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C I Audio VDA 2 DAC Processors Review by Captain Audio

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Model: VDA 2
Category: DAC Processors
Suggested Retail Price: $599.00
Description: out board 2 channel DAC
Manufacturer URL: C I Audio
Model Picture: View

Review by Captain Audio (A) on February 21, 2007 at 13:11:20
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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.

The comparisons:

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

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