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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Main system: Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Audirvana 3, Qobuz, Tidal, Singxer SU-6 USB bridge, LHY Audio SW-8 network switch, Sonnet Pasithea DAC; Active filter: icOn Gradient Box; Power amplifiers: Kinki Studio EX-B7 monos, Enleum AMP-23R, Goldmund/Job 225; Headamp: Cen.Grand Silver Fox; Phones: HifiMan Susvara; Loudspeakers: sound|kaos Vox3awf + sound|kaos DSUB 15 on Carbide Audio footers, Audio Physic Codex, Qualio IQ; Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL; Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Furutech RTP-6 on amps, Furutech DPS-4.1 between wall and conditioner; Equipment rack: Artesanía Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands; Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators, LessLoss Firewall for loudspeakers, Furutech NCF Signal Boosters; Room: 6 x 8m with open door behind listening seat
2nd system: Source: Soundaware D300Ref SD transport, Denafrips Terminator +; Preamp/filter: icOn 4Pro + 80Hz active filter; Amplifier: Crayon CFA-1.2; Loudspeakers: MonAcoustics SuperMon Mini, Dynaudio S18 sub; Power delivery: Furutech GTO 2D NCF; Equipment rack: Hifistay Mythology Transform X-Frame [on extended loan]; Sundry accessories: Audioquest Fog Lifters; Furutech NFC Clear Lines; Room: ~3.5 x 8m
Desktop system: Source: HP Z230 work station Win10/64; USB bridge: Singxer SU-2; Headamp/DAC: iFi iDSD Pro Signature; Headphones: Final D-8000; Active speakers: DMAX SC5
Upstairs headfi/speaker system: Source: smsl Dp5 transport; DAC: Auralic Vega; Integrated amplifier: Schiit Jotunheim R; Phones: Raal-Requisite SR1a; Active DSP speakers: Fram Midi 120
2-channel video system: Source: Oppo BDP-105; All-in-One: Gold Note IS-1000 Deluxe; Loudspeakers: Zu Soul VI; Subwoofer: Zu Submission; Power delivery: Furutech eTP-8, Room: ~6x4m
Review component retail: £5'995
My SIlver Fox review of last September introduced Sino brand Cen.Grand to these pages. As I wrote before I issued an award and purchased the sample, looking at one of their D/A converters next was high on my to-do list for 2023. CEO JianHui Deng proved happy to reload. It was simply contingent on him gaining an importer in neighboring Great Britain. His export expansion had just begun. A few months later Willowtree Audio's Iain Borthwick had signed up. I'd worked with him before. Once Iain had inventory, Mr. Deng contacted me. I could pen my next chapter on his brand. The question was merely on which of their three DAC models. As we learnt in my prior review, Mr. Deng had tried to follow Nagra's footsteps by acquiring the licensing rights for the Koch/Meitner DSD tech. When that was unsuccessful, Cen.Grand did what resourceful people do – write their own FPGA code to control shift registers then implement clock blocking and clock-direct input tech. So this converter platform overlaps conceptually also with PS Audio's DirectStream. Alex Peychev at APL Hifi might do a similar thing? My iFi iDSD Signature too can resample PCM to 1'024 DSD but uses commercial DAC chips to do the math. It's where Cen.Grand differ; and by categorically resampling all PCM to DSD. An XMOS XU208 USB transceiver accepts direct DSD512, DoP plus up to 384kHz PCM. Analog exits on 5Vrms XLR or 2.5Vrms RCA. Higher voltage, analog volume from -65dB to +5dB and RCA/XLR analog inputs anticipate amp-direct drive. For the full tech descriptions and specs, go here.
All current versions use the same orange/yellow display and the gold knob is only available by special order. Chassis in all black are available too.
I'm quite tech agnostic. Do performance hifi long enough to appreciate how implementation trumps concept and conceit. Exceptions combat hard fast rules. Premium results can be had any number of ways. Today 'premium' is the word du jour. Cen.Grand's Silver Fox had proven on par with Enleum's AMP-23R. It was directly competitive with the best head amp I knew. Yet it managed for less if with extra socketry. Such encounters prime one for… what's the opposite of mischief? Solemnity is an accepted antonym but it's good deeds wrapped in self interest that I'm after. Is there a single word for that? I don't know. But I do know a good thing when I handle and hear it. Here Cen.Grand's headphone amp had hit all the high marks. Was it any wonder that I was keen for more from its stable?
Because such copper/gold trim is less popular in the UK, Iain orders in the pure black versions shown on the next page.
Iain Borthwick who also represents Denafrips reported that his opening order of five different demonstrator units solid within the first week. His next order was already four times that size. Customers really respond to his Cen.Grand appointment and the firm's complete package of looks, build quality, performance and price. He recommended that I aim straight for the deepest digital depths. So an all-silver Deluxe flagship which his site calls the Advanced would hop across the narrow Irish Sea. My DSD-über-alles adventure was about to commence. Resident yard sticks would be a multi-paralleled R2R Sonnet Pasithea DAC downstairs; and a discrete R2R Denafrips Terminator Plus upstairs. I own no DSD files so run 44.1-192kHz PCM exclusively. When I assured Iain that his fully broken-in sample would return within a few fair weeks to not put him out, he let out a dismissive "I'm sure it won't be coming back" chuckle. Our man was flush with confidence. Of course I already owned a Silver Fox. I was the perfect mark. This gig had short con written all over it.
Cen.Grand even make amplifiers though those are currently unavailable for export. This is one factory system.
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