For audiophiles and music lovers who love to read...
The cliff notes. Those might as well read 'oh ye of little faith', then ask to pass the collection plate. It's because going from A to B via D-180 to D-580 was more like going from A to F. If you predicted otherwise, put ten quid on the plate for redemption. The language teases but the difference was more full Monty so impossible to overlook. Playing a well-recorded instrumental, dropping from 580 to 180 instantly rendered stiffer and more rigid. Dynamic micro gradations flattened out. It's very subtle shifts of emphatic nuance which bestow upon a melodic line its expressive fluidity. Reduce value steps. Now there are fewer microdynamic differences, less inflection points. A certain elasticity vanishes. It's why one reaction to the converter change will call it a stiffer more mechanical gestalt. It plays all the same notes in all the same places but their energetic charge or liveliness diminishes.
The second difference was less developed ambient recovery. Again all the notes were the same. Given the backstory, we'd expect no more. In those terms nothing happened. It's the keenness of spatial envelopment and how sounds behaved in the recorded venue which stepped down. Imagine just enough shadow creeping up. It won't blot out any primary sounds, just obscure a certain connective tissue between them. Those connections are spatial and often mapped by decay trails. So we might say that the D-180 dried out atmospherics. In tandem with microdynamic compression, the most basic description of the overall difference calls it more matter of fact. Subtext falls away, finer implied meaning between the lines erases. It happens to anyone who learns a new language. It takes a long time before we can play beyond mere facts; until we can tease in nuance, playfulness and the ambiguity of multiple meanings, hints and implications. It's the same for musicians. First they must learn basic mechanics to play the right notes at the right time and with proper intonation. Making the notes dance beyond following just the plain facts of a score… that's where mastery enters. In those terms, the D-180 was more of a beginner.
At €6'000 of course, 'beginner' was relative to the flagship only. The really instructive bit was knowing that the reasons for these differences weren't any of the usual suspects like a burlier power supply or chip change. The offset limited itself to very particular parameters and changed nothing else as is usually the case. Looking for love in all the wrong places applied. Here greater love looks exclusively at 'strange' Ansuz tech. Given easy audibility of stacking that tech, one wonders. Just how much performance potential remains untapped elsewhere because their designers don't look for love in all the right places? Or as Michael put it in a different context earlier, why fret over next-gen tech when we haven't yet maxed out existing tech? Maxing out must steer the popular conversation over the latest chips and their shiny measurements into new realms. This assignment presented clear proof for that necessity. Likewise for shifting typical review discussions beyond treble/mid/bass and soundstage coverage. There's nuance, life and meaning well beyond beginner's basics.
This includes tonality not as a function of tonal balance. The latter is just the result of relative bass/mid/treble weighting. The tonality upon which D-180 and D-580 diverged was based on harmonic distribution. Musicians deal in tone modulations. It's accomplished with different air speed, lip or bow pressure, whether strings pluck by nail, plectrum or finger tip and so forth. This can also create different transient textures—at its most basic, hard or soft—but here we focus on the relative distribution of overtones so harmonic weighting. To the next track I can only link as a Spotify excerpt. As a terrific ECM recording, it's well worth pursuing in its entirety. It features gorgeous interplay between piano, cello and subtle percussion.
The D-180's tonality was more platinum as though it emphasized more of the higher odd-order harmonics. The D-580's tonality had the same high triangle flare/fizz but beneath it a more copper-ish gold. This translated to piano and cello alike. It gave their tone more weight and glow. Using acoustic instruments recorded very well makes for the best tour guide into this layer of difference. On a track with the Taksim Trio's stellar qanun maestro Aytaç Dogan, the tonality divergence featured not only on the lap harp's watery textures but the very fine percussive tip work. That kicks in past the opening. It's very fine like sun rays which fractionally glisten off an Indian summer's floating spiderwebs. Was this little shift in tonality due to the D-580's titanium? We'll still get to that. Because of the D-180's marginally cooler and arguably crisper demeanor, less careful listening might first give it the nod on micro resolution. Those faint cymbal trills seem to separate out more.
A few A/B will ascertain that no, the D-180 isn't more resolved. The D-580 is. But their not identical tonality could initially deceive our perception in certain regards. It realizes that Aavik's entry DAC is far from chopped liver. It's simply more matter of fact. On piano, dynamic differences depend on the force of the initial hammer fall. That force can't be altered during the tone's sustain. Meanwhile a woodwind or singer might still modulate air speed and vibrato, a bow how fast and heavy it draws across its string. So innately, a piano's microdynamic contours are shallower. That made the D-580's extra reach into this discipline extra worthwhile and obvious on piano. I just had to ask whether its melodic so horizontal progression felt more staid and stiff; or more fluid. A beginner comparing these DACs in a beginner's system might fail to get the big financial chasm between them. Of course it's most unlikely that any of these would ever end up in such a system. In a properly curated more advanced system and to attuned ears, the difference is very obvious even if on raw magnitude, it plays well beneath any basics to be about nuances not primaries. Does that justify a frog leaping from €6K to €20K? Only you can say.
If you're still hazy on nuances, consider this plaintive deceptively simple take on a folk tune by Romanian clarinet legend Ivo Papasov. Unlike the more rigid keyboard, riding on the breath gives the clarinet far more dynamic hues and harmonic shifts accompanying them. If you enjoy paying close attention to that specific layer of musical information, the D-580 will take you farther. In that sense it's the unpublished Leonard Cohen song "You want it deeper". If you find all this too esoteric in general or marginal with the music you listen to, don't bother. The D-180 will take you plenty far.
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