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Theory + Application elektroakustik SDV 3100 HV DAC/Preamplifier and PDT 3100 HV CD/SACD Transport

Theory + Application elektroakustik SDV 3100 HV DAC/Preamplifier and PDT 3100 HV CD/SACD Transport

Digital-to-analog converters have become stunningly sophisticated over the past 30 years, evolving from small circuits inside early CD players to stand-alone components with advanced capabilities and performance unimaginable to the CD’s inventors. The separation of the digital-to-analog converter from the CD player in the late 1980s opened the door to a relentless pursuit of innovations and improvements in every sub-system of the process of converting a stream of ones and zeros into music. From the input receiver, to digital filtering, to clocking, to power supplies, to grounding schemes, to the DAC chips, to the analog output stage, every aspect of the conversion process has been continuously re-invented for better sound quality.

DACs have not only become better-sounding, but are now also laden with a wide range of spectacular capabilities. Once a simple box with a couple of SPDIF digital inputs and a fixed-level analog output, today’s DAC may offer analog inputs with source switching (obviating the need for a linestage in your system), selectable digital filters with various upsampling options, DSD decoding, MQA compatibility, network connectivity, the ability to be controlled by a phone or tablet, integral streaming-service support, Internet Radio, and seamless integration with the music-management software Roon.

The culmination of the last three decades of hard-won technical breakthroughs and ever-expanding features must surely be the new SDV 3100 HV DAC and PDT 3100 HV CD/SACD transport from Germany’s Theory + Application elektrokustik (T+A). These two products are perhaps the most sophisticated digital products extant in both design and functionality. It is no coincidence that they were created by a company that has been at the forefront of digital audio advancements for nearly 30 years. Even though I’ve been closely following DAC technology since early 1989, I was surprised to learn that T+A programmed its own digital filters on general-purpose DSP chips way back in 1989, with the first commercial implementation in 1992. I had thought that only Wadia Digital, Theta, and, a little later, Krell, wrote their own filter code in that era. 

Features and Capabilities
The SDV 3100 HV is packed with advanced features and capabilities. It is a network streaming DAC with integral support for Tidal, Qobuz, and Deezer. Although one of its inputs is labeled Roon Ready, the SDV is currently undergoing Roon certification. The SDV offers FM, FM-HD, a DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) tuner, and aptX Bluetooth for wireless streaming. It will decode PCM up to 768kHz (on the USB or network input; 192kHz on SPDIF) and DSD up to DSD1024 (16 times the base DSD frequency that is used in the SACD format). The SDV doesn’t decode MQA (more on this later). In practice, all this adds up to a one-box component that can access just about any digital media or format. T+A’s app allows you to control all this functionality from your phone or tablet.

In my system, I connected the SDV to my network and streamed music from Tidal and Qobuz via Roon. I also played music from a Fidata 2TB solid-state NAS through the network, and drove the SDV’s digital inputs with the output of an Aurender W20 music server. The T+A app allowed me to select sources, change the SDV’s digital filter, and adjust the balance and other functions that are normally handled by a traditional remote control. If app control isn’t your thing, T+A includes with the SDV a large and comprehensive remote.

In addition to this staggering array of options, the SDV also offers a full complement of traditional digital inputs, including AES/EBU, six    SPDIF (two RCA, two BNC, two TosLink optical), two HDMI, and two USB inputs. One of these USB inputs is “device mode” for connecting the USB output from a computer or music server; the second is “master mode” that connects to a mass-storage device such as a NAS or USB stick. When playing files stored on a NAS through master-mode USB input, the SDV is said to be a “streaming client.” Driving the SDV from a Windows PC requires a driver installation on the PC. The SDV is UPnP (Universal Plug ’n’ Play) and DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) compliant. This means that the SDV is compatible with the protocols that allow all UPnP devices on the network to discover each other and exchange data. 

The SDV has another digital connection, T+A’s proprietary IPA-Link that is used exclusively to connect the SDV to the companion PDT 3100 HV CD/SACD transport. This umbilical transmits PCM and DSD data directly from the transport to the DAC without the compromise of conventional digital interfaces.

Rounding out the connections are an FM antenna input, wireless LAN antenna input, H-Link that synchronizes the product’s operation with other T+A components, and two HDMI inputs with ARC (Audio Return Channel) if you’re using the SDV in a system with a television.

