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In absolute terms, the Acousticbuoy consistently demonstrated more information and extra dynamic steps where most critical - in the low-level territory where digital is at its theoretical weakest. Those extra dynamic shadings brought more life to instruments, better resolution of ambient information and longer and more precise decay structures. This advantage was most evident from the upper midrange on up where the high oversampling design shows maximum strength. The DAC 2488 offered an incredibly low dynamic noise floor affording it precise proportional dynamic and detail reproduction. With the sheer amount of additional information offered in both resolution and dynamic gradation, the Acousticbuoy demonstrated a level of refinement that captured the subtlety of Baroque nuance but could blast you back in your seat on powerful material.

On a comparative basis, the dynamic range and detail level of the DAC 2488 was widest of the units present. Only the custom zero sampling DAC bested it in the midrange through lower midrange and then only by a small margin. This is where the nonsampling design has its maximum advantage. The Audio Space CDP 8A gave the illusion of better hard edge on some material via its transistor output but on closer examination was in fact losing fine detail, especially in the mid to upper mid where the DAC2488 was presenting more information.

The tube output was energetic but softened detail in the lower octaves. The DAC 2488 was quick on its feet without etching. The result was a combination of high resolution, natural warmth and good transient response which made the other units come off mildly veiled. Since the evaluation involved the company’s own Scorpio preamplifier as well as the Audio Space Reference 2S, it should be noted that while the character of the DAC remained constant, the sound of the system reflected the differences between the preamplifier in use. With the Scorpio the DAC 2488 achieved maximum linearity of frequency range. Paired with the Reference 2S, the sources took on some of the seductiveness of the 300B.

The Acousticbuoy DAC mirrored the abilities of its sibling preamplifier by remaining robust and neutral. It proved capable of immense precision and control, allowing the shadings of bass instruments to be more accurately and proportionally reproduced.

In comparison, the nonsampling DAC was equal in extreme low bass performance but the Acousticbuoy demonstrated slightly more accurate response in the upper bass. The tube output of the Audio Space CD player had warmer bass but a loss of definition as it went lower. The SS output of the CDP 8A had equivalent control but a slight response rise in comparison to the Acousticbuoy. Overall, the DAC 2488 outperformed the others.

By absolute standards the DAC 2488 was warm, transparent and emotionally highly communicative. The comparative midrange results were interesting. In the center of this range, the tonal balance of all three units was similar and a credit to their designers who demonstrated the fundamental principle "first get the midrange right" by not merely looking at numbers but listening to music. The nonsampling DAC was closest to neutral, but this is its primary point of strength and the others were extremely close.

The lower midrange of the DAC 2488 was slightly more neutral where the other units exhibited a mild emphasis in this range. This gave the Acousticbuoy more accurate tonal information but also made it comparatively cooler. In the upper midrange the DAC 2488 was better defined and curiously often a bit warmer even when compared to the tube output of the Audio Space CDP 8A. The Audio Space CDP had a little bit of elevation in this range which made instruments move forward slightly. The DAC2488 was more consistent and accurate.

As one ascends the scale, the virtues of the DAC 2488 shine. The advantage of superior resolution was better delicacy in this range. The Audio Space CDP8 by comparison was close, with the tube output slightly sweeter, the solid-state output slightly harder. The nonsampling DAC was just as smooth but couldn’t match the extension due to its inherent design weakness in this portion of the spectrum. The Acousticbuoy was the most neutral of the group.

Much like the Scorpio, the Acousticbuoy favored transparency unlike the more "solid and organic" philosophy of other designs. It retained the hallmarks of excellent specificity due to high resolution and excellent recovery of ambient information. Hall acoustics were more alive due to the increase of available information in the upper midrange. Focus was excellent and it was easy to pick out instrumental positions. Depth was consistent and soundstage position was slightly farther back than the other units when paired with the Audio Space Reference 2S.

The 2488 DAC had good width but staged slightly narrower than the other DACs. It did however exhibit considerably better focus. The CDP 8 and Luxman were slightly more diffuse but occasionally displayed a little more dimensionality on some instruments. These characteristics were consistent over both preamplifiers. The DAC 2488 remained true to the same sonic ideal as the Acousticbuoy Scorpio preamplifier. Both were neutral, transparent and dynamically engaging - perfect companion pieces. But breaking up that partnership did not diminish the capabilities of the DAC. It also mated well with the Audio Space Reference 2S. They complimented each other’s strengths by gaining a bit of precision on one side, romantic character on the other.

