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TotalDAC | Octave: Conceptually compadre except that Vincent Brien does with discrete bits what Cees Ruijtenberg does with ICs, I was curious whether/how their machines would differ sonically. Burson Audio in Australia also pounds the discrete drum quite loudly. They claim that integrated circuits—op amps and voltage regulators in particular—are cheap cost-cutting measures unfit for upscale performance. Burson thus builds discrete op amps [right]. So does Daniel Weiss as well for his top Medea+ converter. Based on that religion where discrete is good and integrated bad (or not as good), the Frenchie should knock out the Dutchie in round one. Kaboom?

Not. That's for adolescents. This wasn't even a win on points. It operated solely in the sideways realm of difference. Overlap was far more profound than minor divergence. Both presentations managed an unusual blend of sounding very gutsy and rootsy yet simultaneously soft. In common parlance an artificial word construct like mellow gravitas would have the word mellow qualify and diminish the word gravitas. 'Profound gravitas' punches a lot harder. Here it's about even footing however. Gravitas and mellowness don't qualify one another. Substance and weightiness aren't lessened by mellowness. They simply coexist.

Breaking it down, the former is a function of high tonal richness and great image density. The latter is accompanied by two observations that probably interrelate. One, the overall gestalt is one of repose rather than attack. It's about flow and leisure, not drive and effort.

Two, the treble has a decidedly softer gentler flair which—surprisingly—isn't due to roll-off. With premium subwoofers it's cliché to read that they never signal their presence except when suddenly there's really low bass signal which prior wasn't audible.

Transposing this into the high end of cymbals, triangles and high-order harmonics in general, upper treble here was clearly present when inspected during obvious interludes of intense activity. But it was not a constant affair of airiness, gloss and shine which one remains conscious of as a core quality no matter what (Zodiac Gold).

Where TotalDAC and Octave differed was in their extent of mellifluousness. The French deck was more so. It rendered staging as more laid-back. The Dutch double box felt slightly more forward or projecting. Its contrast of sound against silence seemed a pitch higher. Compared to the Delta-Sigma converters' shinier edge/edgier shine, one could be compelled to detect in the Octave a minor remnant which the TotalDAC relinquished altogether. Perhaps. The core takeaway of the NOS approach is a shift in gestalt. There's subjectively less treble energy and as a result less transient-sharpened contrast and pixilation thereof. By softening/lessening attack and adrenaline aspects and diminishing constant sheen and gloss, what comes to the fore are elements of ease, fluidity and heaviness. The latter means material substance rather than ponderousness.

You might think of it as something getting switched out which has something else take its place. If treble forwardness and transient edge in combination make for an incisive articulated taut picture, softening those aspects makes everything rounder, richer and more relaxed. If that's analogue then these NOS converters are decidely more of it. A side effect is greater midrange richness. Unlike with bandwidth-limited valve amps or octave-doubled 2nd-order THD, here it doesn't seem associated. Perhaps it's due to the elimination of pre/post ringing and more correct integration of fundamental and overtones. So-called apodizing filters promise elimination of ringing too but these NOS machines don't cause the problem in the first place.

There's probably a parallel at work here with time-coherent minimum-phase speakers. Many claim to be completely indifferent to them, to be immune to their charms and insensitive to what higher timing accuracy accomplishes. I expect the same group could relate to these NOS DACs as at least initially less exciting and more dull. If so, the Octave would require traversing just a tad less distance before meeting it on its own terms.