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I began listening to the stock DAC using my Vecteur D-2 transport into the coaxial input of the Chameleon. I selected a CD with which I am very familiar, Kathy Mattea’s Collection of Hits [Mercury 842 330-2]. Comparing the sound to my tweaked/upgraded Audio Note DAC Kit 1.2, the differences were readily apparent.  The Audio Note can be problematic on some female vocal recordings by imparting an edge and/or glare at times. With the stock Chameleon, there was no edge on Kathy’s voice at all. Vocals flowed with total ease. However, the Chameleon was overshadowed by a large margin in bass power, dynamics and refinement. Of course the Audio Note 1.2 DAC was much more costly at $1099 in kit form in 2001. On the other hand, that’s almost ten years ago!

My listening notes read as follows: "Kathy Mattea, cut 6, Eighteen Wheels: Bass is much better with the Audio Note. However, the glare on Kathy’s voice is back. There is more bloom and air….more harmonics and decay nuances….more depth and bloom in front of the soundstage. Bass sounds more natural and rounded with proper decay and sustain. Harmonic complexity and richness is superior.  There is more layering and tonal colors. The Chameleon is a bit flat and bland by comparison. The AN is more exciting and involving. There’s just more going on with the Audio Note…. a lot more nuance.

The Audio Note makes this CD difficult to take though due to the glare. It also has a lot higher noise floor than the Chameleon. What might be a more appropriate comparison would be another current production DAC in this price range such as the Xindak DAC-5 at $595 including shipping; the Pacific Valve Audio gd FUN DAC or one of Scott Nixon’s offerings.

One of the easy mods recommended by some on the thread is to remove the output filter circuit (2-pole low-pass filter) by simply touching a soldering tip to one lead of the blue Eros capacitors and lifting it. For this listening test, I used the sampler CD from Blue Coast Records Spring Sampler CD that I picked up at RMAF 2009.

Cut one Slow Day sounded somewhat raw without the output filter. The sound was more upfront with slightly better dynamics and a wider soundstage. Overall I preferred the sound with the filter. In talking to Bill Allen, he said that his earlier version used a different brand of cap in this filter and that the blue Eros caps in mine are probably better sounding. Bill prefers the sound without the filter caps because his speakers (Bastanis Apollo open baffles) take greater advantage of the wider soundstage than I was hearing with my downstairs WLM LaScala speakers.

After reinstalling the output filter, I proceeded to listen to several more cuts off both the Kathy Mattea and Blue Coast Records CDs. My initial impressions were reinforced, with the rendering of female vocals being the most noticeable advantage in favor of the Chameleon. On cut 3 from the Blue Coast Records CD, Norwegian Blue, the piano notes were also more rounded than through the Audio Note DAC.

Continuing my Kathy Mattea jag with Lonesome Standard Time [Mercury 314-512 567-2],the Chameleon was smoother on her vocal again but the soundstage was flatter, with less bloom in front and depth behind. Next I tried the USB input using files from my MacBook along with Amarra software and compared this to the same music played from the CD in my Vecteur transport. Another CD with which I am very familiar is Roseanne Cash’s The Wheel [Columbia CK 52729]. I have this in CD format and on my MacBook’s hard drive. Playing cut 5, Roseanne’s voice was smoother when played from the computer file and the whole presentation was richer overall. Bass and dynamics were unaffected. On the other hand, I felt the transport provided a crisper leading edge to notes.

The next easy mod was to remove the stock Wima output coupling caps and replace them with some 10uF V-caps (oil impregnated metalized polypropylene, $115.99 each on the VH Audio website) that I had on hand. Certainly one could argue that these caps are overkill for this DAC but if there was a difference to be heard, these should do it. Some may be thinking that I should bypass the V-caps for better highs but others feel that the highs are fine after proper break-in. In any case, I just wanted to get a general feel for how much improvement could be expected from a cap upgrade.