The 2488 DAC stakes its performance on the removal of signal contamination with a resultant fidelity to the source material. The extent to which it realized that objective was always apparent. All source material benefited from the extended dynamic capabilities and tonal accuracy of this machine. While you might assume that this occurred primarily with audiophile caliber recordings, you would be mistaken.

The DAC proved its greatest prowess with lesser engineered material. Recordings which I would have considered lost due to poor mastering gained fresh life. The DA2488 also showed a powerful advantage with lower resolution recordings. On material I had converted from MP3 to WAV file, the Acousticbuoy managed to reconstitute a remarkable amount of fine detail and spatial information. The music sounded much richer and detailed than it had a right to. Not only did it outperform the other units on hand, it managed to bring the performance level very close to CD quality. This is good news for people with a wide range of source quality in their playback material. It also represents an unexpected strong suit.

How did the 2488 converter compare overall against those integrated into my CD players on hand? At this level of the game, the performance differences of good DAC design are a matter of refinement and intent. Both the Audio Space CDP 8A and modified Luxman performed extremely well as standalone CD players but achieved higher levels of performance as dedicated transports. While the other two DACs were clearly of audiophile quality and competed well in specific areas, neither could  match the overall purity and resolving power of the Acousticbuoy 2488.

: The Acousticbuoy 2488 DAC has certainly earned its pedigree. In an act of turnabout fair play, the designers of the tube-based Scorpio managed to marry some of the best sonic characteristics of tubes in a non-tube DAC.  The result is a piece of electronics which rewards the listener with sound which is not only admirable but more importantly, enjoyable. In this case, "simple" indeed turned out to be sonically elegant.

The unit is impeccably constructed inside and out. Features are limited but there is comfort in the simplicity of the design. Owners can only ever make the "right" choice.  The input versatility is limited but Acousticbuoy calculates their design choices carefully to serve their target audience effectively. The range of inputs provided should be sufficient for most applications but the lack of MP3 acceptance is something to take into consideration. Design longevity? While no product is absolutely future proof, Acousticbuoy has already demonstrated their commitment to keeping the product up to date with the availability of upgrades.

The performance level is very high and competitive with the better DACs I have heard although in my own system I have not had the benefit of listening to DACs higher up the financial ladder. With that proviso, I can comfortably state that the Acousticbuoy DAC 2488 V.3 is the best sounding DAC I have used in my system.

Who should be interested in this DAC? The DAC is aimed at the current midpoint of the High End marketplace and on sonic merit deserves to be taken seriously. In Acousticbuoy’s best tradition, their minimalist approach is short on versatility but long on performance. It represents a major step up from the vast majority of onboard DACs and has the advantage of being unusually forgiving of source material and transport. These attributes alone should make it quite attractive.

It will appeal to the upgrade crowd with a strong CD collection or high-resolution download library. It will appeal to those looking for accuracy without the penalty of hardness but who shy away from tube solutions. It should be of interest to those who want a top quality DAC without feeling besieged by a myriad of options. Those who want "plug and play" with a guarantee of major improvement will find the Acousticbuoy fitting that description to a tee. Recommended for those who want to keep it simple but do it right.

Quality of packing: Double-boxed container with solid 1 inch thick ply foam for protection.
Reusability of packing: Yes.
Condition of components received: Perfect.
Delivery: Hand delivered from Canadian distributor Acousticbuoy
Website comments: Comprehensive. Informative.
Human interactions: Professional and friendly.
Warranty: 3 years part and labor warranty. The Acousticbuoy product must not be modified in any manner whatsoever or the warranty will immediately void. During the warranty period, Acousticbuoy will repair the product to working order or, at AB’s option, replace the defective module with a similar available product at no cost to the owner for the labor, materials and return shipping from factory and or its distributor/dealer. Acousticbuoy will provide a 1-year extended warranty after a product upgrade (such as DAC2488 V2 to V3)
Final comments & suggestions: An elegant component priced like fine jewelry with the sonic sparkle to justify the expense.

Acousticbuoy website