3 Dimension Audio was formed by a couple of engineers who love music and had worked for years in the high-end audio industry. Alex Dondysh was the hardware engineer, and he shared freely about the design of his DACs. After I had already turned in my review, I asked him about his design goals and why they went with a non-oversampling design instead of the very popular up-sampling type DACs. His answer sounded so much like what I had already written that it really caught me off guard. He did add that on paper he could get an almost perfect-looking DAC if he used up-sampling, and that as an engineer he had no prejudice against up-sampling. Still, he said that his design goal was not to get the math perfect, but to get as close as possible to what was originally recorded. To do that, he felt you should not add to information on the recording, nor should you filter it.
Alex says as simple as it sounds, they really had only two design goals with the 3 Dimension DACs. The first goal was to reproduce what was on the recording and to add nothing to it nor to take anything away from it through filters or such. Their second design goal was to keep the clock as stable as possible at all times. The purpose of the second goal, of course, is to reduce jitter as much as possible. I have no way of telling you how close they came to reach these goals other than with my ears. So here it goes.
The system I used for this review was my personal reference system which consists of a Shindo Masseto preamplifier, a Wavac EC 300B SET amplifier driving the Lowther DX4 based Teresonic Ingenium Silver speakers. For a transport I used a Slim Devices Transporter playing WAV files from a terabyte hard drive and the Audio Note CDT-3 transport. Cabling in the system was all Teresonic Clarison cables with their 24 carat gold cable between the amp and preamp. The power cords were the Shindo Deluxe Power Cords.
As I mentioned earlier, the 3 Dimension DAC18 is a non-oversampling, digital-to-analog converter that uses a vacuum tube output stage. One peep inside the DAC18’s chassis and you’ll see it incorporates some of the very finest parts available for the analog circuit. It uses a proprietary digital signal processing algorithms as well as a rather unique architecture in an attempt to eliminate jitter. The DAC18 is a zero negative-feedback design that utilizes a tube output stage. They claim that even a mediocre CD transport or DVD player sounds excellent when used with DAC18. I know the Transporter did.
The 3 Dimension DAC18 came in for review right after the remarkable $38,000 Audio Note DAC 5 Special Edition. If you just read the description you shouldn’t be able to help but notice some similarities. They both use a tube output stage and they both are non-oversampling DACs.
Good Redbook players, especially good oversampling ones, produce the leading edge of instruments with startling clarity. This kind of clarity can be enticing, but I think it is a Redbook artifact. It is especially obvious in bass and mid-bass dynamics; you end up with what I and others have called digital bass. It’s what you hear when you get the leading edge without natural decay and ambience of a given instrument. Like I said, its most easily heard in the bass area, but it’s there in the midrange and top-end as well. It’s kind of odd that the fact that the Redbook DACs produce less detail, but sound like they have more, because they don’t play as much information. I think that’s why most Redbook detail sounds etched and for me isn’t very listenable. The DAC18 never sounded etched, yet it still sounded very dynamic, allowing it to bring music to life in my room.
Another area that most Redbook players suffer when compared to non-oversampling DACs is in the feel of the music. I know I’m on dangerous ground with some of you when I start talking about something as subjective as “the feel of the music”, but let’s be honest: music is all about feelings, it’s the equipment that’s about sound. The Audio Note DACs are exceptional at letting you feel the music in a most natural and organic way. It was very interesting to me that the DAC18 was also superior to even the best up-sampling DACs in this vital area of music reproduction.
I feel these attributes are part of the reason that all the non-oversampling DACs I have heard are very easy to listen to. One of the many things I love about vinyl is just how easy it is to listen to for hours on end. The DAC 5 Special was the only Redbook digital I had ever heard that was really listenable for long periods of time. Since I have no means or desire to spend $38,000 on digital music, I use digital only for music I love that I can’t get on vinyl. Well, I have some good news for those of us who can’t afford the Audio Note DAC 5 Special: the 3D Audio’s DAC18 is also very listenable. Am I saying that it is just as listenable as the DAC 5 Special or my vinyl rig? No, but I’m saying it is really something special for any price and especially for under $5,000. So the question is, how does it sound?
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