distortion it also drastically increases transient intermodulation distortion (and other time-domain artifacts). Indeed, the very things that we most disliked about 60s and 70s solid-state (the piercing brightness and harshness and sandpaper-like grittiness) could be laid at feedback’s door. Ever since then, the received wisdom about solid-state has been that negative feedback is a bad thing—only to be applied sparingly and locally. Shorter signal paths and fewer parts, on the other hand, are good things.

With its model 711 stereo amp and subsequent products, Soulution turned this conventional thinking on its ear. Hammer and his team decided it wasn’t feedback itself but the speed at which feedback loops operated that was the problem. To eliminate the time-related distortion, the graininess and edginess that feedback engenders, those feedback loops had to be made to correct errors instantaneously. This meant that circuits and power supplies had to work at incredibly high speeds and with incredible precision.

Forgetting about shorter signal paths and fewer parts (the 711 has over 3000 of the latter), Soulution found high-tech ways to do these very things, reducing propagation delay (the amount of elapsed time it takes to correct a signal via feedback) to 5–10 nanoseconds (billionths of a second), where big solid-state amps and preamps typically have propagation delays of 1–5 microseconds (millionths of a second). This thousand-fold increase in speed allowed for an increase in local negative feedback (and a drastic lowering of THD levels), without the usual price paid in time-domain distortion.

Though renowned for the naturally robust, unusually three-dimensional and lifelike sound of its Class AB amps and Class A preamps (including two phenomenally good phonostages, the 750 and 755) and for its complex, innovative, space-age circuitry, Soulution is not the company that most of us think of first when it comes to digital source components. State-of-the-art DACs are typically delivered by companies that specialize in ones and zeroes, like MSB or dCS or EMM Labs or Berkeley Audio. Which is precisely why the 760 came as such a pleasant surprise. It simply doesn’t sound like any other DAC I have had in my system or have heard at trade shows or in the homes of friends and colleagues—and the way it doesn’t sound like other DACs is entirely for the better. 

You certainly couldn’t tell what you were in for sonically by eyeing the thing. On the outside, the 760 looks no different than Soulution’s other components. Bauhaus plain and simple in build and layout, the unit’s trademark matte silver chassis has the same window with LED display on the left of its front panel, followed by the same three buttons for turning AC power on and off, muting the unit, and switching to program mode (to set channel balance, input, display brightness, etc.) that you find on every Soulution product. You choose menu options by means of the first of the same two largish knobs to the right of the three function buttons—the one labeled “Select.” After pressing the Prog button which brings up the program menu on the LED screen, you rotate the Select knob to cycle through the options (viewable on the screen), pressing the knob to choose the function you wish to change, and then rotating it again to see the range of values available for that function before pressing the knob a second time to make your pick. Another press of the Prog button sends you back to standard operating mode. (You can also do these things via the supplied Soulution remote.)

To the right of the Select knob is the Volume knob, which adjusts the output of the unit’s analog output stage via ultra-precise, ultra-transparent Leedh Processing technology. (The 760 was the first DAC/preamp to use Gilles Milot’s celebrated Leedh volume control—for more on which, see Cyrill’s sidebar below.) 

Like its all-analog companion piece, the Soulution 755 phonostage, the 760 is more than a DAC—it is, as I just noted, a DAC coupled to what amounts to a dedicated, top-line, Class A preamp (with internal bandwidth of 40MHz, SNR greater than 140dB, and channel separation exceeding 130dB). This preamp allows the 760 to directly feed highest-quality current to any amplifier you choose with all the control and precision (in fact, with greater precision thanks to the virtually lossless Leedh Processing volume control and to power transistors linearized by an analog computing network), and with virtually the same sonic signature that Soulution’s stand-alone top-line Seven Series linestage preamplifier, the $50,000 725, offers—thereby saving you the cost of purchasing that preamplifier and a set of high-quality interconnects to hook it to your DAC. At $72,000, the 760 may not seem like (oh, let’s face it, it isn’t close to) a bargain, but if digital is all you listen to, be mindful that you will not only be getting a world-class DAC but also a world-class Soulution preamplifier with its own dedicated 500,000µF power supply in one and the same chassis.

Inputs and outputs (both balanced and single-ended) are situated on the 760’s rear panel, as per usual. I’m not going to go through all the formats, bit-depths, and sampling rates the Soulution DAC can handle. (Just look at the Specs & Pricing box if you’ve simply got to know these details.) Suffice it to say that, with a couple of exceptions (which I will come to), the unit handles just about everything, processing PCM up to 24/384 native and DSD up to 5.64MHz (DoP).

