By Dr. Panagiotis Karavitis
In the era of ΔΣ DAC chips, there are a few designers who follow the hard (and expensive) way of R-2R ladder chips. These include “big” names such as dCS and MSB among others. But there is also a French designer who pushed the limits of R-2R principle to the limit, he created a DAC with the use of precision matched 0.1% resistors. Yes, he based his creations on discrete resistors! Hundreds of them. His name is Vincent Brient and the company he created goes by the suggestive name of TotalDAC.
Mr. Brient brought his latest creation in Munich, a quadruple chassis which features two mono DACs plus a reclocker and a server. The combo does not come cheap and is just shy of $40.000 (basic option is much less, at approx. $10K). It will do DSD (with classic DoP protocol) and can be controlled with PC or iPad.
Now you would ask the obvious, why on earth would one spent all this money on a DAC made out of resistors? The answer is obvious, it sounds amazing. How amazing? Let’s say that if I was to choose a single digital product for a review this would be it without second thought.
The show system was set up in conjunction with Engström & Engström who brought their latest version of the Lars (type 2) amplifier, created around a pair of 300B-XLS tubes (a more powerful version of the classic 300B). Speakers were the quite interesting Kaiser Kawero! Classic, a complicated three way, reflex loaded design with RAAL tweeter, back firing woofer and secondary passive back unit, with a sensitivity of 92dB (thus tubes friendly). Kaiser also furnished the room and provided acoustic treatment while cables were from Bibacord.
In order to avoid certain clichés I took control of Mr. Brient’s iPad and finally managed to listen to real music. Tubular Bells on DSD was exquisite or should I say as creepy as it gets. The synth attack came literally out of nowhere. Impressive. Then it was time for baroque music, I found a piece of Il Giardino Armonico of Milan, among the best ensembles when it comes to pre-classical music. The cellos were breathtaking and very close in harmonic wealth to my beloved vinyl. This is the biggest compliment I have ever made for a digital system.