Thinly sliced cucumber means you can read the paper right through it

... or read plenty of other things into it. Fact is, the DAC-2 and Kukama sound far more similar than not. Not as close as splitting hairs, but flute-sliced cucumber slivers about sums it up.

The DAC-2 is a veritable space champ in its own right. Perhaps not quite as developed in the depth dimension? Otherwise it's surely as three-dimensionally expansive. The Kukama -- what's your dog's name again - Fluffy, right? -- the Kukama had a smidge more fluffiness, the kind of airy aura around vocals and instruments which the Bel Canto rendered a bit drier. More matter-of-factly, no veiled insinuations of romance.

Aside from this small textural difference, the DAC-2 on occasion struck me as the more dynamic converter, pushing the envelope of artistic emphasis that extra degree. A phrase crescendo reaching a bit farther. Sharper contrasts between not- quite-even hand-percussion flutters; slightly more startle factor with drum whacks; a previously missed added pressure on a bow; deeper inhalations of a bass player furiously working over his instrument like some straining athlete - that sort of microdynamic finesse thing.

On balance then, the DAC-2 far more than halved the already-not-drastic differences between Cairn and Kukama. It retained the former's image focus but did so with less bite. It was thus more relaxed and refined but didn't forsake the Cairn's rhythmic drive. The Kukama still sounded somewhat bigger in a hard-to-quantify fashion. I'll try anyhow. Take a completely smooth fabric and one whose surface is slightly profiled, say a very fine thermal acrylic. On a pair of steam-pressed dress slacks, the latter's crease won't be as pristine but its profile might make you look marginally larger - fine fabric hairs akimbo like a bluffing cat. Okay, I'm fishing for explanations. This is the best I could do. I'm not advocating the return of the acrylic or polysester zoot suits! (Swing is kewl though.)

Eating your green vegetables

From a value perspective, the $1,390 Bel Canto DAC (sold through dealers) indeed looks to be the massive bargain existing reviews say it is (our own 6moons review forthcoming shortly). By competing in today's barely-live heat against a fabulous $2,495 DAC that's sold direct and would thus retail through brick'n'mortars for considerably more yet ...

Allow me a brief anecdotal detour for context. I recently fired off a private query to our main man in Costa Rica, Jimbo the Saxon King.

With the insertion of the HMS cables and the previous acquisition of Grand Prix Audio's Monaco stand and Alvin's latest ContactPatch marvels, my reference system had recently morphed through major advances. I was curious. How much breathing room of improvement might be left if I waved a seriously sweaty wad of quids at my admittedly modest front-end?

Jim owns the fully tricked-out MSB Platinum Plus DAC (ca. $4,000) as well as the Bel Canto DAC-2. Hoping to steal my thunder, he advised that if used with Sommovigo's X-60 i2digital cable, the resolution of the DAC-2 was on par with the MSB, itself wired up with a highly regarded coaxial cable from a popular cable designer.

Already having the X-cable in-house (what fun to occasionally beat a well-connected audio buddy to the punch), I'm thus left to assume that shy of robbing a bank, today's outboard comparator to the Audio Magic Stealth Kukama is, indeed, "way up on that digital totem pole".

By extension, this tells us about our long-horned African antelope friend. Despite "merely" galloping at 24/96, she suffers zero handicaps in the resolution races. Rather, she makes true on Henry's stated design brief of analogue ease and soundstage expanse, to an extent that remains identifiable and demonstrable even against highly capable competitiors.

It's thus not a question of performance caliber or performance flavor. It's a question of whether such incremental refinements are worth the additional grand over the DAC-2. Performance value, in short.

Let me approach it this way. My main rig is currently in excess of $50,000. If we define the qualifier "significant" as beyond imagination, demonstrably better in building emotional connection and undermining audible reminders of artifice, I no longer expect significant advances for five percent of this system total.

In my system context, the Kukama's blip on the fiscal radar screen is a relatively small percentage spike. While I'm leery to assign values to today's comparisons, I'm very confident that the Kukama vs. the Cairn improved things by about the equivalent 5%. Perhaps a shade more. Simply because I could reliably identify and appreciate these contributions for their added refinement -without resorting to imagination.

And that's significant at this stage of the game! Even if the Kukama merely raised the stakes by 2.5 inches (er, percent), that'd still be commensurate with the inverse logarithmic law of diminishing returns. It's how the cookie crumbles - High-End audio-wise.

On that note of basic numbers munching, I shall make a prediction. Like its able Stealth Power Purifier predecessor, the Audio Magic Kukama will quickly be considered a high-performance high-value product of distinct flavor.

One hopes it'll enjoy a commensurately popular following. Chances are that upping the he-man ante in the transport department would further define and separate the Kukama's "analogue" traits over what my Jolida JD-100 managed to extract.

Kudos then to Henry Lamb, for allowing himself to be talked into re-entering audio. Perhaps he got the easier part of the bargain. He only had to design the darn thing. Jerry Ramsey will have to sell it. Considering today's troubled waters overall
-- and especially in what remains of the once-active flavor-of-the-month DAC club -- that might well be the steeper mountain to scale. Let's wish 'em both luck. This oddly named product clearly deserves it.

PS: The pix show what in daylight is a light blue chassis paint. Market research asked for a more neutral finish hence the final will be granite fleck. Also, the twin coaxial inputs will be changed for 1 x RCA, 1 x Toslink. My unit was a final production model for all but these two late changes. >>
Manufacturer's website