In addition to its Leedh Processing volume control, the 760 incorporates several other novel technologies that, along with its world-class analog output stage, are clearly contributing to its remarkable sound. To begin with, the 760 DAC upsamples all PCM files to 24/352.8 or 24/384 via Sharc DSP. As Cyrill says in his sidebar, Soulution believes that “the precision of interpolation is more important than high clock rates,” to which end the 760 uses an algorithm from the highly regarded Swiss firm Anagram Technologies SA. (My analog-loving friend and TAS colleague Andre Jennings, who has built digital components for NASA, agrees that the precise interpolation of “added” bits is key to the best digital sound—and that 352.8/384kHz is the upsampling “sweet spot.” )

The 760 also makes unique use of what Soulution calls zeroPhase technology, developed with the assistance of Engineered SA (a company that once included Florian Cossy—now the C of CH Precision). ZeroPhase is claimed to eliminate the “timing errors caused by the analog low-pass filter” that every DAC must use to block high-frequency noise and eliminate aliasing. (Once again, see the sidebar below.) Soulution claims that zeroPhase reduces phase shift in the 760 (which employs a third-order Bessel filter at a cutoff frequency of 120kHz) from 80° to less than 1° (20Hz to 100kHz), the sonic result of which is that “music gets more realistic and three-dimensional with a lot of ‘air’ around instruments and voices.” 

Whether it is the direct result of zeroPhase or zeroPhase in combination with the other innovative technologies being used in the 760 (and, of course, the fidelity of its superb analog output stage), I’d have to say—as you will shortly read—that this description of the 760’s sound is precisely on the money. And do keep in mind that I reached my conclusions about how this DAC sounded months before I read what Cyrill wrote about his product.

As is the case with every superior DAC I’ve heard, an extremely precise clock is also critical to best sonics. According to Soulution, “lowest phase-noise behavior [in a clock] is far more important than long-term frequency stability.” Once again with the help of some of the best minds in Switzerland (experts in high-end oscillators), Soulution developed a TCXO (Temperature Compensated Crystal Oscillator) optimized for lowest phase noise. This clock “does not run on its first harmonic but on its third overtone,” working at frequencies around 100MHz, “which requires extremely fast amplifier stages within the oscillator loop, but allows best results regarding phase noise.” Soulution claims that even the finest OCXOs (Oven Controlled Crystal Oscillators) or rubidium-based clocks are not as precise as its TXCO, which is why the 760 has no input for adding a third-party clock (though it does have a clock output for hooking up external components to its clock signal). 

Of similar importance is the DAC itself and the I/V converter stage. Soulution uses Burr-Brown devices to perform D/A conversion only. (The internal upsampling and filter stages of these B-B chips are not used.) Output currents from the DAC are converted to voltages and then filtered. “With an internal bandwidth of 80MHz, this current/voltage conversion stage allows the best signal-to-noise performance and maximum dynamics in the analog domain.” 

The Soulution 760 also comes equipped with Critical Mass System Center Stage2 constrained-layer-damped feet. Since these feet are not swappable for others, I’m not sure to what extent they are improving the sound. However, my previous experience with Critical Mass racks, stands, and footers leads me to believe that the CMS feet are having a significant effect, particularly in the smoothness and expressiveness of the treble and in the overall organicism of the sound.

How Soulution Digital Sounds 

I started this review by telling you that the Soulution 760 was different than any other DAC I’ve listened to—and that it was different in an entirely positive way. Although I’m tempted to use the well-worn phrase “more analog-like” to describe that difference, the fact is this DAC is quite a bit more specifically “analog-like” than those oft-used-and-abused words generally imply. What the Soulution 760 sounds (uncannily) like—to put a precise point on it—is Greg Beron’s superb Ultima4 OPS-DC 15ips reel-to-reel tape deck, minus the tape hiss and slight overall darkness of timbre. Not only has it rid itself of the usual digital nastiness in the upper midrange and treble, it has also managed to eliminate the vestigial brightness that you so often hear in LP playback, particularly with zippier moving coils. Indeed, given the right recording I have never heard a DAC (and only a few select record players and cartridges) that is as neutral and natural in the upper midrange and treble as the Soulution 760.