The SDV’s myriad input names are displayed on a large front-panel screen. The large volume-control knob doubles as a source selector; just push the knob and then scroll through the inputs. The second large front-panel knob allows you to navigate the display’s many functions, from setting up the network connection to directly choosing music stored on a NAS. The display also shows the name of the track being played, either from a streaming digital source (provided that source includes metadata) or from the PDT 3100 HV transport. Below the display are a row of touch-sensitive buttons that turn the power on and off, access more advanced functions (such as network setup), and track playback when in streaming-client mode. Finally, the front panel offers headphone outputs on balanced and unbalanced jacks.

Why, I remember the day when I could completely describe a DAC’s inputs, functions, features, and controls with the sentence: “The DAC offers SPDIF and AES/EBU inputs, selectable by a front-panel toggle switch.” We’re living in a different world.

 

The DAC is available in two versions, the SDV 3100 HV with limited preamplifier functions and a volume control, and the SD 3100 HV with no analog inputs or volume control. The preamp-equipped model (under review here) offers one unbalanced analog input and one balanced analog input, selectable from the front panel, remote control, or app. The preamp version obviates the need for a separate linestage in your system, provided that one balanced and one unbalanced analog input are sufficient for your sources. That was the case in my system; I connected the balanced output from the Moon 810LP phonostage to the SDV and was good to go.

The PDT 3100 HV CD/SACD transport is housed in a chassis identical to that of the SDV 3100 HV. As with the SDV, the transport can be controlled via its front-panel buttons, the remote control, or the T+A app. In addition to the proprietary IPA-Link mentioned earlier (that connects the PDT to the SDV), the transport outputs its digital signal on AES/EBU, RCA, BNC, and TosLink optical jacks. A LAN port and T+A’s H-Link jacks (for synchronizing the PDT’s operation with other T+A products) round out the rear panel.

Design
The SDV 3100 HV DAC and PDT 3100 HV transport are the pinnacle of a 30-year evolution of digital products and analog electronics from Germany’s second largest high-end audio manufacturer. The lead designer, Lothar Weimann, has been with the company since 1978, joining while still in university. He now leads a team of 12 T+A engineers as well as outside software developers. The SDV isn’t so much a new product but rather the most sophisticated implementation yet of ideas, circuits, and software that T+A has been working on for 30 years. I was given a full technical briefing on the products by Lothar and James Shannon, T+A’s worldwide sales representative, who visited me to set up the products. 

The SDV is a dual-mono design, and requires two power cords, one for the digital supply and one for the analog supply.  Lothar explained that it’s impossible to create an identical ground point between two separate power supplies on the same AC cord. The supply for the SDV’s digital section is a “quasi resonant” switch-mode design with very low electromagnetic noise radiation. Additional extensive filtering on the mains and the secondary side along with double shielding prevent any radiated or conducted interference on the digital or analog circuits. The supply for the analog section is a linear design with two transformers.

The SDV was planned to be a state-of-the-art platform that can be expanded in the future with software upgrades. T+A believes that the ideal formats today are 192kHz/24-bit PCM, or DSD at rates of DSD128 and above. The company has been at the forefront of oversampling technologies that increase these sample rates before the digital signal is converted to analog. The SDV’s powerful digital processing engine performs this oversampling with more precise interpolation between samples than any previous design. T+A sees the present state-of-the-art in oversampling 44.1kHz and 88.2kHz to 705kHz, and oversampling 48kHz, 96kHz, and 192kHz to 768kHz, and in the future, even higher oversampling rates. They have even coined a name for this technique: “ultra-high bit-rate audio.” 

Oversampling is increasing a digital signal’s sampling frequency by calculating and inserting new, interpolated samples between the original samples. Oversampling doesn’t create any new information but has other benefits, such as reducing the large amount of noise just above the audio band. Less noise above the audio band allows the designer to use a more sonically benign analog filter after digital-to-analog conversion. Without any oversampling, the analog filter must be very steep (the infamous “brickwall” filter) and have a cutoff frequency of 22kHz (for 44.1kHz PCM). These steep filters  introduce phase shift and other problems, distortions that are highly audible and that are largely responsible for what we characterize as “digital” sound. By contrast, a filter for a signal oversampled to 768kHz can have a cutoff frequency far above the audio band, and have a gradual, gentle roll-off, which doesn’t add these distortions. In addition, oversampling makes the waveform smoother and more analog-like, with smaller discrete steps between successive samples.

