Country of Origin


Classic DAC 11

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Main system: Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (i5, 256GB SSD, 40GB RAM, Sonoma 14), 4TB external SSD with Thunderbolt 3, Audirvana Studio, Qobuz Sublime, Singxer SU-6 USB bridge, LHY Audio SW-8 & SW-6 switch, Cen.Grand DSDAC 1.0 Deluxe; Active filter: Lifesaver Audio Gradient Box 2; Power amplifiers: Kinki Studio EX-B7 monos & EX-M7 on subwoofer; Headamp: Cen.Grand Silver Fox; Phones: HifiMan Susvara, Meze 109 Pro; Loudspeakers: Qualio IQ [on loan] Cables: Kinki Studio Earth, Furutech; Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps, Furutech DPS-4.1 between wall and conditioners; Equipment rack: Artesanía Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc 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: FiiO R7 into Soundaware D300Ref SD transport to Sonnet Pasithea; Preamp/filter: Lifesaver Audio Gradient Box 2; Amplifiers: Gold Note PA-10 Evo monos; Loudspeakers: MonAcoustic SuperMon Mini or Acelec Model One + Dynaudio S18 sub; Power delivery: Furutech GTO 2D NCF, Akiko Audio Corelli; 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; DAC: iFi Pro iDSD Signature; Clock: LHY Audio OCK-2;  Head/speaker amp: Enleum AMP-23R; Speakers: EnigmAcoustics Mythology M1;
 Headphones: Final D-8000 & Sonorous X, Audeze LCD-XC, Raal-Requisite SR1a
Upstairs headfi system: FiiO R7; Headphones: Meze 109 Pro

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

Retail price: €18'500

The original €12'950 Classic DAC.

Swiss army wife? That's not the Classic DAC II. It replaces Nagra's original Classic DAC discontinued in 2021. A brief pre-Munich 2023 teaser unpacked featurization as "based on the same NADM module as our Tube DAC and HD DAC X. The Classic II now does DSD256, has a new USB module, next-gen power supply, new digital engine and class A outputs. It again is compatible with our Classic PSU to still upgrade its internal power supply." Unlike Swiss army wives who multi-task from soccer mom to company CEO to Red Cross fundraiser, our Nagra only does DSD. Like APL Hifi, Cen.Grand, Koch/Meitner, Marantz and PS Audio, it first resamples all incoming PCM to DSD before a low-pass filter converts to analog. Native DSD of course is treated as such. To learn how CEO clients might roll, the $70'875 HD DAC X below packs an outboard power supply with ultra-fast silicon carbide rectifier diodes, ultra-low noise voltage regs, supercapacitors for a virtual battery, 37 voltage lines, proprietary USB software surrounding an 8-core Xmos chip, super clocks, FPGA processing, 8-layer boards, passive transformer-based voltage gain, a JAN5963 tube stage, a symmetrical no-feedback current buffer for ultra-low output impedance and 1'800V/µS rise time into 28H interstage transformers.

That's when Nagra's engineers have carte blanche; and our AmEx Centurion Black on file. The Classic range is how more ordinary mortals enter their realm. Now engineering must make concessions. The question is, where and how when one firm's concessions are another's out-of-reach dreams? Doing Nagra on the cheap would no longer be Nagra. Tightening of belts and shorting the long green have built-in limits. How does the Classic DAC II go about exceeding its precursor whilst keeping coin bearings lubed for less friction with accounts not numbered Swiss or Grand Cayman? As we see below, the firm's signature laboratory looks remain. That means a famed modulometer, blue-on-black display, control knob and trademark power switch. The IR eye means remote control. As usual, the meter's 'tube' glow can be dimmed across multiple stages; and width is somewhere between standard ½ to ¾. Snazzy footers are extra. So is the anti-vibration base. The radical mechanical suspension of the big DAC is entirely out of bounds. How about under the hood? Tube expectations are hoodwinked¹. It's "class A military transistors hand-picked one by one" all the way.

¹ From my original Classic DAC review: Tubes or transistors? Nagra are fluent in both. For native Swiss, being bilingual is nothing. Many speak three tongues and the country supports more: German, French, Italian and Romansh plus the Switzerdütsch dialect which might as well be its own language. Nagra's Classic DAC speaks transistors pure but we might call it a dialect because it was groomed by thermionic valves. Its nine-FET class A output stage "emulates the sound of a tube for a particularly warm and musical sound". But there the grooming didn't stop. The input and conversion stage are lifted directly from the twice-priced HD DAC since upgraded to X status. It's not a trickle down but flash flood of posh.

The next collage reminds us of…

Classic DAC II.

… the original Classic DAC and still current Classic PSU. Whilst chassis may be compact and side walls thin, they're far from empty. And they include bespoke parts like Nagra-branded capacitors and in-house wound transformers of extreme specs. Back on my misspelled Swiss Army knife and with due apologies to real Swiss Army wives, the Classic DAC II is no jack of all trades hence master of none. There's no headphone port, WiFi, Bluetooth, streaming module, volume control, selectable resampling target rate or digital filter choice. Our Swiss engineers have optimized this machine for one task only. We're invited to sample the fruits of their labour without second-guessing adjustments other than select our preferred input. About which…

Use mouse-over loupe enlarger; or right-click to open in new tab for full size.

… inputs here duplicate the earlier Tube DAC and present HD DAC X so one each AES/EBU, Toslink, USB, coax and BNC plus 4 Nagra links. Those are "IT-based fibre-optic ports currently unused but for future Nagra sources". This casual reveal points at a Nagra network streamer on the horizon. "Outboard PSU link is via twist-lock Lemo port and a major upgrade over the already very good built-in power supply." My contact Matthieu Latour offered to ship out the DAC together with its optional VFS base and Classic PSU. I didn't say no.