1-.A bit of History.
The COUNTERPOINT DA-10 converter was introduced on the market in 1991, and its internal archtecture was quite unique at this time. It was made of a mother board and a DAC daughter board.
The goal was to offer a product designed to evolve with the continuous progress of the digital world.
Three different daughter boards were made available, the best and the most expensive one using the 20bits "ULTRA ANALOG 20400" D/A converter, the same used in the well known SONIC FRONTIER SFD-2 DAC (2 of them were used in the Sonic Frontier DAC).
The COUNTERPOINT DA-10 Digital to Analog converter
This architecture had some other great features such as a lot of various inputs (4) compared to the unique (most of the time) input offered by its competitors. The input connectors are BNC plugs, which are not as standard as RCA but are supposed to be a little better.
The output stage uses only discrete components (no operational amp) with a thermal regulation (passive).
A noticeable care had been put in the power supply, which uses 2 different transformers: one for the analog section, another one for the digital section, both of them being decoupled from the main chassis with silent blocs.
A lot (approx. 50) small capacitors were used instead of 2 or 3 big ones, in order to stimulate the performance on the peak/quick signals.
When tested by the U.S. magazine Stereophile (review available on request) mainly with an Analog Devices conversion card, it obtained a "Class C" ranking which was probably not as good as the designers expected at this time for this unit. But it nevertheless had a great success in Europe because the competitors were far more expensive or far less reliable.
In 1998, Counterpoint faced a problem with its bank, and although it was not a financial problem, it became serious and the company disappeared (thank you the banks...).
The company was over, but not its "Guru", Mike ELLIOTT
(who was the Chief Designer, the equivalent of Nelson PASS now working for PASS LABORATORIES
) and his lead technician were still alive (!... fortunately they still are...) and they are still in the HiFi business, running both a new company named ALTAVISTA AUDIO
and an aftersales/upgrades business for the legacy COUNTERPOINT
gear: and a lot of Counterpoint products were sold !...
It is the fully upgraded DA-10 converter that we are going to review.
2-.What has been changed or upgraded ?
Well, to be honest, almost everything ! The upgrades list from Mike ELLIOTT is impressive and addresses every sensitive area of the device. Look at this:
- power Supply full upgrade (transformers, capacitors and regulation)
- change of the input Receiver
- change of the DAC card by a totally new one
- change of the output stages (now onboard the DAC card)
- change of the input connectors
- change and/or upgrade of the output connectors, with the option to add a XLR output
- mother board circuit damping
as you can see, you get a totally new converter that does not play in the same category than the original one: that 's for sure !
The new DA-10 is able to process 24bits/96kHz signals: you have to know that alghouth the Rapture Premium card is able to process 24/192 signals, the DA-10 is not: that is because the Receiver (CS-8414) is limited to 24/96 only. It does exist a model above the 8414 but it is not pin to pin compliant to with original 8412, and therefore its implementation into the DA-10 would have been more complex. But hey guys, this is already astonishing for a device designed in 1991, isn't it !!
3-.The power supply change.
3-a-.the transformers upgrade.
Mike ELLIOTT proposes to change the original transformers by the well known PLITRON toroidal transformers having an excellent reputation: these transformers are also referenced as replacement for the original transformers. Unfortunately for me, I had forgotten to order them when I sent my DA-10 to the States for upgrading... I nevertheless plan to order them and to have the replacement made by a local specialist.
You have to know that the rest of the upgrade already produces an in-cre-di-ble improvement in sound !...
3-b-.change of the power supply capacitors.
All the original power supply capacitors (approximately 50....) have been changed by the new NICHIKON-MUSE.
The new "military aligned" NICHIKON-MUSE power supply capacitors
It seems that some regulators circuits have also been changed (not sure). Here are the NICHIKON-MUSE top-viewed:
The top-viewed NICHIKON-MUSE power supply capacitors
And herebelow is a global view of the new power supply:
Also note that all the soldering work is perfectly done: Mike ELLIOTT does an excellent work and really cares about the products you send to him for upgrading.
3-c-.change of the input digital Receiver.
When the DA-10 was initialy designed, the only compatible input receiver available was the CS-8412, which was only able to process 16bits/44.1kHz signals. Its performance was poor compared to the newer designs, but (of course) we did not know at this time...
As the DA-10 was designed to be upgradable, this 8412 circuit was plugged into a socket, meaning that it could be replaced by another one.
Fortunately (for us !), CRYSTAL delivered, a few years later, a new receiver that was pin-to-pin compatible with the 8412 but with a far superior sound performance, and able to process 24bits/96kHz signals.
