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Positive Feedback ISSUE 2
august/september 2002


audio note

DAC 1.1

as reviewed by Larry Cox


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Majeel Labs Pristine S-10 amplifier. E.A.R. 802 preamplifier.

Pioneer DV 525 dvd player.

Quattro Fil interconnects and speaker cables made from Belden 1219A wire.

API Power Pack and ACPEAM line conditioners.


The Audio Note DAC 1.1 is a marvelous, amazing, delightful piece of gear. In combination with my state-of-the-art (har, har, har) Pioneer DV525, the 1.1 reminds me very much of the dear, recently departed (from my listening room) 47 Labs player. At $1500 versus $8000 for the 47 Labs, the Audio Note performed heroically. The two have simplicity of design in common, and both are a joy to listen to.

Ever since I sold my CAL Icon Mk II, I’ve regretted it. The Pioneer is more detailed, but is more one-note-like, much less dimensional and sweet sounding, and, all things considered, less musical. It is clear, and has a measure of precision, a good to decent bottom end, and a fairly extended top end, but it isn’t the kind of player that calls for disc after disc. I’ve been wondering what to do. Of the players I’ve had in the past, I enjoyed the CAL CL15, especially when matched with the ATCs, the Chord SPM1200B amp, and my E.A.R. preamp. Magic. I also enjoyed the Arcam Alpha, which was quite musical, if a little soft on the bottom. The MSB Link DAC, to me, was only a very-good-for-the-money product, not outstanding. None of those players had the ease and sweetness of the 47 Labs player or the Audio Note.

What makes the Audio Note great? I’m taken by its ability to suggest that analog isn’t necessary to have very engaging sound. I’ve got about 600 records and 200 CDs, and when I go shopping I always look for the LP first, but after hanging out with the 1.1 DAC for a while, I’m wondering if that isn’t more habit than necessity. I have really enjoyed the 1.1, even with a cheap digital cable. God knows what upgrading the cable will do for the sound of this puppy. The 1.1 presents a musical event with more going on, and I don’t just mean detail, though there is plenty of detail. I expected the tubed 1.1 to be fat and sweet, and not precise, but it is quite precise-sounding. Also present is a wonderful sense of music being made in three dimensions. There was a palpability to the sound, and a roundness to the bottom end that was taut, engaging and "real." Listening through the 1.1 was like watching a cauldron of live players making music, rather than an amorphous, disembodied occurrence between my speakers. The midrange tones had attack and decay AND a distinctly sustained tone. Through the 1.1, there was plenty of natural richness and liquidity.

aM reviewers have agreed to change only one piece of gear during the review, but when the ATC 50a speakers (the model above mine) showed up for review, I sneaked the 1.1 into the ATC review. The 1.1 and the 50s gave the sort of reproduction that I’ve always wanted to have. Just amazing. The 1.1 added to my enjoyment of the 50s and showed no warts in a very revealing and expensive system. Bass didn’t loosen up, as you might expect with a tubed processor. Female vocals sounded sweet and sexy, with a cat-like purr that didn’t slip over into male chestiness, which warm or over-rich products can do. There were more of the nuances that make womens’ voices more than just higher in pitch. Yowza, a DAC that makes you horny. Okay, sorry about that.

I really, really enjoyed the Audio Note 1.1 DAC. It brought up for me why I got into audio and reviewing—I want to enjoy music. I’m not looking for the last iota of information, I’m looking for music. I loved listening to the Audio Note, and I’d be happy to keep it in my system. With this product, I see analog and digital getting closer to parity—not sounding the same, but of equal merit. The Audio Note 1.1 DAC is worth a listen. Larry Cox




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