California Audio Labs Delta transport CD Players

Delta transport

User Reviews (7)

Showing 1-7 of 7  
victorcleaner   AudioPhile [Jan 05, 2004]
Strength:

Bryston, Theta, Audio Note, Tact, NAIM, Krell, Jeff-Roland, Linn, Oracle, Kuzma, Bellini, the list goes on and on… my personal favorites being Wilson Audio (hands down), Cary or Jeff-Roland, and Wadia. Maybe when I feel like plunging back into another Audio Hell and spending far too much money on a pretentious snobby hobby… you just have to let go at some point! And I believe I’ve given clues to some of the best bargains out there in the process… LOL Hope this has been helpful… (Has anyone listened to FM Acoustics that have some comparisons to mention?)

Weakness:

Read above...

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,

Similar Products Used: Read above...
OVERALL
RATING
4
VALUE
RATING
4
John Lum   an Audiophile [Mar 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

OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
Stephen   an Audio Enthusiast [Jan 06, 1998]

Originally posted mid-December 1997Re-posted January 6, 1998 after being lost.

First off, many thanks to all you have provided advice and encouragement in my quest to upgrade my cd source. Your consistent urging to listen for myself——despite geographically-related challenges——made for what I believe to be a well-taken decision. For the record, here is the system configuration prior to settling on the keeper:

• NAD Studio Monitor Series 5000 cdp used as a transport to drive an Audio Alchemy DDE v1.2 through a Cardas digital connect
• Audible Illusions M3A pre-amp
• Sunfire stereo amp
• VPI HW-19 Jr./PT-6 tonearm/AT OC-9 cartridge
• Dunlavy SC-III speakers
• Tara Labs RSC Reference Gen 2 interconnects
• Tara Labs RSC Prime 1000 cables (double bi-wired)
• Nakamichi RX-202 deck
• Tice Elite Power Conditioner
• Bright Star air mass
• Townsend Audio sink
• VPI 16.5 record cleaner
• Various Navcom silencers, "tip-toes", ferrite clamps everywhere, etc.
• Larry (our five-year old golden lab), optimally positioned by the fireplace, outside of the direct radiation pattern of the speakers

Over the last six weeks I've auditioned several one boxers and separates:
Rotel RCD-990 ($1400?; borrowed from a friend)
Marantz CD-17 ($1200)
Rega Planet ($895)
California Audio Labs CL-15 ($1695)
CAL CL-10 ($1900)
CAL Delta Transport/Alpha DAC ($895/$1495; although it can be had for $800 at selected CAL dealers, as CAL is looking to move away from separates in favor of the one-boxers that the market is demanding)

The Rotel, Marantz and Rega were soon eliminated. While each had its own sonic signature (the Rotel was well-balanced, but not a significant improvement over what I already had; the Marantz struck me as a bit cool, perhaps too clinical, although detailed; the Rega——very nice for the price, BTW——did not, in the end, engage me enough in the music as I found it a bit too laid-back).

Next came the CAL trio. it The final decision was taken last night——after five days of hard-core comparisons with every familiar recording from my collection (which, to date, is only missing representation from the polka and rap genres). As I was listening to Holly Cole singing "Take Me Home" this "silly boy" knew exactly which of the CAL litter was coming home to stay. While the CL-10 was a bit warmer than the highly-touted CL-15, both wound up being trounced by the Alpha/Delta combo (using the Illuminati D-60 cable).

Yes, the combo costs more than any other units in this survey, even at the "new and improved" retail price, when you factor in the cost of the cable (Transport $900, DAC $800, D-60 $200). From where I sit, the sonic benefits far outweighed the additional 10% cost over the CL-15.

