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Accustic Arts Drive 1 CD Transport & DAC I-Mk3 Review

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Accustic Arts DAC IMk 3Accustic Arts DRIVE I


Sony’s creation of the Super Audio Compact Disc was to provide audio experiences more fulfilling than Redbook CD in a high-end audio system; in actuality, the hi-rez media infused the audio industry with renewed energy and prospects. Most significantly, the new format blessed us with the subsequent proliferation of ultra-wide bandwidth electronic and speaker designs.

The new format’s own reception in its intended target market, namely the audiophile segment, however, has not been as favorable as many have wished. Since the dawn of stereo, audiophiles have long gotten used to owning several amplifiers, loudspeakers, and even CD players, because it is exciting and fun to experience different sound from different machines; but the audio industry had not expected audiophiles’ reluctance to the idea of spending money on a more expensive disc of the same music just to get a better sound. Buying and selling audio equipment is a norm in our hobby, but selling our old CDs is a pain, if they are worth anything at all.

In my opinion, the most immediate survival of the SACD format hinges on the audiophiles’ embrace of the multi-channel, surround-sound method. In the long run, the industry needs to be able to sustain market infusion with as much variety in SACD machines and hybrid discs as possible, so as to foster gradual adoption of the SACD in both the current and the future audiophiles. Lastly, the SACD industry needs to woo today’s audiophiles with wide-availability of supremely engineered machines worthy to become their next digital front-end when they upgrade.

Most importantly, the SACD group needs to engage the entire high-end audio industry to engineer SACD machines worthy of their namesakes. If Audio Note’s Peter Qvortrup or 47 Lab’s Junji Kimura design an SACD transport, the audiophile community will take note, and I’ll chase either man to the end of the world for a Dagogo review unit.

For the time being, I sold my Sony SCD-777ES CD/SACD player after reviewing the Accustic Arts CD Player I, because the $6,500 German player’s competence in playback of DSD-remastered CD music prompted terminal realization of SACD’s inessentiality in my system, in light of the fact that I had also long been harnessing sonics from hybrid SACD’s DSD-processed CD layer via the 47 Laboratory PiTracer/Audio Note DAC 5 Special digital front end.

Technical Details on DRIVE I

A fortified version of the CD Player I, the Drive I is of an identical top-loading design, while equipped with Philip’s top-grade CDM Pro, cast metal transport mechanism with mechanical decoupling. The top-loading method of the Drive I and CD Player I is the kind with which I have had tremendous satisfaction from my days with the CEC TL1. A large, magnetically shielded toroidal core transformer, and four separate power supplies are provisioned for laser control, digital signal processing, display control and display heating. Then, the digital output stage is also fitted with extra large power supply unit with voltage stabilization. Both the XLR and RCA digital outputs are supported by dedicated transformers.

Housed in the resonance minimizing aluminum chassis, the drive mechanism, mains power components, digital signal processing and display control sections are further shielded in separate compartments. The Drive I’s digital outputs include one 75Ω RCA, one 110Ω XLR, and one BNC.

Technical Details on DAC I-Mk3

The DAC I-MK3, on the other hand, is hardly just a refuge for the CD Player I’s segregated DAC section; it is exclusively equipped with some of the most advanced technologies from Europe and America.

The world’s first DAC to feature a 32bit/384kHz conversion technique, the DAC I-MK3 utilizes an Accustic Arts exclusive: an 8-times oversampling, 119dB dynamic, premium quality parallel multiplier with 32-bit accumulator that boosts incoming, 16-bit signal beyond 24-bit, to 32-bit resolution before conversion. When asked details about this wonder chip, Martin Schunck of AA was very tightlipped, explaining that the company did not apply for patent protection due to the considerable costs it would involve. He, instead, remarked that the proprietary accumulator chip cost more than a normal CD player, and the cost was further compounded by the necessity to use an expensive DAC chip that would fit into the 32-bit accumulator’s design schematics.
The 2nd technological innovation incorporated into the DAC I-MK3 was in the form of a Texas Instrument Burr Brown op-amp chip for the I/V conversion stage. Dubbed the OPA627 DIFET®, this laser-trimmed, advanced class-A biased op-amp differed from other popular FET op-amps, such as BB’s own OPA111, in lower noise, higher speed, increased bandwidth, improved operational stability from aging, and clear and natural sonic
performance. In fact, Burr Brown’s specified “high performance audio circuitry” as an intended application for this advanced op-amp. Every
DAC I-MK3 runs on ten of these wonder chips.

