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The comparison was very simple. The iMac ran via Firewire 800 into the DAC2 into the Esoteric C-03 preamp which then was switched over one input to the Yamamoto YDA-01 DAC. The Yamamoto received the same iMac signal through the DAC2's coaxial output via Chris Sommovigo's new $123 Black Cat Veloce S/PDIF cable. Gain trim for matched levels was set in the C-03's input sensitivity menu.

With the Japanese converter threaded into the signal path, the DAC2's functionality was reduced to converting Firewire to S/PDIF. Daniel Weiss has a dedicated device for this purpose to not pay for unused features. It's called the INT202. It operates solely in the digital domain to interface a legacy DAC without USB or Firewire—like the Yamamoto for example—to a PC. One presumes the INT202 simply strips the DAC and output stages from the newer DAC202. The nomenclature suggests as much.

Would a Yamamoto owner prefer the INT202 over going fully Weiss through the DAC2's analog outputs? With properly matched levels, the differences proved very minor - far more so than first impressions with a stone-cold Weiss had suggested. Then the Yamamoto was still richer of color. The only consistent difference I could now latch on to concerned contrast ratio. The DAC2's was somewhat higher. It rendered the Japanese converter's presentation a tad more relaxed and softer. This I didn't tie to a more relaxed handling of transients. Here both machines seemed equals. I chalked it up to a superior noise floor with the Weiss instead. Its slight definition advantage felt relative to background silence rather than more charged attacks.

In matters of tone density, an audiophile output stage might be expected to win over a pro equivalent if audiophile designers applied strategic voicing over 'measurements tell all' as might seem Daniel Weiss' focus. In this instance, such thinking would be flawed and merely continue an entrenched bad attitude which many audiophiles hold about professional mastering equipment. The extent of difference between these machines was so minor and its focus so completely outside considerations on superiority and flaws that any declarations on preference could be easily contested. In short, after sufficient break-in, the Weiss DAC2 emerged as sonically just as compelling as the $2.450 Yamamoto while utterly besting it on features. Frankly, this was unexpected. Just because I can point at popular beliefs doesn't mean I'm free of them. As a buyer of the Weiss, I was naturally thrilled by this unforced assessment. Had it turned out different, I'd simply continue to rely on my prior front end for serious occasions. That wouldn't be necessary now. Spring cleaning?

While the YDA-01 cannot be the ne plus ultra of its kind—sheer prudence and price alone dictate that—it's been my preference over many rather pricier solutions. In my book, this now made the Swiss machine into a very high value proposition indeed. In good reviewer's conscience, it also let me bid adieu to the type of traditional disc spinners my personal budget would ever aspire to. As far as my standards go, reclocked computer audio in the above implementation has arrived. On how async USB compares to Firewire, the incoming $1.499 Wyred4Sound DAC2 should shed some light.

Just to be sure, I also ran the vaunted Philips PRO-2 top loader in my Ancient Audio Lektor Prime into the Weiss DAC to compare magnetic hard-disk streaming to optical read-in. I thought the iMac actually had the advantage. As forwarded digitally via a prime run of Stealth Audio Varidig cable, the legacy feed sounded fuzzier/warmer and less distinct. This was particularly apparent in powerful bass passages. Those had better control with the computer feed and sounded looser with the €10.000 CD player run just as transport. I cannot explain why I heard what I did but it certainly undermined any straggling remnants of feeling committed to the old way of doing digital.

To be blunt, I'm done with laser playback. Going forward, I'll have to learn about optimizing my new iMac-based setup. Most exciting and on the immediate horizon is Clayton Shaw's Spatial Computer software suite. That embeds in iTunes to handle comprehensive pro-level room and speaker correction in the digital domain. I expect the sonic impact thereof to far exceed what any player software like Amarra, Pure Music et al could possibly accomplish. That doesn't render the latter irrelevant. It merely means I'll be going after the bigger fish first. 24/96 or 24/192 files will be on that itinerary too, eventually. First I want to be satisfied that my existing 16/44.1 library transferred to hard drive sounds as good as possible. Right now that means running the DAC2 at 44.1 x 4 upsampled to 176.4kHz as selected in the Weiss Firewire IO window under Applications. Perhaps later it'll mean upgrading to the Weiss DAC202 if that proves demonstrably superior.

For right now, do I know of an equivalently priced audiophile CDP or CD + DAC combo that I'd sonically prefer to my iMac/DAC2 system? No. Add exploded convenience and any such match should be over before it even began. Would that hold true for $40.000 digital statement systems such as deeply committed audiophiles hang on to? I'd certainly hope not. But honestly, that's really none of my concern. Whatsoever.

Singling out the DAC2 with an award seems foregone conclusion after Frederic Beudot's prior such distinction for the Minerva. But given the current state of the economy—first HighEnd Munich 2010 reportage suggests that escalating hifi pricing continues unabated—and the fact that different listeners apply different expectations and standards, an award for the Minerva in DAC2 guise remains highly relevant!
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