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Steve Marsh
Financial Interests: click here
Digital Source:  Vecteur D-2 CD Transport, Audio Note DAC Kit 1.2 with upgrades (ps choke, tantalum resistors, Black Gate caps, copper grounding bars on digital chips wired to central ground, VTV silver foil/oil output coupling caps)
Analog Source:  Nottingham Analogue Mentor turntable with 10” Anna tone arm, Cardas Heart Reference, Goldbug Ms. Brier MC cartridges, both rebuilt by Soundsmith
Preamps:  Hovland HP-100 MC tube preamplifier, Slagle autoformer passive pre, Bottlehead Foreplay, Cello Audio Suite
Power Amps:  Tron 211 SET amp with upgraded exotic-core interstage transformers (General Electric 211 power tubes, Western Electric 417A/5842 input tubes, RCA black plate 5U4GB rectifiers), Red Rose Model 2A Silver Signature tube amplifier (Mullard xf1 EL34 power tubes, RCA black plate 12AT7WA gain/inverter tubes and Tung Sol black plate 12AT7 driver tubes), DIYHiFiSupply Lady Day 300B amps (many upgrade options), Cello Performance amps
Speakers: WLM LaScala floorstanders, Bastanis Prometheus Mk. II with Gemini tweeters
Interconnect cables: Music Metre Fidelis digital, Harmony Audio, Cardas Golden Cross, Acoustic Systems Liveline, Bastanis Epilog I, Bastanis Heartbeat
Power Cords:  Bastanis Epilog II, PS Audio Mini Lab (preamp), Acoustic Systems Liveline
Speaker Cables: Bastanis Epilog Mk. II, Bastanis Meta, Acoustic Systems Liveline
Equipment Racks: Adona 6-shelf, low profile isolation rack, vintage modern teak for upstairs system (purchased at estate sale)
Power Line Conditioning:  PS Audio P300 downstairs, upstairs none
Room Size:  29’ long X 16’ wide X 10’ high (sunken living room with open floor plan, listening across width of room), moved system to opposite side of room (180 degrees – see photos) midway through review.
Review Component Retail Price:  $399 shipping included.

Amongst the profusion of relatively inexpensive Asian-manufactured stereo equipment now flooding the U.S. market, there have been a good number of USB DACs. Always looking for a way to get great sound at a good price, the DIY modifier community has latched onto one product in a big way: the TeraDak Chameleon. The interest in this product started with TeraDak’s earlier USB DAC, the Valab DAC. The Valab DAC was manufactured by TeraDak but marketed worldwide by Valab Inc on eBay for a scant $199 including shipping from Taiwan. This DAC uses eight paralleled non-oversampling (NOS) Philips TDA1543 DAC chips. There was a huge discussion forum thread about modifying the Valab DAC on

The modifiers on tricked out the Valab DAC to a fare-thee-well, so much so that the parent company decided to start marketing their own DAC, the TeraDak Chameleon. It incorporates some of these mods, upping the ante to sixteen paralleled TDA1543 DAC chips and actually making it modification-friendly by: 1) creating a larger space to replace their stock 10uF Wima output coupling caps and 2) supplying empty holes in the circuit board beside the TDA1543 chips for insertion of upgraded decoupling caps (e.g. Black Gate 47 uF/16 volt electrolytic caps) for the chips. The Chameleon name was chosen because of the ‘modular’ design which allows users to modify it and change the sound to their liking. In fact, the Chameleon even has an area on the back of the unit where the Modder can sign their name. The stock Chameleon retails for $399 including shipping from Taiwan.

The idea of paralleling NOS DAC chips has been around. The benefits are well known: better S/N ratio, improved resolution and no need for an active output stage. A moderately technical explanation for the sonic benefits of paralleling the Philips TDA1543 DAC chip can be found under the DDDAC1543 Mk.II link on this website.

The layout in early designs was to stack the chips vertically on top of each other. The problem was poor heat dissipation. To avoid this problem, the Chameleon lays out the paralleled DAC chips horizontally.

The Chameleon DAC is a two-box affair consisting of two aluminum clamshells, a power cord and one umbilical cable. One box contains the power supply (termed the DC30W) while the other box has four circuit boards. The largest board runs the length of the chassis and has the output coupling caps and connections to the output jacks. Piggybacked onto it is the DAC board with four rows of four chips and attending circuitry. The coax and Toslink digital inputs go first to an input pulse transformer, then on to a Wolfson WM8805 SPDIF receiver while the USB inputs to the Tenor TE7022L chip. Both chips share a 1PPM 12mHz TCXO clock and output an I²S data to a fourth upsampling and dejitter board. It utilizes the Analog Devices AD1895 asynchronous sample rate converter and a 1ppm 24.575 TCXO clock. While this board does upsample all input signals to 24/96, its primary purpose is to reclock the I²S signal and lower jitter just prior to entering the DAC chips. This board is completely removable if you feel your transport/source provides lower jitter or you are squeamish about upsampling.

The idea behind this review is to relate my impressions of the inexpensive stock DAC while touching on the sonic merits from some of the mods discussed on Here is a link to the very lengthy thread on the Chameleon mods. There are several members that contributed greatly to this thread.  One of them is my friend Bill Allen who in turn mailed me one of his modified units for comparison to the stock unit.