All you have to do to hear what I’m talking about is listen to any digital recording with a hi-hat cymbal marking rhythm. This instrument, which comprises two cymbals mounted on a rod that runs between them, can be played “open” (with the two cymbals separated) or “closed” (with the two cymbals sandwiched together), the amount of space between them being set by means of a foot pedal. Closed, hi-hats can produce a soft, airy “chk-a-chk-a-chk” sound; open (or closed), they can also generate a very loud reverberant crash, depending on how hard they are struck and how quickly they are damped. 

With virtually every other DAC I’ve used or heard, hi-hats—open or closed, struck sharply or brushed—and ride cymbals, too, tend more often than not to sound as if they’re being being played sforzando (suddenly, forcefully), making more of a crash-like noise than a “chk,” with little-to-no decay and no air around them to decay into. What’s important here isn’t just that the intensity, duration, and timbre of the instrument are being distorted, so also is the way—and the musical reason for the way—it is being played. The Soulution 760 is the first DAC I’ve heard that robs you of none of these things. 

I was literally shocked, for example, to hear the delicacy with which Levon Helm—whom Al Kooper once called “a giant iron metronome”—played ride and hi-hat on certain cuts from The Band’s Rock of Ages (see below for a good deal more on this recording). It was the first—maybe the only—time I was confidently able to gauge via a digital source not just how strongly but also how softly a drummer was striking his cymbals (and in Helm’s case the wooden rims of his snares).

Touch and timing are two of the ways we judge a performer’s artistry. They are how, for instance, I learned to appreciate Van Cliburn’s performance of the Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto—a rendition I hadn’t much cottoned to before I heard it through the Børresen 05 loudspeaker and the Soulution 760 DAC (Issue 309), and recognized (indeed, could almost see) the artful and moving way Cliburn was sounding those wintry falling thirds in the famous fourth variation of the second movement, and the equally famous and challenging double-note arpeggios in the coda of the third. It was the 760 that helped to clearly deliver these things—the instrument, the performer, the artistry—even though many of them reside in frequency bands where most other digital sources simply lose sonic and artistic nuance.

If this taming of the upper midrange and treble was all the Soulution unit had going for it, it would be quite enough—maybe even a breakthrough. But it isn’t all that it has going for it. In addition (and related) to their characteristic upper midrange/treble edginess, flatness, abruptness, and shoutiness, digital components have an unhappy way of making everything they reproduce sound “discrete,” as if each instrument or vocal existed independently of all the other instruments and vocals playing alongside it. Oh, everything a DAC reproduces is very detailed and very well defined, but that is part of the problem. Instruments are so sharply and discretely defined that they sound isolated, as if each had been recorded in a sound booth via close miking rather than on a shared stage; there is little-to no-sense they are playing together as a group (as opposed to playing by themselves into their own individual microphones in their own little pocket of dead air). This is the exact opposite of what HP used to call “continuousness”—the sense that instruments are playing as one in a unitary space. 

The 760 doesn’t sound “discrete.” Like analog, it sounds continuous. This is not to say that you won’t hear the spotlighting of soloists in soundbooths or the multimiking of orchestral sections; it just means that when performers are actually playing together, like the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Bernstein is on the Overture to Lennie’s own Candide (alongside Barber’s wonderful Overture to The School for Scandal, perhaps the most delightful prelude by an American composer of the last century), you will hear that “togetherness”—that lifelike sense of a large group playing as an ensemble in a unitary space—without missing any of the contributions of individual instrumentalists.

What you will also hear, which you almost never do with digital sources, is the third dimension. To be fair, this dimensionality is part and parcel of Soulution’s house sound. This tech-driven company has, from go, been able to generate more volume, body, and density of tone color than other solid-state. The price of this volume, body, and timbral density is what to some (including some I know) may seem like less overt detail. But as I’ve said before about other kinds of components that have the same magic, this is an illusion caused by the fact that details are being “folded into” a three-dimensional image rather than riding on the surface of a two-dimensional one. In life, you hear instrumental/performance details clearly, all right, but you hear them (as you do through the 760) as if they are indivisibly connected to the instrument, to the hands playing that instrument, to the musical mind and spirit directing those hands. This organicism, for lack of a better word, is what almost all digital lacks, and what the Soulution 760 doesn’t.

Perhaps the most important thing that the Soulution 760 adds to your listening experience is, in a single (but essential) word, joy. It is simply a delight to listen to music through the 760, which never trips you up or wears you down with the usual digital nasties. The reduction of irritating, amusical noises, the substantial increase in purely musical information, the added naturalness of a dimensionality, air, bloom, and interconnectedness that you simply never hear with most other DACs are transformative. As is always the case when neutrality (the absence of artificial emphases in the reproduction of timbre, pitch, intensity, and duration) is mated with completeness (the full and impartial recovery of musical, instrumental, performance, venue, and engineering details), music just sounds a whole lot more like the real thing. More importantly, it affects you a whole lot more like the real thing—it fills you with joy and wonder, as art at its finest and most astonishing always does. 

