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REVIEW - Chris Found Designs V-DAC 2
Chris Found is a British designer with numerous products from Alchemist, Beard Audio,World Audio, Cambridge Audio etc. to his name, and recently he has been paying particular attention to developing tube DACís for the home construction market.
The V-DAC 2 is the second generation product of the DAC featured in the World Audio magazine several years ago, and comes in kit form (25cm by 15cm PCB) or part-built, as requested. The original V-DAC board featured the Crystal CS8414 interface receiver with the CS4397 DAC chip, whereas the second revision employs the CS8420 upsampling receiver. In addition to this, the power supply has been substantially upgraded. As for the tubes, there is a choice of 9 pin or octal sockets, and listening tests suggests that although the 9 pin combinations are very good (6N30s and 12AU7), the octals are a touch better. The reviewed DAC was thus fitted with two 6SN7 (National Union) and one 12SN7 (Sylvania). Digital input is switchable between two coaxial sockets, which in the review sample were one RCA and one BNC, and the outputs are standard unbalanced RCA sockets.
For listening tests the DAC was hooked up to a Pioneer player and passed through a stepped attenuator into a modified Leak Stereo 20 (also a Chris Found modified circuit with 6N1P and 6N30P tubes into EL84s). Speakers were Magneplanar SMGa with crossovers modified to use the new ICW SA ClarityCap polypropelene capacitors. The circuits of both DAC and amp were built with Holco resistors, and ICW SA ClarityCaps in the signal path, with polystyrenes for smaller values and bypasses. Previous listening with off-the-shelf components confirms that these audiophile parts contribute significantly to the smoothness and detail in the sound. They also, in my experience, provide depth and realism in the soundstage, bringing out low level air and resonance.
Given the good quality of all the parts, what then can be attributed to the DAC itself in the reproduction chain? Well, for a start, it left the DAC part of the Pioneer standing, but this is to be expected in a component of this quality. The level of detail is considerable, and all the air, sound staging and smoothness present in the tube amp circuit is maintained through the DAC. The 6SN7/12SN7 combination sounded terrific - old news to 6SN7 users, of course, who will not be disappointed at its implementation.
With such a smooth, detailed sound and such presence and realism, it was a pleasure sitting down to listen as different musical combinations came to life. Singers were smooth and natural (and lyrics were clearly audible), pianos realistic, cymbals had a characteristic metallic sheen and wind and strings sounded particularly lifelike. Iím a jazz and classical listener who likes to hear realistic timbre and the hidden details in complex scores, so this euphonic and refined sound suited me completely. For a panel based system this combination ranks alongside the best I've heard.
Given that there is now a V-DAC 3 in advanced design stage, the few remaining boards for the V-DAC 2 are now being heavily discounted. They are a moderate build in terms of skill Ė the circuit boards are professionally made and clearly marked, and need only to be assembled and fitted into an appropriate case with a couple of mains toroidals (55v-0-55v and 0-12 + 0-12) and a filtered IEC socket. Those just needing an economical tube DAC kit with single ended output should be more than satisfied.
For the more ambitious, the V-DAC 3 promises a 2x20 fluorescent display, remote or front panel control options, separate L and R power supplies for the tube circuit, 3 digital inputs that include a high level balanced, and both balanced and unbalanced audio outputs. Further features include switchable dither and display of input sampling rate.The newer model has four octal tubes (no 9 pin options planned) and a larger circuit board with everything on board rather than the present piggy-back arrangement on the review unit, but it remains upgradeable due to its modular DAC board construction.
Tube DACs are a subject of understandable interest these days, and the V-DAC 2 or 3 - whatever the option chosen - is a worthwhile addition to this esoteric club. After 3 days of listening to a variety of music I can't find anything negative to say about the sound of this unit, and it is confidently recommended for kit builders on a budget and anyone seeking a worthwhile DAC upgrade.
For prices and more information, contact Chris Found at: ChrsFound@aol.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Does it come with parts for the board and where did you get the cabnet parts?
In theory the DAC can be supplied with any parts required, including a cabinet. In practice, a builder would choose parts according to taste and what's already in the parts box at home - resistors and caps - though again they could be supplied. The box needs to be 260 x 160 x 80mm for the board plus add on enough for two toroidals 90mm across, either on one side or in front of the board. The back of the board contains the input and output sockets and so has to go directly up to the back panel, so the rear of the box has to be at least 260mm. There should be some ventilation for the tubes, but this could be just some drilled holes. The kit is supplied from London UK, so for those abroad it saves postage if you get the toroidals and box locally. Personally, I fitted it into a box I already had which measures 360 x 250 x 110, but that's just one option. I used my own stock of resistors and caps. Andy Evans
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