Audio Note DAC 2.1
About Audio Note DAC’S
Like many listeners, Audio Note where unconvinced by conventional CD players. They found the sound chromium-plated, artificial and tiring. So they scratched theirs heads and concluded that conventional CD players were losing up to four-fifths of the data. Now they’re building machines that unearth those lost chords. The discovery is startling – it may mean we can all upgrade our music collection dramatically, without having to buy a single new disc!
“All normal CD players have error correction circuits which ‘sample’ sound backwards and forwards as the disc is played, and help paper over any cracks in the data. They slice and dice the input as they go, and then reconstitute the whole. The trouble is that this is like mincing a piece of beef: once you’ve done that, you can’t make a fillet steak out of it again. Basically sound is the same, it’s a continuum, and we discovered these circuits cause the loss of weak signals – subtle things like echoes, harmonics, spatial information, which are vital to natural reproduction. So we came up with our own approach, leaving the data raw, and unadulterated. We found that other conventional components were contributing to data loss too, so we replaced them with aerospace-grade materials applied in a new patented way”
The result has to be heard.
Try your favourite CD – one you think you know in every tiny detail – and be prepared to be astonished.
Suddenly a plucked bass appears from nowhere. Hey, who brought that snare drum in here? The sax has somehow acquired a far richer timbre, and the backing singers are no longer a flat wall of sound, but three distinct, mouth-sized humans. The whole thing sounds so alive, so tactile, so real.
Audio Note Dac 2.1
One thing I love about Audio Note is that no matter which product you choose, it retains this “organic” feel of real instruments being played before you. Wood sounds like wood, metal like metal, voice like voice.
Three models are available of the Audio Note DAC 2.1;
Audio Note DAC 2.1 Standard
Audio Note DAC 2.1 Signature.
Audio Note DAC 2.1 Balanced.
The Signature versions have higher quality parts including resistors, capacitors and wiring. It is one of our best selling DAC’s and personally I feel it offers fantastic value for money
The Balanced comes in a full sized case and is quite a step beyond the signature version. As the name suggests, it provides balanced XLR outputs as well as conventional single ended phono sockets. The balanced version has a more expressive, dynamic presentation giving the feeling of being one step closer to the musicians.
Audio Note DAC 2.1x Review
“I was simply amazed at how refined the Audio Note DAC 2.1x sounded. So many try to overdo the music by bringing too much detail to the forefront. In turn, they can become aggressive sounding. The Audio Note DAC 2.1x Signature retained all of the detail without being overbearing or fatiguing in the least. It was a welcomed change over the sound of the typical DAC’s that have passed in front of me over the past few years.
Before I get into the sound, lets take a look at the basic design of The Audio Note DAC 2.1x Signature . This DAC is 18 bit resolution and uses the Analog Devices 1865N which is compatible with the 24-bit/96kHz DVD format. This means if you run your DVD-Audio player into the 2.1x sig it will truncate the signal to 18-bit resolution. The 2.1x sig uses a 6DJ8 tube in SRPP mode. The 6DJ8 provides a lot of choices when it comes to tube rolling. Peter shipped this one with a pair of JAN/Philips 6922’s. Something a bit different about this tubed DAC is that fact that the power supply is tubed also. It uses the 6X5 rectifier tube. This one too gives you lots of options for tube rolling.
The other interesting thing that Peter has done is to remove the analog ‘brick wall’ filter which filters out anything above 20kHz. You still aren’t going to get any musical info above that 20kHz wall because of the source material (the CD) but one thing that it does do is remove a bunch of parts that put a choke hold on the sound. Some disagree with this concept. I’m not here to argue the merits of the engineering either way, I’m just looking at it logically, fewer parts = better sound (typically). I’ll leave the engineering to those more proficient in DAC design to fight about.
As I’m told by the United States distributor David Cope, the Audio Note DACs have always avoided the digital brick wall filter but did use a gentle, high quality analog filter for a number of years. About a year and a half ago, they discovered that even the analog filter caused significant masking and loss of fine detail. With some subtle design enhancements, Peter found a way around that too.
As you look at the picture of the inside, you can see why this piece costs what it does. She’s completely loaded up with Audio Note Tantalum resistors, Black Gate caps, the far more expensive Rubycon’s and finally, the output coupling caps are Audio Note copper foils. Something you may not be aware of is that Audio Note winds all their transformers. They don’t use any off the shelf transformers in their designs.
