The Alpha dual tube stage D/A Converter with 24bit/96K is by far one of the best bargains on the market still. I have compared this unit, with its matching transport the Delta, against Thorens, Monarchy, Classe, and Wadia among others, through various reputable cable manufacturers and a Levinson ML-7, ML-2, Eminent Technology LFTIII system. It should be noted that the controls on the Delta are the most intuitively backwards input command level setup I have ever seen! Not to mention, of the two units I tested over a period of a year, both had program bugs from the factory which rendered this unit nonfunctional. (This is the Delta mind you… no problems with the Alpha.) When it worked, however, and if you could get over its shoddy construction and plastic tray, it sounded excellent. I tried other California Audio Labs products including their new top DVD 24bit/96K unit at the time… and they all sucked (couldn’t emphasize that work enough, btw) worse than everything else mentioned! The Alpha & Delta are the only pure audio products this company makes. All the rest are merely medium-end AV crap, slightly above the lines of Carver, Bose, Sony ES, and other medium-end wanna-be garbage! Literally! Avoid any other Cal gear like the plague if you are a two-channel purist. The repair turn-around on these two Cal pieces was nearly three months here in the US!? Thorens gear was a month turn-around on repairs all the way to Germany!? Go figure!? Thorens digital gear was buggy too, btw. Audio Note digital gear without balanced XLR options sounded the same btw, and was built slightly better with more intuitive controls… I think it is essentially the same product… a much better buy imo. Perhaps Audio Note’s repair service is better and quicker too?! Who wants to be without music or deal with a loaner for that long? Regardless, the Alpha & Delta combination crushed everything I listed above and was extremely close to the Wadia 850x ($5k) in overall sound quality without going into great detail… but surprisingly I still felt the Cal’s actually sounded slightly better than the Wadia, to the point where I wasn’t sure; and figured I would need much better loudspeakers (any Wilson) to even notice this trivial amount suspected. Amazing! Even after a dozen varieties of very reputable burned-in cables from XLR, RCA, and AT&T glass, the RCA unbalanced always sounded best on this combination. Not worth the cost of the AT&T glass option I purchased, except for resale value. In the end the bugs, repair turn-around, shoddy construction, and the fact that I could gain remote control as well as sell my preamp with the purchase of a (still today) bulletproof Wadia that connects directly to my amps; I chose to purchase a Wadia 860x ($7500) to replace the Alpha & Delta (under $3000) combination… and obtain “peace” of mind. Not sure that I gained any substantial sound quality, and may have even lost a little with this painstaking setup. It takes me a few days to merely position the speakers and seating setup properly… after much practice. Transparency is so close that it almost seemed better with the Alpha & Delta as I have said. I haven’t adjusted my Wadia’s output volume yet, so it should improve everything considerably thereafter. The Wadia Levinson gear even sounds better with the pure silver CAMAC interconnects over XLR connections. Bizarre?! (Anyone who doubts spectral-geometric theories needs to listen with functional ears to a capable system… and then start swapping cables to hear the difference. Like you would any other valid reference. If you still can’t hear a difference… you are tone deaf, and should stick to AV gear. I’d guess you also do not fully understand the difference between reproduction gear, recording gear, and production gear… so it shouldn’t matter to you what you’re missing under those colored sunglasses you are wearing.) But the Vintage Levinson ML gear was the only Levinson gear hall tested by Mark himself. The ML-2 amps are Class-A reference amps that still rival some Krell and the like at low power ranges… just buy more of them, therefore, if you need the power. Best deal I’ve heard! New Madrigal gear is somewhat of a joke in comparison… even the other ML class-AB lines fall short as is expected, since they were not at all no-expense spared designs such as these, and were intended to represent the ML-2’s (originally $40K in the late ‘70’s) affordable Class-AB replacements. I have yet to demo Cello and Red Rose. After witnessing all the reference comparisons in my own audio hell… I have very little appreciation for XLR balanced gear of any sort. Read about it and understand it should be better, but have always “heard” in person the exact opposite in fact. Lower Martin Logans lines at easily twice the cost, don’t hold a candle to even the lowly hybrid Eminent Technology models, btw. I’ve since demo’d Wilson Audio, Apogee, Wisdom, Totem, B&W, Martin Logan, Boulder, Cary,
There's not a lot that can be added to the reviews below (except maybe to say that several are for the Alpha DAC, not the Delta transport). Though not the newest product on the market, the CAL Delta transport is still quite a workhorse, albeit one with a fine thoroughbred lineage. In addition to combining an extremely well thought out design with exceptional build quality, the Delta is overall a very solid performer. It's also a handsome piece, impressive enough that upon seeing mine for the first time an audio enthusiast friend stated that he had "a case of transport envy."