But (there is a but...) this circuit was a CMS circuit, meaning that it was physically far smaller than the original 8412, so it cannot be installed in the 8412 socket.
But (there is a second but...) Mike ELLIOTT has delivered an adapter, consisting in soldering this CS-8414 CMS circuit onto a standard socket, so this 8414 can be installed instead the original 8412,and, -cherry on the cake-, it is user installable !
Here it is:
The new *user installable* receiver CS-8414
I have personnally tested the sound improvement by myself, because I first replaced this circuit before sending my DA-10 to Mike ELLIOTT for a full upgrade. You want to know how it performs ? Damned, it is unbelievable ! the improvement provided by this new receiver alone is simply unbelievable ! and when you know that it costs only ~$ญญญญญญญญญญญญญญญญญญญญญญญญญญญญญญ150, you should immediately order one for your DA-10 before continuing to read this article !...
As you may ask yourself about the decoding capabilities of the upgraded DA-10, I reply immediately:
- the upgraded DA-10 is fully able to decode 24bits/96kHz signals.
- although the Rapture/Rapture Premium cards are 24/192 compatible, they are limited to 24/96 and cannot decode 24bits/192kHz signals because of the receiver.
unfortunately, the 24/192 compatible receivers that CRYSTAL delivered later are not pin-to-pin compliant with the original 8412 design, and consequently cannot be implemented in the DA-10, at least until Mike ELLIOTT imagines another solution ! (hey Mike, please tell us that you have a plan in mind !)
3-d-.The new Rapture Premium 24bits/192kHz DAC card.
The new Rapture DAC card exists in two different versions, the Premium version uses better components and therefore is more expensive than the regular version. The model reviewed and lessoned (on this site we talk only about the equipement that we have deeply lessoned...) is the Premium version.
This card takes place onto the DA-10 mother board, exactly at the same place the original DAC card sits: please have a thought to the designer who anticipated this kind of upgrade 15 years before... (its name is obviously Mike ELLIOTT).
The new Rapture Premium 24bits/192kHz DAC card for the DA-10.
The card size is aproximately the same than the original ULTRA-ANALOG 20400 20bits card, but all the integrated circuits are at the CMS format : years have passed...
The cables coming out of the card are the analog outputs: they go directly to the RCA outputs, and directly to the XLR outputs via the capacitors: this means that ALL the original output stages are by-passed for a clearer sound. The Rapture Premium output stages use BURR-BROWN OA-627 instrumentation amps, which are, without a doubt, much much better than the original ones.
3-e-.The new Rapture Premium in detail.
Mike ELLIOTT claims to use the best components available on the market, and it seems... fully true at every strategic "place" of the card.
First of all, the D/A converter itself, therefore correctly driven by the CS-8414, is a CRYSTAL CS-4396-KS 24bits/192kHz. Mike ELLIOTT explains that he has chosen this model after having carrefully listen to many other models, including new ones, and other brands than Crystal (Burr-Brown for example).
The new CRYSTAL CS-4396-KS 24bits/192kHz converter
But this converter, although being a masterpiece, is not the only "carefully chosen" component. Not at all in fact, as you will see by reading the rest...
The onboard capacitors are the wonderful BLACK-GATE, in red on the photo herebelow:
The audiophile grade BLACK-GATE capacitors.
and, even better, they are next to the BLACK-GATE NX capacitors (which are blue with the "NX" logo) as shown on the photo later on.
The resistors are also the best available: the VISHAY "Naked Bulk Metal", that we see too rarely because of their high price.
The BLACK-GATE and BLACK-GATE NX capacitors, next to the VISHAY "Naked Bul Metal" resistors
The output stages use the BURR-BROWN OPA627 amplifiers (TO99) that can be seen herebelow between the two red BLACK-GATE capacitors:
A BURR-BROWN OPA-627 under the VISHAY resistors, between the two red BLACK-GATE capacitors
It is obvious that with this kind of components, the musicality has nothing in common (as we will see) with the original model...
The outputs available on the Rapture Premium card are both RCA and XLR: the card's RCA outputs go directly to the RCA connectors, whereas the XLR outputs go the XLR connectors via a set of 4 DYNAMICAP-E audiophile capacitors (1ตF / 425V each) which are directly soldered to the XLR connectors.
The DYNAMICAP-E capacitors for the XLR outputs.
3-f-.The XLR output connectors.
The XLR output conectors are directly screwed on the chassis:
The XLR outputs of the upgraded DA-10
3-g-.The motherboard damping.
A special damping carpet is installed under the motherboard: it cannot be seen, but it fills all the surface of the DA-10 chassis.
