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Nicholas Bedworth
Financial Interests: click here

Source: Toshiba Qosmio digital media laptop computer with external FireWire hard-disk media storage; Acer Aspire 1410 laptop
Interfaces: Lindemann USB-DDC 24/96 format converter; M-Audio Pro Fire 610 and FireWire 410 digital audio interfaces
Amplifier: Odyssey Kismet 170 WPC monoblocks
Speakers: Usher Be-718 monitors
Cables: Audioquest Air analogue interconnects; Wireworld Cable Platinum Starlight and Audioquest Eagle Eye digital interconnects; Wireworld Cable Starlight USB; Wireworld Cable Supernova 6 and Audioquest OptiLink-5 glass fiber optical cable. Cardas, Wireworld Silver Electra 5 Reference and Audioquest NRG-10 power cables
Power delivery: Richard Gray Power Company power conditioner
Review Component Retail: $1.480

Introduction: Lavry is well-known in audio engineering circles around the world for its professional mastering and recording gear. Coming from musical families and frequenting live performances of all kinds of music, the husband and wife team of Daniel Lavry, electronics engineer cum designer, and Priscilla Lavry, CEO, has run the company since 1993. Both Lavrys know their Bechsteins from their Bösendorfers, meeting some years ago through the instrumentality of Priscilla’s harp teacher.

Despite an impressive family background of musical sophistication and technical expertise, Dan relates with considerable enthusiasm that his favorite instrument is the accordion. Why? Well, how else can one play real Russian folk music? Note the emphasis on real and having fun. This is what music’s all about - in my opinion.

Now that music servers, portable players and personal computers are transforming almost every aspect of consumer home audio, Dan is applying his considerable experience to new computer-centric devices such as the DA-11 D/A converter, their current flagship product for the computer audiophile market. His primary design goals are utter transparency to the source , musicality and no voicing or other coloration of the sound. Keep it simple and clean.

After listening to the DA-11 for several months over a wide range of music and electronics, I found the experience both encouraging and tantalizing. What I heard certainly illustrates the positive game-changing potential of hard-drive-driven audio but also highlighted some of the pitfalls - for which there are solutions. For sure getting digital correctly can be complicated yet when its peculiarities are tamed, the superior sound quality and convenience make it harder than ever to contemplate going back to spinning plastic discs.

Lavry Engineering DA11 Inputs and outputs
• 1 XLR AES-EBU digital input
• 1 RCA SPDIF digital input
• 1 TOSLINK S/PDIF digital input
• 1 USB-B digital input
• 2 XLR analogue outputs
• 2 XLR-RCA female Neutrik converters provided with unit
• 1 headphone jack on front panel

Technical data according to manufacturer
• THD+N at maximum volume: typical 0.0008% full scale, maximum 0.0013% full scale
• Test conditions: 20 Hz-20kHz, -3dB FS sine wave; 22-22kHz bandwidth
• Dynamic range: -112dB typical, -110dB minimum, non-weighted
• Volume control precision: Integral linearity,better than 0.1dB; differential linearity better than 0.08dB
• Mains power: Voltage 90-264 VAC; frequency 40 - 63Hz

Music used for this review
• Biber Missa Salisburgensis, NCA 60192
Now the Green Blade Riseth, Proprius CD 9093 and Proprius XRCD 9093
Mozart Concertos #21 and #24, Reference Recordings RR-68CD
Reference Jazz, Etc., Reference Recordings RR-S2CD
Sheffield Pop Experience, Sheffield Labs 10053-2-G
Wesley Anthems, Naxos 8.57031-30

Main features
: The virtues of the Lavry DA-11 are considerable. Of course it has a few foibles as well. As mentioned, the DA-11 is the most advanced of Lavry Engineering’s USB-compatible DACs and comprises a broader range of functions than earlier more conventional high-end DACs. The basic preamplifier functions and controls in the DA-11 mean that for many stereo playback applications, it’s easy and appropriate to use for driving power amplifiers directly. To me this level of integration is the entire point of this product category although there are probably situations in which a conventional preamplifier in the loop may be needed for optimal results. But in principle and often in practice, eliminating an entire layer of inputs and outputs, cabling and electronics will be beneficial to say nothing of reducing the overall system cost: Fundamentally better quality, simpler architecture and lower outlay add up to a greatly improved experience.

The Lavry’s main functional elements include up to 24-bit wide D/A conversion from digital bit streams arriving through USB 1.1, S/PDIF, TOSLINK or AES-EBU protocols; a precision digitally-controlled analog attenuator; and specialized crossfeed controls for headphone listening via a frontal jack. Because of my own limited—zero recent—experience with headphone listening, I won’t even attempt to comment on the imaging controls especially in a listening room setting. The DA-11’s abilities in this area have been reviewed in detail on the appropriate forums such as HeadFi.

