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The Food disc became the real payoff. The album’s bell-like electronic tones, bleeping bass pulses and rattling acoustic percussion created an oversized 5.1 film score experience without extra speakers for Sennsurround capabilities with extremely active drums, bells, convulsions and surging rhythms aiming at sensory overload from all angles. Food’s Quiet Inlet is surely one of my top ten discs of the year and truly sizzling. In summation, the HRT is not a mellow but a lively and spirited unit which provides plenty of jump factor and solid dynamics that come alive on ensemble passages. For $449 the HRT could be a beginning and end for many. But we must move on.


Move on yes - except that again I got waylaid mid-review so I left the DACs powered up for a good two months while attended to more urgent family matters. What did this time off provide? Just like Satan, break-in is real. Returning to the HRT for starters, the Food disc still sounded fat with excellent depth and a palatable 3D space. It had excellent imaging, a smooth rich tone and good resolution as when the drummer plays fast brushes on "Tolako" on Food’s Inlet.


To the moon Alice!

Simaudio website PR: “Sonically the Moon portrays all of the Simaudio hallmarks - clean, powerful, fast and extended bass combined with an open midrange and airy extended high frequencies. Like other Moon series components, the 300D includes an IR input, an over-built power supply and is housed in a extremely rigid custom-made chassis with a 3/8" brushed and anodized front panel."


The Moon presented a starkly different picture from the Streamer. Throughout my time with it I felt the top end of the frequency range was tipped up in some way. I didn’t engage any oversampling function (all DACs ran stock 16/44) but could nonetheless hear a certain sheen at times pleasing, at times false. It was a silky sheen to be sure, never aggressive nor gritty but it did add to the DAC’s sense of fifth-row placement in my opinion.


Air, air, air was the trademark to give cymbals, brass and all upper-frequency instruments real spread and shine. Cymbals sounded bigger. There was greater separation of instruments than with the HRT and better soundstage layering. But there was also less meat on the bones at times. Better spread, better staging trumps a more congealed sound but it can also produce a thinner sound. Then again, playing the Petty disc had the bass sound as massive as a concrete floor.


So many differences between audio gear has to do with voicing, i.e. is about how the designer hears things and how his vision interacts with your system. You can’t simply buy a bunch of well-reviewed products and expect magic. There’s no better or worse. You simply like what the designer is doing or you don’t. Does his vision gel with yours? Perhaps that accounts for the love of the Sony Playstation in some quarters. I hate the thing. It’s noisy, barely works, sounds cramped, distorted and dark but hey, some folks love it (or enjoy sticking their finger in manufacturer’s noses). At some point decisions are made considering cost, parts, cases, circuit boards, point to point or SMD but in the end you either like the designer’s ear or not.
Back to the DACs. The Moon offered a general sense of refinement and resolution improvement over the HRT. It was more about beauty in the air than beauty on the ground. Repeatedly my notes show “air, air, air." Luster. Sheen. Cymbals and brass on the Scofield disc popped as did the recording’s large scale - and I mean large dynamics and concert hall ambiance. Skipping around my MacBook for other sounds—U2, Mozez, Staples Singers—-I was consistently impressed with the Moon’s resolution, sheen and shine.


Some stats: “Oversized power supply with 8 stages of voltage regulation, internal upsampling which uses 24-bit/352.8kHz processing (perhaps accounting for the treble information delights), BurrBrown PCM1793 high-resolution 24-bit/192-kHz D/A and 8X oversampling, accurate digital clocking system for exceptionally low intrinsic jitter levels, single-ended RCA and balanced XLR analog outputs, pure copper circuit board tracings with extremely low impedance characteristics, extremely rigid chassis construction to minimize the effects of external vibrations, designed to be powered up at all times for optimal performance."


We need warp speed, captain! The Z-DACs are landing from planet Zebulon! Let’s engage in consensual gear talk: “The Z-DAC-1 is an audiophile implementation of Cirrus Logic's flagship 192kHz multi-bit CS4398 DAC chip. It features coax, optical and USB inputs via a digital receiver with 32kHz-192kHz sample frequency range and low-jitter clock recovery.


"All three inputs including USB are upsampled to 24-bit/192kHz and selectable from the front switches. The output stage features high-grade op amps that have been carefully voiced for each channel to handle the I/V conversion from the DAC chip to the dual-mono buffer stage for a nice low output impedance."


That’s from the Decware site. They also want you to know that USB was not an afterthought in the design of their Z-DAC 1 but a priority implementation. USB sounds better with this DAC than the coax or optical inputs. Additionally the Z-DAC is “packed with mil spec resistors, Nichicon Muse caps, LT1361 output stages and Burr Brown buffers."
My original thoughts on the Z-DAC? It sounded an awful lot like my Mhdt. Too much so. Sco’s big band sounded dark but with good decay and a rather cool low end with 4th row placement. Subtle differences to the Mhdt were a more delicate and refined top end (perhaps more delicate than the Streamer) with a warm midrange. It was less ‘shouty’ overall but also less transparent and dynamic though fuller and perhaps smoother.

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