California Audio Labs Gamma DACs

4.17/5 (6 Reviews) MSRP : $195.00


Product Description

d/a converter


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Reviews 1 - 5 (6 Reviews Total) | Next 15

User Reviews

Overall Rating:4
Value Rating:5
Submitted by darkj a AudioPhile

Date Reviewed: March 14, 2002

Bottom Line:   
I have used this unit now for over two years, and I am still amazed at how good it is for the price. Very good detail, good soundstaging, no digital glare or graininess-- an excellent piece overall. Yes, more expensive DAC'S will be smoother with better bass and more detail, but my Gamma holds it's own and will improve ANY japanese unit beyond your expectations




My system:
Martin Logan SL3 speakers
Audio Research LS9 solid state pre-amp
Transparent Super interconnects
Tara RSC speaker cables
Acurus A150 Amplifier (okay maybe that's why bass could be better)

Not wanting to give up convenience, I have used this DAC with a Pioneer LD/CD changer (the MD401), a Panasonic C220 DVD Changer, and most recently the Denon DVM 3700 DVD changer. When I upgraded the Panasonic to the Denon, I had hoped that the built in DAC of the Denon would outclass my CAL Gamma. Boy, was I wrong. Although the Denon makes a much better transport than the Panasonic, the built in DAC does not compare to the Gamma.

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Used product for:   More than 1 year

Duration Product Used:   AudioPhile

Product model year:   1999

Purchased At:   GNP Audio/Video



Overall Rating:4
Value Rating:4
Submitted by Colin a Audio Enthusiast

Date Reviewed: October 28, 2001

Bottom Line:   
Well, you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need" Mick Jagger

Sometimes a little bit less is more. Driven by the unrelenting exposure of CD faults by my big old super-efficient Klipsch Cornwalls with their mid and high-range horns, I responded as quickly to a glowing www.soundstage.com review as a child offered ice cream. There was a low cost Digital to Analog Converter (DAC) for my Rotel 951 player. I jumped at the chance and ordered one from sensoryscience.com.

The Rotel player is a polite British model renown for serving up the texture and sonic of good steak for the everyman price of a burger. Plain looking units with plenty inside, my unit however did not seem to need extra BBQ sauce.

California Audio Labs (http://www.calaudio.com/calhome.html) has a reputation for CD players and DAC units in the same Rotel fashion: quality, no frills sound at modest prices. The Gamma seems to be in current production. CAL says the Gamma provides "a well-defined soundstage and … a level of detail, clarity, and fidelity previously not found at its price."

The unit came quickly, framed with cardboard and inches of air in a box several times larger than the unit. The manual is good - speaking in plain English. As small as two cigarette packs laid side by side, it sits upon my stack of audio gear like some architectural afterthought. An embellishment, not a structural change. One nice touch is that the CAL name lights up - the only equipment I have seen like that. A button on the front selects between coax and optical cable, while another lets you change the phase. I hooked the Gamma to the Rotel with coax cable and the Dynaco pre-amp with Monster interconnects.

I perceived differences as subtle as brands of ladies lipstick. In fact, the lipstick names from brand to brand have more distinction than the sound of the Gamma. But "little miss sensitive ears" pronounced the sound better, saying it "really takes the edge off" so the unit stays. Older analogue CDs especially are helped by the sheer veil the Gamma wraps around harsh recordings.

For example, Simply Red's A New Flame (1989) is jarring with out the Gamma DAC. Robert Palmer's AAD recorded Addictions Volume 1 (Island, 1989) was something that I could finally listen to again and again with the DAC, but change is subtle. The cables used with the Gamma made as much difference as the DAC did.

Without the Gamma DAC, the sound on Palmer's "Johnny and Mary" is unrefined and raw. I "felt", rather than heard, that the better high end recordings, like the incredible presence on Diana Krall's re-mastered Stepping Out (Justintime, 2000) was NOT better. Maybe a different difference, perhaps, but not better. Without the DAC, I found discs to be more dynamic and sharp. The bass seemed better without it. The difference with the DAC is so subtle that I do not bother to go without it but once in a blue moon.

With finicky positioned speakers, the soundstage was not better defined and the level of detail, clarity, and fidelity was not suddenly "found" with this unit. Instead I spent far more time deciding between a gray $50 Monster Datalink and an orange $15 Radio Shack Digital Audio Cable.

That decision was tough. The Radio Shack coax cable was constructed as equally well as the impressive weight and feel of the Monster one. Both had nice, firm connectors. The Monster cable seemed to have better texture to the bass and treble, less glare on the high end. The Radio Shack cable seemed to have more noticeable details, less dampened sound, possibly wider dynamic range and less subdued. It seemed more open and thinner. Since the little black box seemed to be a little less of the CD sound, I opted for the orange cable that seemed to be a little more.

Neither the change between either cable or the little DAC was significant. On a scale of one to ten, with a powerful new amplifier up near the top of the scale, I would rate this low cost improvement as only a one - down at the bottom with small improvements or tweaks. If I had an entry level CD player or receiver (less than $1000) other than a Rotel or a tube pre-amp, I would still seriously consider this inexpensive upgrade.

Expand full review >>

Used product for:   1 to 3 months

Duration Product Used:   Audio Enthusiast

Product model year:   2000

Price Paid:    $99.00

Purchased At:   sensoryscience.com



Overall Rating:4
Value Rating:4
Submitted by Ron a Audio Enthusiast

Date Reviewed: August 18, 2001

Bottom Line:   
Read some reviews from www.soundstage.com that looked encouraging. Wanted to see if a dedicate out board DAC would out perform the built in DAC of my Yamaha RX-V2092 receiver circa 1997. The pice of the Gamma started out at $395, I believe, than $295, and now $99 probably for close out. The manufacture date on my unit is 1998.

I am using a Sony DVD/CD DVP-S300, circa 1998, player with dual laser pick up, one for DVD and the other for CD, as a transport. I have the Gamma connected through the optical connection and the V2092 through the coaxial.

I could detect no difference in performance between the Gamma and the built in DAC of the RX-V2092 receiver.

I was some what disappointed but my experience would indicate that the DAC in a mid price receiver ($1,500 - $2,000) perform equally to an entry level dedicated DAC ($400 - $600), save your money unless you want to experiment with higher price DAC's which means you won't want a mid price receiver.

Associated equipment:
Audio Source AMP 3 amplifier driving main speakers.
Polk RT12 main speakers.
Velodyne HGS 10 subwoofer.

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Used product for:   1 to 3 months

Duration Product Used:   Audio Enthusiast

Product model year:   1998

Price Paid:    $99.00



Overall Rating:4
Value Rating:5
Submitted by Brian a Audiophile

Date Reviewed: May 4, 2001

Bottom Line:   
Very good entry level DAC. Sounds strained and congested during complex passages, but for the most part smooth and musical.

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Used product for:   1 to 3 months

Duration Product Used:   Audiophile

Product model year:   1996

Price Paid:    $99.00

Purchased At:   sensoryscience.com



Overall Rating:4
Submitted by Jesse Krase a an Audiophile

Date Reviewed: August 4, 1998

Bottom Line:   
The Gamma is very musical, smooth and sweet. It does sugar-coat a bit: the highs are a little rolled off, dynamics are toned down and bass doesn't pound perfectly. An excelent value and never offensive. -musical.

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Duration Product Used:   an Audiophile




Reviews 1 - 5 (6 Reviews Total) | Next 15

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