Think digital-to-analog converters. Then think Japan. Now think Kondo-San of Audio Note; Yamada-San of Zanden; Kusumoto-San of iLungo; Kimura-San of 47Lab: Four different designers, four different iterations of non-oversampling, non-upsampling digital conversion. With this uncanny concentration of out-of-the-box precedents, doesn't it seem as though non-Japanese digital designers needed to refer to the Land of the Rising Sun as Seng-pai, the senior man? This would make them Koh-hai, the junior men. It's a term that, incidentally, also means fairness. Considering these unconventional thinkers already mentioned, let's avoid the opposite - unfairness or fukho-hei (and yes, the parallel to a certain four-letter F-word is inspiring). We must now add Kiuchi-San of Combak Corporation to this illustrious list. Here's yet another Japanese firm that does things differently, having first -- under the Harmonix banner -- made a name for itself with resonance control devices. Its lineup of products has grown since. It includes the Enacom filters and a small dual-concentric loudspeaker dubbed Bravo, jointly developed with Gradient of Finland [right]. There's also a very focused group of uncompromising electronics dubbed Reimyo, or Japanese for miracle.

At present, the miracles are four-square: The CDP-777 CD transport/player, the PAT-777 300-B SET, the ALS-777 AC line stabilizer -- which I reviewed for EnjoyTheMusic.Com -- and today's subject, the DAP-777 D/A converter. Unlike 666, the infamous Number of the Beast, triple-7, one assumes, connotes a particularly auspicious occasion in Japanese culture?

Be that as it may, one thing is clear - Combak/Harmonix does not practice designed-here myopia. Rather, Kiuchi-San prides himself on identifying suitable partners with whom to codevelop specific engineering solutions, be it Bob Stierhout's Quantum Resonance Technology in the ALS line conditioner or JVC/Victor Japan's 20bitK2 digital processing in today's subject, with industrial design and assembly handled by Kyodo Denshi. Combak refers to this enlightened cross-corporate approach as hi-tech fusion. It brings together core competencies of different specialist firms to fulfill a particular project mission as outlined by 'conductor' Kiuchi-San.

For the Reimyo DAC, this obviously included balanced and single-ended analogue outputs; optical, coaxial, BNC and AES/EBU digital inputs selectable by front-mounted four-position barrel control; a 180°-phase switch [rear-mounted]; and auto-lock 32/44.1/48kHz sampling frequencies. As a poster child of less-is-more simplicity, the DAP-777 is of single rack-space height/width and 14.5" depth, inclusive of that inch-long, click-stop selector knob. Four pointed conical metal footers with solid wooden discs to interface with the chassis proper; a front-mounted black power rocker switch; the ubiquitous IEC inlet aft; and three frontal banks of miniature LEDs make up the remainder. From left to right, one string of lights are input selection indicators [1=AES, 2=BNC, 3=COAX, 4=OPT, presumably in sequence of sonic superiority]; the next operational confirmators [emphasis; lock; error] and the last the sampling frequency display [48; 44.1; 32].

That's it. Compact, elegant, with a finely grained clear-anodized aluminum fascia, the golden Reimyo silk screen, a classy gold-on-silver metal decal about the 20bitK2 processing bit and all-green lights [except for red=error], the Reimyo -- like the Orpheus Labs unit -- epitomizes Zen minimalism and cool. It assumes that prospective purchasers are mature enough to not equate quality with size or heft unbecoming a small-framed but dapper Asian city slicker.

Defeating what only looked like rivets with my 1.5 mm hex driver, I next popped the black cover for a look-see. As outside, so inside - surface-mount cleanliness and a tidy layout, with a special in-line noise filter on the power inlet and twin transformers for the analogue and digital circuits respectively.

Jonathan Halpern of May Audio, the US/Canadian distributor for Combak/Harmonix, had thoughtfully enclosed an optional Harmonix Studio Master power cord. Seeing that the review unit had made a prior pit stop at Pierre Sprey's of Mapleshade, it arrived additionally with an entirely unsolicited care package of: Mapleshade Omega Mikro Ebony digital interconnect with battery power supply; one blue-directionality Planar active power cord with LCX treatment; a 4"-thick rock-maple shelf; and various brass triple-cone footers. Needless to say, this review will concentrate on the stock unit/cord housed in my customary Grand Prix Audio Monaco rack to not introduce more than one variable at once. However, since curiosity is the harmless middle name of audiophilia that has led more than one unwary soul down the slippery upgrade slope, I would also play with the Mapleshade goodies to report on their sonic contributions in this intended context. The DAP-777 was under development for over two years and employed top engineers from Kyodo Denshi, a premiere digital measuring device company, with final tuning by Kiuchi-San.

In best Japanese tradition, Harmonix' website gives away as little technical information as
possible, except to state that the internal wiring was specifically designed for maximum-speed data transmission and ultra-low jitter. But looking at the schematic of the owner's documentation papers below, we can clearly see that Combak has not joined the silly number's wars of 24 bits or upsampling. We're talking 20-bit, 8 x oversampling. Do not make the mistake of automatically consigning the Reimyo DAC to the heap of "outmoded, antique, passé" because of it. As my Zanden DAC Model 5000 MkIII proves, even 20+ year-old 16/44 chips, if implemented properly, can more than keep up with the latest whiz-bang 24/192 sampling-squared sorcery à la Weiss, Anagram, dCS or Meitner. Numbers simply don't tell the real story - but listening does. However, certain numbers give hints: S/N ratio >117dB, dynamic range >100dB, channel separation >105dB. Output voltage of 2.45/4.9Vrms RCA/XLR is slightly higher than the standard 2/4V but not enough to overload standard input sensitivity preamps.

The reason I requisitioned this particular DAC for review? xrCD. I've long since been a fan of JVC's high-end recordings. As part of their mastering protocol, they utilize the very K2 processing incorporated in Kiuchi-San's DAC. xrCD recordings don't employ any left-field trickery except utmost care in every single stage of the recording/ mastering process, all the way down the chain to the glass masters and actual pressing plant steps. Reasoning that their sonic superiority had to, at least in part, be due to Victor Japan's proprietary K2 signal-processing aka digital conversion, the very existence of a consumer model employing "xrCD technology" seemed to hold high promise. K2 -- short for Karakorum-2 as the 2nd peak surveyed and cartographed by T.G. Montgomery in 1856 -- is also the second highest mountain in the world outside Islamabad/Pakistan. With a 12,000ft sheer-ice pyramidal peak above the wide Concordia glacial field at the head of the Baltoro Glacier, it is flanked by six equally steep ridges and considered the most difficult of all peaks to scale by mountaineering.

Where in the fiscal scheme of things does the Combak Reimyo DAC belong? Lower upper-crust: $5,500. That's definitely not inexpensive but, considering how much you could spend elsewhere, still well outside the shock-value zone. Ditto for the Studio Master cord, which, depending on Furutech/Wattgate connectors, clocks in at $920/1,070 for 1 meter, $1,040/1,179 for 1.5 and $1,170/$1,300 for 2 meters. With these preliminaries out of the way, let's fast-forward to the finals...