The algorithm performing the upsampling is crucial to sound quality. In fact, different algorithms introduce an analog-like variability in the sound. If you want to hear the effect of oversampling algorithms, check out the website signalyst.com. Created by a Finish mathematician, the site offers a wide range of oversampling algorithms that you can run on a PC. Some of them require workstation-level computing power to execute. Lothar brought with him a PC and demonstrated some of these algorithms for me.

T+A’s oversampling algorithm is an evolution of a technique it developed more than 20 years ago and has been refining ever since. The availability of more and more powerful DSP chips has allowed it to realize its algorithm, called “Bezier polynomial interpolation,” with increasingly greater precision. This filter in the SDV is 16x oversampling, meaning that it interpolates 15 new samples for each existing sample. It increases a 44.1kHz sampling frequency (and integer multiples of 44.1kHz, such as 88.2kHz) to 705.6kHz, and 48kHz (and multiples of 48kHz such as 96kHz and 192kHz) to 768kHz. The floating-point DSPs in the SDV 3100 are significantly more powerful than the fixed-point DSPs in the company’s previous flagship, the PDP3000HV. The SDV 3100 HV allows you to select one of four upsampling filter algorithms, one of which is the Bezier filter, which is the default and, in my view, the best-sounding. The Bezier oversampling digital filter produces an impulse response with no pre- or post-ringing. Filter ringing is significant contributor to “digital” sound, particularly “pre-ringing” in which some of a transient audio signal’s energy appears before the transient, a phenomenon that never occurs in nature. T+A says that its algorithm, coupled with the very high oversampling rate, produces a better impulse response (no pre- or post-ringing) than conventional digital filters.

High oversampling rates require greater DAC precision, which is why the SDV’s conversion stage is based on a quad-DAC architecture. Each digital sample is converted to an analog output value four times simultaneously (once per DAC), with the DAC outputs combined to randomize and thus reduce converter errors. The quad-DAC architecture results in a 6dB reduction in statistical errors and noise. The DAC chips are Texas Instruments PCM1795 (formerly the BurrBrown PCM1795), a chip whose integral upsampling digital filter and noise shaping can be bypassed. Remember that these DACs are running very fast, 705.6kHz for 44.1kHz sources, and 768kHz for signals based on 48kHz (96kHz, 192kHz), all with a 32-bit data path. 

I mentioned earlier that the SDV doesn’t offer MQA decoding. Although T+A believes that MQA is a good technology, it doesn’t include MQA decoding because doing so would require T+A to abandon its proprietary oversampling algorithm in favor of MQA’s algorithm and digital filter, which are integral to how MQA works. Moreover, T+A believes that ultimate fidelity is realized not with MQA, but with 192kHz/24-bit files oversampled to 768kHz with its oversampling algorithm, a technique incompatible with MQA. Nonetheless, T+A is exploring the possibility of integrating MQA with its proprietary technology for those listeners who stream from Tidal.

 

Most DSD-compatible DACs use a single DAC chip to convert PCM and DSD to analog. Not the T+A. The SDV 3100 employs completely separate signal paths for PCM and DSD, including the DACs and analog stages. Moreover, the DSD DAC is a fully discrete circuit of T+A’s own design, not an off-the-shelf chip. This custom DAC is built from a new DSP chip feeding a unique converter structure that upconverts the incoming DSD stream by 32x. For a DSD64 stream this results in 90.317 bits per second per channel. For a DSD1024 stream, the DSP increases the rate to 1.573 billion D/A conversions per second per channel. Remember that although DSD has a very high sample rate (2.8224 million samples per second for standard DSD as on SACD), each sample contains only one bit (signifying whether the audio signal amplitude is increasing or decreasing). Standard DSD as on SACD is called “DSD64” because the 2.8224 million samples-per-second is 64 times that of CD’s 44.1kHz (but only four times the data rate). DSD128 is twice that frequency, and DSD256 double that again. According to T+A, every increase in DSD oversampling results in a sonic improvement, with a substantial jump in quality when going from DSD512 to DSD1024. It’s interesting to note that a DSD signal is inherently more “analog-like” than a PCM signal, and in theory can be converted to analog with a single capacitor. With upsampling to DSD1024, the stairsteps in the waveform are virtually nonexistent, and no analog filter is required after the DAC (the DSD DAC incorporates gentle filtering). T+A believes that DSD has many advantages over PCM, but only when the DSD signal is massively oversampled. 

