Most Wanted 2020 page 3

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editorschoice650.jpgBricasti Design M3 DAC w/Network Card ($6,500.00 reviewed here): The world of DACs, and their performance, has taken off in the last couple of years. One of the best out there is the Bricasti M3. I have developed a liking for the R2R ladder DACs for their musically natural sound. One of the aspects of the M3’s sonic character is that it is a more neutral sounding ladder DAC. All the ladder DACs I have listened to are, sonically, on the warm side of neutral, to one degree or another. The M3’s tonal characteristics is not quite as warm and sound exactly right to these ears. Add to this level of performance the ability to directly connect your network to the M3, and you gain a more enjoyable performance level. As with all Bricasti products, the M3’s build quality and the finish are first-rate. (Mike Wright)

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editorschoice650.jpgDenafrips Ares II R2R DAC ($780.00): This little gem, along with the Silversmith Fidelium, were two of the most impactful, biggest bang-for-the-buck that I have come across in recent years for audio. The amount of performance that the Ares II brings to your system at its price-point makes having one a no-brainer. No, it is not quite the level of performance as the Bricasti M3 or the Rockna Wavelight, but for a fraction of the cost, it gets close. The Ares II is very detailed and dynamic and possesses a very refined midrange with surprisingly good, deep bass capabilities. Once you get past the small, dimly lit LEDs that you have to strain to see, and you settle in and start listening, you begin to appreciate what the Ares II does to your system. The Ares II does PCM to 1536 kHz and DSD to 1024 kHz, both on USB and confirmed on Qobuz. On more than a couple of occasions when listening to music, friends would just assume my Blue Circle DAC was being listened to. You can imagine the surprise when I would point out that we’re listening to the little Ares II as the source piece. This included doing some listening on the $17,000 hORNS Symphony speakers. (Mike Wright) 

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Holo Audio KTE May DAC (4998.00 reviewed here)I don’t usually love the sound of gear that measures really really (really) friggin’ well, but I had to make an exception for the KTE May. There is no reviewing cliche that does not apply here so i’ll use them all! It lifted veils; it was an open window; it let me hear things in favorite recordings I never have before; it made me excellent espresso and I stayed up late into the night listening because of it!  Maybe i’ll just say the KTE May is the most expressive and musically honest digital converter i’ve ever had the sheer aural pleasure of hearing; just an all-around digital superstar in every single way that matters to me. I can’t imagine the audiophile who wouldnt be thrilled to call it their own. That it measures as well as it does ices this particular copper and black heavyweight two-boxed cake.  In its price range and who knows how far beyond, there is no other DAC you need to consider. (David Abramson)


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Mhdt Balanced Pagoda DAC ($2,100):
This R2R ladder DAC uses a quad of NOS Burr-Brown PCM 1704 chips and a NOS Western Electric 396 tube in its analog section to produce a very analog-like presentation. Think overall warmth, liquidity, beautiful tonal colors, and a spacious open soundstage. I reviewed over seven DACS in the last year and a half. All were very good in their own right. They all cost at least $2k to $5k more than the Balanced Pagoda, but none outperformed it. Review coming. (Terry London) 

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editorschoice650.jpgRockna Audio Wavelight DAC/Preamp ($4,750.00 reviewed here): The Rockna Wavelight DAC/Pre was one of the more pleasant surprises that came my way in 2020. I had not heard of this company from Romania until my fellow Stereo Times contributor Terry London told me about them. I was given the opportunity to follow-up on his original review. The Wavelight is very well built, has useful functionality, including a a preamp section, and above all sounds good. The Wavelight is an R2R ladder DAC that is, sonically, on the warm side of neutral. Even so, the Wavelight is not slow or romantic sounding but is fast, detailed, and very dynamic. Probably one of the more musical digital combinations I listened to this summer was the use of the Bricasti M5 network renderer into the Wavelight. There was a palpable, organic realness to that combination that made the Wavelight’s performance memorable. (Mike Wright)

 

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Roon Nucleus ($1459) and Auralic Aries G2.1 ($4799):
Streamer Combination: I had been very skeptical of the digital streaming concept when first introduced to it a few years ago. I could not imagine how streaming music could sonically compare to the conventional Compact Disc player. Once I purchased and heard the Roon Nucleus and Auralic Aries G2 combination for myself, my audio world has been turned upside down. As a digital front-end combination, this is by far the best I have had in my system. Compared to my previous $30K digital source, the Nucleus-Auralic combo is by far the most remarkable sounding digital front end I have had the pleasure of owning. I subscribed to Tidal for my music subscription and have not looked back. I have lived with four different digitally-based players throughout the years, and the Roon Nucleus-Auralic Aries G2.1 combination has made them a distant memory. Sonic-wise, the Roon-Auralic combination delivers everything sonically from top to bottom in spades. No more compact discs to play with; I have all the music selections directly available on my iPad. The versatility of streaming is without reproach, everything is at my fingertips, and the sonic enjoyment of the music is a game-changer. (Moreno Mitchell)

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