The analog output levels from the DA-11 (nominally 2.0V RMS, 5.6V peak-to-peak for unbalanced consumer systems) are more than capable of driving a wide range of high-end amplifiers including the subtle and refined Odyssey Kismet monoblocks. There’s even an absolute polarity switch, a necessity in my view which, given the resolving power of the device, will see frequent use for extracting every last bit as it were of music from a recording.

Reflecting the recording engineering heritage of the firm, the Lavry DA-11 handles just about any sample rate from 30kHz to 200kHz. Standard frequencies such as 44.1, 48.0, 88.1 or 96kHz use an internal crystal-controlled clock; for the rest a phase-locked loop syncs up with the incoming bit stream and converts the samples to an intermediate rate of roughly 96kHz according to the Lavry tech support.

The current sample rate—but not its bit width—shows up on a pair of seven-segment LED displays while the input selected, absolute phase and other settings are displayed by a linear array of a dozen colored LEDs. Five spring-loaded two-position toggles convey the user’s control inputs.

The entire package is reminiscent of late 1960’s instrumentation right down to the black wrinkle finish. If you like retro styling, this is the DAC for you! The switches do seem a bit prehistoric and require considerable force to operate. On the other hand it’s hard to imagine how they could ever break.

Given the popularity of this type of component for the headphone crowd, power on/off muting helps avoid popping one’s eardrums in a most attention-grabbing manner. And the front panel can be dimmed for late-night listening sessions. Clearly the overall build quality is very good to top-notch. What one saves with a plain-Jane black crinkle case can go towards premium parts and construction techniques. The layout and fabrication of the multi layer PC board suggests a much higher price point, to say nothing of the surface-mounting of most components. One of my few complaints relates to the S/PDIF connector, which is a nickel-plated PC-board mounted affair. This critical part needs to be machined, gold-plated and panel-mounted as on the Benchmark DAC-1. In the case of the DA-11, some digital interconnects couldn’t make contact and others looked more as if they were perched rather than securely fastened on the RCA jack. A companion BNC S/PDIF would be a useful addition.

Set-up and basic operations: Configuring the Lavry DA-11
Despite the somewhat unusual user interface, it is in fact possible to control every aspect of the DA-11 from the front panel. For example, one can set up unbalanced or balanced operation of the XLR outputs as well as change pin assignments. If your amplifier reverses the signals on pins 2 and 3 compared to typical settings—and some do—this is a handy feature. A useful improvement would be parallel single-ended audio outputs. Although Lavry thoughtfully provides a pair of Neutrik XLR-to-RCA adapters fine for getting up and running, you’ll experience considerably better sonics without them. Even high-quality adapters introduce a layer of transient-damping obscuration.

The Lavry front panel does support my favorite creature feature, an absolute polarity setting (normal or reversed). Roughly one-third of the time from my experience, absolute phase is inverted somewhere in the recording and mastering work flow. It sometimes even changes from track to track within an album. In a digital world, the DAC is the obvious place to control polarity and the results of setting it correctly can be highly beneficial. However, doing just about anything with the front panel requires some exertion. Typically, two different switches are required to change a particular setting. First, one enters the set-up mode (click); moves a logical "cursor" to the desired LED (click, click, click, click…) which then starts flashing; presses a second switch to toggle the setting (click); and finally presses it again to leave the set-up mode (clack). Try doing this in dim lighting or without looking directly at the front panel. This is a job for a linear array of touch switches (Bryston BDA-1) or a rotary selector (Benchmark DAC-1).

On the other hand, in most applications once the source has been selected and the XLR pin-out set correctly, the volume up/down toggle switch will be used most frequently. Being able to step up and down in precisely calibrated 1dB steps is great. For larger changes, holding the switch in a given position slews the digitally-controlled analog attenuator but it’s hard to stop on exactly the desired setting. So one has to snap, snap and then snap some more. The absolute polarity setting may—and definitely should—see a lot of use but one first has to enter the set-up mode sequence. At least once you’re there, you can toggle phase back and forth to compare the results.

Finally when in playback mode, changing the volume or other settings introduces brief lacunae into the music, which is a bit of a nuisance. One can, in theory, manage the Lavry with a universal remote control but of course has to decipher two user’s manuals, program the remote, test it out and all that. And operating the remote in terms of keystrokes isn’t that much simpler than struggling with the front panel. Though I shouldn’t complain too vociferously because it does all work after a fashion.

Installing the DA-11 on a Microsoft Windows Vista-based Toshiba Qosmio high-end digital media-centric laptop was a breeze. Ditto for testing the device on an inexpensive but highly capable Acer Aspire 1410 running Windows 7. There were no problems whatsoever getting the operating system to recognize the Lavry DA-11 over the USB port. It was plug 'n' play all the way. No software drivers need to be downloaded. Windows recognizes the Lavry and configures the USB port accordingly.