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Harmonix Reimyo DAP-777 20bitK2 DAC Review

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Reimyo K2 DAC in rackForeword

Digital audio has been garnering the highest visibility among other equipment of a complete audio system for two decades, and progression of that segment of the consumer electronics industry has also been attracting talents from a wide range of disciplines. To this day, manufacturers continue to advance their understanding of every aspect of digital audio, and the fiercely competitive spirit gave birth to generations of technologies of such increasing complexities, that they almost dwarfed the very invention of the format itself.

Standing at the forefront for advancing the quality of the Redbook CD format, hardware manufacturers from each continent are not the only ones making appreciable progress, efforts by record companies in various countries have also been monumental. Between the hardware and software industries, Sony made the most visible progress in its development of the Direct Stream Digital™ archival technology and the Super Audio Compact Disc medium.

Yet, in refining the RBCD standard, Victor Company of Japan, or JVC, has been the one force undertaking some of the most fanatical measures since the early 80s, as exemplified in the development of the DAS-900 digital audio mastering system. The label’s CD’s made with the DAS-900 in the early 80’s retain a highly resolute sound that can compare favorably even against many other label’s releases of the day.

For the past few years, JVC has been producing the exclusive Extended Definition Compact Disc (XRCD), a CD that is created under some of the strictest quality control protocols in the industry, from recording to disc pressing. Succinctly, the company’s proprietary 20bitK2 A/D converter is used during recording, with the Digital K2 machine regenerating resultant clock signals for transferring to a magneto-optical disc. At the pressing plant, the 20-bit disc is then reconstituted again via JVC’s 20bitK2 D/A converter, then converted into a true 16-bit signal using the K2 Super Coding machine. Finally, the K2 Laser regenerates the EFM-encoded signal during glass cutting.

The subject of this review, the Harmonix Reimyo DAP-777 DAC, incorporates the JVC 20bitK2 D/A converter IC.

The Reimyo K2 DAC

Spearheaded by Combak Corporation’s Managing Director, Kazuo Kiuchi, the DAP-777 20bitK2 DAC is the prodigy child of Mr. Kiuchi’s “High Tech Fusion” concept, signifying a convergence of resources in creating a product that houses the pride of 3 of the most admired Japanese companies that are the gems among its own kind: Combak, JVC and Kyodo Denshi.

On choosing Japan Victor’s K2 IC processor for his DAP-777, as well as the DAC’s overall design, Mr. Kiuchi offers the following words:

“JVC’s K2 IC Processing is a very unique technology, totally different from other IC technology. The core of the K2 contains an exclusive process in the generation of an analog sine wave, which facilitates the outputting of a full, 20-bit analog signal at the output terminals. Note that upsampling only achieves a 16-bit resolution, because there is no true information between 16- to 24-bit. The music we hear from upsampling is still of 16-bit resolution, while the JVC 20bitK2 is a true 20-bit, sine wave product.

When you compare the DAP-777 against other upsampling converter in playing acoustic instruments, you can hear more information, smoother textures, more acoustic cues within the listening space, and thus more touching to the heart of the listener. The sound of the DAP-777 is, therefore, of analog.

This is also the very reason why many reviewers who tested and compared DAP-777 and upsampling concluded that the DAP-777 sounded better than upsampling, and much closer to their reference LPs. Harmonix is of the opinion that the significance of D/A conversion is not in number of bits but how much information the unit can truly output.

All internal wires are specially designed for DAP-777 and the wirings are solder-less as in the new CAT-777 preamplifier and PAT-777 300B stereo power amplifier.

Designing a simple but good circuit is a wonderful challenge for any electronic engineer but this is where I’ve done a lot of research in. It can be stated that Audio is Art and nothing else, and it depends on the individual who created it and how much he cared.”

The $5.5k K2 DAC is Combak Corporation’s U.S. debut in offering high-end audio equipment. On releasing the company’s first major product under the Harmonix name, please refer to the new commentary, “Combak’s Kazuo Kiuchi on Harmonix Reimyo”.

Review Setup

Measuring only about 2.5 inches high, the DAP-777 joins Linn’s $9,000 Klimax Twin power amplifier in sporting a modernistic, slim portfolio. A lone, protruding knob on the left of the front panel controls input selection, and lights to the right confirms input sampling frequencies and signal lock status. A toggle on the rear panel is provided for an 180-degree phase inversion. The DAP-777 accepts all standard digital inputs, such as coaxial, BNC, AES/XLR and Toslink.

