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Shootout: Berkeley Alpha & Cullen-Modded PS Audio Digital Link III

I recall a day not very long ago when I was secure in my smug superiority, with my hot-rodded PS Audio DAC taking on all comers. Lavry? Ha! Ayre? Double-ha! Alpha? Ha … err … crap! Double-crap!

The Day Everything Went to Hell, I went to a local dealer who was disgustingly joyous in his revelatory glee. He had this spiffy DAC you see, something out of that Libertine snake-den called “Berkeley” that I just had to hear. Just thinking of him saying it makes me still want to smash that smirk right off his face. “Fine,” says I, “but beware — I bringeth the mighty DAC killer with me, my David to your Goliath, and we all know how that Righteous Tale ended!” Smirky-smirkface simply laughed, damn his hide.

The battlefield: KEF 201/2 speakers, Plinius SA-Reference amp, and SRT cabling everywhere. In went my Mighty DAC Killer, and lo, the sound, it was GOOD. Brilliant highs. Seductive mids. Joyously deep bass. All was Right With The World! I laughed disdainfully as the dealer hooked his entrant into this already-finished race, sat back, and hit play.

And lo, the sound, it was Also Good! Brilliant highs. Seductive mids. Joyously deep bass. “Ah HA! Another victory for the Mighty DAC Killer!”, said I. “I can have everything you have, for 1/5th the cost! Ha ha! My David is victorious!”

“But no, wait!” says he. “Listen again — this time, to the bass alone.”

And so we did, for I had to admit, I was beginning to think the thug was crazed and delirious and quite in need of medical assistance, and for that, I felt bad enough to humor him. So, at the risk of having David dance upon Goliath’s mouldering carcass, listen again we did.

And then I heard it … and shaking my head, I demanded we swap again. And again! And damn-it-all, a third time we did swap it before I had to concede the issue. Entirely. The Alpha was in fact the superior DAC in all ways, and the Mighty DAC Killer was dethroned. David … dead? Well, he was kind of a twerp, but still.

And so you must ask: why? What was it that I heard that so totally revised my opinion, that so very thoroughly upset my world view and landed me in this Region of Extreme Poverty? What was the blow that felled Mighty David?

Clean bass. I had never heard it before, I suppose you could say. When a bass note, plucked off an upright, suddenly pops into existence, vibrates for a time, and is then gently lost to memory. That one clean note, repeated many, many times throughout the song he played, was the shining example that caused me to learn a new term: “muddy bass.” My dearly beloved PS Audio DAC had muddy bass.

[Sigh.]

So, now I am made a pauper, but never again will I be without this DAC. I freakin’ love it. And my Plinius pre is no longer in the system until I can find a suitable replacement.

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