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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: 2TB iMac 27" quad-core with 16GB of RAM (AIFF) running OSX 10.8.2 and PureMusic 1.87g in hybrid memory play with pre-allocated RAM, Audirvana 1.5.5 in direct/integer mode, Metrum Hex, SOtM dX-USB HD with Super-clock upgrade & mBPS-d2s, AURALiC Vega
Preamplifier: Nagra Jazz, Bent Audio Tap-X, Esoteric C-03, Clones Audio AP1 [on loan]
Integrated amplifier: Crayon Audio CFA-1.2, Wyred4Sound mINT, Bakoon AMP-12R, Gato Audio DIA-250
Power amplifier: Goldmund Job 225; FirstWatt SIT1 monos; Clones Audio 55pm [on loan], AURALiC Merak [on loan]
Loudspeakers: soundkaos Wave 40 ,Boenicke Audio W5, German Physiks HRS-120, Zu Submission, AudioSolutions 200, Gallo Acoustics Strada 2/TR-3D
Cables: Complete Zu Event loom, Light Harmonic LightSpeed and KingRex uArt split USB cable
Powerline conditioning: GigaWatt PF-2 and Vibex Two 1R DC filter on amps, Vibex Three 11R on front-end components
Equipment rack:
Artesania Exoteryc double-wide three tier with optional glass shelf, Rajasthani hardwood rack for amps
Sundry accessories: Extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters
Art: paintings by Ivette Ebaen,
Indian bronze musicians and other Rajasthani furnishings from images-atmospheres.ch with jewelry from ninomedina.com
Music sources: bandcamp.com, qobuz.com, amazon.co.uk, tulumba.com
Room size: 5m x 11.5m W x D, 2.6m ceiling with exposed wooden cross beams every 60cm, plaster over brick walls, suspended wood floor with Tatami-type throw rugs. The listening space opens into the second storey via a staircase and the kitchen/dining room are behind the main listening chair. The latter is thus positioned in the middle of this open floor plan without the usual nearby back wall.
Review component retail: €1'799


Dichotomy
. From the Greek dichótomos for the cutting in two, it's an intricate word. It implies being jointly exhaustive (everything must belong to one or the other part) and mutually exclusive (nothing can simultaneously belong to both parts). In our computer age we'd probably say partition. The original meaning does, if not exactly, apply to today's Sheva DAC. It's the first Clones Audio model not based on a 47labs precedent, i.e. not a clone. Weirdly that makes it far more common/ordinary than their various chip amps. From preamp, integrated and stereo to mono versions, those are straight out of the op-amp application notes and as basic as it gets. It's precisely why 'accredited' audio engineers wouldn't be caught dead with it. Hence that becomes the first half of our dichotomy: because the gainclone kit is so basic/simple, it's actually quite rare; certainly so for formal production and to build a proper company around it, not hobbyist DIY.


The Sheva DAC is Funjoe's very first clean-sheet design. To the doubters it signals that his embrace of chip amps wasn't for lack of design chops. It simply was/is for great sonics at everyman budgets. But how does any of this get us at our dichotomy's second half wherein unique becomes so common? Consider our February 2014 news blurb: "Clones Audio of Hong Kong introduce their €1'799 Sheva DAC based on the Sabre 9018 chip and an ultra-low phase-noise femto master clock. With AES/EBU, coax, BNC, Toslink, I²S and USB inputs, RCA/XLR outputs and 24/384PCM and DSD128, this 240x100x210mm WxHxD deck is ready for anything. The red dot-matrix display shows sample rate, input source, volume and filter type. The digital volume control over 100 steps is a rotary encoder with push switch. Weight is 6.7kg, warranty is 3 years, color options are black or silver."


Now compare that to the post we ran the very next day. "Linnenberg Audio announce their Vivace DAC [€1'690]. This replaces our 24/192 udc1 model. Whilst adding fresh features, the Vivace delivers ultimate-quality reproduction. All high-resolution formats including 32/352.8 DXD and DSD128 are natively supported. 3 digital inputs provide source flexibility, balanced and unbalanced analogue outputs can drive a power amp directly. The heart of the DAC is the ESS Sabre ES9018. The femto master clock has an accuracy of <0.1ps clock jitter and our proprietary discrete analogue circuit is key to getting the most of the 9018. Compared to the udc1, the Vivace has lower noise, lower distortion, superior accuracy plus the new high sample-rate asynchronous USB interface previously employed in the Arioso."


The Arioso obviously has similar specs, features and pricing to the Sheva. When designer Ivo Linnenberg thanked us for seeing his blurb in our news right above the Sheva, he thus joked. "I see Clones aren't the only clones". That put it mildly. Sub €2'000 DACs with an ESS Sabre 9018 eight-channel IC configured for parallel dual mono and on-chip digital volume have become a virtual dime a dozen.

A Norwegian sighting of €899/pr Clones Audio 55pm mono amps (yes!) driving $9'000/pr Sonus faber Guarneri Homage.