CH Precision C1 DAC and D1 SACD/CD Transport
The CH Precision C1, D1, and X1 is the one of the most expensive and sophisticated digital component setups I’ve explored and reviewed thus far in my audio travels. CH Precision is a Swiss-based company that specializes in ultra high-end audio products, designed and manufactured exclusively in Switzerland. Whenever I hear Swiss-made, I immediately associate that with two things: exceptional performance and utmost build quality. The “C” in CH Precision stands for Florian Cossy, while the “H” is for Thierry Heed, both co-founders of the company and former alumni at Goldmund Audio.
It was late summer 2017, when I first received the CH Precision C1 D/A converter and matching D1 SACD/CD drive (along with their matching X1 power supply). The CH Precision came in two big sturdy boxes and I was very excited to get them up to my apartment and unpack this digital combo. Warning: the D1 is super heavy. It clocks in at touch over 70 pounds and the C1 is about 50 pounds. I power lifted the D1 and C1 out of the boxes to my rack but I strongly believe it really is a job for two people. Setting up the CH Precision combo wasn’t quite as easy as I’m used to with other front-end digital gear as its more sophisticated “CH Link” interface was used and thus demanded more concentration. “CH Link” is the company’s own digital interface was used between the D1 SACD/CD transport feeding into the C1 D/A controller. This proprietary digital interface allows PCM word lengths up to 32bit, 768kHz,and one bit DSD to 5.6448MHz, as well as asynchronous USB to 24/192 PCM and 2.822MHz DSD and asynchronous Ethernet to 24/192 PCM and 5.6448MHz DSD. The C1 D/A controller, D1 SACD & CD drive, and X1 Power Supply use the same chassis and are crafted exquisitely in a satiny aluminum finish with fit and finish to the highest Swiss industry standards. There are no visible screws and only one large control knob to the right of the huge display screen. The front-panel display windows of the C1 and D1 are large and easy to read. The user-selectable options are set with the big silver knob and even the color of the display can be personalized. The rear of the component hosts many In/Out jacks and variety of option slots for the C1 and D1. The C1 and D1 have separate elegant petite matching remotes; however they are not universal.
The D1 and the C1 both benefit from a modular architectural design and the flexibility of the system is brilliant. The D1’s construction is subdivided into discrete sections. There are separate sections for power-supply, front panel, control hardware, the display, transport, core processor and card-cage architecture. This modular arrangement makes it easy for both servicing and future upgrades. The D1 is a SACD/CD drive based on the modified revered Esoteric VMK-5 VRDS transport mechanism. The mechanism provides mechanical clamping across the entire width of the disc. CH Precision is so meticulously that the VMK-5 is mounted on a 33 lb steel base plate to ensure zero vibration. The four steel feet contain integral height adjustable steel spikes to fine tune positioning and also serve as vibration evacuation channels. My D1 unit was fitted with a digital-output board (four options: AES/EBU on balanced XLR, S/PDIF on RCA, TOSLINK optical, and proprietary CH-Link and Analog-output board (XLR balanced and RCA single ended for both channels) and SYN I/0 Clock synchronization board with BNC input and an output for external clocking.
The C1 D/A controller is a future proof digital to analog controller based on slot-in boards and USB flash-drive firmware update. The C1 is built around a synchronous CH-HiD processing engine feeding two first grade factory-calibrated monaural D/A conversion boards. Where in D1 uses a pair of Delta-Sigma chips, the C1 uses four Burr-Brown PCM 1704 R2R chips to handle the digital to analog conversion stage of each channel in a fully differential array. The conversion stage is a linearized R2R topology, followed by a fully discrete output stage. CH Precision states “ The whole purpose of this design is not only to reconstruct correct level information but also perfect timing, since it is the key element for recreating nature-like immersion into a musical performance”. It features separate sections for power supply, front panel, computing + signal/clocks routing + central host processor, slot-in boards and monaural conversion boards. My C1 unit was fitted with a digital- input board (four options: AES/EBU on balanced XLR, S/PDIF on RCA, TOSLINK OPTICAL, and proprietary CH-Link connectors and USB input board, Ethernet input streaming board and SYNC I/0, clock synchronization board. For more detailed information please refer to their website.
Most of my listening was done using my reference Thrax Audio Teres Hybrid mono amps with my Thrax Audio Dionysos preamplifier. I used my reference Consensus Audio Engineering Conspiracy loudspeakers and Thrax Audio Lyra loudspeakers for this review and the exceptional sounding Hemingway Creation Ultimate S cables throughout the system.
Most importantly, how did it sound?