It may be my system, or my ears, but I simply was not impressed with the CL-15. I know that others think quite highly of it, and while it improved on the Rega's level of detail retrieval, it was only marginally better at keeping me interested in the music. Soundstaging was comparable and the bottom-end was a bit tighter than the combo under review, as well. Overall, however, it missed the boat when it came to realistically depicting the distinct tonal characteristics of various instruments, and the whole "attack and decay" realm of clues which live music imparts to us.

Simply put, the low-level detail, micro- and macro-dynamics, ability to sort out complex passages, and, most importantly, sheer musicality of the combo kept me fully engaged. Many folks speak of components having the ability to bring the performer into the room with them. While those of us who listen to live music know this is just sheer bullshit, allow me to risk piling it on a little higher: IF IT WERE POSSIBLE to get the performer into your room, THEN Holly Cole was on my lap. The first words out of her mouth (and this is a recording I know well) startled me, to say the least. Their immediacy and presence (which to me, are different from the concept of forwardness), were, as reviewers sometimes say, spooky.

I also listened to a good deal of classical, acoustic, world-beat, ambient, choral and rock selections. I was able to relax and listen to all of them. I did not feel the urge to clean-up and spin some petroleum disks, as I often do when listening to cds for extended periods. I came home early from work. I went to bed much later than usual. I listened a lot. I listened to ENTIRE cds instead of changing discs after one or two cuts. I think these five things are excellent indicators of the likelihood of a component having a long-term relationship with me and my system.

Obligatory disclaimer: your results may vary. It is an excellent match for my system.

A word of caution: The DAC requires some careful matching to preamps (which would have to be able to handle an input impedance of more than 14,000 ohms). This was not problem for my AI which can handle a cd input of up to 100,000 ohms.

Also, the technology of the Alpha is a bit dated (Delta-Sigma 1-bit conversion; 18 bit resolution) but the sound, in the end, is compelling. If CAL chose to upgrade this product that would be great, but I understand that is not likely to happen as CAL begins to focus on meeting the market demand for one-boxers.

An acquaintance who (hopefully doesn't mind me sharing this) recently traded in his Alpha/Delta combo for a Wadia. In fact, it was his units that got from the dealer for audition. He now says "...and to be totally honest, the Wadia doesn't have THAT much on the Alpha/Delta. Considering the $4,950 price of admission for the Wadia, I have caught myself scratching my head more than a few times since I picked it up. It is better, but not by as much as you might think."

As always, as my new-found friends on this forum have told me: Don't take my word for it; listen for yourself. It is time well invested in the quest for sonic truth and beauty. (Unless, or course, you ask my lovely bride, who while happy with the outcomes——her ears are better than mine——detests the periodic ritual of feretting out and replacing of the "weak link" in the system. She's quite pleased that the upgrade bug has been vanquished (for now).

Four stars for overall performance in a world of better (and much more expensive units) and five stars for value.

OVERALL
RATING
4
VALUE
RATING
Kimball Corson   an Audiophile [Apr 12, 1998]

Stephen's review is well done and interesting. See my reviews of the Illuminati D-60 and the CAL Audio Alpha. I believe we reach the same conclusion, but started from different points and compared to somewhat different equipment to get there. At $800 or so the CAL Audio Alpha is a screaming steal. I use it with a Linn Karik CD transport (why not "turntable," inasmuch as the CD does not get transported anywhere). Linn know a lot about turning things like vinyl and other forms of plastic, but that's for another day. I select a Star on the Delta, because I must.

OVERALL
RATING
4
VALUE
RATING
Chip C.   an Audio Enthusiast [Nov 02, 1998]

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!!

OVERALL
RATING
4
VALUE
RATING
Sonny Tuazon   [May 10, 1999]

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...


OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
Frank Peel   Audio Enthusiast [Sep 05, 2000]
Strength:

Solid build and design. Full function remote.

Weakness:

Lacks HDCD, DVD and SACD support. No on-board volume control.

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

Similar Products Used: Denon, Rega, Linn, Meridian, Classe, Adcom, others.
OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
Showing 1-7 of 7  

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