The SDV offers the user two DSD modes, called “1” and “2.” The difference is in how the SDV’s 32 DSD conversion stages are arranged. In DSD 1, all 32 conversion stages are sequential. In DSD 2, two parallel rows of 16 conversion stages each are fed with a time-interleaved signal, with each conversion stage operating at half the frequency. The switching elements in the conversion stage are more precise when operated at the lower frequency, but the longer row of DSD 1 provides better filtering. The two approaches sound slightly different, allowing the user to select based on personal preference and system matching. 

The digital section is galvanically isolated from the analog stages. It is clocked by one of two femto-second precision clocks, one for 44.1kHz-based frequencies and one for 48kHz-based frequencies. The oscillators are positioned right next to the DACs for the shortest possible signal path and the lowest jitter.

The analog output stage is a wide-bandwidth design, with high voltages (±45V) supplying the amplifying transistors. T+A has pursued wide-bandwidth amplification supplied by unusually high voltage rails for a long time—the “HV” in the SDV 3100 HV’s model name stands for “high voltage.” T+A found that high voltage rails widen the linear range of a transistor’s transfer curve, improving the sound.

The preamplifier section is an all-discrete design, again fed from high-voltage power-supply rails. The volume control is an all-analog discrete-resistor network built from special non-magnetic Vishay resistors. Hermetically sealed gold-contact relays switch all audio signals.

The headphone amplifier is also a discrete circuit supplied by high-voltage rails. It can deliver 250mA of continuous output current, with peaks of 400mA. A conventional unbalanced headphone output jacks is provided on the front panel, along with a PentaConn balanced headphone jack with separate left- and right-channel grounds.

The build is very tweaky. There are no magnetic materials anywhere in the circuit or chassis, even the screws. Critical capacitors are custom-built for T+A by Wima, with copper leads that cannot be wave-soldered to the board; they must be hand-soldered one at a time. 

The chassis is made from machined aluminum plate and features isolated and shielded compartments for various subsystems. A horizontal plate divides the chassis, with analog circuitry on the lower level and digital on the upper.

The PDT 3100 HV transport is housed in a chassis identical to that of the DAC with matching layout and cosmetics. The massive disc mechanism is designed entirely by T+A and built from aluminum plate. T+A displayed the raw mechanism at the Munich show last year, and I can tell you that it’s a far cry from the flimsy drawers of most CD transports and players (see the photo on the following page). The transverse mechanism is embedded in a massive tray, with the drawer driven by a lead screw and gliding on rails. The disc mechanism alone weighs nearly 20 pounds. The transport is mounted on a subchassis that is decoupled from the enclosure to minimize vibration. Touch the front panel’s open button and the tray silently glides out. This is by far the smoothest and quietest transport I’ve encountered. A small magnetic clamp holds the disc to the spindle. As with the SDV, the PDT’s chassis is divided into shielded compartments by aluminum plates for greater isolation between subsections, and to isolate the power supply. 

Virtually all SACD players use SACD decoding chips designed for Blu-ray Disc players. T+A eschewed that approach, instead creating from scratch its own decoder and servo-board, as well as writing the control software. 

 

Outputs include coaxial, BNC, AES/EBU, and TosLink. As mentioned, the PDT is best connected to the SDV through T+A’s proprietary IPA-Link. This interface transmits PCM and DSD in their native formats, along with data from a high-precision clock. Significantly, the data are not “packetized” for transmission, a common technique that T+A claims degrades sound quality. Packetized data is chopped up into pieces at the transmission end and put back together at the receiving end. I had expected that, when playing a disc, the transport would serve as the master clock to which the DAC locked, but that’s not the case. T+A says that its new clock-recovery circuit in the SDV provides even more precise clocking than sending the clock from the transport to the DAC. Specifically, a voltage-controlled oscillator adjusts its frequency to match the incoming frequency, locking to the source. This circuit works for any digital source, not just those transmitted over IPA-Link. Incidentally, T+A used a separate clock link from the transport to the DAC way back in 1990, the Pleistocene Era in digital audio.

Turning next to the build- and finish-quality, these two products are beautifully realized. They have a massive, dreadnought look and feel, yet the delicately textured surface of the aluminum casework, and large control knobs with their polished aluminum rings, exude upscale elegance. A round transparent window in the top panel allows you to look inside at the circuitry. Operationally, the SDV and PDT were a delight. Although highly capable and sophisticated, the pair were simple and intuitive to use on a daily basis. The easy access to virtually any source imaginable, controllable via T+A’s app, opened up a whole world of music exploration. I even found a use for the SDV’s Bluetooth connection: watching musical performances on YouTube (and there are many great ones) on my iPad while streaming the audio via Bluetooth to the SDV and through my main system. It sure beats my desktop audio.

