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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
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Main system: Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac late 2020 with macOS Ventura 13.3, 40GB RAM, Audirvana Origin, Qobuz Sublime, LHY Audio SW-8 network switch, Singxer SU-6 USB bridge, Sonnet Pasithea DAC; Active filter: icOn Gradient Box at 80Hz/4th-order hi/lo-pass; Power amplifiers: Kinki Studio EX-B7 monos, Goldmund Job 225; Headamp: Cen.Grand Silver Fox; Phones: HifiMan Susvara; Loudspeakers: Qualio Audio IQ w. sound|kaos DSUB 15 on Carbide Audio footers, Audio Physic Codex, Cube Audio Nenuphar Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL; 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 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: Shanling M3 Ultra, Soundaware D300Ref; DAC: Cen.Grand DSDAC 1.0 Deluxe; Preamp/filter: Vinnie Rossi Signature L2 + icOn 4Pro + 4th-order/40Hz hi-low pass; Amplifier: Enleum AMP-23R; Loudspeakers: MonAcoustic SuperMon Mini, 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; 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
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: €18'000
The original €12'950 Classic DAC.
Swiss army wife? That's not the new Classic DAC II. It replaces Nagra's original Classic DAC discontinued in 2021. Their 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 DSD 256, 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 just does DSD. That's to say that like APL Hifi, Cen.Grand, Koch/Meitner digital, Marantz and PS Audio, it first resamples all incoming PCM to DSD here at x 4 or 256 before a low-pass filter converts it to analog. Native DSD of course is treated as such. To learn how CEO clients might roll, the $64'500 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 new Classic DAC II go about exceeding its precursor whilst keeping coin bearings lubed for less friction with accounts not numbered Swiss or Grand Cayman sorts? As we'll 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 points at 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 are anti-vibration bases. 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. As Nagra ramp up to hit the annual Munich HighEnd 2023, we'll stand by until the full official specs drop. For now we know what's coming; or at least think we do.
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.
Classic DAC II.
… this next collage is to remind us of the original Classic DAC and still current Classic PSU. Whilst these chassis may be compact and their 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 so 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 labor without second-guessing adjustments other than select our preferred input. About which…
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… they duplicate the earlier Tube DAC and present HD DAC X so 1/ea. AES/EBU, Toslink and USB, 2/ea. S/PDIF and Nagra-Link. The latter are "IT-based fiber-optic ports currently unused but for future Nagra sources". This casual reveal points at a Nagra network streamer on the drawing board. "Outboard PSU connection is via Lemo port and a major improvement over the already very good built-in power supply."
… to be continued…
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