4-.And so, what about the sound ??
The upgraded DA-10 has been reviewed in 2 of our systems (we know them well enough to be able to identify the smallest difference):
Drive COUNTERPOINT DA-11, preamp THRESHOLD T2
, Amp THRESHOLD SA 3.9e
, speakers THIELS CS2 and customed subwoorfer based on AUDAX PR330M0 cut at 55Hz, digital cable KIMBER Illuminati D60, modulation cable (silver) SIGNAL CABLE Silver Reference
with RCA (EICHMANN Silver Bullet) and XLR (NEUTRIK) terminations, customed AC power cords.
WADIA 850, Drive COUNTERPOINT DA-11, digital cable KIMBER Illuminati D60, preamp JADIS JP-80MC
, amp JADIS JA-60, amp THRESHOLD SA 3.9e
, speakers APOGEE Diva, modulation cable SILTECH 04-80S silver with RCA termination, SILTECH LS-090 silver speaker cable.
As you can imagine, the musicality has nothing in common with the original version: except the box, everything has been changed ! The burn in period recommended by Mike ELLIOTT is 300 hours: they are necessary
, even if you immediately know that you have got a totally new device.
The DA-10 performs extremely well: the WADIA 850 has been ridiculous, and in our opinion, it is the first DAC we lesson that is totally ANALOGIC
. There is aboslutely no grain at all, no way to identify that there is a digital source somewhere in the chain ... We did not believe that a DAC can be so analogic, it is the first time we ear this.
In our opinion, it is as good as the best available DACs (such as the WADIA 9 or THETA...), but in addition, it is totally analogic, with no grain at all, no harshness at all.
There is a lot of dynamic and the timbres are superb: simply superb
. So Florent and I believe that this DAC merits our supreme ranking (only) when it is used with its RCA outputs: look at the "important update" below:
Worldwide reference when used with its RCA outputs only
The next listening sessions will allow us to compare the DA-10 with one of the best available DACs: the EMMLABS (10.000....) and THETA. Maybe one of them will beat it (I hope for the rich owners of them...), but they will lost the musicality/price ratio, that's for sure.
Also note that we have really appreciated the excellent musicality of the JADIS JP-80MC preamplifier.
In the future, we will lesson to the DA-10 in systems 1 and 2 with the following changes & improvement:
-monoblocks "the monsters" THRESHOLD SA 6e
125W class A, with 50 A continuous current capability.
-passive bi-amplification with SA/6e + SA/3.9e, as well as two SA/3.9e.
be aware that even if the musicality of this new DA-10 will remain in any case truely exceptional
, it can be improved even further by taking care about its setup: the support (granit, wood,...), the vibration decoupling (various types of cones for ex), a mass on the top of the converter, as well as the power cord should be taken in consideration. These comparisons are time consuming and no conclusion will be provided before this summer (2007).
Very important Update:
This wonderful DAC offers RCA outputs but also XLR outputs if the option is asked during the upgrade.
In order to know which one is the best, we have lessoned to both of them, using the same interconnect cable
(Signal Cable Silver Resolution) but in two versions: one with "state of the art" RCA connectors (EICHMANN Silver Bullet) and the other one with NEUTRIK XLR.
The conclusion is obvious: the RCA outputs are much much better than the XLR ones
. More transparency, more rythm, more slam, more everything.
Why ? we believe it is because the RCA output comes directly from the conversion card, whereas the XLR one comes through a set of capacitors, which, although they are very good (Dynamicap-E), are exactly in the signal path ! Less is better...
So if you have the choice, use the RCA outputs !!
* Update January 2013 *
It has been a few months since we have been informed that Mike ELLIOTT
, and consequently ALTAVISTA AUDIO
, as stopped his business. The reasons are given on his website homepage, but Threshold Lovers
wants to give him an hommage.
Mike is a true enthusiast, and has always tried to build high quality products, looking at the musical quality, far from the current general attitude of the modern firms and majors.
The HiFi world is in crisis, the golden period has been over for a long time and most of the today products are not designed in the same quality search than 20 years ago.
Mike belongs to the very restricted circle of genius designers, such as Nelson PASS, COLLANGELO, Mark LEVINSON or John CURL....
Keep your upgraded Counterpoint or ARIA
equipment preciously, as I doubt that the modern devices will still generate passion in 20 years from now... The aftersale service or repair can still be performed by the specialists mentioned on this page
Thank you very very much, Mike. We wish you all the best !
Threshold Lovers.com - Webmaster
Review written by Nounours ("Nounours18200" on the Forum).