For an example of all the 760’s virtues working together, give a listen to the 2014 remastering (by Bob Clearmountain) of Rock of Ages, The Band’s sadly underrated double album, recorded live during the boys’ four-day stint at The Academy of Music in New York City from December 28 through New Year’s Eve, 1971—and first released by Capitol in August, 1972.

I can’t better describe what made The Band The Band than Andrew Romano did back in 2017, online in The Daily Beast (https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-bands-rock-of-ages-is-the-greatest-live-album-ever), where he also made a (convincing) case for Rock of Ages being the best live rock album ever recorded: “There was always something generous about The Band. The vocals, for starters: few other acts have ever had three lead singers. The Beatles had three, and so did the Beach Boys; they harmonized damn well, too. But what made The Beatles and The Beach Boys so spectacular vocally was that they could vanish into each other with their voices. They blended because they were consonant.

“The Band was different. Levon Helm’s voice was a throaty Delta burr. Richard Manuel’s was a black-coffee moan. Rick Danko’s was a high, clear sob. They didn’t sound anything alike. When they sang, they stumbled in and out and over and under each other, Appalachian-style, making no attempt to neatly align every note. And yet the effect was at least as potent as Lennon-McCartney-Harrison or the Wilson-Love clan. Usually with harmony, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. But with The Band you can hear always the parts and the whole at the same time, and the force and beauty of each is undiminished. A seamless blend is breathtaking, but you get more music for your money with The Band—more lines and phrasings and shadings per second, more to discover and delight in and return to. No other group is like that.”

To hear precisely what Romano is so eloquently (and rightly) praising here—the unique way individual and ensemble co-exist side by side in The Band’s performing style—just listen to, oh, Danko, Manuel, and Helm’s harmony on the single word “road” (in the line “rolling down the road”) from The Band’s great rendition of “This Wheel’s On Fire” (co-written by Danko and Dylan) on Rock of Ages. It’s a harmony of sorts, but it’s a cracked one made of still-distinguishable and powerfully individual voices, all of which are distinctly audible (as is their simultaneous cockeyed unison) via the 760. 

To experience an instrumental version of this same effect, listen to the virtuosic intro of “Stage Fright”—which begins with Manuel’s powerful piano arpeggios and chords, followed by the throb of Danko’s fretless bass and the precise slap and thump of Helm’s tom and kickdrum (later in the song seasoned with a light off-the-beat touch of ride cymbal), then by Hudson’s carnivalesque swirls on the Lowrey organ (which will change to birdsong, dotted with the twang of Jew’s-harp-like clavinet, when Danko comes to “sings just like a bird”) and Robertson’s dark pithy blasts of Fender guitar. It is a marvelous, instantly engaging arrangement of individual tones, textures, and spatial effects that blend in a Band-like unison perfectly suited to the angst of Danko’s barenaked vocal. From the very start, the 760 never lets you forget who is doing what individually, how they are doing it together, and what that adds to the effect of the music.

Or try “Get Up, Jake,” a droll little vignette written and recorded for (but not used on) The Band album, with its infectiously delightful melody, grounded by Helm’s and Danko’s drum-and-bass, filigreed by Hudson’s Lowrey organ and Robertson’s Fender guitar hooks with bluesy string-bending, and brought home by the wry delivery of Manuel and Helm, swapping leads and joining in roughhewn harmony on the chorus. Like so much of The Band’s music, “Get Up, Jake” has the feel of something old enough to have been sung by your great-grandfather made fresh and celebratory—like a Christmas tree hung with brand-new ornaments. The 760 not only produces the music with you-are-there realism; it evokes this old/new feeling with you-are-there delight.

You couldn’t find better or more pleasurable musical examples than these to demonstrate the way that the Soulution 760 recreates wholes without losing track of parts, sounds three-dimensional and continuous without sacrificing low-level detail, is full and natural in timbre without adding edge or brightness in the treble or undue thickness in the bass (this DAC is neutral), reproduces dynamic scale more accurately than any DAC I’ve heard, and reproduces a soundstage with an integument of air behind, around, above, and between instruments that you just don’t hear with digital.

