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Huh? Watch the other guy's face now. Ask him what and how many costly precision resistors his converter runs. And why he'd entrust his sound to integrated circuits of any sort in the first place. Shudder in revulsion to press your point. Of course there's listening. Chest-thumping audiophiles could always get down. Let their ears decide. That's what we'll do with up to 96kHz files. It's all the TotalDAC is good for. We'll also feed it spinning discs from Esoteric's super sled in their UX1 universal player. While on limitations, one must note the lack of any visual life signs on the French box. It means that muted conditions offer zero indication whether the TotalDAC actually locks to incoming signal or is even on. It makes potential trouble shooting that much harder when there's no sound. The lack of center reinforcement tabs for top and bottom covers also means that they bow in when the box is lifted up from the front and middle. Vincent has already announced "a new high-end enclosure drawn up by a French designer. The present box is price driven to get a high-end circuit into a relatively affordable package." And that's only sensible. There'll be vault-style bling for those who care about it and the best price for those who want identical performance without the eye-candy tax. Either way I'd vote for a tiny faint signal-lock LED somewhere.

Analogue corner: Two other digital machines I had on hand unapologetically and strategically aim for 'analog-type' sound.

Alex Peychev's final iteration of his NWO rebuilds for Esoteric's top one-box universal players goes simply by 'M' for master (NWO meanwhile is shorthand for, cough, new world order). This player retains merely the Japanese chassis, user interface and massive VRDS transport. Digital conversion after the Bulgarian makeover is via twenty AKM AK4399EQ* chips per channel. Those are run with bypassed digital filters in an "unusual way only known to us and AKM". Data processing is "at up to 1.728MHz and 32 bits". The dual-differential E182CC tube output stage couples through amorphous-core Lundahl output transformers A built-in modified M2Tech hiFace does 24/192 asynchronous USB. An included Sony remote allows easy switching between stock internal transport and retrofitted BNC and USB inputs.

* On 32-bit processing hype, Mike Moffat and Jason Stoddard of Schiit are unusually candid. Consider this from their FAQ section on the $349 Schiit Bifrost converter. "What about advanced segment, super voodoo, WowieMatic 24/32 bit converters out there? They’re still Delta-Sigma. And they’re all lying about 24 bits anyway. A true 24-bit converter would have a minus 144dB noise floor. The best of the Delta-Sigma D/A converters are missing at least a couple of bits. Yes, even the '32-bit' ones like our AKM AK4399."

Let's add from the Core Audio Technology website on their Kuma DAC with AD1865N-K non-oversampling multi-bit chip: "A 44.1kHz D/A converter reads a new digital word every .0000226 seconds. If you 8 x oversample, the same converter reads a new digital word every .0000028 seconds. If you upsample to 192kHz then oversample 16 x (very common), the converter reads a new digital word every .0000003 seconds. In addition to the faster clock speeds required for up- and oversampling, a 32-bit D/A converter would have to read twice the number of bits as a 16-bit chip within the same time period. This explains why sophisticated master clocks are so important in modern 24-bit and 32-bit 192KHz bitstream converters. The clock has to be 75 to 450 times more accurate to achieve the same level of musical coherency as a 16-bit 44.1kHz non-oversampling D/A converter.

"In addition, bitstream converters sample only one bit at a time. They rely on sophisticated algorithmic estimations and error correction to determine what they 'think' the value of each digital word is going to be. A non-oversampling multi-bit D/A converter simply loads each digital word from a serial digital stream into a parallel shift register and reads it. There are no algorithmic estimations or error correction that can corrupt the integrity of the music. These are the only truly 'bit perfect' D/A converters. The reason bitstream converters are so popular is because they are much smaller in size and much cheaper to manufacture. A bitstream converter has only one latch per channel and one serial data path. A multibit chip has a dedicated parallel data path for each bit that requires resistors precision laser-matched down to .01%. To put this into perspective, it's cheaper to manufacture a smaller 32-bit 8-channel bitstream chip than a 2-channel 16-bit multibit one."

Cees Ruijtenberg's Metrum Acoustics NOS Mini DAC Octave is a very unusual €700 non-Philips Kusunoki-style no-oversampling/no-filter design with a six-laxer circuit board, outboard power supply and a quartet of DACs per channel. His 15MHz ultra fast laboratory R/2R chips of undisclosed providence—not from any of the usual audio suspects like AKM, BurrBrown, Crystal, Philips, Wolfson et al—are the output devices to eliminate the ubiquitous I/V conversion and output buffer stages.
Digital corner: Here I had Antelope Audio's top Zodiac Gold converter with optional Voltikus power supply. This machine runs proprietary 64-bit jitter management and a 32-bit/384kHz asynchronous USB receiver protocol for a prime specimen of a modern 'ultra-spec' converter that remains sanely priced at €3.500 with the upgraded 'super regulated' linear power supply.

How would a buzzword-compliant DAC—terminology straight off Schiit's website—compare to the TotalDAC? How about the cheap R/2R Dutch contender? How much room was there really to diverge and differ in meaningful ways not equivalent with frivolous voicing?