I recently picked up a National Geographic - a CD, that is, Destination: Mediterranean [Sugo Music, SRO238]. The opening "Les Veus de Raixa" represents Majorca where the vocalist Maria del Mar Bonet was born. After doing some research, I discovered that she has more than 20 albums under her skirt, as well as numerous cultural awards. I was both ashamed about my ignorance and happy to finally meet her. What a voice! Once I dig up some of her albums, expect a few bonny Bonet reviews in our world music pages. The present tango-flavored chanson showcased a thick-throated alto with excellent control, surrounded by a voluptuous aura of musk and seduction, a heady meeting somewhere between Cesaria Evora, Susana Baca and Dulce Pontes.

On this track, the Model 5000's unique analogue suaveness -- described in detail in its review -- added a quality of organic from-the-inside glow that the DAC2, despite its very own and considerable elegance, couldn't quite match. Parts wetness, saturation and a tangible sense of breathing reality, its added richness was of a subdued while audible kind. It's most compelling and easiest spotted on vocals, presumably because we're most familiar with the human voice, hence most attuned to its palette of expressiveness, richer than any poor instrument's. Being hyper-critical for a moment -- possible only while momentarily forgetting the DAC2's affordability -- it's in this area of lyricism where a lot more money can buy you minor advances. The kind I'm hinting at is most often pursued by inserting tubes somewhere into the signal path. Preferably, this accomplishes what a faint perfume does. It won't telegraph its presence in crude floozy diesel fashion. Still, it somehow alters the very air as a fine oil changes warm bathwater. It creates a smoothness for skin/nose/ears that is tangible in the experience yet bloody elusive in the -- necessarily poetic -- description.
click for Maria's website

Naturally, the DAC2 is far too accomplished a design to exhibit any overt traits of personality or voicing. To describe it at all requires nit-picking and comparisons to other converters. On its own, nothing stands out or in the way of the music. It is a finely honed instrument, perfectly balanced like a good knife, with truly extraordinary recovery of spatial and ambient cues. It is robust in character and throws a large, fully developed, deep and dense soundstage. What it lacks in comparison to my $10,000 tubed DAC is the last word in corporality and decay trail lengths, trading seduction for a bit more matter-of-factness. It's distinctly not a lean-sounding component. And unlike my recollections of its predecessor, it's more incisive, with a rhythmically far firmer grasp which, in juxtaposition, renders the DAC1 prior to the point-1 power supply upgrade more tame, polite and genteel - emotionally not as gripping, overall not as compelling. Quite a boon to us music lovers that despite this increase in performance, the price of the DAC1 in its second incarnation stayed put. Whatever happened to inflation?

The design team's greatest accomplishment here? To these (small) ears, it's the opening headline's insinuated balance - a grave digger's fascination with detail extraction on the one hand, an overriding sense of flow (that dreaded 'musicality' term) on the other. Just how much data it resolves became clear during the Shigaraki Model 4716 evaluation. The DAC2 added the recording venue to the music which the Zen DAC nearly completely overlooked. Spatial teleportation. The same comparison also proved how the innate softness of the ceramic DAC didn't automatically make the gent from Minneapolis into a brusque brute by comparison.

Rather, the Minnesotan gave great detail while remaining non-pushy. The minor matter-of-factness inherent in this delivery ("sign here") became detectable only when viewed against something as far-out as the Zanden piece. Or, perhaps, the Audio Aero Capitole MkII, fellow Bel Canto devotee Jim Saxon's newest poison in the self-administered digital syringe. He too fancies the i2digital X-60 cable, proclaiming the DAC2/X-60 combo to be dangerously close to the fully tricked out, top MSB Platinum Plus offering.

Frankly, had the Zanden DAC been recalled to Japan as I fully expected it would after its review (bless the Shinto deities in Yamada-San's house shrine for the gift of keeping it) I wouldn't have felt at all cheated living with the Bel Canto. Its distance from nes-plus-ultra efforts is truly short enough to become apparent only in a direct A/B. That renders cost-no-object of interest only in the most committed of non-compromise systems. And that's why, back in the real world of regular wage earners, the DAC2 deserves a Blue Moon Award. A blue moon, in case you didn't know, is a natural occurrence, of two full moons in a single month. That's rare enough to crop up on the calender only once every three years. Or so I've been told - by a werewolf, someone who would know.

Incidentally, while we're howling: I've obtained permission to forward this review unit to our own Mike Healey. He's under strict orders to pen a non-jaded follow-up, in a saner system context than my going-on-60 rig is capable of. Owning his Audio Refinement Complete CD player in our miniature upstairs system where it feeds a pair of Swans self-powered monitors, I know exactly what the DAC2 does for it. This affords me a rare remote opportunity to wear a fellow 6moon reviewer's ears for size (and setting him up to sweat bullets in the meantime - welcome to the club, Mike!)

The real benefit? Our readers will gather a second opinion, about the extent to which the DAC2 can transform a <$5K system and $900 CD player that isn't exactly chopped liver. Which sometimes begs the question: Does a top-notch component weigh in more heavily in a relatively tweaked mature system? Or will you make greater strides within a more modest while well-balanced one? Let's see what poor Mike has to report. In any case, the little box from Bel Canto's another home run for John Stronczer & Co. who, considering their enviable track record, are turning into quite the heavy-hitter team in the engineering-driven, open-minded sector of our little industry. Way to go, guys!

John Stronczert replies: Srajan,Thanks for the review and the award, I am humbly proud that you have bestowed it on our effort. Our constant search for the best of new technologies can lead to exciting products when tempered by careful listening. This sums up the Bel Canto approach.

Thanks again,

John Stronczer
Manufacturer's website