I’ve gone on about Rock of Ages because the Soulution 760 made me fall in love with the album all over again. It showed me things about the way The Band played as a group and as individuals that I hadn’t heard as clearly before—about their style, their instruments, their arrangements. Most importantly, it allowed me to share in the long-ago thrill of those New Year’s Eve concerts at The Academy of Music on East 14th Street. It made The Band, the hall, the audience live again, fully audible, almost visible—and that filled me with joy (and, later, a bittersweet touch of melancholy for all that once was, and is no more).

Shortcomings

I’ve already noted that the Soulution 760 is not the kind of DAC that will bowl you over with overt detail. Because it is recreating and integrating so many (essential) things that other DACs just don’t have a handle on (such as air, bloom, and a third dimension), analytical resolution is not its calling card. In this regard it’s rather more reminiscent—as is everything from Soulution—of tube gear than of solid-state. It’s got the detail, all right, but, as noted, it’s got the organicism, too, and that means that detail is being incorporated into the music—into the way it is being played and what it is being played on and who is doing the playing—rather than being presented to you on a platter as a separate serving. That being said, if you’re looking for—or expecting—an X-ray-like presentation from your DAC, the 760 would not be my first stop (though it might be my last). 

Less debatable is the fact that the Soulution 760 is not officially Roon-certified. Though it plays Roon faultlessly nonetheless, it also plays with what some of you (including me at one time) may perceive as a serious drawback. Not only is the 760 not yet officially sanctioned by Roon; it is also not MQA-compatible. 

There is a simple reason for this: Hammer (along with so many other big names in digital audio) doesn’t like MQA. I have to admit that I do like MQA, although I also have to admit that I never once missed it when listening to partially unfolded MQA tracks (Roon does the initial 88.2 or 96kHz unfold) through the 760. Perhaps it was because the 760 is upsampling everything it plays, perhaps it was because of its unique phase linearity, perhaps it was because of the excellence of its clock, volume control, and analog output stage, but even in direct comparison to an MQA-compatible DAC I greatly preferred the Soulution. I certainly wouldn’t let either the Roon or the MQA situation keep me from auditioning the unit. If you’re in the market to spend this kind of dough, you’ll be sorry if you don’t give it a try.

Admittedly, seventy-two grand is a whole lot of money for any DAC. Of course, you’re not just getting a DAC with the 760. As I’ve told you, you’re also getting a world-class analog output stage with a true lossless digital volume control. (The difference that the Leedh Processing control makes is audible as an increase in clarity and presence—it’s not an order of magnitude difference, but it’s definitely better.) Whether that swings the pendulum in the 760’s direction probably depends on how committed you are to digital.

Conclusion

If you listen only—or primarily—to ones and zeroes, I would be hard put to recommend anything, regardless of price, over the Soulution 760. It just offers so much more of what I like and expect to hear from the best recorded music. Here, finally, is the whole package—air, bloom, space, dimensionality, dynamic scale, electrifying transient response (on electrifying transients), fabulous low end, and (for once) equally fabulous treble—and you get all this with the digital compromises stripped away, which (for me) raises the pleasure quotient a thousand-fold. 

What more can I tell you? As of this writing, the Soulution 760 is (by a considerable margin) the most musical DAC I’ve ever heard.

Specs & Pricing

Analog outputs: One pair balanced (XLR), one pair unbalanced (RCA)
Frequency response: 0Hz–200kHz (DXD)
THD + N: < 0.0005% (20Hz–20kHz)
Signal-to-noise ratio: >140dB
Channel separation: >130dB
Output impedance: 2 ohms balanced (XLR), 2 ohms unbalanced (RCA)
Output voltage: 4 VRMS  balanced (XLR), 2 VRMS  unbalanced (RCA)
Output current max: 1 A (limited by protection circuit)
Volume control range: 0 to -79dB in 1dB steps
Digital inputs: AES/EBU, SPDIF-RCA, optical, USB, network
Digital outputs: AES/EBU, SPDIF-RCA, clock-BNC
Digital formats: WAV, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC, DSF, DFF, DXD, MP3, AAC
Bit depth/sampling rage (max): AES/EBU: 24-bit/192kHz; SPDIF: 24-bit/192kHz; optical: 24-bit/96kHz, 24-bit/384kHz; USB: 1-bit/5.64MHz, 24-bit/384kHz; network: 1-bit/5.64MHz
Dimensions: 480 x 167 x 450mm
Weight: Approx. 30kg
Price: $72,000

AXISS DISTRIBUTION INC. (U.S. Distributor)
17800 South Main Street, Suite 109
Gardena, CA 90248
(310) 329-0187
amanzano@axissaudio.com
axissaudio.com