DIFET® is only a Burr Brown registered product
designation, while MOSFET describes a widely-used technology.

A word of caution from Martin: this op-amp is over 10-times more expensive than the best bipolar, MOSFET op-amp, and is easily subjected to damage even by a finger’s touch.

The DAC I-MK3 also runs on a 100VA, magnetically shielded and encapsulated toroidal transformer, with a class A output stage derived from professional engineering used in the studio operation of Accustic Arts.

The DAC I-MK3 comes in the standard RCA analog-out version, as well as a $6,000 balanced analog-out version named DAC I balanced-MK3, as Accustic Arts intended for its DAC to be a “no-compromise” design, operating at an optimum for a specific analog output. Unit being reviewed is the RCA iteration. Each DAC I-MK3 offers the digital inputs of XLR, RCA and BNC, as well as the digital outputs of XLR and RCA.

System Setup and Audition
As a custom digital system, the CD Drive and the DAC I-MK3
produced a more spacious soundstage via a 1.5meter Illuminati
Orchid XLR digital cable, contrasting a more intense tonal
presence via the Audio Note Sogon digital cable. The $27k, 47
Laboratory PiTracer CD transport and the $30k, Audio Note DAC 5 Special also partook into the review process.

Then, in conjunction with efficient loudspeakers at my household, such as the 95dB/8Ω, $40k Audio Note AN-E SEC Signature, the $35k Audio Note M5 preamplifier/Harmonix Reimyo PAT-777 300B power amplifier system was put into action. Alternately, the new, $18k Audia Flight PRE preamplifier and 100 power amplifier solid-state system from Italy were employed in driving Tannoy’s $20k Churchill Wideband, as well as other less efficient speakers. Linn’s $9k Klimax Twin power amplifier also rotated with the Harmonix Reimyo around the M5 preamplifier when driving less efficient speakers.

With the exception of the XLR digital cable, all cablings are via Audio Note, namely the Sogon from DAC to preamplifier, the AN-Vx from preamplifier to power amplifier, and the Sogon LX speaker cable when distance permitting, otherwise the lengthier AN-SPx would take the Sogon LX’s place.

Distinct instrument localization was the most prominent trait of the German digital front end, in the orderly and stable insertion of instrument images.

Be it a portrayal of a string orchestra onstage inside Vienna’s Friend of Music orchestra hall, or of a modest gathering of a jazz ensemble in a more confined studio venue inside the Paul Stubblebine Studio at San Francisco, the CD Drive and DAC I-MK3 consistently produced most discernable bodies of sonic origination, with a spectacular spatiality permeated by an out-of-the-box phenomenon continuing beyond the outer vicinities of the transducers.

Vangelis’ “Memories of Green” from his Themes enjoyed conspicuous airtime in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, and being a master illusionist of sound, his interjection of sonic fabrics resembling cruising, mid-air police vehicles, amidst a sonic backdrop of agitations of gadgets, achieved the effect of installing the listener in an alien and harmonious world simultaneously. Via the Accustic Arts Drive I and DAC I-MK3, the expertly reenacted effects sounded as if they were real occurrences in real space, hence conveying the artist’s intentions hauntingly amidst the double-chore of providing for a rinsed-like tonality most representative of the synthesizing variety.

Listening experiences on the Accustic Arts digital front end also highlighted the 32bit/384kHz converter’s top-end articulation. Consistent in its handling of orchestral instrument groups, or gems from the Electronica, as well as the soaring of a soprano, the DAC 1 MK3 is perhaps the first DAC to manifest a top-end definition of the most sophisticated in a solid-state design, sounding extended and eminently stable during dynamic swings. There was none of the excess artifacts that lesser transistor-based electronics are prone to produce.

But the most powerful testament on the BB DIFET® suited DAC’s intrinsic worth came to pass when the $5,700 DAC operated in partnership with the $27k, 47 Laboratory PiTracer CD transport.

