Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Blue Computer Solutions Music Server Project...Adding the Wavelength DAC

The latest chapter of the ongoing music server project here at Blue Computer Solutions is the substitution of a high-end DAC for a traditional external sound card to see how it affects overall sound quality. I had a chance to borrow the Wavelength Audio Brick V3 24/96 digital-to-analog converter for the project, which replaced a $125 Creative Labs SB1240. When I first compared our music server (which isn't really a music server, but one of our Acer laptops with Zune software) to my modest Denon CD/DVD player, the sound quality was almost identical. I wanted to see how the $1750 Wavelength tipped the scales.

First I hooked up everything with Cardas Audio cable, including a Golden Reference interconnect linking the DAC to my amp--even the USB cable to the laptop was Cardas Clear. I plugged my laptop in, started the Zune software on my laptop and started playing around. For the first hour or so, I felt that the treble was a little too bright for my tastes. In addition, I thought the output levels from selection to selection were way too varied, much more so than if I was merely playing CDs. Good thing the Zune software let me adjust volume directly from the laptop. After a while, however, the sound softened up, and I was ready to compare the music server files directly to CD.

I listen to quite a few selctions from some of my favorites including The Smiths, Dead Can Dance, Pink Floyd and even a little Adam and the Ants. I finally settled on a cut for A/B comparisons: Neko Case's "Star Witness" from her album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, one of my favorite songs in the world. I carefully matched the volume for both the music server and the CD player, and started twisting selector knobs back and forth, back and forth.

At first I found it difficult to prefer one format after another. Then, I started to notice that the CD was sounding increasingly bright compared to the server running through the Wavelength DAC. When Neko really starts singing at full power, it could be a little relentless through the Denon CD player and I found myself wanting to turn down the volume. The Wavelength DAC/music server took the edge off and made it less fatiguing. It was almost like switching back and forth between a solid state amp and a tube amp (which makes sense because the DAC is tubed), where the Wavelength sounded softer, warmer and natural. The differences are subtle, however, and I want to spend some more time (and have a few others second my impressions) before I offer my final thoughts...especially since the Cardas cables need to break in further.

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