Listening
My first question about the SDV’s performance concerned its preamplifier functions—the analog input and volume control. Although I would, of course, evaluate these aspects of the product for this review, I wondered whether, for daily listening for an extended period, I would need to use the SDV with my reference linestage to avoid compromising the extraordinary performance of the Basis Transcendence turntable with the Basis SuperArm 12.5 fitted with an Air Tight Opus cartridge. This top-flight LP system deserves the most transparent linestage possible, and any degradation would have been unacceptable.

It was with great surprise, relief, and admiration that I discovered that the SDV 3100 HV’s linestage and volume control were absolutely exceptional. The SDV didn’t add a bit of hardness to timbres, shave off low-level detail, diminish the sense of air and space around instrumental outlines, or impose a fine scrim between the music and me. Rather, the SDV as a preamplifier was about as transparent as any I’ve heard, and a lot more neutral than most. I had no reservations about putting it in the signal path with a $155k analog front end.

To evaluate the SDV’s DSD performance I played a number of SACD titles that I’m very familiar with, along with some high-rate DSD files (up to DSD512) downloaded from the website NativeDSD.com. This site is the place to go for DSD files; as of this writing it offers 1687 titles from 67 labels across a spectrum of genres (but predominantly classical). Many titles are available in a range of DSD rates from DSD64 to DSD512. You choose the title, whether you want stereo or multichannel (for those titles available in multichannel), and the DSD rate, then download the files. I stored the files on a Fidata HFAS1-XS20U, a 2TB high-end solid-state network-audio server made in Japan and popular throughout Asia, with Roon managing music playback. Another great source for DSD downloads is Superhirez.com from the folks at Acoustic Sounds.

Starting with familiar SACDs, I was astounded by how much better they sounded through the T+A pair than any other SACD playback I’ve heard. It wasn’t even close; SACD playback was vaulted into another realm. The SDV and PDT revealed more information, delivered greater clarity and separation of instrumental lines, and rendered smoother and more liquid textures. An album I’ve listened to for decades over hundreds of systems is Steely Dan’s Gaucho, which I have on vinyl, CD, and hybrid SACD. Through the T+A, the arrangements and meticulous production were clarified in a way that laid bare every instrument and every detail. It was a bit of a paradox because the resolution of each instrument, spatially, tonally, and musically, rendered each more distinct as a separate entity, yet the result was greater musical coherence and seamlessness, as though all those parts simply fit together more tightly. The background vocals took on more natural and human texture, with greater resolution of individual voices. One of those background vocalists is Michael McDonald. Through other SACD playback you get a hint of his distinctive vocal timbre blended into the overall fabric; through the T+A pair he’s standing right there, vivid and distinct, and unmistakably Michael McDonald.

SACD playback continued to impress on Jazz in the Key of Blue by The Jimmy Cobb Quartet, a terrific album on the Chesky label. Roy Hargrove’s trumpet never had more liquidity of timbre and dynamic verve. His flugelhorn had a burnished glow along with a full measure of high-frequency energy. It’s quite a trick for an audio system to reproduce a trumpet or flugelhorn at live levels with realistic dynamic expression and treble energy without sounding shrill, but the T+A pair did that very thing. (Basis Audio founder A.J. Conti and I had a fascinating discussion about this at a New Mexican restaurant on one his visits many years ago, sparked by a mariachi band standing in front of our table with their instruments pointed right at us. Conti marveled at how it could be so loud and bright without affronting the ears because of the absence of the distortions of the audio recording and playback chains.) Jazz in the Key of Blue also highlighted another of the T+A’s great strengths—the ability to precisely portray the most delicate high-frequency micro-structure of Cobb’s subtle brush and cymbal work. His intricate playing was well served by this quality, sounding more like the live instrument by virtue of not smearing fine transient detail. It made his kit sound musically vivid yet without etch, edge, or hype.

