Van Alstine Ultra DAC DACs

Van Alstine Ultra DAC DACs 


The Ultra DAC – the breathtaking combination of the AVA technically optimized parallel processing digital-to-analog converter circuitry with the ultra-musicality and dynamics of our new Ultra hybrid analog filter circuitry.

We have taken all the research that went into our marvelous Insight DAC and used our patented Ultra Hybrid Circuits vacuum tube circuits for the audio output instead of solid state – resulting in even more transparency, dynamics, and musicality. To achieve this no-compromise design, we started with converter and filter chips that can output a completely symmetrical waveform. This top-to-bottom and left-to-right symmetry is necessary to correctly recover all of the digital data. A multibit oversampling design was used because conventional 1-bit processors are still too slow to accurately convert high frequency information. Our uniquely pure digital design is then followed by our patented Transcendence vacuum tube hybrid current buffered ultra-clean audio filter/amplifiers to get you the music first class all the way.

New and improved for 2006 is an active regulated power supply board with six seperate high speed, high current active analog regulators, seperate for each section of the the hybrid tube filter section and digital section. This provides substantial gains in musicality, imaging, bass power, and freedom from grain. Upgrades to the hybrid filter board are included to accomodate the new power supply. The new larger chassis has allowed us to provide even better isolation between the power supply and the active circuits for quieter and purer operation yet.


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[Feb 01, 2010]

Already have a tube pre and tube mono's running the system, but wanted to add further dimension to my Squeezebox which I listen to more out of convenience. I still listen to plenty of CDs but nowhere near as often as I do the Squeezebox. Did the usual amount of online research and decided to go with the Van Alstine Ultra DAC. Great decision. My only other experience with a DAC was wth the Scott Nixon Tube Dac - which I used to use with a CD player a few years back. I wasn't 100% sure about the Ultra DAC, but decided to pull the trigger on it nonetheless. Got a good deal on a used one on Audiogon.

I've been listening for about 30 hours thus far and I'm very pleased with its performance. While the Squeezebox is a nice little unit, it falls a bit flat in the soundstage and overall presence categories. The Ultra DAC transforms the sound into a very pleasant listening experience. It has plenty of definition, and has seriously improved the soundstage and dimensionality of the music. Much better separation from left to right. Just a very warm, satisfying listening experience without it being too "tubey"! I can't wait to hook it up to my CDP to see what it does for that! And I'm already very please with its sound by itself!

[Dec 19, 2008]
Audio Enthusiast


Extreme Transparency, sound stage, detail and resolution with crystal clear sound.



Reviews of 3 Van Alstine DAC's
After doing in home Auditions of all 3 Van Alstine DAC's I thought I would post a review on each one.

VA offers a Solid State DAC called the Insight for about $900, an all Tube DAC called the T8 for about $1400 and a hybrid tube/ss DAC called the Ultra for about $1700.

Let me say this first. I liked all 3 and they all had a similar sound to some extent because they use many of the same electronics. Frank VA's philosophy is to produce music as naturally as possible without distortion or coloration and this can be found in all his equipment. In addition, his equipment does not come with all the bells and whistles that you may find on other brands. He keeps things simple as possible.

Now for the reviews-

1. Insight SS DAC- This DAC is a real bargain. It produces excellent tight bass with out muddiness. Treble and high frequencies are crisp and clear with out any congestion. Midrange is very smooth. It has great transparency and presents a large sound stage. It sounded much better than my Cambridge Audio 840c CDP which was my reference player. I was able to directly do AB comparisons. Out of the 3 DAC's, this one produced the deepest bass and most pronounced treble but it did not have the same depth of transparency, resolution or sound stage as the other 2 DACs. The sound was very neutral and natural. There was no grain, digital glare or fatigue.

2. T8 DAC- This was the most analog sounding of the DAC's but it was not overly warm. It still had more of a neutral sound but was definitely warmer than the Insight. It had greater transparency and a larger sound stage than the Insight but treble was softer as you would expect from an all tube design. Bass was tight but not as powerful (but not anemic by any means) as the Insight. The sound was very smooth and liquid with good detail and resolution. You could listen to this DAC all day and not get tired of it. My only complaint about it is that I like more prominent treble. This would be a great DAC if you had a brighter system or you liked to listen to a lot of older Cd's that tended to be on the bright side.

3. Ultra Hybrid DAC. This is the most expensive of the 3 DAC's and is well worth it. It gives you the best of the other 2 DAC's. Its a neutral sounding DAC with a hint of warmth.
It has tight bass, better than the T8 but not as pronounced as the Insight. Treble is excellent, not as soft as the T8. It is also extremely liquid. The virtues of this DAC are its dynamics, clarity, resolution, detail, quietness, huge sound stage and transparency. The sound stage is so large that I thought I was sitting in a concert hall listening to music. It also has the most transparent sound that I have ever heard. You feel as if you could reach out and touch each instrument. It also had the most natural sound and made music sound live. Now part of this could be my Magnepan MG1.6's which make just about all music sound like a live performance, but all 3 DAC's, especially this one, made the music sound like a live performance.

One last comment, I got an email from a guy on the Audio Circles forum the other day asking me about my Magnepans. We got to talking about DAC's and CDP's. He owns the Insight DAC. He said he had owned the Benchmark DAC, the PS Audio Digilink III DAC and the Cambridge Audio 840c CDP but that the Van Alstine Insight DAC blew them away. I still have his Email if any one is interested in talking to him.
Parasound Halo A21
Adcom GRF-700 AV receiver
Magnepan QR1.6 speakers
Van Alstine Ultra Hybrid Preamp and Ultra Hybrid DAC
Magnepan MMG's
Monitor Audio S1 speakers
AudioQuest Coral IC's, Vintage Technic's Integrated amp
Modified Music Hall CD25.2 CDP, Monster m1000i IC's
Denon DVD 1910, Sony BDP 300 Blu-Ray
B&W center speaker LCR3
Velodyne CHT 8 sub
Sony 52" XBR4 LCD TV

Similar Products Used:

Van Alstine Insight DAC, Van Alstine Transcendence 8 Tube DAC and Cambridge Audio 840c

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