The Digital Amplifier Company was founded by Tommy O’Brien in 1996. Armed with an engineering background and extensive experience in developing digital audio amplifiers for all sorts of applications from PC computer sound and headphone amplifiers to amps for sound reinforcement applications, the Digital Amplifier Company (heretofore referred to as DAC), set their sights on developing custom ultra-high-end CLASS-D amplifier modules as an OEM supplier for amp manufacturers in the 2-channel high-end audio market; certainly a very lofty goal. As their in-house Class-D amplifier modules gained acceptance and usage in many diverse applications, their patented design continued to develop and improve as the challenges of each application were conquered through continuous improvement. From the onset, DAC recognized that in order to make it as a serious high-end 2-channel audio amplifier manufacturer, they needed to design a true breakthrough digital (Class-D) amplifier.
Specifically, they needed to develop an amplifier that can drive difficult loads such as those of electrostatic speakers, excel in precise low level detail, and deliver clean, powerful fast, and precise transients when called upon to do so. As such, off-the-shelf amplifier modules were never an option. Their amplifiers absolutely needed to be designed and built entirely in-house in order to have a reasonable chance of attaining that aggressive goal. Also, in order to deliver a completely in-house developed custom high-end amplifier, DAC had decided that for pricing to remain reasonable, the amplifiers would need to be sold direct online and not through a distribution or dealer network.
DAC’s first amplifier out of the gate was the DAC 4800A; a 380-watt-per-channel balanced stereo amplifier. Now discontinued, it was replaced by the evolved Cherry Jr. Over the past few years the line has continued to expand with stereo amplifiers of greater power supply capacity, and refinements in the proprietary amplification modules, as exemplified in the Cherry Plus and Cherry Ultra. Each of these amplifiers is rated similarly in final power output at around 400 watts per channel. However, each model going up the line has progressively larger power supplies. The Cherry Jr, Plus and Cherry Ultra each are also available in monoblock versions that provide greater dynamic capabilities with double the power supply capacity per channel; you will read more about these in the future. The top-of-the-line stereo power amplifier is the DAC Cherry Ultra. The DAC Cherry Ultra Stereo amplifier, the subject of this review, is rated at 400 watts per channel. It is bridgeable to mono and delivers a prodigious 1200 watts into 8 ohms in that configuration.
When the cattle call came through to review the DAC Cherry Ultra, I immediately jumped on it mainly because I was bound and determined to ignore and dispel any prejudices I had about certain type of gear, and to experience as broad a spectrum of equipment as possible. The DAC Cherry Ultra fit the bill nicely. I had never ever been even remotely impressed with any Class D amps I had heard up until this point, and really only equated them for compact, high powered “solution”-type of amplifiers that were good mainly for active subwoofers and computer audio. For that reason, I purposely didn’t even research the amp. All I knew was that it was sold direct by the manufacturer and had plenty of power on tap for my speakers, and in some circles had already established a reputation for being a cut above the rest in the Class “D” or digital amplifier universe.
I immediately set-up up the Cherry Ultra in my system when it arrived. The rather diminutive 17” x 12.5” x 5” chassis was roughly what I was expecting. After all, this is what this class of amplifier is known for, compact size, cool-running, and lightweight. Well, the DAC Cherry Ultra is compact and yes, it runs quite cool, but it is anything but lightweight. The Cherry Ultra Stereo amp is equipped with a huge 1,500-watt toroid transformer in its power supply and so it weighs in at a porky 40 lbs; a disarming amount of weight in such a compact chassis. Heck, I can stack three of these babies on top of each other and still not have the weight or size of the Pass Labs X350.5 stereo amp, so I guess even at 40 lbs, they are svelte by comparison.
The DAC Cherry Ultra has very simple and straightforward aesthetics. A rack-mountable (standard 19”) face plate with a Cherry graphic and lettering simply stating Cherry Ultra.
The rear panel is also very simple and straight forward with a pair of balanced inputs jacks, an IEC connector for the power cord, gold binding posts that are also drilled to accommodate banana plugs and a small ON-OFF toggle switch.
The DAC Cherry Ultra also comes equipped with a pair of RCA to XLR adaptors in the event you plan to use the amplifier with a preamplifier that only offers single-ended connectivity.
Since this amplifier had already been shipped to other reviewers, I was pretty certain that break-in would not be an issue. I therefore didn’t really worry about break-in. The system set-up used for the entire review period had the DAC Cherry Ultra Stereo amplifier teamed up with the Pass Labs XP-20 linestage, the Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101 turntable/ Technics EPA-500M tonearm / Accuphase AC-3 analog playback system, Conrad Johnson UDP-1 deluxe universal digital player, and Eficion F300 speakers. Cables used throughout the review process were the excellent Aural Symphonics MagicGem v2t powercord on the DAC Cherry Ultra; the rest of the system was decked out with the family of Enklein Cables; the Zephyr balanced and single-ended interconnects, and Taurus Reference power cords. You will read all about these cables in a future review.
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