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DAC - Ultra Analog 20400A
AN ANALOGIC SOUND OUT OF A DAC

I-INTRODUCTION.



Even if my Reference System #2 is a high end system, the DAC that I currently use is not really at the right level of quality for such a system. Consequently I  permanently search for a new and better DAC, and I spend some time in listening to the modern and far less modern DACs.

Over the past 5 years, I have lesoned to a lot of DACs using different conversion chips, based on different technologies: by doing this I progressively identifiy what best suits my taste. I am also lucky enough to know a lor of people owning the kind of DACs that I love, and having enough money for that: buying a DAC costing more than 10,000$ requires both some revenues but also some passion...

With all the technical progresses that have announced over the past years, such as 24 bits, then 32 bits alongside with higher sampling rates 96 kHz, 192 kHz then 384 kHz, we should ave reached the audio nirvana and everybody should be satisfied in an almost perfect digital world... But... But most of the people being sensitive to an analogic kind of musical reproduction remain unsatisfied. The « analogic sound » has been somthing rare since the very beginning of the digital era: where is the sound of a LINN Sondek LP12 with it s Lingo power supply, of a WELL TEMPERED or a MICRO SEIKI  ? ... These turnables (amongst other) are so good that they have passed through the digital changes with an incredible serenity and are still considered as being part of the best devices available worldwide.
Only a few DACs were able to offer an analogic sound (even if, to be honest, they could not really compete with these wonderful turntables...). They joinded the market when the 16 bits / 44.1kHz standard was considered as a big  technological success. Their manufacturer did care about the sonic quality of their device and delivered their best efforts to achieve the best possible sound with the parts, chips and components available at the time. And when the best digital receiver was the CS-8412, delivering an analogic and good musical performance was not a piece of cake see [note 1].

These devices have put their fingerprint in the HiFi world at this period, and are still more musical and pleasant than many of the up to date CD players.

The following devices have been carefully listened and in most cases compared with current products such as: REIMO / dCS / TOTAL DAC / EMMLABS, ....We have to recognize that the recent DACs are more precise, provide more detail and sometimes are more nervous, but when it comes to the musical pleasure they are not always as pleasant, as analogic than these old but high end DACs. In some cases, the comparison is very difficult for the modern dACs,because these vintage babies are surprisingly good !


II-THE BRANDS.

The devices that we have listened to, are listed herebelow:
  • MARK LEVINSON
  • STAX
  • SPECTRAL
  • MANLEY
  • SONIC FRONTIERS
  • THRESHOLD


III-THE DAC CHIP.

A very noticeable thing is that all these devices used the same DAC chip, which was a reference (more precisely the reference) at this time: the ULTRA ANALOG 20400A.
This chip was enclosed into a protective packing:
UAD20400.jpg
 
This DAC chip was used in most (if not all) the very best converters:
  • AUDIO RESEARCH DAC1-20
  • AUDIO RESEARCH DAC2
  • AUDIO SYNTHESIS DA-X
  • ARAGON D2A2
  • CLASSE AUDIO DAC-1 (x2)
  • CLASSE AUDIO CDP-1 (x2)
  • COUNTERPOINT DA-10E-UA
  • KINERGETICS RESEARCH KCD-55 Ultra
  • KRELL KPS 25s
  • MANLEY A TO D
  • MANLEY JUNIOR 20 Bit
  • MANLEY Reference 20 Bit (2x)
  • MANLEY WAVE (2x)
  • MARK LEVINSON No 30 (2x)
  • MARK LEVINSON No 30.5 (2x)
  • METAXAS MASDAC
  • PARASOUND D/AC-2000 Ultra Analog
  • PS AUDIO REFERENCE LINK II
  • PS AUDIO ULTRALINK TWO
  • RESOLUTION AUDIO Quantum
  • SONIC FRONTIERS Processor 3 (2x)
  • SONIC FRONTIERS SFCD-1
  • SONIC FRONTIERS SFD-1 Mk II
  • SONIC FRONTIERS SFD-2 Mk II (2x)
  • SPECTRAL SDR-2000 (2x)
  • THRESHOLD DAC2 (2x)

Herebelow are the potographies of the DACs that we have listen:

The MANLEY REFERENCE 20 bits:

Manley_Reference_ins1.jpg


The STAX X1T:


dacx1t-n4h.jpg


The SONIC FRONTIER SFD2:
SFD_2.jpg


The SPECTRAL SDR-2000:

Spectral_SDR_2000_05.jpg


The MARK LEVINSON 30 with its external power supply:

levinson30.jpg
 


The THRESHOLD DAC2
 
thresholdDAC2.jpg

IV-CONCLUSION:

When you listen to these monsters coming from a past era, the first thing that comes in mind is liquidity, listening pleasure, no stress, harmony. The people owning these machines are not about to sell them, and this is proven by the very small number of devices available on the second hand market.
Congratulations to all the designers that have made them a reality, and have found a route to the high end digital with the parts and chips that were available at the time.

This article has been written by Florent - February 2013.

[note 1]: people who own a DAC with a CS-8412 input receiver should be aware that there is a *far* better chip named CS-8414 that is pin to pin compatible with the CS-8412. It is *very* valuable to replace the 8412 by the 8414 and to enjoy a huge musical improvement. The CS-8414 is a CMS chip, so you will need a CMS ►DIP adapter and will have to solder the 8414 on this adapter: but the improvement is reallly huge...



 


Creation date : 20/01/2013 @ 13:54
Last update : 12/01/2016 @ 19:48
Category : DAC
Page read 769 times


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Reactions to this article


Reaction #3 

by jadis36r 06/09/2016 @ 14:37

Bonjour à tous
pour info :
module de remplacement (pin à pin) chez PartsConnexion au Canada.
pour le UltraAnalog 20400 module.
Cdlt

Reaction #2 

by Nounours18200 09/03/2013 @ 19:34

Merci à toi Laurent pour tes infos sur les SA/6e rénovés: il faut que je trouve le temps de passer les écouter chez toi un jour, mais tu es loin !
Je te donne un autre EXCELLENT tuyau sur un DAC qui n'a pas encore été testé sur le site: si tu veux un DAC USB de course pour écouter à partir de ton PC (miam les morceaux en 24bits/96kHz), achètes immédiatement un NuForce HDP ! cet appareil est incroyable de qualité sur un PC pour un prix modique ! A+

Reaction #1 

by teiki_arii 09/03/2013 @ 16:06

Un grand merci pour cet article très intéressant, mais aussi pour tant d'autres le précédant et notamment sur le casque Hifiman HE-500.. Une vraie trouvaille.
C'est bien grâce à Nounours18200 & Provence13 aujourd'hui si je possède des amplis Mono Threshold rénovés SA/6e de toute beauté, tant du point de vue esthétique que de leurs qualités de reproduction musicale...
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