With our Liberty loaner being a quite virginal sample
, we let it play for 100 hours. During this period we occasionally listened in to monitor progress. During four days of conditioning, the sound improved noticeable. From a fairly lightweight tonality with an emphasis on the upper regions, the sound altered to a balanced fuller character. We played the DAC full tilt without attenuation and were happy with the many steps the Bespoke preamp offered to adjust volume. A combination of power amps that can output at least 100w into a 16Ω/109dB load needs good volume handling. Here it's the first watt and fractions thereof which do the trick.


When we had the impression that further break-in would at best only slightly change the DAC's character, we started our formal listening sessions. For a comfortable sound pressure, we most of the time dialed the Bespoke passive to position 15 while the Liberty showed all red LEDs, meaning full throttle. Since this DAC uses exclusively digital attenuation, without an outboard solution to tempering its output in the analog domain would, on 109dB sensitive speakers, result in a loss of sound quality. With speakers of more common 86dB sensitivities of course, a little digital attenuation wouldn't affect the sonic outcome. We started playing DSD256, that is, HQPlayer resampled PCM to high-rate DSD. With the appropriate filter settings in its software, we are very fond of the sound quality. Because the Liberty is a scaled-down Brooklyn, we expected concomitant tonal characteristics, thus a sound with a little sparkle on top, virtual soundstage pretty deep and wide, sufficient air around instruments. But the Liberty surprised us. Despite—or due to—fewer options and features, the Liberty had a slightly richer sound. Our personal weak spot is midrange drive. When there's enough of it, we fall for it. And we fell for the Liberty's presentation. Just that little extra emphasis on the lower midrange without getting dark or dull truly opens up the soundstage and the sizing of instruments.


Yo Yo Ma & the Knights on Azul have the celebrity cellist accompanied by the chamber music orchestra of The Knights. This innovating ensemble is not shy of experiments and the 28-minute title track is a nice example. Amplified cello, hyper accordion*, ethnic percussion and 'standard' orchestra make for a perfect mix to assess the abilities of a hifi system. Playing this track resulted in a very realistic picture of the ensemble and front man Ma. Large and small dynamic changes, spot-on transients all were our share. Over to a trio it was next with Eric Vloeimans, Kinan Azmeh and Jeroen van Vliet on Levanter. This album is a warm bath of jazz, classical and world music. Dutch trumpeter Vloeimans with his characteristic soft tone, Van Vliet's piano and Syrian clarinetist Azmeh paint an aural tapestry filled with melancholy. Dreamy melodies float free of rhythmic accents and meander through the listening room. Where the Brooklyn DAC sometimes touched on the verge of overshooting the vivid and powerful clarinet fortissimo explosions, the Liberty just passed a clean signal. This lack of interference made for an undisturbed experience. While listening and getting into the music, into the zone so to speak, the tiniest aberration knocks one back into hard reality. No such knocks here.


* "The accordion is one of the world's only true stereo instruments, which gave me a tremendous amount of room to explore new sounds with my customized stereo miking configuration. The entire concept of the hyper-accordion is to unite the accordion with dynamic signal processing, playing them together as one instrument," says inventor of the instrument Michael Ward-Bergeman. On YouTube there is an explanatory video.