For those looking at transports or CDPs to use while waiting out the HDCD/SACD/DVD format wars or anyone more interested in buying a quality product rather than "today's latest and greatest gizmo" the Delta is an excellent choice, particularly when bought on the used market (<$500). In fact, paired with the right DAC it easily out performs many of the more "hi-tech" offerings available today.
One sign of a quality product is how long it remains viable in its market, especially one like audio where many products' life cycle can be counted in months. That the Delta has been around for literally *years* speaks very loudly that it is indeed a premium product. Highly recommended.
Related equipment: McCormack DNA-1 amp (with SMc Audio Rev. B upgrade) Sonic Frontiers Line 1 preamp CAL Alpha DAC/Delta transport Hales Design Group Revelation 3 speakers NBS, BMI, Illuminati and Analysis Plus cables, cords and ICs
I recently upgraded to the CAL Delta Transport and Alpha DAC combination from the CAL DX-2 CD Player. The upgrade was a very good decision considering the cost to performance ratio.I couldn't ask for more from my transport because I had a side by side comparison with more expensive units from Theta and Classe. There was no audible difference at all using the same Alpha DAC. Perhaps the Delta really works best when combined with the Alpha. The sound details were almost identical, the soundstage width and depth narrowly missed the Classe. But look at the price difference. Associated Equipment;
B&K Monoblock Power Amplifiers EX 4420M 200wpc@8ohms B&K Pre-amp Pro 10 B&W 803 Series II Matrix Speakers California Audio Labs Alpha DAC Highwire 701 Digital Balanced Cable (AES/EBU) Esoteric Artus Interconnect Cable Musiclink Balanced Interconnect Cable XLR Audioquest Midnight 2 Speaker Cable
Look at the total cost of this equipment and you wouldn't go wrong getting a high end performance at a steal. For that I give the CAL transport a...
a an Audiophile
Date Reviewed: March 18, 1999
I've owned my CAL Delta for four years. It is still one of my all-time favorite components. It looks cool, sounds great, fits in tight spaces, and has the best damn remote I have ever laid my hands on. You can squeeze even more sonic precision out of it by placing it on a Bright Star Big Rock 3 and covering it with a Little Rock 3. Make sure you bug Barry Kohan at Bright Star, and order them in Natural Granite. Associated Equipment: API Power Pack II MIT Z-Cord II or Kimber PK-330 Bright Star Little Rock 3 and Big Rock 3 Illuminati D-60 or Kimber KS-2020 Theta Cobalt 307 or DS Pro Basic IIIa
I have used an Alpha with a Elite PD65 as transport for about 11 months now. I am constantly amazed at how enjoyable a product it is. It consistently delivers a natural, deep soundstage and nice separation between performers. Because it comes in a little box, and gets little press these days I have tried several times to "upgrade" and buy a new D/A. I have tried several, including Thetas for more $$, but consistently come back to the Alpha. It may not deliver the impressive detail / wide soundstage some of the higher priced units do, but consistently sounds more 'real' and relaxing. This unit is the STEAL of the decade for people looking for their first D/A. It includes ATT, coax, balanced and TOSlink inputs. Demo units can be had for as little as $600, used units for less these days. Don't overlook this unit because it has fallen from favor, it is one dynamite little product!!