One of the best-sounding piano trio recordings I’ve heard is Bob James’ Espresso from a Hong Kong audiophile label called Evosound. When Neil Gader reviewed this title in Issue 292, an online commentator suggested that Bob James created nothing more than pleasant elevator music. Although James has made some commercially oriented “smooth jazz,” he’s at heart a serious player, and this album shows it. The recording quality is spectacular, the SDV and PDT conveying a lifelike transient impact on drums without artificial edge. Some components sound quick and dynamically lively by emphasizing the transient’s attack. Although they may sound exciting during brief listen, such components become fatiguing. The T+A pair reproduced transients with thrilling speed and impact, yet with no trace of hype. I also liked how the T+A resolved the way the drum transients “lit up” the acoustic and resolved the sense of space around the drum kit. Overall, I greatly enjoyed rediscovering my SACD collection through the SDV and PDT pair. 

I’ll comment on playback of DSD512 downloads with the caveat that this was the first time I’ve heard DSD512, and the music was unfamiliar, to boot. It’s thus impossible to distinguish between qualities inherent in the recording and format, and those in the playback system under evaluation. Nonetheless, DSD512 sounds spectacular, with a transparency and immediacy that are breathtaking. The format engenders the impression of looking back through the recording chain to the microphone feed. But you should know that the files are enormous; they take a long time to download, and they consume significant storage space. Moreover, not all servers can handle the high bit rate. The Aurender W20, for example, supports up to DSD128, (the new W20SE will handle up to DSD512, and the new ACS will accommodate DSD1024). Roon will accommodate DSD512 but not DSD1024 (NativeDSD has one DSD1024 sampler available). Once while playing DSD512 the music was interrupted for a couple of seconds, and Roon gave me the message that the file was loading slowly or there was a hardware-performance issue (my PC running Roon Core). This happened only once during my time listening to DSD512. 

The SDV’s PCM performance was excellent, approaching the few best DACs I’ve heard. The overall character is very dynamic, coupled with a rock-solid bottom end, and a slightly up-front perspective. It added up to a lively immediacy. The SDV’s bass foundation was exceptional, conveying power, weight, and authority on one hand, along with texture, pitch definition, and fine dynamic shadings on the other. The track “Minneapolis 1987” from bass virtuoso Brian Bromberg’s new album Thicker Than Water (Qobuz 96/24) is a barn-burner, with the “Unapologetically Funky Big Bombastic Band” swinging into high gear over the deep groove laid down by Bromberg and the drummer. The SDV thrillingly conveyed the way these musicians locked into the pocket with surgical precision. 

 

At the other end of the spectrum, the SDV beautifully resolved fine treble detail such as delicate cymbal crashes. The T+A pair was particularly adept at resolving individual micro-transients—think brushes on snare drum or rapidly struck ride cymbal. This quality allows the T+A pair to take a step toward musical realism by portraying fine treble structure in a way that was more like live instruments and less like a hi-fi recreation of them. I could easily hear Billy Higgins’ beautiful cymbal work on the ballad “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry” from Dexter Gordon’s immortal album Go (Qobuz 192/24). Remarkably, this level of treble resolution was approached when listening to standard-resolution sources, not just high-res files. In fact, the SDV/PDT pair significantly closed the gap in sound quality between CD or CD-quality sources and true high-res files. That is, CDs and 44.1 files sounded closer to high-res, probably as a result of T+A’s upsampling algorithm, which, if you’ll remember, has evolved over 30 years and is now implemented with vastly greater processing power (and thus interpolation accuracy).

The SDV’s USB input is significantly better sounding than the USB receiver in T+A’s PDP 3000 HV (reviewed in Issue 268). How do I know that? My test for evaluating a DAC’s USB input involves listening to the DAC directly driven by a USB source, and then inserting the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB converter in the signal path. The Alpha USB takes in USB and outputs AES/EBU or SPDIF (on BNC only), significantly improving the signal by isolating the output from noise at the input, and by reclocking the output signal with a high-precision clock. With some DACs, the transformation rendered by the Alpha USB is staggering. With others, it’s less significant. The degree to which the Alpha USB improves the sound is a reliable indicator of the quality of a DAC’s USB input section. The SDV was improved by adding the Alpha USB, but not nearly to the degree that I’ve heard from other DACs, including the PDP 3000 HV.

The USB interface seems to be the weak link in today’s digital front ends. But you can avoid USB entirely by using the SDV’s network-streaming input. On the same track played from a USB source and then streamed from a Fidata 2TB solid-state NAS over Ethernet, the streamed version was more liquid and organic in the mids, with a smoother and more relaxed quality. I also heard a greater sense of ambience, both in the larger sense of the acoustic surrounding the ensemble and also in the “puffs” of air around individual instruments. Network streaming, at least in the context of my setup, offers a worthwhile improvement.