Well, music-wise, this digital dynamo was brilliant from the very first note. Not even fully warmed up, the CH Precision had me asking myself how could digital sound so, so analog-ish? In fact, some of the recordings sounded so rich and harmonically correct that I actually forgot I was listening to digital. This, dear reader, is digital done right. This CH Precision combo was my first digital experience that’s so good that I didn’t really miss analog. I could listen to the CH Precision all day along. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it sounds totally analog or is equal to vinyl. But, the CH Precision were better in every way than my reference CD player. They should be: the CH Precision combo costs more than four times the price of my Italian-made Pi Greco Sinfonia CD player that I’ve long admired. I’ve reviewed some really great DAC’s from Totaldac and Meitner. But the CH Precision was clearly a leap forward in performance in every criterion. Actually, I’ve always wondered how top-notch digitals, (cost no object) would improve the overall performance of my system. In my experience a system is only good as its source. The CH Precision revealed how true this is. I can’t say the CH Precision is the best digital out there because I haven’t heard all of them. However, with the CH Precision in my system, the sound is the best I have heard thus far.
And it gets better.
About a month after I’d been enjoying the CI and D1 I, received the X1, a separate power supply upgrade for the C1 and D1. I couldn’t believe my ears when I connected the C1 and D1 to the X1. The X1 in my system elevated the overall sound even further. What’s going on? Remarkably, for the very first time digital rivaled analog in my system on some recordings. I thought this wasn’t possible, but I guess I was wrong. It seems hard to believe but with the X1 powering the C1 and the D1, the improvements were obvious. Where does it end? I thought I had reached the pinnacle with the C1 and the D1 as a digital combo but there was still a room for improvement. It’s not like my system needs another line conditioner. All my electronics are fed through the great sounding Torus AVR 20 isolation transformer and then to the fabulous Kemp Elektroniks Maxiimus P40 shunt AC conditioner. I would highly recommend the X1 to the owners of the C1 and D1. The X1 lets you hear music in a more compelling way. It conveys music with more purity and is truly analog-like, with solidity and a three- dimensional sound. The C1, the D1, and the X1 are the perfect combo. The midrange was exemplary, revealing exceptional levels of accuracy on both voices and strings. Listening to the Wee Hours Of Morning, on “Here’s To Ben”, Jacinta, sounded eerily similar in both digital and LP. Jacinta’s voice sounded naturally smooth, round, and was solidly three-dimensional. I really enjoyed my time listening to both the CD and the LP; they sounded as if Jacinta was in my listening room and singing only to me. Her voice was deeply layered and captivating while it was conveyed superbly with an improved overall sense of openness and transparency. In a word, the CH Precision had me feeling better connected to the music in a way I hadn’t before.
I put on Haydn’s string quartet in D major, op. 64 n0, 5 “The lark” (DG 423 622-2) performed by Hagen Quartet and it too sounded remarkably analog. The CH Precision combo performs magically; the sound isn’t accomplished by masking digital shortcomings or by extenuating them with an overly smooth sound. The sound never offends; it pulls you in and produces a state of hypnotic suspension. The CH Precisions also rendered music with convincing musical textures and without any metallic artifacts. I could listen to it for hours and never grow tired. The CH Precision’s ability to resolve subtle musical information was fabulous. The strings had accuracy and took on a sophisticated feel that imbued a fine realism. The highest praise I can give to a digital component is to describe it as “analog-like.” The CH Precision’s overall sound was palpable, transparent, and highly resolved with a three-dimensional soundstage unlike what I’ve experienced before. It was poetry in motion.
Listening to concertos was thrilling. I put on Beethoven’s concerto for violin and orchestra in D major, op. 61 performed by the master Anne-Sophie Mutter and the maestro Kurt Masur conducting New York Philharmonic (DG 289 471 349-2). The performance was rendered with vivid color, presence and life that really spark the performance. I’m always stunned by Mutter’s virtuosity; it is simply electrifying. She handles the most complex passages with a great ease and a fluidity that is stunning. The CH Precision combo floated the violin effortlessly and delicately in three dimensions, conveying its tonal and textural qualities like a live performance. The string tones were exceptional! The violin overtones and massed strings were presented with a supple, delicate, musically involving sound, filled with color and life. The CH Precision produced an enormous size and scale on a soundstage with realistic dynamic swings. Whether pianissimo to fortissimo, it handled both with great ease and realism.
Like other modern digital products, the C1 comes with different digital filters. I opted for the “Minimum Phase”-Low Ringing option for PCM, which gave the best sound with a natural flow and an exceptional musical experience. On “Linear P. sharp” and “Linear P. apodising” filters, the C1 becomes less analog, sounded detailed but touch brighter. The differences were subtle but yet, I easily detected the differences.
The CH Precision combo is an unparalleled digital experience. Over the years, as my reference system has improved, I have been able to listen to CDs that normally I wouldn’t have played. I used to blame it on the CDs but I was wrong: it was the components. Now that the CH Precision is in my system, the digital sounds better than ever. I was losing sleep staying up through the wee hours of the night listening to my favorite recordings. Listening to any type of music was thrilling. I was just as happy listening to digital as listening to analog. Listening to the CH Precision in my system for past few months convinced me that the C1, D1, and X1 are the world-class digital components.
CH Precision C1 D/A controller: $37,500
CH Precision D1 SACD & CD drive: $38,000
CH Precision X1 power supply: $20,500
CH Precision America, Inc
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