Buy an Alpha instead…
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,
Was looking at ways to improve my system and came across this DAC on audiogon and decided to purchase it. My parasound cd player sounded great but had a little harshness and grain at the top end that I thought a DAC could improve. I had monster z200i interconnects from my cd player to my preamp and decided to upgrade to the Zu Oxyfuel interconnects. Actually wasn't an upgrade since the monsters were $200 and the Zu's were $50. I talked to people and read reviews and it all lead to the same answer replace the monsters, so I did. After installing the dac, monarchy jitter reducer, and Zu interconnects (I broke these in playing them for 4 days straight just like the manufacturer recommended) I did some critical listening. What I noticed first was the clarity and airyness the sound had. Individual instruments were as clear as day, but when turned to high volumes the sound became a little grainy. The bass was tighter than ever and the soundstage was huge. I was disappointed in the grainy sound when i turned the volume at high levels. I decided to switch interconnects back to my monsters and that was were the problem lied. The monsters made the system sound so much better in terms of smoothness in the top end. I never knew why you had to break in interconnects, but maybe the oxyfuels need more break in time. They recommend a break in time of 200hrs. For now I am enjoying cystal clear sound that I never heard before. I will switch back to the Zu's after they are fully broken in to see if they make any diffence. For now I am happy with the purchase. The sound of the DAC is great as long as you have the right components to go along with it. Great for the money would recommend to anyone.
I was using a cd-1000 ead cd player and I enjoyed the sound. I went to my local audio store and told them I liked the transport but something was missing.They recommended I purchase a tube dac.It was used ,I bought it and took it home and yes they were correct. Now I had the detail and more air. About 2 months later my buddy told me about a guy he knew who had lots of tubes and said I should call. A long story short I bought 4 telefunken 12ax7 flat plates for 100 Canadian . I brought them home and boom I could not believe the diff. In fact I could no longer listen to the dac with the orig. tube in place. Using the cd1000 as the transport and the tube dac
with a yamamura digital interlink works for me. Also because it only uses one tube it's less expensive to play with diff. tubes.
the unit arrived yesterday(3/28/02)and i had problems right out of the box! apparently one of my cables were not making a good connection. the unit sounded like it was in mono, which it was. there was no soundstage, and i was thinking what a piece of junk! i finally discovered the problem. then it was distorted on about 25% of my discs! i clowned arounded for about 4 hours and i couldn't solve the problem. i have a meridian dac that has balanced in and outs. i left the xlr cables in the preamp and that turned out to be the culprit!! duh!! user error. with all the problems out of the way, this puppy sings! tremendous soundstage, detail, imaging, and bass, oh yeah, the bass! i have a m&k v125 sub, and because the of the bass that the sigma produces, i have unhooked the sub. what a fantastic unit. i was thinking of upgrading, but like one of the reviewers above, why? i listened to music from 11:00 until 3:30 this morning! every disc seems to be a concert now. cal audio is a company that has never really gotten its due. the reason, i believe, is the price. the price does not match the quality that it produces and the audio merchants are not able to make very much money off these units, so they pooh-pooh them and try to sell you the higher price items. i owned a ml #39 and a meridian 586 dvd. the delta/sigma combination comes real close to the levinson, the major difference being that tne ml has a lot more air around the instruments. but the delta/sigma ii marriage is a very musical treat, you become involved in the music! after listening to the sigma, greed is making me seek out an alpha 24/96 dac! the primary reason would be for the balanced inputs and the fact that one of the trusted dealer in my area said that it sounds about 3 times better! how is this possible? but for now the sigmaii is producing music, music, music!!! i can now sit and enjoy my cds and not have to listen to the wife say, "why can't you ever be satisfied?" i have based all my purchases on reviews from this web site and i have been more than happy with the results. i would like to thank you guys for your input! my ears thank you also! equipment used: aragon 4004mkii audio research ls-15 cal delta transport sigma ii (duh!) kef q60, epos es14 m&k v125 subwoofer anaysis oval nine (11ft)
Wow......this was perhaps the best $$ I have spent on audio equipment. It truely kicked the hell out of the 24bit DA converter in my Marantz DV-7000. Please note that I have the Sigma II without the 96kHz upgrade. I thought I would have it upgraded but so far the sound has been so good that I haven't felt the need to.
Other Components Used: Carver TFM 35X Amp Carver CT-7 Preamp Marantz DV-7000 as Transport Magnepan MG10 loudspeaker NHT SubOne Sub.