With the big system done, I moved the d1-integral-headphone and FirstWatt F7 to my Boenicke W5 nearfield setup with the Xonar Essence III. These days, the top Asus demands less than €1'600 in Europe. That's more than five times below Vincent's deck. Why even bother comparing these two? To evaluate how painful the law of diminishing returns might be. It's obviously hard or at least beyond my evaluation skills to generate hard numbers. So let me just say that these products performed on a completely different level. Knowing what the W5 can do when properly fed, the sound from the Asus is fine for my desktop. It satisfies to a degree that creates no urge to badly change anything. With Vincent's machine, it very quickly emerged just how much better this setup could be. It wasn't a matter of 'a bit better here, a bit better there'. I honestly can't single out any one aspect that didn't improve. The performance became more spacious and revealing. The bluntly warm Essence III influence vanished and lifelike texturing appeared instead. The most striking change was of depth where the Essence III had fared quite well already. By direct contrast, the TotalDAC simply showed it with far greater ease and in more lifelike fashion. This kind of improvement magnitude, in an environment this unfriendly, made me think that for once, the scary law of diminishing returns simply didn't apply.

Finally it was time to check out TotalDAC's headphone port. For that, I ran it as a transport, source and headfi amp. The Divaldi AMP 01 connected to its line-out. Switching between both was fast. The only adjustment needed was setting the French volume to max before opening that of the Pole. Once again I compared machines of completely different character. The AMP 01 had a very strong one whilst the d1-integral-headphone had none at all. Let me elaborate. The Divaldi was exceptionally punchy and direct. By contrast, Vincent's headphone section behaved just like his DAC. Nothing was added. The outcome was a vastly different flavour. With the HifiMan HE-1000 and Divaldi AMP 01, I had great control, nice saturation, an effortless presentation and great resolution. Things also were slightly on the warm side for a very pleasing overall effect. The TotalDAC was mellower but similarly thick. It could have used some extra power to make things in the lower registers more present.

But the sound was neither thin nor veiled, quite the contrary. Calmness was the dominant factor and very enjoyable. Also, the soundstage was just as deep if not as wide. It automatically had me focus on it whereas the AMP 01's more direct approach showed the bigger picture instantly. Let me reiterate then that d1-integral-headphone's 6.3mm output sounded exactly like its line-out. There was no additive and it was quite amazing to witness that but it all made sense. Vincent's amplification section is very minimalist because he wanted to make it as transparent as possible. It shows off his conversion method in an exceptionally precise manner. In my book that was a job well done. The real question is whether one appreciates this approach or not. Subjectively I found it remarkable even though this feature was designed to work with easier loads where a HE-1000 needs a bit more power to shine fully. The more time passed, the more I appreciated the 6.3mm output of the d1-integral-headphone to find it very good in the end. Afterwards, I felt confident that this feature wasn't just added for enhanced functionality and convenience. It's well thought out. It will appeal to those who want to hear their DAC and nothing else!

Summary. Vincent's d1-integral-headphone is expensive. €8'400 is a lot of money. At the same time his deck covers several needs. Functionally, we get a brilliantly working streamer which, once configured, is a pleasure to use and Roon ready, hot these days. Not only does its RJ45 input deliver better sound than USB, wireless control via iPad is very convenient. Vincent's d1-server alone sells for €4'990, already half the d1-integral-headphone package. The latter is based on a d1-single-mk2 DAC, another €6'960 out of pocket. At this point it's rather obvious that going after both separates makes the outcome considerably pricier. Of course this is relevant only when one has already decided to shop this catalogue exclusively.

In any case, if the server option isn't needed, the DAC alone is there for the taking. TotalDAC's portfolio is quite generous in terms of suiting different needs. That's very practical. The most important thing—sound—justifies the price where the d1-integral-headphone delivers a sophisticated unforgettable experience: refined, balanced, coherent, neutral and very analogue overall, lifelike, mildly soft and pleasant. It shines no additional light on any particular aspect like soundstage width, saturation or dynamics. It doesn't tinker with contouring tonal balance. It isn't showy in any way. When we add lack of sharpness and grain and exceptionally silent backgrounds, the outcome is very enjoyable indeed. After several weeks with the d1-integral-headphone, I had the impression that this kind of performance was Vincent's goal from the very beginning. And let's not forget about a very unique headphone out, designed to meticulously show what Vincent Brient has achieved in the field of D/A conversion. Then no criticisms are due where his d1-integral-headphone performed so exceptionally well.

Again, €8'400 are a hard pill to swallow. One can get a quality separate DAC, server and headphone amplifier for this type of coin. Will this be better than today's one-box pursuit? That's not for me to judge. What I do know is that the French DAC sounded grand and its server part worked like a charm. Therefore from the R&D and performance angles, the d1-integral-headphone package is very well executed. That integration creates a lot of value, enough to warrant a test run if one is after this kind of machine and has this kind of money to spend. Personally, I'll stick to my Golden Gate which sonically rings all of my bells. But if you're deep into the audio game, at today's high calibre, you simply owe it to yourself to at least know what a TotalDAC sounds like. When the opportunity arises, pick a model, it matters not which. Simply give it a go and witness what magic will happen. It's highly probable that it will be the last DAC you'll buy in a long time.
dawid @ hifiknights.com

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