JV’s Reference System
Loudspeakers: MBL 101 X-treme, Magico M3, Børreson Acoustics 05, Voxativ 9.87, Avantgarde Zero 1, MartinLogan CLX, Magnepan  LRS, 1.7, and 30.7
Subwoofers: JL Audio Gotham (pair), Magico QSub 15 (pair)
Linestage preamps: MBL 6010 D, Soulution 725, Constellation Audio Altair II, Siltech SAGA System C1, Air Tight ATE-2001 Reference
Phonostage preamps: Soulution 755, Clearaudio Absolute Phono, Walker Proscenium V, Constellation Audio Perseus
Power amplifiers: MBL 9008 A, Soulution 711, Constellation Audio Hercules II Stereo, Air Tight 3211, Air Tight ATM-2001, Zanden Audio Systems Model 9600, Siltech SAGA System V1/P1, Odyssey Audio Stratos, Voxativ Integrated 805
Analog source: Clearaudio Master Innovation, Acoustic Signature Invictus Jr./T-9000, Walker Audio Proscenium Black Diamond Mk V, TW Acustic Black Knight/TW Raven 10.5, AMG Viella 12
Tape deck: United Home Audio Ultimate 4 OPS
Phono cartridges: Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement, Air Tight Opus 1, Ortofon MC Anna, Ortofon MC A90
Digital source: MSB Reference DAC, Berkeley Alpha DAC 2,
Cable and interconnect: Crystal Cable Ultimate Dream, Synergistic Research Galileo UEF, Ansuz Acoustics Diamond
Power cords: Crystal Cable Ultimate Dream, Synergistic Research Galileo UEF, Ansuz Acoustics DTC
Power conditioner: AudioQuest Niagara 5000 (two), Synergistic Research Galileo UEF, Technical Brain
Support systems: Critical Mass Systems MAXXUM and QXK equipment racks and amp stands
Room treatments: Stein Music H2 Harmonizer system, Synergistic Research UEF Acoustic Panels/Atmosphere XL4/UEF Acoustic Dot system, Synergistic Research ART system, Shakti Hallographs (6), Zanden Acoustic panels, A/V Room Services Metu acoustic panels and traps, ASC Tube Traps
Accessories: Symposium Isis and Ultra equipment platforms, Symposium Rollerblocks and Fat Padz, Walker Prologue Reference equipment and amp stands, Walker Valid Points and Resonance Control discs, Clearaudio Double Matrix Professional Sonic record cleaner, Synergistic Research RED Quantum fuses, HiFi-Tuning silver/gold fuses

Tags: DAC DIGITAL SOULUTION

Jonathan Valin

By Jonathan Valin

I’ve been a creative writer for most of life. Throughout the 80s and 90s, I wrote eleven novels and many stories—some of which were nominated for (and won) prizes, one of which was made into a not-very-good movie by Paramount, and all of which are still available hardbound and via download on Amazon. At the same time I taught creative writing at a couple of universities and worked brief stints in Hollywood. It looked as if teaching and writing more novels, stories, reviews, and scripts was going to be my life. Then HP called me up out of the blue, and everything changed. I’ve told this story several times, but it’s worth repeating because the second half of my life hinged on it. I’d been an audiophile since I was in my mid-teens, and did all the things a young audiophile did back then, buying what I could afford (mainly on the used market), hanging with audiophile friends almost exclusively, and poring over J. Gordon Holt’s Stereophile and Harry Pearson’s Absolute Sound. Come the early 90s, I took a year and a half off from writing my next novel and, music lover that I was, researched and wrote a book (now out of print) about my favorite classical records on the RCA label. Somehow Harry found out about that book (The RCA Bible), got my phone number (which was unlisted, so to this day I don’t know how he unearthed it), and called. Since I’d been reading him since I was a kid, I was shocked. “I feel like I’m talking to God,” I told him. “No,” said he, in that deep rumbling voice of his, “God is talking to you.” I laughed, of course. But in a way it worked out to be true, since from almost that moment forward I’ve devoted my life to writing about audio and music—first for Harry at TAS, then for Fi (the magazine I founded alongside Wayne Garcia), and in the new millennium at TAS again, when HP hired me back after Fi folded. It’s been an odd and, for the most part, serendipitous career, in which things have simply come my way, like Harry’s phone call, without me planning for them. For better and worse I’ve just gone with them on instinct and my talent to spin words, which is as close to being musical as I come.

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