The overall build quality is impeccable. This piece is rather large compared to many other DAC’s on the market at 17 x 11.5 x 5.5 (DxWxH in inches). The front face is a thick solid piece of glossy black Plexiglas with Audio Note 2.1x Signature DAC silk screened and a single red LED. The casing is stamped heavy gage metal painted in black. Overall, it is very understated yet very elegant looking.
The DAC comes with a simple IEC female connector so you can experiment with different power cords. Peter has furnished you with a pair of silver plated RCA outputs along with a RCA and a BNC digital input. Also furnished are a pair of grounds should the need arise to ground the DAC between the transport or your preamp.
For years I’ve used my AH! Njoe Tjoeb as a benchmark for other CD players. Rightfully so, for the dollars this little gem costs it does a damned fine job. In this case (I hate to say), it was completely outclassed. I soon discovered how it isn’t even close in a direct comparison. What I did (again) was connect the Audio Note DAC 2.1x Signature directly to the AH!’s digital output so I could use it as a transport. In turn I connected both the Audio Note DAC 2.1x and the AH! To the NEC AVX-910 source-switching unit so I could actively A/B these two via the remote control.
The first disc I used was Zero 7’s When It Falls. As I switched back and forth between the two DAC’s I couldn’t help but notice how forward the AH! Machine was. The soundstage was up in your face. The Audio Note’s presentation was very smooth and relaxed. By smooth and relaxed, I don’t mean veiled. All of the detail and extension was there but the sound opened up becoming more spacious and less ‘forced’ sounding.
As I rolled through more and more discs, I became smitten with the presentation of the Audio Note. Each disc took on a whole new life. The sounds are more focused. The images created became much sharper and more realistic in proportions. Another thing that jumped out at me was how much deeper the soundstage was using the 2.1x sig. The AH! projected a stage depth that was a solid 5 feet (or so) behind the speakers. The Audio Note’s stage easily went back double that amount. In turn, it also made my Lowthers completely disappear which is no easy feat (you know what I mean if you own Lowthers).
The other interesting thing that happened was that, though the music became subjectively more focused and tighter, there was a sense of more ‘air’ around everything. The music began to literally fill the room as opposed to just coming from the speakers. On several orchestral pieces, namely Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, the sound began to surround me at my listening seat. The performance seemed to take on a new dimension with the Audio Note.
Lucy Kaplansky’s latest release, The Red Thread, was particularly lovely when played through the 2.1x sig. Lucy has a folkie, acoustic guitar driven ensemble that’s almost bluegrass, but not quite. She has a deeper, more mature sounding voice than her contemporaries like Allison Kraus. This makes for a very intimate 60 minutes. This particular CD is recorded quite well and the Audio Note 2.1x Signature DAC conveyed Lucy’s personal magnetism extremely well. The vocal reproductions were very smooth without a hint of sibilance. Her voice on this CD proved to be a good judge of the Audio Notes midrange capabilities. Her voice was naturally warm and liquid without sounding artificial. Her acoustic guitar retained most all of it’s dynamics and never sounded ‘flat’ (dynamically speaking) as it can on a lesser DAC.
So In The End…
I was simply amazed at how refined this DAC sounded. So many try to overdo the music by bringing too much detail to the forefront. In turn, they can become aggressive sounding. The 2.1x Signature DAC retained all of the detail without being overbearing or fatiguing in the least. It was a welcome change over the sound of the typical DAC’s that have passed in front of me over the past few years.
When it comes to ‘refinement’ and audio gear, I’ve learned one thing over the years; you get exactly what you paid for. That’s not to say that lesser expensive gear sounds bad. It’s just that better engineered gear using better quality parts (generally) sounds better. I’ve found this to be true time and time again. This holds true with the Audio Note 2.1x Signature DAC. Where the Audio Note takes you, is well worth the price of admission.
Here at the end of my time with the Audio Note 2.1x Signature DAC, I’ll have to admit that I’m definitely going to miss this piece when it’s shipped back. I’ve not heard a better DAC in my system. Though it still isn’t vinyl, it’s quite few steps closer. For those of you in the market for a true high end tubed DAC, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Audio Note 2.1x Signature. Keep in mind if your audio budget is a bit larger, Audio Note offers six models above the 2.1 that (I can only imagine) get better as the price goes up.”- ENJOY THE MUSIC. SCOTT FALLER.