My K2 DAC was previously used by the audiophile record label First Impression Music, a Seattle, WA-based recording studio whose releases are trusted by reviewers worldwide in equipment evaluation. FIM’s president, Winston Ma, fortified the outer rim of the K2 DAC’s AC inlet with a metal brace for stabilization of heavier AC cords, such as my Granite Audio #560.

Loth X’s $15k JI300 300B integrated amplifier, 47 Laboratory’s $26.8k 4704 PiTracer and Audio Note’s $20k, ALNICO-equipped, silver-proliferated Audio Note ANE-SEC Silver loudspeakers provided the evaluation platform for the K2 DAC. For additional perspectives, Sony’s SCD-777ES SACD/CD player were rotated as a transport with the 47 Lab PiTracer, and Audio Note’s $10k, M5 preamplifier, as well as Reimyo’s own newest $17k tube preamplifier, the CAT-777, also took turns in controlling either of the two power amplifiers: the $9k Linn Klimax Twin stereo power amplifier or the $27k Reimyo PAT-777 300B power amplifier.

Audio Note’s $30k DAC 5 Special provided insights into the potential of the Reimyo DAC, and digital cables used between the transport and DAC was AN’s own top-of-the-line Sogon. Interconnects were AN’s Sogon and AN-Vx, and speaker cables were the SPx, all made with the British company’s proprietary silver conductors. Also worthy of particular mentioning is Tannoy’s $19k Churchill Wideband loudspeaker, the 15-inch, Dual-Concentric™ methodology of which contrasted the AN sound in according more in-depth understanding of the K2 DAC.

Audition

Via the silver-wired Audio Note AN-E SEC Silver loudspeakers, smooth texturing was the foremost attribute of the K2 DAC, as First Impression Music’s SACD hybrid, The Four Seasons (FIM SACD 052), was rendered with an underlying, fine-grained tonality that complimented a pristine and rich texturing, making for some of the most fluidic and reverberating tonalities.

From the warm and intimate acoustics of Italy’s Kirche Chiesa di S. Vigilio Church, to the refreshingly original and thoughtfully vigorous performance of the 8-person Sonatori De La Gioiosa Marca, the K2 DAC distinguished itself in its tube-like delicacy and a soft but pristine top-end.

Manifested by both the Audio Note AN-E SEC Silver and the Tannoy Churchill Wideband, the K2 DAC also exhibited an ability of producing top to bottom spectral coherency plus substantial dynamic scaling in portraying contrasts among instruments, traits normally accorded by machines with far more substantial power management systems, such as those in the Audio Note Super DAC, and the Wadia 27 Decoding Computer I once owned. Take FIM’s another hybrid SACD, Autumn In Seattle (FIM SACD 040), for example. The disc’s wonderfully dimensional and evocative sound from the CD layer was complemented by the K2 DAC’s competence in contrasting dynamic variance among the communal and congruous playing of the trio of pianist Tsuyoshi Yamamoto, bassist Ken Kanek o and drummer Toshio Osumi, as the K2’s competence in contrasting dynamic variances among the trio of instruments were summarily exploited by the highly resolute AN speaker, while the Tannoy’s 15-inch Dual-Concentric™ impressed with the K2 DAC’s tonal wholeness on each instrument.

Convincingly, the K2 DAC conveyed the conciseness and subtlety of the gentlemen’s camaraderie without subduing the rare flare and fluidity in the occasional, instantaneous power plays.

Also deserving special notice was the Reimyo’s textural sophistication, which imparted some of the most profound impressions on recordings of closed-mike instruments and vocals alike.

One such rewarding listening experience was Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab’s Modern Cool (MoFi UDSACD 2003), a disc whose Redbook CD layer possessed tremendous details in depicting a magnetic Patricia Barber in a highly personable performance. Reimyo DAP-777’s ability of revealing the immediacy of vocal and instrumental textures embedded in the MFSL disc was engaging, repeatedly pulling the vocalist into the listening space with her “alluring” presence, a descriptive appropriately penned by DAGOGO’s music reviewer, Mike Silverton, in his December 2003 Review on the MFSL disc. Discs of non-audiophile concern, such as Deutsche Grammophon’s latest chamber music of Brahms: Klavierquartett op. 25, Schumann: Fantasiestucke, op. 88 (DG 289 463 700-2), revealed a soothing warmth in the playing of the world-class virtuosi’s mastery via the K2 DAC, a sonorous lamentation that was at the same time expertly and ingeniously instilled with spontaneous zests. Listening to the K2 DAC’s presentation of Martha Argerich’s lyrical piano and Gidon Kremer’s technically peerless fiddling reaffirmed what a well-designed solid-state DAC could do.

