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Hank Mobley Soul Station: And finally I returned to Jazz from the top shelf. The company Wave Audio recently started reissuing Blue Note recordings in the XRCD24format and Mobley is the first disc from that series. Returning to well-recorded material with only a handful of instruments showed where the C.E.C. was happiest. It will be good with Rock and similar music, better than comparable players (with a transport, additional power cord and digital cable, that will come in at around 10000zl). But with this type of top acoustic fare, the DAC fully banks on its assets of good tonal balance, very good resolution for the money and sonic juiciness. We also hear that the sound is a tad boosted but this combines into a lively, dynamic and very smooth transmission. In comparison with expensive digital sources, the sound is slightly simplified. Mobley’s sax is a bit more plastic but we will not have a rejection response. The C.E.C. fits easily into many different hardware configurations and should disappoint nobody. This is not hi-end but for a very reasonable price, we get a classy very materialized sound.

DA53N as a headphone amplifier: In this role too the C.E.C. behaved well although it should be mentioned clearly that the HD53N dedicated to this function is much better. The DAC muffled the sound a bit as though it were frightened to act more dynamic. This was immediately clear with the Sennheiser HD800. But with less expensive headphones like AKG’s K601, it got much more pleasurable. It was still a very resolved and well defined sound. Only in the midrange the reverb extinguished too quickly and the sound didn’t breathe as freely as it did with the HD53N. The nature of the recordings, their characteristics including recording quality, studio signature etc. were really well defined however. In that aspect, the Benchmark DAC-1 USB was better still but the C.E.C. was not far behind. Frankly speaking, it performed better in that role than any headphone amplifier I’ve heard in the 2.000 – 2.500 price range. To think that the headphone feature is only an add-on to this DAC...

Finally a few words about the USB input. Although the manual talks about high sampling rates, I was not able to use them. I ran my HP Pavilion Entertainment laptop and the Foobar 2000 player. I encountered no such problems before but now the data were always downsampled to 48 or 44.1kHz. I think the unit really cannot play HD files. Anyway, describing the sound from the USB input, I can talk only about files ripped from CD. The sound was very pleasant and much better than with the Cambridge Audio DacMagic. It had no annoying colorations and was smooth. Only the weaker dynamics showed that USB was not a priority for the designers. 24/96 DVD was very good through the coaxial input. Unfortunately I had no devices at my disposal that could output a 192kHz digital signal but those should be available soon. Then we will have opportunity to process Blu-ray disc signals.

: The DA53N DAC is a small machine placed inside an aluminum enclosure made in China. The unit has a very low profile yet the front panel is quite busy. To the right we have a volume knob, then a display with a reflective cover, then three buttons for selecting filters and inputs, a headphone socket, a mini-B USB input and a power switch. The back too is busy. There’s a pair of XLR and RCA outputs and a switch between fixed or variable voltage (in the latter mode, the headphone volume also controls the master volume). Finally we have the digital inputs – USB (type B), Toslink, RCA and AES/EBU. The USB 1.1 input only accepts signal up to 48kHz. Fortunately the RCA and AES/EBU sockets accept 192kHz. Super! The optical input has a 96kHz limit.

The circuit inside is mounted on one motherboard built around big 1798-CI modules from CC Tech which provide I/V conversion, amplification and volume control. In front of those we can see the very fine BurrBrown PCM1796 DACs. On the outputs we spot relays. The digital inputs are treated a bit differently. The USB inputs run the PCM2707 receivers, one for each. This is an inferior IC and why HD signals aren't tolerated. All the digital inputs are transferred to the low-jitter AKM AK4115 receiver with internal PLL loop. The C.E.C. also runs the AKM AK4125 async 24/192 upsampler as is common for this company. It is interesting that their materials state that the DA53N only works to 96kHz. This frequency must have been chosen after listening sessions. The power supply is of the switching kind but has separate sections for the digital and analog circuits. The voltages are additionally filtered near the circuits they supply but this is a switching power supply nonetheless, not a linear one.

Technical data according to manufacturer:

Input sampling rates - USB 1.1 32-48kHz; AES/EB: 32-192kHz; RCA 32-192kHz; Toslink 32-96kHz
Frequency response: 20Hz-20kHz (+0/-0.2dB)
S/N: XLR 125dB(2=hot), RCA 102dB
Output voltage fixed: RCA 1.2VRMS, XLR 1.4V RMS (2=hot)
Output voltage variable: RCA 2V max, XLR 4V max (2=hot)
Power consumption: 16W
Weight: 2.5kg
Dimensions (WxDxH): 218 x 340 x 58mm

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