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|Suggested Retail Price:||$599.00|
|Description:||out board 2 channel DAC|
|Manufacturer URL:||C I Audio|
|Review by Captain Audio (A) on February 21, 2007 at 13:11:20|
IP Address: 126.96.36.199
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for the VDA 2
Crowded, hyped, excessively over-priced, mediocre performance.... The list is long. Most claims made by audio manufacturers in regard to their DACs and its performance are just plain outrageous. Oversample, upsample, filterless, blah, blah, blah....... Stop it! Who gives a crap? Not me. When auditioning a DAC, it either sounds great, decent or like s#*t. Get me off this crazy digital merry go round! Just give me a reasonably priced DAC with refined sonics, a robust output stage and a design that is simple but not too simple. Who cares what it is doing if it doesn't sound great. Well anyway, I happened to stumble upon such a gem recently. It goes by the name of Channel Islands Audio VDA 2.
This dimunitive DAC was just the ticket for me. I bought it not expecting much. Fortunately, that was not the case. The VDA 2 is sublimely refined and natural with no emphasis on any part of the frequency spectrum. Highs soared and shimmered with no digital harshness, vocals are clear and present (not laid back or forward, just right) and the bass is tight, tuneful and deep. For me it is the answer to the overpriced and over-hyped nonsense that is out there. This became even more obvious to me and several others that compared the VDA 2 to other much pricier DACS.
First up was the Bel Canto DAC 3. Ouch! The VDA 2 didn't even break a sweat here. The Bel Canto was clearly the inferior of the two. The Channel Islands VDA 2 had a much more refined and robust sound. The Bel Canto sounded flat and as though it lacked dynamics. It wasnt terrible, it just wasn't something to write home about. It certainly is not worth over $2,000.00.
The next comparison was a little tougher. A friend with a Audio Logic 24 MXL DAC came over with his chest out and a smile on his face. His words, "How can you even think that this little $599 DAC can compete with my Audio Logic?" Well folks, I'm here to inform you that my friend Anthony didnt leave with a smile on his face. The Audio Logic was definitely not done in by the VDA 2 but it wasn't better either. This we decided, was rather a matter of taste and synergy. It will be system dependant as to which one you may prefer over the other. I could live with either. But the Audio Logic carries a heavy price tag (over $4,000). The highs in the Audio Logic were as smooth as the VDA 2's with a touch of sparkle that might be additive due to the tubed output stage. There was slightly more atmosphere with the Audio Logic but the mids and the low end on the VDA 2 were slightly more refined. The VDA 2 also had slightly better detail retieval. Soundstaging with both of these DACs was superb. On the opening track of Roger Waters Amused to Death, both DACs created the illusion that a dog was barking in my neighbors yard. My speakers (Green Mountain Audio Europa Max's) just dissappeared.
I am going to forego the comparison between the VDA 2 and a modified Paradesia. The VDA 2 was superior to the Paradesia in all aspects of reproduction, but especially in dynamic control. The Paradesia is not terrible for its price but when compared to the VDA 2, I and a few others, just felt that was a little soft and uninspireing.
Anyway you slice it, the VDA 2 is a winner for all who can not afford high priced digital. It has all the finesse, transparency and drive of the big boys but with a price that is palatable.
I would like to note that I have also owned the Benchmark DAC 1 and the Birdland Audio Ag with reclocker and from what I remember (no side by side comparison done) the Channel Islands VDA 2 is slightly better than both. The Birdland was less organic sounding and slightly more processed sounding. The Benchmark DAC was clear, clean and had great drive but it lacked the ability to draw you into the music. The Benchmark was also ever so slightly hot in the upper octaves.
|Product Weakness:||None unless you like your DAC to be big and expensive|
|Product Strengths:||Transparency, emotion, control and drive. Great DAC that will develop a big following.|
|Associated Equipment for this Review:|
|Amplifier:||Van Alstine modded St 70i and an Edge G4|
|Preamplifier (or None if Integrated):||various--Modwright , Mapletree 2SE and some passives|
|Sources (CDP/Turntable):||Modded Pioneer DV-45a and a North Star Audio 192 cd transport|
|Speakers:||Green Mountain Audio Europa Max's|
|Cables/Interconnects:||Silver Audio Appasioanta Interconnects and Shunyata Lyra Speaker cables, various power cords|
|Music Used (Genre/Selections):||Jazz (all types), blues, some classical (mostly baroque period)|
|Room Size (LxWxH):||14' x 21' x 76|
|Room Comments/Treatments:||various home made panels|
|Time Period/Length of Audition:||6 months|
|Other (Power Conditioner etc.):||no likey|
|Type of Audition/Review:||Product Owner|
Thanks for the review.
Do you have the latest version of this DAC?
There were some changes made recently so I was wondering which version you have.
Yes, I do have all the updates. My review was of the latest version VDA 2. This DAC is truely amazing! It does everything very well.
On another note---I cant wait to get Dusty's new XDC 2 line filter. I think mine will be shipping soon. I'll keep you posted on that. I am going to compare it to the Audience Adept Response that my local Audio Dealer has and a Shunyata Hydra 8 that a friend owns. The comparisons are going to be done on my digital front end.
And, just in case you don't have the newest revision (if your serial number is DC3645 or under it is the old revision) you can send it to CIAudio for a "free" update. I need to send mine in but I am enjoying it too much right now. The update apparently lowers the noise floor and improves linearity. I'll have to suck it up soon and send it in for an update.
The free upgrade is definitely worth it. Made my VDA-2 sound even better with greater clarity and presence.
Oh, I have no doubt it's worth it. I just have to get off my butt, pack it up and send it away. I am concerned with what will happen when it gets shipped back with regards to customs/brokerage fees though (I'm in Canada). I will probably include a copy of the original bill of sale so I won't be taxed "again" but sometimes the brokerage fees themselves can be nasty.
I came very close to buying this DAC but opted for the Lavry DA-10 instead. I wanted a volume control but that would have been a separate box with the CI. That (and the optional external power supply) would have run the cost of the CI up past the Lavry, and I just didn't like the idea of multiple boxes. That said, you're right, the CI is a great buy in a field of often overpriced DACs.
I do have the outboard power supply. The difference is subtle but noticeable. It seems to ever so slightly tighten up the bottom end.
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