The Company Of Yet Others

Some proclaims that upsampling DACs have the ability of elevating the performance of a digital front end with modest transport. The Reimyo Harmonix was willing to accommodate in that regard to a certain point.

For example, changing the transport from the 47 Lab PiTracer to the Sony SCD-777ES SACD/CD player resulted in loss of finer details and lesser tonal differentiation; but the SCD-777ES/DAP-777 coupling was far livelier and more dimensional than the Sony on its own D/A converting scheme. Then, more extreme experimentation in the form of my $599 Sony DVD player working as transport with the K2 DAC yielded unremarkable results.

Last not least, substituting Audio Note Sogon digital cable with others I had on hand significantly impeded the K2 DAC’s ability to perform, with the most notable casualty of tonality and transient development.

Conclusion

The emergence of the Harmonix Reimyo DAP-777 20bitK2 DAC from the collaboration between Combak, JVC and Kyodo Denshi marks a new era in industrial design and manufacturing. Each capable of fashioning a finished product, the three companies’ partnership in bringing the Harmonix Reimyo DAP-777 to the consumers sets an admirable precedence in the industry, and we may never set our eyes on the likes of it again.

In my eyes, the $5,500 K2 DAC is priceless by its birthright.

Sonically, the Harmonix Reimyo DAP-777 is one solid-state DAC endowed with the attributes of superb spectral coherency and a ultra-solid soundstaging, solidly reaffirming the value of the embedded technological fusion. The successive interplay of the two attributes contributed enormously to rewarding listening sessions, caressing my sensibilities in each passing second with a sonic beauty that implicated an inner sound from every disc in my collection.

While it remains my hope to see a “trickled-down” unit utilizing the same technological foundation of the DAP-777 which will surely be music to every audiophile’s ears, I believe the one product already endowed with a higher application of the 3 companies’ expertise, namely the CDP-777 integrated player, is harnessing potentials that bewilder even the most imaginative speculations.

The superiority of Audio Note’s DAC 5 Special has yet to be matched; but the $5,500 Harmonix Reimyo K2 DAC so increasingly and unequivocally reminded me so much of the AN Super DAC in each listening that I was not able to forsake it. It remains turned on and connected next to the AN Super DAC even to this day.

Associated Equipment:

Digital Front End
47 Laboratory 4705-G Gemini Progression DAC
47 Laboratory 4707 PiTracer CD Transport
Audio Note DAC One 1.1x Signature
Audio Note DAC 5 Special
GW Labs DSP Engine
Sony SCD-777ES SACD/CD player

Amplification
Audio Note M5 pre-amplifier
Decware SE84C
GW Labs 270 tube power amplifier
Harmonix Reimyo CAT-777 tube preamplifier
Harmonix Reimyo PAT-777 300B SET power amplifier
Linn Klimax Twin
Loth X JI300 integrated amplifier
Reference Line Preeminence Two passive preamplifier
Reference Line Preeminence One Signature power amplifier]
Z-systems RDP-1 Reference Digital Preamplifier

Speakers
Apogee Duetta Signature
Audio Note AN-E SEC Silver
Celestion SL700
ELAC CL330JET
Genesis VI
Loth-X BS1
Rethm 2nd
Royal Device Laura Studio Mk II with Miranda Horn
Tannoy Churchill Wideband
Tannoy TD10

Cabling
Audio Note Sogon digital cable (1m, RCA)
Audio Note Sogon interconnect (2m pair, RCA)
Audio Note AN-Vx interconnect (1.5m, RCA)
Audio Note AN-V silver interconnect (RCA 1m, 2 pairs)
Audio Note AN-SPx speaker cable (2m, bananas, bi-wired)
Audio Note AN-La copper speaker cable (8 feet, bi-wired)
Canare L-5CFB 75-ohm digital cable (RCA, 1.5m)
Canare D206 110 ohm digital cable (AES/EBU, 1.5m)
Cardas Quadlink 5C (8 feet)
Granite Audio #470 silver cables (RCA 1m, 2 pairs)
Granite Audio #560 AC Mains (2)
Illuminations D-60 75 Ohm digital cable (1.5m, RCA)
Loth X
Royal Device Bi-wire speaker cable
Van den Hul MCD-352 (8feet)

Accessories
ISO
Salamander Synergy 20 (2)
ASC Tube Traps and Flat Traps

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