Conclusion
Beautifully built, highly capable, feature-laden, and a joy to use, T+A’s SDV 3100 HV DAC and PDT 3100 HV CD/SACD transport are at the pinnacle of digital’s ascent from the early CD players to today’s highly sophisticated machines. The vast array of formats accessible by the SDV, coupled with the superb user interface, opens up a vista of musical discoveries.

The SDV is a superb sounding component, rendering PCM with exceptional dynamic verve, tremendous bottom-end grip and definition, and fine rendering of high-frequency detail. This DAC is particularly impressive with standard-resolution files and CD—T+A’s upsampling algorithm narrows the gap between CD-quality and true high-res. With PCM sources, the SDV’s performance approaches the best DACs I’ve heard. But with SACD, and DSD files, the SDV and PDT establish a new benchmark of performance. If you have an SACD collection, or a library of DSD files, the SDV and PDT pair is your ticket to experiencing that music as never before.

Although these two components are the most expensive in T+A’s history, they are more than fairly priced considering their build-quality, sound-quality, and the fact that they can access virtually any digital format extant.

The SDV 3100 HV and PDT 3100 HV exemplify the astonishing transformation of the CD player into a highly sophisticated multi-format platform. In my view, there is no better way to exploit today’s vast array of options for accessing and enjoying digital music than via this T+A duo.

Specs & Pricing

SDV 3100 HV DAC/preamplifier
Digital inputs: 1 AES/EBU, 2 coax, 2 BNC, 2 TosLink, 2 USB DAC in, USB Device Mode, LAN, WLAN, Bluetooth, 2 HDMI, 1 IPA-Link transport interface
Digital outputs: SPDIF on RCA, HDMI
Analog inputs: 1 balanced stereo, 1 unbalanced stereo
Analog outputs: Balanced and unbalanced
Control: H Link (for integrated control of other T+A products with H Link)
Formats: MP3, WMA, AAC, OGG, Vorbis, FLAC, WAV, AIFF, ALAC
Data rates: PCM to 384kHz/24-bit, DSD up to DSD1024
Streaming: Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer
Conversion: Double-differential quadruple DAC, 768kHz (PCM); T+A True-1Bit native DSD converter with upsampling to DSD1024 PCM upsampling: Programable DSP with four selectable filters, 705kHz or 768kHz
Signal-to-noise ratio: 117dB
Channel separation: 110dB
Dimensions: 17cm x 46cm x 46cm
Weight: 26kg
Price: $38,000

PDT 3100 HV CD/SACD transport
Formats: CD, SACD
Digital outputs: AES/EBU, BNC, coaxial, TosLink, IPA Link
Network: LAN
Control: H Link (for integrated control of other T+A products with H Link)
Dimensions: 17cm x 46cm x 46cm
Weight: 26kg
Price: $22,000

T+A ELECTROAKUSTIK GMBH
Planckstraße 9 – 11
D – 32052
Germany
ta-hifi.com

Associated Equipment
Analog source: Basis Audio A.J. Conti Transcendence turntable with SuperArm 12.5 tonearm; Air Tight Opus cartridge; Moon 810LP phonostage
Digital source: Aurender W20 server, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Reference Series 3 MQA DAC; Berkeley Alpha USB USB-to-AES/EBU converter; Shunyata Sigma USB cable; AudioQuest Wild Digital AES/EBU cable
Amplification: Constellation Hercules 2 monoblock power amplifiers
AC Power: Shunyata Triton V3, Typhon QR, Sigma power cords; Shunyata AC outlets, five dedicated 20A lines wired with 10AWG
Support: Critical Mass Systems Olympus equipment racks and Olympus amplifier stands; Center Stage2 isolation
Cables: Shunyata Sigma interconnects and loudspeaker cables; AudioQuest WEL Signature interconnects and AudioQuest Dragon Zero speaker cables
Acoustics: Acoustic Geometry Pro Room Pack 12
Room: Acoustic Sciences Corporation Iso-Wall System
LP cleaning: Klaudio KD-CLN-LP200, Levin Design record brush

By Robert Harley

My older brother Stephen introduced me to music when I was about 12 years old. Stephen was a prodigious musical talent (he went on to get a degree in Composition) who generously shared his records and passion for music with his little brother.

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