Costing a mere 1/5th of the 47 Lab PiTracer, the Accustic Arts DAC I-MK3 successfully preserved and reconstituted the PiTracer’s incomparable feat at dynamics and tonal subtleties contrasting, holding music’s integrity intact with a tonal balancing act the most consummating I’ve heard in a solid-state DAC. Whether it was a rendition of Dame Kathleen Battle’s definitive singing of Johann Strauss’ Voice Of Spring amidst the 100+ member Vienna Symphony, or the complex rock’n roll studio mix of U2’s Mysterious Way, or that of state DAC. Whether it was a rendition of Dame Kathleen Battle’s definitive singing of Johann Strauss’ Voice Of Spring amidst the 100+ member Vienna Symphony, or the complex rock’n roll studio mix of U2’s Mysterious Way, or that of Tibetan horns in the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s Kundun, the PiTracer-enabled DIFET® DAC seemingly lifted the floodgate to magnificent levels of detail retrieval in its capturing of every minutely recorded sound in awe-inspiring discretions.

At the end, it was the 47 Lab/Accustic Arts digital front end’s unique ability to laid bare all levels of micro- and macrodynamic rendition without the slightest degree of chaos or haze, that presented the most uncompressed sonic events literally unheard of at this price range.


Though not the equivalent of the $57k digital front end of the 47 Lab PiTracer and Audio Note DAC 5 Special, the sheer
performance of the Accustic Arts digital system of Drive I CD transport and DAC I-MK3 DAC puts it in the echelon of sonic
excellence led by the 47 Lab/Audio Note system, an excellence further authenticated by the extensive application of advanced and sophisticated technologies. Hence, the fact that the German system only costs $11,200 makes it a most significant Dagogo find in digital front end to date.

But the $5,700 DAC I-MK3 holds a promise of gargantuan proportions to audiophiles who are currently using CD transports of higher calibers. The world’s first 32-bit/384kHz oversampling DAC, the Accustic Arts DAC is an embodiment of the most amazing case study in superior engineering.
Incorporating an advanced, unique 32-bit accumulator and a suite of the latest in operational amplifier technologies, the DAC I-MK3 rivets in astounding levels of resolution retrieval, and considering its MSRP, the DAC I-MK3’s ability to compliment the 47 Lab PiTracer CD transport’s supreme tonal differentiation prowess is a triumphant experiment in DAC engineering.

Dagogo readers with complimentary amplifications and loudspeakers can now amass a level of digital audio replay among the best today for around $11k, and readers with the extra advantage of having top-caliber transports will smile each time he/she plays music via the $5,700 DAC I-MK3.

With both Audio Note’s DAC 5 Special and Accustic Arts’ DAC I-MK3, I’d be listening to the same music twice at any given time, more often than my wife’s sanity would allow. But that, my readers, is but only one other good facet of audiophile fun.

Associated Equipment:

Digital Front End
47 Laboratory 4704 PiTracer CD transport
Audio Note DAC One 1.1x Signature
Audio Note DAC 5 Special

47 Laboratory 4706 dual mono Gaincard S with DACT24 & Cardas posts
Audia Flight PRE
Audia Flight 100
Audio Note M5 preamplifier
Decware SE84C power amplifier
Harmonix Reimyo PAT-777 300B stereo amplifier
Linn Klimax Twin stereo power amplifier
Loth X JI300 integrated amplifier
Monarchy Audio SM-70Pro monoblocks
Reference Line Preeminence Two passive preamplifier
Reference Line Preeminence One Signature power amplifier

47 Laboraotory 4722 Lens minimonitors
47 Laboratory Essence
Acapella LaCompanella
Apogee Duetta Signature
Audio Note AN-E SEC Signature
Audio Note AN-E SEC Silver
Celestion SL700
Ensemble Figura
Genesis G6.1e
Genesis G928
Genesis VI
Loth-X BS1
Tannoy Churchill Wideband
Tannoy Dimension TD10
Tannoy ST-200 SuperTweeter

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 Sogon LX speaker cable (5 feet, spade/banana, bi-wired)
Audio Note AN-SPx speaker cable (2m, bananas, bi-wired)
Audio Note AN-La copper speaker cable (8 feet, bi-wired)
Boelen Digital-Precise digital cable (1.5m, RCA)
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)
Ensemble Magaflux
Granite Audio #470 silver cables (RCA 1m, 2 pairs)
Granite Audio #560 AC Mains (2)
Harmonix HS101-SLC speaker cable (1.5m, spade/banana, bi-wired)
Harmonix X-DC Studio Master Wattagate 330+350 power cable (4)
Illuminations D-60 75 Ohm digital cable (1.5m, RCA)
Loth X
Van den Hul MCD-352 (8 feet)

Salamander Synergy 20 (2), Twin 30 and Amp Stand
ASC Tube Traps and Flat Traps

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